by Victor M. Fernandez RN, Kathleen M.
Fernandez RN, Gayle Davis RN (1995)
In this report we present and evaluate data
collected on the Hispanic migrant workers' community at DeCoster Egg
Farms in Turner, ME. This community assessment is based on our
observations and interviews with the various agencies involved with
this community, and the many hours spent visiting and talking with
its residents. Several attempts to contact the management at DeCoster
Farms were unsuccessful. Since the management at the farm did not
want to comment or divulge information concerning present condition
at the farm, we could not provide specific numbers and percentages in
this report. We have come to know these people, their strengths and
their weaknesses. We understand their fears and concerns, and
recognize their needs. Yet believing this community even exists is hard.
The autumn leaves
glistened in the afternoon sunshine as the car left route four and
winded its way through the acres of woods and green fields. Two deer
stopped munching the leafy vegetation to stare curiously at the
vehicle as it passed. Interspersed between the woods and fields sat
several barns and other large buildings comprising the Turner, ME
location of DeCoster Egg Farms. Among the barns are small trailer
parks, consisting of about twenty trailers each, neatly lined up
along a single lane road.
The pastoral setting which greeted our group as we journeyed to
investigate the migrant community at DeCoster, hardly seemed to be
the origination of headline news. Yet the farm community has been the
subject of television reports and newspaper articles outlining
complaints of illegal dumping, poor living and working conditions,
and racial controversy for the past two decades. In existence since
1966, DeCoster is the largest brown egg producer in the nation
("State loses," 1992).
The streets look relatively clean and grounds well maintained, but no
churches, store or recreation centers exist that would contribute to
a sense of community. Information obtained from the Androscogin
Sheriff Department suggests a low crime rate with no violent crime
reported. A fire station nearby and emergency medical services are
coordinated by the town of Turner.
The community suffers from moderate air pollution. A major source of
pollutant in the area is the farm, which contributes nitrates various
chemicals, dust and the smell of chicken manure that permeates the
area. According to the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection)
DeCoster claims to have installed a safe drinking water supply for
residents when the well water at the farm was found to be high in
nitrates. They caused the contamination by burying manure near the
water supply, but no current information on the drinking water
quality was available.
The community exists to house migrant workers and their families,
exact figures were not available, but an estimated 160 adults and 50
children live in this community. Residents are Hispanics from Latin
America and the Caribbean Nations, and many live at or below the
poverty level. We estimate adult mean age at 32 years, and children
range in age from infant to 16, of the general population 85% are
male, and 15% are female. Males work as farm laborers while they
assign females work in the packing plant. Most do not speak English
and have an average seventh grade education level with some remaining illiterate.
Rent free housing was provided to residents as part of their working
contract. Now DeCoster management is beginning to charge each worker
$30 per week. No information is available regarding this recent
change. Population is dense with an average family size of three,
with two or three families living in one trailer. One trailer is
reserved for single male workers which currently houses 16 residents.
The trailers we visited were very clean and neat, but the pest
infestation and many safety hazards were obvious. Most trailers had
broken windows and doors, leaking plumbing, defective or missing
smoke detectors, holes in walls and flooring, exposed electrical
wiring, frayed and torn furnishings, cockroach and rat infestation,
and appliances in disrepair. As we toured the trailer one resident
stated "This is a concentration camp, something out of the
nineteenth century, this is not for humans. . . ."
No recreational facilities exist, and they prohibit residents from
holding meetings or informal social gatherings in the community. As a
result, leisure time for males is largely spent drinking alcohol.
They prohibit news letters, bulletin boards or other forms of
communication as is the installation of cable television services.
Many residents we spoke with expressed concern with the level of
social control in the community, a worker explained to us that they
threatened them with losing their job and sending them back to their
country if they were seen talking to outside agencies. Most of the
residents that were willing to speak with us had the same horror
stories of social control, unsafe working conditions, wage
violations, housing violations, and all expressed the same fear of
reprisal, verbal abuse and loss of employment if they sought outside help.
Several large shopping centers/malls are found outside the community
and are accessible only by automobile. Most residents do not have
automobiles, and the few that do often charge $20 to $30 for a trip
to the shopping center or medical appointments. Many also report
incidents of harassment by the local people when they venture out of
The community is part of School Administrative District #52. The
school district has approximately 40 to 50 immigrant children, these
numbers fluctuate as people move in and out of the area. Linda
Parkin, Assistant Superintendent of Schools and head of the English
as a Second Language Program, explains that a 3-year grant funds six
interpreter positions, this is the final year of the grant, and it is
unknown how they will fund the program in future years. School nurse,
Amy Hart, states the immigrant children blend in with the American
children well and do not experience social problems. All dress
properly and none seem hungry, absenteeism and drop out rate is not a problem.
Sandi Crites a Spanish speaking employee heads, a program called
Project Impact. Through the program Sandi does much translating for
the children and acts as an intermediary between children, parents
and teachers. She sees language, mobility of the workers, parents
long working hours and above all the children's inaccessibility to
medical care as barriers to learning. The lack of adequate
transportation and interpreter services adds to the problem. They
have offered English classes in the evening hours in the community,
but according to several residents, no one has attended classes.
Reasons given were long working hours, reluctance to give up their
leisure time, and the fear of reprisal from their employer.
Outside the migrant community, but within a twenty-mile radius, are
various health care facilities, including many physicians and dentist
offices (most requiring full payment at the time of service). Most
residents use the two local hospital emergency department services
for acute and emergency care and the Russel Medical Center for
outpatient services. The medical center accepts the migrant workers
and the cost is based on a sliding fee scale funded under a federal
grant migrant program. Health problems commonly referred to the
clinic include communicable diseases and rashes, pregnancy, chronic
illness and minor first aid problems, residents generally seek crisis
oriented care. Interviews with residents and medical providers
suggest preventive health care is not a priority to the community
mainly due to the lack of transportation and their language barrier.
Many residents expressed feelings of frustration with health care
providers. It is felt that the medical personnel do not understand
them and they are not receiving the care they should.
Health and social related associations and organizations outside the
DeCoster community, which provide services to those who need it
include: Russel Medical Center, Rural Community Action Ministry,
Rural Health Centers of Maine and Pine Tree Legal. The following is a
description of services offered by these organizations:
1. Russel Medical Center: Outpatient clinic serving the community
dealing mostly with chronic illness and minor first aid problems.
Fees are based on a sliding scale supported by a migrant worker
federal grant. Two of the doctors speak some Spanish, but admit it is
quite difficult to communicate with patients. They are not involved
in preventive health care or health education for the residents of
2. Rural Community Action Ministry: This organization provides one
interpreter and transportation to medical facilities. They provide
the service only one day per week, on Thursdays.
3. Rural Health Centers of Maine: With offices in Manchester this
organization provides onsite preventive health care and other medical
services and education to migrant workers in the state. They operate
a mobile clinic staffed with medical personnel and supplies which
visits various migrant sites in the northern part of the state. East
Coast Migrant Health Project, Inc. funds these services. Tina Prince,
a nurse with the East Coast Migrant Health Project, explained that
her organization hires local health care providers to provide it's
services. She also admits that the lack of funding and the fact that
the DeCoster community is a year round migrant population excludes
them from many of these services.
4. Pine Tree Legal Migrant Worker Division: Office in Bangor,
provides legal advice and representation to migrant workers. Staff
consists of a Hispanic lawyer and a Spanish speaking paralegal. They
have helped the community in solving many legal problems and continue
to help the DeCoster community with housing and wage violation issues.
After many days of interviewing and visiting with members of the
migrant community and others associated with them, we are left with
the impression that the community suffers from learned helplessness.
We observed that the members of the community are less motivated to
try different responses that might bring relief from the unpleasant
situation. And even if a response does bring relief, they do not seem
to recognize the response had anything to do with the relief. Carlos,
a resident of the community, is the informal leader. He is the one
some come to for advice and help with various health and work related
issues. He tells us the people have given up hope. They are afraid of
DeCoster. Holding up his crippled right hand, and pointing to the
missing digits he says, "I'm not afraid. I have nothing to lose.
I lost my hand here and they don't care. I know I won't be around
here long, but before I leave I will do what I can to help these
people, they are my people, we are all Hispanic. You see, look."
Looking out the window he points at the company vehicle that has been
riding up and down the street in front of the trailer since our
arrival, "they are watching us. This is how we live here like
animals. You know they will try to intimidate you too."
The publicized history of the farm and its community of migrant
workers divulges 29 years of a less than perfect management record. A
brief summary follows:
* The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has penalized
DeCoster many times since the early 1970s, for wage and overtime
violations (Kukka, 1992).
* In the 1970s, DeCoster was criticized for hiring children, some as
young as age 10 and 11. At least two children under the age of 16
were injured when they were working near machines that were not
equipped with safety guards. State labor laws did not apply to
children on the egg farm since it is an agricultural operation.
Federal regulations did not include egg packing machines as
"hazardous" equipment (Kukka, 1992).
* May 1987, the Department of Environmental Protection began
investigating the farm when evidence was supplied that a rotting pile
of 10,000 chicken carcasses had been dumped in one of DeCoster's
fields (Kukka, 1992).
* August 1987, the Attorney General's Office filed 14 counts
complaining against the company, alleging six illegal dumps, three
waste water lagoons that drained into the ground water, nine
buildings built without permits and other violations. Also in that
month, under federal investigation, the U.S. Border Patrol caught
three Mexican nationals working at the farm. Other illegal aliens
were also arrested at the farm. The U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) in Portland contends violations
continued until legal action was taken against DeCoster
("DeCoster Fined," 1989).
* 1988, the state required DeCoster to provide bottled water to
workers living at the farm, as well water there was found to be high
in nitrates. According to the Department of Environmental Protection
(DEP), the contamination was from burying manure on the farm
("DeCoster Fined," 1989).
* Summer 1988, New York removed DeCoster eggs from its supermarket
shelves because of a salmonella scare. DeCoster had to destroy at
least 200,000 hens (Kukka, 1992).
* 1989 DeCoster claimed to have installed a safe drinking water
supply for residents of the trailer parks (Kukka, 1992).
* March 1989, INS in Portland brought 185 counts against DeCoster's
operation, seven were withdrawn. Of the remaining 178 counts, nine
were for knowingly hiring or continuing to employ illegal aliens. One
hundred sixty nine counts were for failing to complete or improperly
completing forms required on each employee hired after November 6,
1986. DeCoster paid a $32,850 fine to INS in settlement charges
("DeCoster Fined," 1989).
* March 1990, Pine Tree Legal represented twelve Hispanic farm
workers, filing suit against DeCoster in U.S. District Court,
claiming housing and wage violations. As a result, in December 1990,
DeCoster promised to disclose all wage, benefit, and housing terms
when they recruited workers, provide written documentation when
deducting travel or housing expenses from workers paychecks and
comply with federal wage laws (Kukka, 1992).
* January 1992, in a consent decree with the state, DeCoster agreed
to pay a $165,000 fine and spend nearly $1 million on environmental
cleanup, including extensive ground water tests, construction of new
underground septic systems and capping of an abandoned landfill
* May 9, 1992, they summoned DeCoster manager Doucas J. Goranites on
a charge of class D criminal threatening of Richard Hartford, a
DeCoster neighbor. According to affidavits filed by the Attorney
General's Office, Goranites blocked Hartford's vehicle on DeCoster
land on May 11, 1989, threw Hartford's camera to the ground and told
him, "You know accidents happen and maybe it will happen to you
on this property" (Kukka, 1992).
* May 11, 1992 17 illegal Mexican immigrants working and living at
DeCoster's were arrested by federal immigration officials and ordered
to leave the country within 30 days. Charges were filed against
DeCoster with the usual fine being $2,000 to $5,000 per worker. In
June 1992 a Federal Grand Jury indicted DeCoster's company and farm
manager Homero Ramirez for knowingly hiring the 17 illegal aliens
* May 20,1992, the Maine Attorney General's Office filed suit against
DeCoster for violating his farm workers' civil rights. Teachers,
healthcare workers, social service providers and friends were all
required to gain clearance from a supervisor before entering the
complex. Court Justice James Archibald denied the state's request for
a temporary restraining order against DeCoster's restrictions
("State Loses," 1992).
* December 1992, a landmark court ruling established that farm
workers have the same civil rights as other Maine citizens, even if
they do not pay cash rent for company owned housing. Androscoggin
Superior Court Justice Carl O. Bradford ruled that DeCoster's Mexican
and Mexican-American employees living in a trailer park on the farm
had a right to receive visitors previously barred from the farm. He
ordered a sign prohibiting unauthorized visitors removed. DeCoster
was not fined but ordered to pay all legal costs of the lawsuit,
including reasonable attorney fees ("DeCoster Employees," 1992).
BOUNDARIES People: An average of 160
adults and 50 children, figures constantly vary with season and work loads. Place: The community
exists within the DeCoster Egg Farm properties, in the town of
Turner, ME Common Interests or Goals: Children's
education, employment and an opportunity to save enough money to
return to their native land. Criteria for Membership: Hispanic
migrant farm workers and their families. Permeability: The
community boundaries are relatively impermeable. Entrance into the
community is contingent on individuals meeting employment criteria
set by DeCoster Egg Farms, unknown to us. Supra System: Rural
Community Action Ministry, Rural Health Centers of Maine, Pine Tree
Legal, DeCoster Egg Farms management, School Administrative District
#52 in Turner, ME.
Provide housing, promote survival and provide
socialization for its members. SET FACTORS
Physical Characteristics. In existence since 1966 Demographic data:
Ages: Adult mean age 32 years, children's ages infant
to 16 years.
Sex: Exact figures not available. Approximately 85%
are male; 15% are female.
Housing: Trailer parks consisting of about twenty
trailers each. Most of these trailers are in disrepair. Inspection of
units revealed many safety hazards: broken windows and doors, holes
on floors, defective plumbing and heating systems, torn and frayed
furnishings, rodent and pest infestation (cockroaches roam freely),
weak and rotted wooden steps and landings, inoperable or missing
smoke detectors and defective appliances, stoves and refrigerators.
Of the units we visited, most were kept very clean and neat. Most
live rent free, but now DeCoster has begun to charge workers $30 per
week, details as to the criteria for rent charges were not available.
Density of population: The population is dense, with
an average of three persons per family. Two to three families occupy
each trailer, and 16 single male workers reportedly occupy one
Physical Features of the Community: DeCoster Egg Farm
is a rural, relatively clean, residential and farming area. Psychosocial Characteristics
Religion: Mostly Catholic
Socioeconomic Class: This community is poor, with a
mean income of $15,000 annually. Workers average 75 to 80 hours per
week with out over time pay.
Education: The average level of education is seventh
grade, most do not speak any English, and some are illiterate.
Occupation: The two job categories for workers in this
community are farm laborers and packing plant operators. Most women
work in the packing plants, a few remain at home to take care of the children.
Marital Status: No accurate information available, but
from observation and personal interviews, we can expect most are
married. Many of those who are married have a spouse and children
remaining in their native land.
Resources: They provide no funds to the community from outside
Demands: They need funding to provide basic health
care needs and education.
Resources: Russel Medical Center, two hospitals,
shopping centers and malls.
Demands: Most facilities are inaccessible to members
of the community due to lack of transportation and/or language
barriers. No insurance exists to pay for health care and most
perceive they are not treated with respect and do not receive quality
health care from the health care providers.
Human Services Formal
Resources: Emergency medical services, a community
health nurse who provides sporadic visits only during summer months,
Pine Tree Legal, Project Impact which provides interpreters and
serves as an intermediary between children, parents and teachers.
Rural Community Action Ministry provides transportation and
interpreter services one day a week.
Demands: They offer none of the services above on a
full time basis.
Demands: Lack of information relating to access and
use of available services. Area social and health agencies do not
provide health information and education to the community.
Resources: Recent court ruling established farm
workers have the same civil rights as other Maine citizens and that
employees living in a trailer park on the farm have a right to
receive visitors previously barred from the farm. They no longer
require that teachers, health care workers, social service providers
and friends gain clearance from the supervisor before entering the community.
Values of Supra System
Resources: The existence of Project Impact and English
as a Second Language program suggests that the school system values
the immigrant children and their education.
Demands: Lack of funding for health education,
nursing, medical services and transportation to available facilities.
With only one day/wk during summer months of funding for the nurse,
and one day/wk transportation and interpreter assistance to reach
health care facilities, it appears health is not a high priority. THROUGHPUTS (INTERNAL FUNCTIONS)
Demands: No human services are available within the
community, either formal or informal.
They generate no revenue within the community.
Demands: No parks or recreational facilities. Lack of
recreational equipment for use by children. Environmental hazards
such as rats, cockroaches and stray dogs.
Demands: The education level of this community is low,
many members are below the poverty level. All are employed in
occupations that require little advanced education. Adult education
classes have been offered to the DeCoster community at the farm, but
were not attended due to the long work hours. Most are afraid of what
management will say or do to them. Analysis of Economy
This community has relatively few resources to meet
the health related needs of its members. The community is struggling
with housing and wage violations that effect the provision of
services. Any new health programs would have to be inexpensive or
require additional funding.
Organizational Structure: This community does not have
its own organizational structure.
Leaders: No formal leaders exist in this community. An
informal leader is Carlos, who some members of the community come to
for advice and assistance with problems relating to health care,
legal issues and work related issues. During our interview it was
obvious that others from the suprasystem did not intimidate him, and
he showed an interest in attempting to organize and unify the
community to deal with health care, housing and wage violation
problems. He is outspoken and ready to do whatever is necessary to
aid in the struggle with problems that effect the provision of services.
Patterns of Decision Making: No obvious patterns of
decision making exist. Each member of the community deals with their
problems rather selfishly. Survival of the fittest.
Methods of Social Control: Rules regarding social
gatherings, group meetings and to some extent visitors come from the
suprasystem, with DeCoster management particularly mentioned in
relation to all social control. DeCoster does not allow that
residents have any parties, birthday celebrations, cook outs or
meetings within the community. Analysis of Polity: The community has no real
organization and most live in fear of retaliation from DeCoster
management with threats of losing their jobs and housing for any
attempt at organizing the community or merely socializing with other
members of the community in groups. DeCoster has also discouraged
contact with outside agencies by intimidating those who try to help
the community. There are norms of conduct and there is no information
to suggest that norms are being ignored or violated.
Nonverbal: Adult members of the community appear
frustrated and apprehensive, those willing to talk often described
their community as a concentration camp, something out of the
nineteenth century. Children at play would stop and disappear behind
a trailer at the sight of a stranger; a young couple holding hands
separated and went inside their trailer, it felt cold and hostile.
During our interview they explained that there are members of the
community that act as moles, reporting to management who has
visitors, what they have said or done. Fearing retaliation most
members of the community would rather live in isolation and have no
contact with outsiders.
Verbal: Communication among the community members is
egalitarian, social and minimal. They discourage newsletters, posters
and fliers as are informal gatherings and formal meetings. DeCoster
management has even gone as far as prohibiting cable television hook
up to the trailers preventing access to Spanish channels that may be
available to the community. Analysis of Communications
There is no evidence to suggest the community has the
capacity to communicate easily with all its members and there is no
opportunity for social gatherings and exchange of information. In
planning health care, the nurse must be aware that the only apparent
means to gather and disburse information to members is a door to door
campaign. In all probability this would result in some intimidation
by DeCoster management. Concerning communication on health related
matters, the residents have expressed their concerns that health care
providers do not seek out or listen to community or individual
concerns. From interviews with health care organizations, health care
providers apparently do not communicate among themselves and are not
involved in coordinating services. Not only does a language barrier
exists between the community and health care providers, but there
also may be a lack of interest in the suprasystem to address the
health care needs and human rights of this community. Minimal
information was available about who determines the care and service
needs of this community. Information available was incomplete and at
times contradictory. We need more information.
Traditions: The traditions that reflect the ethnic
background of the community such as birthdays, holidays and
transitional events cannot be upheld. DeCoster management prohibits
the celebration of traditions that provides a sense of identity to
the communities members and stability to the community. The
intimidation by management has resulted in an individuality and they
expect that each individual cope with his or her own problems.
Subgroups: There are a number of subgroups that
national origin can identify. From observations and personal
interviews, there appears to be a great deal of distrust between
these groups. All the groups we spoke with blame DeCoster Farms for
the alienation and mistrust among them.
Environment: The streets are clean, yards are well
maintained, free of litter and debris. They permit no flowers or
decorations. There are stray dogs and many voice their concern with
the infestation by rats, flies and cockroaches. The air reeks of
chicken manure, a smell that permeates everything in sight. The
reported low crime rate suggests that the residents are concerned
with adhering to laws related to private property and personal safety.
Health: There are no health care facilities within the
community and residents rely on the nearby health center and local
hospital emergency department for their health care needs. Interviews
revealed members place a greater priority on getting health care
services when ill than on seeking preventive health care. Some
obvious reasons for this trend are language barriers, lack of
transportation and above all attitudes toward health professionals.
Most feel health care providers do not listen to their concerns and
fear the interpreters provided by DeCoster are not accurately
relaying their concerns and health care problems to the providers.
This is especially true when dealing with work related injuries. Some
residents report that even in cases of an emergency there is great
deal of delay in obtaining transportation to the medical facility,
delays of up to several days. In general, residents seek only crisis
Homogeneity vs. Heterogeneity: This community is very
homogeneous with respect to race, socioeconomic status, education,
and residential maintenance.
Analysis of Values: The homogeneity suggests that the
community members share similar values. It seems that they do not
value education and preventive health care, based on the level of
education and the type of health care services used. The nurse would
need to consider the factors affecting these values (e.g., lack of
transportation, language barriers, and above all the level of social
control by means of intimidation used by DeCoster) in planning health
programs and services to ensure community participation.
OUTPUTS (HEALTH BEHAVIORS AND HEALTH STATUS) People Factors
Size: There is inadequate information to identify
trends related to the size of the community. Most of those residents
who were surveyed reported that the community has remained relatively
stable in number, this seems to suggest a population that is not very
mobile but remains within the community limits. The reason for this,
however, is that as a certain number of the population leaves, a like
number moves in to replace them. No additional information is available.
Mortality and morbidity: There is no information on
causes of death, if any have occurred. Major diseases and conditions
are communicable diseases (specific diseases unknown) and rashes,
accidents requiring first aid, work related injuries, chronic
illnesses (non specified), and dental problems. Problems that we
might expect in the general population include substance abuse;
depression and suicide; sex education needs; pregnancy; sexually
transmitted diseases; trauma and violence; communicable diseases; and
upper respiratory illnesses. Vulnerable or high risk groups include
substance abusers, sexually active teenagers, and farm workers
Social functioning: No information is available to
calculate an accurate dependency ratio. Observations and interviews
would suggest a low dependency ratio. Surveys would be necessary to
get additional information.
Types of disabilities or impairments present or
expected: Learning disabilities are likely to be present because of
the language barriers and lack of adequate health care. Work related
injuries with disabilities due to unsafe farm machinery and chemical exposure.
Physical environment: They have crowded and not well
maintained housing. The air contains many pollutants, and pest
infestation is a major concern. We do not have information about the
quality of the water supply which has been a problem in the past.
Social environment: Residents appear dissatisfied,
suggesting a stressful environment. Many residents have remained in
the area for some time and are subject to a high stress level that
accompanies concern for personal and family safety, job security, and
constant fear of retaliation from the employer. Level of Health
Actual needs: We can identify several health needs
from the existing data including: heart disease, sexually transmitted
diseases, and health information needs related to hygiene and
pregnancy. A knowledge deficit regarding community resources and
their unacceptability and inaccessibility.
Potential needs: Substance abuse mental health
counseling, lower accident rates, and a safe working and living environment.
Community action: The community has taken some
action related to health needs. One way to ensure the community's
response to health needs would be to make health care facilities more
accessible and provide a full time bilingual community nurse who can
help address health issues effectively.
DeCoster employees win right to receive visitors.
(1992, December 11). The Maine Times, p. 9.
DeCoster fined for using illegal workers. (1989, March
10). The Maine Times, p. 7.
Kukka, C. (1992, May 29). DeCoster again. The Maine
Times, p. 12.
State loses a round on visitor checkpoints. (1992,
August 8). The Maine Times, pp. 2, 4