As the spring harvest approached, members of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association knew they would need assistance to provide important information about COVID-19 safety measures and food handling protocols to workers who make up the majority of the seasonal agricultural workforce, many of whom are native Spanish speakers.
University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Cooperative Extension faculty responded quickly by producing a COVID-19 safety video in Spanish that could be incorporated into farm employee trainings.
UGA Extension Southwest District Director Andrea Scarrow, Tift County Extension Agent Justin Hand, and Assistant Professor Laurel Dunn in the UGA Department of Food Science and Technology were a part of the group that spearheaded the effort to quickly produce and distribute the video resources to producers throughout the state.
Bill Brim, CEO of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tift County, previously worked with UGA Extension to develop financial education materials in Spanish for temporary workers at the farm, so he knew who to ask when the need for COVID-19 educational materials arose, Scarrow said.
“Our growers, both small and large, depend on Extension to get immediate answers and help for all kinds of issues. Mr. Brim knew we had that capacity to develop resources in Spanish so he contacted us for that reason,” Scarrow said. “Our producers are in constant communication with our agriculture agents, they depend on us quite a bit. Our agents are very sensitive to the needs of farmworkers and the large Hispanic population we have in the area that supports farming, so we moved on it as fast as we could.”
Working with Beth Oleson, a director of education and food safety for Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, UGA Extension recruited the help of UGA Professor Francisco Diez, director of the UGA Center for Food Safety, and his wife, Claudia Buzo, a ServSafe consultant who trains Hispanic restaurant workers, to translate the video scripts and record the video in Spanish.
“Dr. Dunn and I work together frequently on food safety issues. Crafting employee safety language was easy, but making sure we included CDC recommendations that seemed to be changing frequently was a challenge,” said Oleson. “Working with Dr. Diez and Buzo really made the video a success. Buzo’s experience with Hispanic employees helped guide the language and examples to make it approachable to the Spanish-speaking audience.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, UGA Extension has been actively involved in getting research-based materials from faculty out to farms, packing houses, u-pick farms and other agricultural producers.
“We enlisted the help of NC State Extension, which shared a lot of materials they had already translated into Spanish,” Dunn said. “This was great, but we felt we needed audio-visual resources to reach a greater number of Spanish-speaking workers.”
Working with Oleson, Dunn developed a general script explaining what the COVID-19 disease is, where it came from, why it is different from other illnesses and why employers would have new safety rules this year.
“It also showed workers how to protect themselves, explained why social distancing is important and outlined what modifications employers can and cannot require,” Dunn said.
Diez and Buzo, who translated the script into Spanish, said they were happy to help communicate this important message to Spanish-speaking agricultural workers through the video, titled "Lo que necesita saber sobre el coronavirus" (“What you need to know about coronavirus”) available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugddqd8N0S4.
“My wife and I are originally from Mexico and we are native Spanish speakers. In an urgent situation, such as the one we are in, information like this could make the difference between someone getting sick or not,” Diez said. “We are committed to helping the Hispanic community as much as we can, and many of the migrant workers who come to work on these farms are individuals with only a grade school or middle school education. We wanted to make sure to use simple language and messages so it would be useful and understandable.”
The 24-minute video was distributed through the network of UGA Extension offices around the state and shared directly with producers.
“This is most of what I do really, it is just the subject matter that changed,” said Dunn, a food microbiologist and Extension specialist. “Producers are used to hearing from me about salmonella and E. coli, so we just switched the message to keeping workers healthy.”
The request for the video came in the day before a worker safety production training was to be held at Lewis Taylor Farms, a major agricultural producer in Tift County, so Hand said the UGA team worked throughout the night to get the video ready to show the next morning.
“Jessica Kirk, director of food safety and marketing at Lewis Taylor Farms, talked to several of her crew leaders and some of the workers who said the video really helped the workers to understand the situation a lot better,” Hand said. “These workers came into the U.S. from Mexico and they didn’t know how much this had spread or how important safety is to stop the spread of this virus. They said it was easy to understand the video and they appreciated the message.”
UGA Extension’s COVID-19 resources in English and Spanish are available at extension.uga.edu/emergencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has print resources in multiple languages, including posters that describe how to stay healthy during this time, how to protect members of your household, proper hygiene and many other topics, available at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/index.html.