“Through his role with FALCON, Francisco is the glue that keeps the farmworker-serving agencies together and focused,” said Eugenio Mollo, managing attorney at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and FALCON vice chairman. “He is very effective at bringing people – both farmworkers and growers – together to find solutions. He motivates FALCON member agencies by leading with compassion and by example. Francisco is a tireless leader, and I wish him all the best in his retirement years.”
“I would hope it (the award) was for that time and energy I have invested in my job, and in trying to provide leadership and collaboration to those many folks involved with FALCON, our interagency coalition,” said Espinoza, who has worked with the Agriculture and Horticulture Labor Education Program with the Ohio State University Extension since its inception in 1996.
“I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t too wildly surprised to get a FALCON Harvest Award because I am retiring this coming November, and you either get a watch or a kick in the pants, right?” he quipped.
More than 300 migrant farmworkers and their families attended Farmworker Appreciation Day at Walsh Park, 754 Morrison St., Fremont, on Saturday, Aug. 9. The annual summer event seeks to honor farmworkers in Northwest Ohio with a free, family-friendly event that includes games, food, music, prizes, and entertainment.
Once he retires, Espinoza plans to give more attention to his personal passions of music, creative writing, and reading. He wants to start gardening at home and devote more time to playing the guitar.
“I’m kind of a workaholic, so don’t be surprised if I get into some other employment or project dealing with Hispanics and farmworkers,” he said.
Espinoza’s role with the OSU Extension started as a program assistant when the agency received a grant to start the farm labor relations program to help address issues involving agricultural employers and migrant farm workers.
“My program started within the farmworker/advocate position, and there was a producer role filled by a grower and employer of Hispanic labor. When he left, I covered both employer and employee perspectives,” Espinoza explained. “Believe it or not, that expanded job was, and still is, a rewarding experience. Ohio State University Extension is about information and education, so I work with stakeholders in agriculture: farmworker, growers, extension agricultural personnel, and advocates and agencies that work toward identifying and addressing issues in Ohio agriculture. The only real limitations are those of time and energy, like everyone else!”
Espinoza, 67, started his career working with farmworkers in the late 1960s as a recruiter, translator and social worker for Migrant Head Start in Northwest Ohio. He also has worked in alternative education settings in adult education, and state and federal farmworker programs, including the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).
Espinoza was born in Raymondville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley region, and was raised in Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio. His parents migrated from Texas, to Florida, to Tennessee, to Michigan, and finally settled in Ohio in 1952, when his father found work at the General Motors foundry in Defiance.
Espinoza graduated from Napoleon High School and attended Bowling Green State University while working full-time at the Campbell’s Soup factory in Napoleon. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and became a teacher.
“This was a milestone for a farmworker and a major step towards stability and “The American Dream” to finally, have full-time employment as an upgrade from the beating hot sun and harsh field work, said Mollo in presenting the award “for his lifetime dedication as an achiever, educator, advocate, mentor and partner to the agricultural community, growers and migrant seasonal farmworkers of Northwest Ohio.”
“I came from farmworkers, was raised in Northwest Ohio tomato country, and have continued to recognize and respect my connection to Mexican and migrant culture,” said Espinoza, now a Toledo resident for 20-plus years and father of three grown children: Justin, Trajan, and Dorian.
The mission statement of FALCON explains their work well: committed to serving Ohio’s migrant and seasonal farmworkers and agricultural employers by encouraging and supporting the dignity of productive work, healthful working and living environments, educational, networking, legal assistance, and spiritual outreach. Most of the FALCON collaborative network’s actual work focuses on the personal and social service needs of migrant Latino families.
Migrant Head Start, adult education, ESL, health clinics, employment and consumer education, emergency and support services all are provided for workers. FALCON agencies also network with growers and employers to develop in-camp programs and provide information, outreach, and referral regarding programs and services.
Other Harvest Award winners included:
Dora Cortes, a PathStone employee and an advocate for the farmworker community. Her own experience growing up in a farmworker family fueled her desire to help people in similar situations. After obtaining her associate degree in social work, she joined PathStone seeking to work directly with the farmworker community through outreach.
Mariana Jazmin García-Guzmán, a farmworker at Liskai who uses her voice to advocate for her family and other workers at the camp to ensure that their rights are protected. After graduating high school and giving birth to her daughter, Natalia, Mariana continues working hard in both of her jobs.
Emily Showalter of Willoway Nurseries, Inc., which provides employment for more than 200 farm workers. Emily has shown interest and commitment to helping identify some of the issues in Ohio agriculture. She is a member of the Ohio Department of Health committee reviewing the rules for agricultural labor camps.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH), the agency responsible for licensing agricultural labor camps, the investigation of unlicensed camps, and the investigation of reported violations in licensed camps, among other responsibilities. This year ODH has spearhead the Rules committee in order to help improve the conditions of the labor camps in Ohio and protect the health and safety of the farmworkers.