Participation and Ethnographic
Keith V. Bletzer
Agriculture is ranked consistently among the three most hazardous industries in the United States ( Coye 1985), and the conditions it generates affect the working environment and residence arrangements where farm workers spend most of their time ( Whitener 1985). These conditions include substandard and/or crowded housing, poor sanitation in the camps and fields, exposure to allergenic elements such as pesticides, and low wages ( Dement 1985:4-13, 46-50; Hintz 1981:19-82, 316-332). Compared with the U.S. population, farm workers have different and more complex health problems, such as heavier parasitic loads and higher rates of infectious disease, diabetes, skin disorders, and hearing problems ( Dever 1991; Spielberg Benitez 1983; Wilk 1986).
The national per capita income of $13,270 for a nonfarm family is more than three times higher than the annual income of U.S. farm workers, which was $4,299 in 1981 ( Dement 1985:18). The mean annual income of migrant farm workers from agricultural and nonagricultural employment was $3,995 in 1981 ( Gonzalez 1985:97-99). Annual income for migrants in the state of Michigan is estimated at $6,800 for a family of four ( Inter-Agency Migrant Council 1990). Farm labor performed in Michigan generally is arranged by contract ( Rochin et al. 1989:8-10). Migrant workers in Michigan dislike the contract work, which places a limit on earnings and commits a worker's time; they seek temporary seasonal work, where the hours are flexible and one is paid for the work performed.
The three "home-base" states of Texas, California, and Florida rank one, two, and three in estimated number of U.S. farm workers.1 Michigan ranks fourth and has more migrants than any northern "recipient" state. An estimated 45,000 or more migrant workers and family members travel to