Editor’s Desk — Why a farmworker perished from Covid-19

The entrance to Larsen Farms in Dalhart, Texas, where a farmworker died. Photo by Dana Ullman.

With the recent climate-related disasters and the election campaign dominating the news, the reports of meatpacking workers facing Covid-19 have faded from the headlines. But frontline food workers are still at risk, as our most recent story with The Texas Observer makes clear. Dana Ullman reports on the death of a guest farmworker from Guanajuato, Mexico, who came to work on a sprawling potato farm in the Texas Panhandle. There he encountered conditions now familiar to workers in the most vulnerable sectors of the economy — close working and living quarters, long hours, and the risk of catching the novel coronavirus. In chilling detail, Ullman tells the story of how Marco Antonio Galvan Gomez died — details that also caught the attention of federal authorities who are now investigating the farm where he worked.

In another recent piece, staff writer Leah Douglas tells the story of a long and disturbing history of inequity at the National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, which is the largest student farming group in the nation with 700,000 members. She reveals how racist social media posts by one of its student officers went viral, prompting some members to protest. The organization — which works closely with the U.S. Department of Education — said it would redouble its so far ineffective efforts to become more inclusive. The organization isn’t simply for farmers; its alumni work in all levels of the agricultural industry, from farms to equipment dealers to the biggest food and agrochemical companies.

Finally, in “How do climate change, migration and a deadly sheep disease alter our understanding of pandemics?” Carson Vaughan looks at the way global warming is influencing the spread of pandemics, by making it easier for diseases to expand their range and take advantage of new opportunities to jump to species, such as humans. He explores the science behind this all-too-familiar trajectory.

Finally, a bit of news. Karina Piser recently joined FERN as our food security reporter for Ag Insider, covering hunger and related issues during the pandemic. She’s written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other outlets. We’re also welcoming intern Petruce Jean-Charles, who recently completed a master’s degree in journalism from American University and will assist with data reporting and audience engagement.