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

2016 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 third year of this 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 of 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.


Step by step English language narratives have been completed for each of the 8 key production practices. These narratives have been reviewed by cooperating farmers, their feedback incorporated into the final English narratives, and the narratives have been translated into Spanish by the Cornell Farm Worker Program.

Both the English and Spanish language narratives have been made into guides for the farmers and farmworkers. These guides have English on one side for the farmer and Spanish on the reverse for the farmworker.

Jim O’Connell and the Cornell Farm Worker Program held meetings with farmworkers at Wright’s Farm, Saunderskill Farm Market (owned by Dave Schoonmaker, one of the grower particpants), as well as workers at Clinton Vineyards (managed by Greg Esch, another grower participant), and Red Maple Vineyard (a grower participant who is new to the industry). Draft versions of the guides were presented to the farmworkers to check for accuracy in both the practices and the language. Feedback was given on the correct words to use, as well as some of the practices (e.g. harvesting raspberries for the farm bakery vs those for the farm market, trunk renewals in grape vines).

Raw videos of the narratives have been completed. Jim O’Connell has contracted with Sarah McFadden, a Digital Literacy Resource Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County to edit the videos.

Jim O’Connell is also negotiating with a graphics designer to turn the draft guides into finished products.

Jim O’Connell will also update growers on the progress at the annual fruit school meeting held in Kingston NY.


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Farmers and farmworkers have been very receptive of the work done thus far. In addition to getting feedback from the farmworkers about practices and proper Spanish verbiage, some farmworkers have commented they plan to use these guides to help better understand English.

This project has helped CCEUC to develop a stronger relationship with the Cornell Farmwoker program, which has led to additional grant proposals to continue working with farmworkers.

After meeting with farmworkers at both vineyards and reviewing the grape berry moth guide with them, they have a better understanding of this pest. Previously they would see damage and not know what caused it or it’s level of significance (e.g. that it’s a major pest of grapes and can have a serious impact on fruit quality). 

Farmworkers at several farms commented they would like CCE to develop programming specific to them (e.g. fruit school in Spanish, socials with other farms and farmworkers). In Western NY, team members there hold conferences in Spanish for the farmworkers. Jim O’Connell and the Cornell Farmworker program have had some initial discussions with farmers regarding timing and content. They will work to develop this idea further.


Boylan Mike
Farm Owner
Wright's Farm
699 State Route 208
Gardiner, NY 12525
Office Phone: 8452555300
Dave Schoonmaker
Farm Owner
5100 Us Highway 209
Accord, NY 12404
Office Phone: 8456262676