March 8, 2007

Students Intern, Learn on Farms

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The Cornell Farmworker Program will offer its second annual internship opportunity this summer, allowing Cornell students to bring their own individual skills, interests and ideas to the field while working directly with farmworkers and their families.

A collaboration between the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology and the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), the CFP brings together students, faculty, staff and extension professionals to engage in research and education about farmworker needs.

CFP not only identifies and addresses the needs of farmworkers in New York State, but is dedicated to improving the living and working conditions of farmworkers and their families through “research, education and extension,” said CFP Director Mary Jo Dudley.

“CFP plays a dual role: there are the things we do at Cornell, and the things we do through the extension program in upstate New York,” Dudley said.

At Cornell, CFP’s research efforts span multiple departments. Through the department of Development Sociology, CFP performs demographic research on farmworkers in New York, which assesses the number of farmworkers by county, by month and by commodity.

“Today, there are more year-round farmworkers living in New York than ever before,” Dudley said. “Estimates around the state range from 11,000 to 80,000. That’s why we are doing these demographics — because there is no definite count.”

Other departments contribute to the CFP’s efforts as well.

“As a CFP intern last summer, I researched driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in New York,” said Marielle Macher ’08. “Through the license report, which [was] presented to the state legislature in Albany [this past Tuesday], I also got the opportunity to have some influence on public policy.”

This report was a collaboration between CFP and the College of Human Ecology. The Department of Food Science got involved in CFP’s efforts as well, helping to create and distribute educational materials to farmworkers and their families about food safety and handling.

“[CFP] has also begun working with the Law School, providing students with practical experience in addressing farmworkers’ rights and needs,” Dudley said.

CFP student interns also collaborate with CCE in counties across the State to assess farmworkers’ needs and provide support.

“Under the guidance of program faculty, student interns play a crucial role in conducting research,” Dudley said.

As a CFP summer intern, Natalia Gil ’09 joined a program funded by the N.Y. State Migrant Education and worked alongside two Cayuga County elementary school teachers teaching math and English to children of migrant farmworkers.

“I saw firsthand how disadvantaged the migrant farmworker population was in comparison to the status quo,” Gil said. “When a family has to travel throughout the state or country according to a farming calendar, they can never establish roots in any one city or town.”

After a successful 2006 internship program, CFP looks forward to expanding next summer. The organization plans to extend its reach south, establishing student intern positions in Orange and Suffolk Counties.

“What’s interesting about CFP is that it provides students from NY who are home for the summer with opportunities to work with farmworkers within their own communities,”Dudley said. “Of last year’s summer interns, four are pursuing senior honors theses which have evolved from their work with farmworkers and with CFP.”

Last year’s student interns agreed that working with CFP can be a fulfilling experience.

“I think it’s important for people to embrace this marginalized population and reach out to them,” Gil said, “whether by interning for the CFP, joining the [Farmworkers Advocacy Coalition] club on campus or coming up with creative ways to provide for this community.”