I have been fortunate to find a job I really enjoy after my JV year. I am currently working as a Human Rights Investigator for the Fair Food Standards Council in Central Florida, where I'm from. As a member of our field audit team, I help to uphold the code of the Fair Food Program on our participating farms. The rights guaranteed to farmworkers under the law are minimal, so growers (farms) and buyers (supermarkets and restaurants) sign on to the Program to uphold farmworkers’ rights. Right now, the program is primarily focused on tomato growers in Florida, but we’re rapidly expanding into more states and crops.
As an investigator, I travel to audit all of our participating farms during the harvest season, and interview workers to make sure their rights are being upheld under the Program. We interview workers in the field and visit grower-provided housing in the evenings. Audit days are long, but I enjoy getting to talk to the workers and hear their stories. We interview at least half of every crew we visit, which sets us apart from most other monitoring programs.
I also help run our 24/7 complaints hotline, where workers can call to report any problems they're having. Being on call is fairly stressful, but it’s essential that workers always have access to us, so they can advocate for themselves if something is wrong. When I'm not on audits, I work to synthesize our audit findings and resolve complaints workers bring to us.
The majority of people we work with are from Mexico, although there are some from Haiti, Guatemala, and other places. The majority of the workers are men, as well. Some workers have lived in the US for a long time, others are here on temporary agricultural visas, and some have recently moved to the US. It’s always interesting to learn about each person’s background and how they came to work in tomatoes.
While the schedule of the job is demanding, I am grateful to be able to do work that has such an immediate impact on people’s lives. In the past, including during my JV year, I was working within the immigration legal system, trying to help clients navigate a system that is incredibly confusing and harmful, without any real power. But in this job, if a worker is experiencing a problem that falls within our purview, we can call their employer and get it changed immediately. Obviously, there are many things we can't control, but there are many things we can! So, it's very rewarding to be a part of that, and see what a difference worker-driven movements can make. While legal reform is necessary to protect the human rights of migrants and agricultural workers, it's refreshing to work with an organization that has found a way to effectively protect many of those rights outside of the legal system.
My JV year prepared me for this position in several ways. Practically, using Spanish in a professional setting all of last year prepared me for this job in a way my Spanish major in college could not have. I became so much more comfortable doing things like talking on the phone, texting, and emailing in Spanish. Plus, last year most of my clients were Mexican, too, so I've learned a lot of essential slang and vocabulary. In a less concrete way, my JV year taught me a lot about taking care of myself so I don't burn out, which is going to be absolutely crucial for this position. I’ve thought for a long time that I wanted to have a career focused on justice, and my JV year confirmed that this is absolutely what I want. I’m so grateful to have the privilege of doing work I find fulfilling, and for the way my JV year prepared me for this work.
Mary Vickers served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Albuquerque, NM last year, working as a legal assistant at the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. She misses Casa Carlo and the beautiful mountains of Albuquerque! She has since returned to her native state of Florida for her job and to be closer to family. When she's not working, you'll find her on the phone with her friends, watching the Great British Bake Off, or singing in the choir at her new parish. Her personal blog, where she reflects on her JV experience (among other things), can be found here: https://marycecelia12.wordpress.com/