The Lead

They’re ‘unsung heroes’: Pa. officials pay tribute to farm workers who kept food on the table during pandemic

By: - May 11, 2021 5:06 pm

Commonwealth Media Services video screen capture.

In a visit to Berks County Tuesday, state officials toured a mushroom farm that pulled double duty as the site of a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic, to thank farmworkers, who were deemed essential during the pandemic, for their efforts to keep the food supply chain flowing. 

“These workers were the unsung heroes in this pandemic from the standpoint of making sure we had food on our tables,” state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, said during Tuesday’s visit to Giorgio Foods Inc. in Blandon. 

Nearly 60 percent of all mushroom production in the United States comes from southeastern Pennsylvania’s mushroom industry, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The mushroom industry and its employees didn’t stop producing during the pandemic, state officials acknowledged. 

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding at the Berks County mobile vaccination site at Giorgio Foods Inc. (Capital-Star screen capture).

“These frontline workers have accepted risk and worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure the availability of food,” state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said, who also was in attendance. 

Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry, which employs more than 60,000 citizens and migrant farmworkers, is dependent on safe and healthy employees to remain operational. 

“Now, as the COVID-19 vaccine is available, we see they’re not only dedicated to feeding Pennsylvania, but they’re dedicated to doing their part to ensure a safer, healthier commonwealth,” Redding said. 

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding at the mobile vaccination site in Berks County. (Capital-Star screen capture).

The employer-sponsored mobile vaccination site at the mushroom farm is the result of a partnership between the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Latino Connection and Highmark Blue Shield, which aims to reach the commonwealth’s diverse and underserved populations. 

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has created great hardship and anxiety for Latino families that face barriers, especially with all of the misinformation out there,” Governor’s Advisory Commission for Latino Affairs Executive Director Luz Colon said. “This unique partnership makes the COVID-19 vaccine 100 percent accessible by meeting the Latinx community where they are.”

As of Tuesday, 1,500 agricultural and migrant workers have been vaccinated through the mobile vaccination unit program known as CATE (Community-Accessible Testing and Education), state officials confirmed. 

“The truth is we have a lot of migrant and seasonal labor,” Redding said. “We cannot enjoy the agriculture that we have without the seasonal farm labor, particularly the migrant population. It just wouldn’t happen.” 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.