In the 1950s, AFSC began to work with migrant farmworkers fighting for basic services such as access to water, and elimination of tin-shack public housing. This work expanded into Proyecto Campesino in Visalia, California, a program that provided direct services to farmworkers and helped them advocate more effectively for themselves when interacting with powerful growers and legislators.

Later, our staff supported the struggle to establish the United Farm Workers, providing meeting places, collecting funds for strikers, and paying the salary of the union’s chief negotiator. In 1975, Cesar Chavez acknowledged how essential AFSC’s support had been to the UFW. In turn, we acknowledged the great value of participating in the union’s “practical demonstration of a nonviolent movement.”

When the Immigration Reform and Control Act created an opening for permanent residency in the 1980s, we helped thousands of farmworkers and their families apply. Our longstanding Spanish-language radio program, Radio Grito, amplified workers’ voices, and connected them to resources and to each other. AFSC programs in the Pacific Northwest and South Florida have also supported migrant families engaged in agricultural work.

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  • Car with children in the back, a man driving, and a woman standing behind.
    Josephine Duveneck (driving), first drew AFSC’s attention to the conditions of migrant workers in the late 1940s. Later she and her husband opened their California home at “Hidden Villa” to farmworker organizers. Photo courtesy of: Los Altos History Museum
  • Two men standing, facing each other, speaking in a house.
    Fred Ross (left, with César Chávez) was a gifted community organizer who worked with AFSC in California in the 1950s. He was known for cultivating leadership among those most oppressed so they could improve their lives. Photo: Carlos LeGerrette
  • Boy stands in the doorway of a home made out of tin and wood.
    Before farmworkers began organizing, tin shacks without water were common housing from the Pacific Northwest to Florida.
  • Man and woman crouch on the floor of a room, looking at plywood and paper plans.
    AFSC sent Bard McAllister to California’s San Joaquin Valley in the 1950s, to provide self-help housing expertise gained from our work in central Pennsylvania.
  • Man and children stand and play on the porch of a house.
    Self-help housing participants in California worked to build homes for themselves and others in the project. The program’s success allowed it to spin off as the independent Self Help Enterprises.
  • Two men and woman stand in a vineyard, one leaning on a shovel.
    Once organized, farmworkers got help from California Rural Legal Assistance and succeeded in abolishing the short-handle hoe, a back-breaking farming tool. They created water districts for their homes, and learned about pesticide poisoning.
  • Man stands in a crowd of demonstrators, holding a sign.
    Through Proyecto Campesino, our staff became the first stop for farmworkers with problems in southern San Joaquin Valley in California. We supported nonviolent organizing strategies such as work stoppages and protests.
  • Man speaks at a podium in front of two microphones, with a farm workers union banner behind him.
    AFSC staff worked closely with César Chávez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, to organize farm workers and improve working conditions and wages.
  • Man speaks into a microphone in a radio studio, equipment in front of him.
    During the 1980s and ‘90s, Radio Grito and AFSC’s Pablo Espinoza connected farmworkers in California’s Central Valley to each other and tackled a range of issues—from pesticide poisoning to unpaid wages.
  • Man speaks to workers sitting in the bed of a pickup truck.
    AFSC organizers build trust by going out to the fields to learn about the concerns of the workers (here, in Florida). Access to water, housing, and healthcare are often at the top of the list.
  • Man speaks to a group of seated people, hands gesturing.
    Former Florida staff member Herman Martinez speaks with community members about workers' rights.
  • Group of people work together on a project with papers on the floor of a room.
    In the Pacific Northwest, AFSC advances worker rights and challenges labor exploitation at the local and state levels. Here, Pedro Sosa (standing, rear), director of AFSC’s Project Voice Immigrant Rights Program in Portland, Oregon, leads a workshop with the Forks, Washington, Human Rights Group.