Water in the Fields


The Venture

The Episcopal Farmworker Ministry (EFWM) is a nonprofit located in Dunn, North Carolina with the mission of improving the health and wellbeing of migrant and immigrant farmworkers. Many people are unfamiliar with the vulnerable working conditions of migrant farmworkers, however, the work they do every day is a vital aspect of the food cycle. According to the CDC, farmworkers are 20 times more likely to die from heat-related illnesses than the average American which is just one of the health issues they face.

The Journey

The team working during an Innovation Lab

When the Water in the Fields team realized the challenges that farmworkers go through every day they were galvanized to do something to help. Focusing on dehydration, EFWM had worked with a previous student group to develop an insulated water carrier which allowed workers to keep water on them while working hands-free.

To better understand the key issues, the team organized a visit to the EFWM site to ask farmworkers questions regarding their lives and their usage of the water carriers. Workers reported not being thirsty or feeling dehydrated and many workers were not even receptive to answer questions until a crew leader gave them a nod of approval. 

Essentially, the team realized that even though they knew that medically an issue existed, the farmworkers maintained the opinion that their lifestyle was healthy.

“Sometimes an issue that we believe exists within a community is not seen as an actual issue by the community itself.” – Suri Martinez

The Outcome

Click this image to view the final presentation slide deck

To address this, the group settled on designing and funding an in-depth survey to get a much more accurate view of how farmworkers deal with health. They also designed an educational and practical bandana that could help farmworkers keep the sun off them while also reminding them how important it is to stay hydrated and how important they are to society.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 prevented the team from carrying out the surveys at this time; however, they were able to deliver the finished surveys, provide financial support for their future use, and ship hundreds of bandanas to be distributed to the farmworkers.

Lessons Learned

The Water in the Fields Team had a number of big takeaways from their experience this year. Pridhvi explains how their biggest takeaway came from pivoting their focus: “Our team was initially kind of infatuated with the idea that this was a hydration problem and that if we came up with a solution such as water carriers or clothes that would reduce UV radiation then we would solve the problem.” 

The team really got a glimpse into how much you have to respect a problem’s complexity. Even when you are dealing with what seems like a health problem, it could be, in large part, caused by power structures or cultural habits. 

Even though they pivoted a great deal in their process, the tools this team ended up providing can help the Ministry in the future and will bring more awareness to the issues that farmworkers face. We are really excited to see how their work continues to support EFWM and the farmworker community!

The Team

  • Mariam Shah, junior, chemical engineering (biomolecular)
  • Hannah Bain, senior, communication, Spanish, and international studies, minor in nonprofit studies
  • Pridhvi Gadiraju, senior, biological sciences (integrative physiology and neurobiology), minors in Spanish and business
  • Suri Martinez, junior, fashion and textile management (fashion development and product management)
  • Olivia Merritt, junior, fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology (wildlife), minor in natural resources policy and administration
  • Senior Fellow: Craig Prince, NC State ’19
  • Team Mentor: Andrew DiMeo, consultant, founder of CanvasGT
  • Venture Partner: Lariza Garzon, Executive Director, EFWM
  • Venture Partner: Dr. Juan Carabaña, Program Coordinator, EFWM