Participation in a shifting global context? A case study of labor and faith in the American South
Farmworker ministries provide essential goods and services as well as spiritual support to migrant farmworkers living abroad. While faith-based organizations and/or ministries are key to supporting migrant and/or refugee populations in the U.S., scholars have conducted little research on these institutions, especially those that seek to encourage the agency of those they serve. To address this gap, this study investigated a political capacity-building project conducted by the Valley View Farmworker Ministry in the summers of 2015 and 2016. That initiative sought to increase engagement and leadership of the workers that Valley View serves, to increase the Board of Directors (BOD) understanding of the farmworkers' lives, and to enhance farmworker influence on that Board's activities and decisions. The author undertook five months of fieldwork with Valley View in 2016 that included review of key documents, and completion of twenty-three interviews with a sample of farmworkers, Board of Directors, and employees. The study utilized an intersectional, participatory (Fraser, 2009) theoretical framework to analyze the justice implications of the Ministry's efforts to address the political, cultural, and economic disparities among the project's participants. The results contribute to studies on community-based research with migrant farmworkers, theoretical discussions of participatory development, and analyses of the enduring power of the agrarian imaginary, the image of the small-scale, white, male grower, to thwart such initiatives. It also builds on arguments regarding how to increase participation of farmworkers in the alternative agri-food and sustainable agriculture movements. This analysis concludes by exploring the social tensions often associated with participatory development and offering recommendations for increasing worker engagement and leadership in farmworker ministries and for confronting the agrarian imaginary.