University of Washington School of Public Health
Migrant Farmworkers, Washington State, 1997
Given the social justice, racial and equity themes of this year’s Health Sciences common book, “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States” by Seth Holmes, we thought these photos and their history would be interesting and relevant for our students, faculty, and supporters.
These photos of migrant farmworkers in Washington State were taken in 1997 by professional Seattle photographer Jeff Corwin. Most of them were taken in the Columbia Basin region between Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities.
At the time, the state legislature had approved a bill allowing agricultural owners to build farmworker housing without heat, insulation, or running water. A coalition of Latino organizations and Seattle-area businesspeople, including the photographer, waged a public education campaign to expose the plight of farmworkers.
Thousands of families like the ones in these photos were living in tents along rivers or in fields where they had to use untreated irrigation water for cooking and bathing. Others were jammed into small trailers, some of which were condemned by state housing officials once they were revealed.
The coalition argued that the people who picked the produce we eat deserved decent housing that met state and federal housing standards. After visiting the river settlements and trailer camps, then-Governor Gary Locke vetoed the substandard-housing bill. In 1999, following intense lobbying by farmworker advocates, Gov. Locke announced a 10-year proposal to invest $40 million in public funds for farmworker housing in Washington. That commitment continues; since 1999, the state has invested more than $100 million in farmworker housing.
Some of the state’s 100,000 farmworkers may still find it hard to obtain decent housing, but conditions for them have improved greatly in the 17 years since these photos were taken.
Member, Farmworker Housing Committee, 1997-98
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Sea Mar Community Health Centers