The Arizona Farmworker Enumeration Profiles Study, a new endeavor funded by the Arizona Department of Health Services, will allow researchers at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health to produce current and credible counts of farmworkers and their household members in Arizona to provide organizations and agencies with the data to meet the needs of this vital yet vulnerable community.
Farmworkers in Arizona fuel the state’s economy and feed our nation by harvesting crops, tending livestock and aquaculture, supporting forestry operations, and working in food processing and packaging plants.
Farmwork is physically demanding, pays low wages for long shifts, exposes workers to extreme weather, and frequently involves living, working, and traveling in confined spaces. These conditions make farmworkers especially susceptible to injury, infectious and chronic diseases, and stress. Despite these documented vulnerabilities, there is no current and credible count of farmworkers in Arizona.
Guided by principal investigator Kate Ellingson, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Zuckerman College of Public Health and farmworker enumeration expert Alice Larson, PhD, the Arizona Farmworker Enumeration Profiles Study, or AZ-FEPS, team will use systematic methods to establish the number of Arizona farmworkers.
“This study is important for so many reasons,” Ellingson said. “First, Arizona’s farmworkers put food on the tables of our nation, but we have no reasonable estimate of how many work here – no denominator.”
Knowing how many farmworkers there are in Arizona, where they work and during which seasons they work will help inform efforts to improve care and conditions for Arizona farmworkers.
Ellingson emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic and recent heat-related deaths among farmworkers underscore the importance of strategically directing public health resources to this frequently overlooked population.
“The last systematic count was in 2008, so this is long overdue,” Ellingson said. “I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a passionate and experienced team using rigorous and community-engaged methods to carry out this work.”
Priscila Ruedas, MPH, lead researcher for AZ-FEPS and a community outreach specialist at the Zuckerman College of Public Health, emphasized the importance of getting buy-in from a diverse range of stakeholders – from policymakers to industry experts to farmworker advocates to migrant health providers.
“Generating comprehensive counts of farmworkers in our state is only the beginning,” Ruedas said. “We’ll know how many farmworkers are our neighbors, but what will make this work meaningful is the use of these numbers to create safer and healthier working conditions. We hope our approach to enumeration, which engages diverse stakeholders along the way, will promote the use of the data for action.”
In addition to establishing the farmworker population, the project is designed to offer training and mentorship in enumeration methods for researchers and professionals in academics, industry, government and community service organizations.
Study objectives include creating current and credible estimates of farmworkers and their household members for every county in Arizona through established quantitative and community-engaged methods. The study also will evaluate the effectiveness of a collaborative academic-community-government team approach to farmworker enumeration and assess the use of findings by government agencies, growers, researchers, service providers and others.
The 2024 AZ-FEPS will be conducted by an interdisciplinary team of early-career and experienced researchers in collaboration with community partners and government agencies. In addition to Ellingson and Ruedas, the team from Zuckerman College of Public Health includes researchers Maia Ingram, MPH, and Jill de Zapien, as well as graduate students Alfonso Trujillo, Omozusi Guobadia and Brooke Hawkes. The team also includes staff from the Yuma County Public Health Services District and Campesinos Sin Fronteras.
The team will work in close collaboration with Larson, a nationally known consultant on migrant and seasonal farmworker issues and the author of previous enumeration studies and the manual for conducting the research. Other partners include the Arizona Interagency Farmworker Coalition, agricultural extension, and industry and service organizations.
“Farmworkers often face unique health challenges, and they tend to be a rural population that is hard to reach,” said Iman Hakim, MD, PhD, MPH, dean of the Zuckerman College of Public Health. “This new count of our Arizona farmworkers and their families will help guide services to support their health, and I’m pleased that Dr. Ellingson is leading this study that brings together our researchers and students and many community partners.”
AZ-FEPS is supported in part by the Arizona Department of Health Services using funds from the COVID-19 Health Disparities Grant provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administered by the Arizona Center for Rural Health. The award of $450,000 will fund the AZ-FEPS project through May 2024.