Developing tools to improve communication between farmers and farm workers around fruit farm practices

2014 Annual Report for ONE14-219

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,986.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
James O'Connell
Cornell Cooperative Extension

Developing tools to improve communication between farmers and farm workers around fruit farm practices


Jim O’Connell of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County and the Cornell Farmworker Program are in the first year of a two year project to develop and test farmer and farmworker friendly tools for fruit production that allow non-Spanish speaking farmers to effectively give instructions for specific production tasks to their Spanish speaking farmworkers. The tools consist of step-by-step videos of key tasks, in Spanish and English, and a field guide, designed for workers with low or no literacy, reproducing the key farm production tasks (e.g. pruning, spraying, harvesting) that correspond to the video instructions for in-field reference. The tools will be tested with both farmers and farmworkers to ensure that they are understandable, practical and effective.
Much of the fruit industry in New York relies on migrant labor, mostly of Latin American origin, many of whom comprehend little or no English. Most farmers in the region do not speak Spanish and often find themselves unable to effectively communicate with their workers. In addition, there is not consistency in the labor pool, such that workers trained one year are back on the same type of farm the next year. As a result, directions are misunderstood, leading to incomplete or improperly completed tasks and decreasing overall farm efficiency and profit.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Jim O’Connell collaborated with farmers (Mike and Tammy Boylan Wright’s farm and Dave Schoonmaker of Saunderskill Farms) to identify key production practices of berry crops (particularly raspberries) that are a source of frequent miscommunication between the farmers and their Spanish speaking farm workers. He also worked with Sarah Dressel from Dressel Farms and Greg Esch, vineyard manager of Hudson-Chatham Winery, to identify similarly miscommunicated practices in grapes. O’Connell also consulted with Cornell staff at the research farm in Geneva, to narrow the list of key practices. Based on feedback received, the list of practices was narrowed to 8 key practices.


  1. A list of production practices for raspberry and grape production that are: likely to be (a) important to growers and (b) where errors are likely to be made, if made would be problematic or costly, or if made would cause health/safety concerns for workers will be developed by Jim O’Connell in collaboration with growers.

Jim O’Connell held initial meetings this spring and summer with Mike and Tammy Boylan of Wrights Farm, as well as Dave Schoonmaker of Saunderskill Farms and Jeff Kelder of Kelder’s Farm to discuss the project and develop preliminary production practices. A draft version of production practices was developed and reviewed by the Boylan’s and Dave Schoonmaker. Comments on production practices were also solicited from Sarah Dressel and Greg Esch, area grape growers.

Based on feedback received, the list of practices was narrowed to 8 key practices. These practices are: Bramble harvest, pruning raspberries, pruning grapes, pruning sanitation in grapes, and insect pest monitoring (grape berry moth and spotted wing Drosophila). Bramble harvest, pruning (raspberry and grapes) include more than one set of practices.

The narratives have all been written in English and reviewed at least once by growers. The feedback received will help to further develop the practices and will be incorporated into the next draft versions of the narratives. These will again be reviewed by growers and also by extension staff.  

Upon completion of the next version of the production practices, translation of the materials into Spanish will begin. These Spanish versions will be reviewed by farm workers/practitioners for accuracy and comprehensibility.  We anticipate the Cornell Farmworker Program, including translation and interviews with farmworkers, will begin this winter.

Cornell Cooperative Extension hosts an annual fruit school for growers in February 2015. Jim O’Connell will plan to recruit additional growers for this project during this meeting and will follow up with them during the growing season.

Tim Weigle from Cornell Cooperative Extension Lake Erie Regional Grape Program, has agreed to host Jim O’Connell at the LERGP field station in Portland NY this winter. Partnering with field station staff, Jim O’Connell will video tape each of the pruning practices written for grapes (spur pruning and cane pruning).

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Conversations had with growers about the project have indicated a need for these tools. It is clear that many have a difficult time effectively communicating with Spanish speaking laborers. Growers are interested in these tools and how they may impact their farming operation. There is a general interest among growers to participate in this project, as they recognize the need to develop tools like those presented in this project. They are also interested in the project outcome.


Boylan Mike

[email protected]
Farm Owner
Wright's Farm
699 State Route 208
Gardiner, NY 12525
Office Phone: 8452555300
Dave Schoonmaker

[email protected]
Farm Owner
5100 Us Highway 209
Accord, NY 12404
Office Phone: 8456262676