Farmworker Families Deserve Dignity: Student Action with Farmworkers

Bridges House Center for Documentary Studies, 1317 W Pettigrew Street, Durham, NC 27705

Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) is a Durham-based non-profit organization committed to fostering collaboration and understanding between students and farmworkers in order to promote justice in agricultural systems and equitable, safe, and dignified working conditions for farmworkers.

SAF’s beginnings can be traced to child psychiatrist Dr. Robert Coles and Duke Public Policy professor Bruce Payne, who led 12 Duke students in a project to investigate conditions in migrant camps during the summer of 1976. These students successfully lobbied for the creation of NC Farmworker Legal Services, and the group began to grow, creating spaces for student interns to work with agencies serving farm workers during the summers of the early 1980s. In 1992, SAF was officially established as a non-profit, and in the following years, SAF started to incorporate the needs of students from farmworker families into its focus by establishing scholarships and recruiting student participants through College Assistance Migrant Programs across the country. 

But SAF was just getting started; in the years since its official establishment in 1992, SAF has been awarded the first Peace Prize from the North Carolina Peace Corps Association, published campus guides for how to involve students in farmworker advocacy, started “National Farmworker Awareness Week,” collaborated with justice organizations and legislators, and created documentaries and artistic publications. To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic SAF has given away more than $121,000 in mutual aid to participants and alumni. 

SAF’s wide-ranging programs in education, mentoring, activism, leadership, legal advocacy, and community collaboration have created a far reaching impact in and beyond Durham. But at the heart of all of SAF’s diverse programs is one vision: to create a world in which communities speak up for farmworkers, in which migrant children can attain their goals, and in which all farmworkers can live and work with dignity, agency, and respect.

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