15 Stories About How the Pandemic is Impacting Food and Farm Workers | Civil Eats

15 Stories About How the Pandemic is Impacting Food and Farm Workers

This Labor Day, we share some of our recent coverage of the workers keeping our food system running, and us fed.

farmworkers picking corn

If there’s one, unifying theme throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—beyond the importance of social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing—it’s that food and farmworkers are critically important and critically under-supported.

From farm fields to slaughterhouses to grocery stores, the people who grow, pick, process, and sell our food are among those most affected by the pandemic. And they have always been essential.

Civil Eats has regularly explored the challenges food and farmworkers are facing, as well as solutions that are being put to work to address them.

This Labor Day, we look back at some of our coverage from the past six months. Taken together, these stories show that, overall, very little has improved—and in some cases, conditions are getting worse.

But in addition to reporting on the challenges that food and farmworkers face, Civil Eats has also covered people and organizations around the country working to better support and protect the workers that keep the U.S. food system running, and us fed.


Grocery Store Workers—’Heroes to the Community’ During Coronavirus—to Get Hazard Pay
Working long hours at great risk of exposure, thousands of grocery store workers are being recognized as essential with a pay raise.

A grocery worker stands behind a partial protective plastic screen and wears a mask and gloves as she works as a cashier at the Presidente Supermarket in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Pandemic Isn’t Easing Up, but Frontline Food Workers Are Already Losing Bonus Pay
As parts of the U.S. economy reopen and food demand remains high, some companies are ending ‘hero’ and ‘hazard’ bonuses.

Farmworkers Are in the Coronavirus Crosshairs
Farmworkers work, live, and travel in crowded conditions, and are being allowed few if any safety measures against COVID-19—which puts them and the food system at risk.

meatpacking workers in a slaughterhouse. USDA photo by Alice Welch

Poor Conditions at Meatpacking Plants Have Long Put Workers at Risk. The Pandemic Makes it Much Worse.
Plant closures due to coronavirus outbreaks—and deaths—among workers underscore existing problems.

newsmatch 2023 banner - donate to support civil eats

Black-Owned Restaurants in Detroit Are Hard Hit by the Pandemic
After decades of structural racism, the city’s Black restaurateurs are facing both health and economic crises.

A restaurant worker slices focaccia bread in the kitchen of a restaurantUndocumented Restaurant Workers Have Held the Industry Together. Now They Stand to Lose the Most.
Long working in invisible positions, and at risk for coronavirus and deportation, the undocumented often hesitate to seek support.

Food Service Workers Are on the Brink of a Mental Health Crisis. These Efforts are Helping.
Newly unemployed and frontline food workers are struggling with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Nationwide, efforts are underway to encourage and provide mental health support.

OSHA Faulted for Not Doing More to Protect Workers from COVID-19
A record number of food and farmworkers are falling sick and dying from coronavirus. Advocates blame the federal agency for failing to set mandatory worker safety standards.

A man cooks food in a restaurant kitchen. Photo credit: One Fair Wage.

One Fair Wage Wants to Help Reopen Restaurants—and Change How They Pay Workers
In partnership with New York City, the organization is offering grants to 100 family-run restaurants forced to close due to COVID-19, with the goal of raising wages and increasing equity.

It’s Now Legal for Home Chefs in California to Sell Meals. Will More Cities Get on Board?
Home chefs, including many newly unemployed restaurant workers, have seen a surge of business during the pandemic. A new state law could help bring their meals to many more people—if it’s adopted more widely.

workers cutting meat in a slaughterhouseHow Essential Food Workers Are Fighting Back
With lawsuits and the civil rights complaints, advocates are taking concrete steps to prevent risking workers’ lives for the sake of company profits.

Isolated in Crowded Conditions, Guest Farmworkers Face High Coronavirus Toll
Workers on H2-A visas are being hard hit by COVID-19 because they work in large groups, know little about their rights in the U.S., and live in remote camps and other communal housing cut off from outside resources.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

food workers at a poultry processing plant watch chickens go by as line speeds accelerateUSDA Seeks to Permanently Speed up Poultry Plant Line Speeds
Food safety advocates say the move, despite COVID-19 risks and longstanding worker safety concerns, is due to industry influence at the agency.

The Iowa Derecho Put Refugee Food Workers at Even Greater Risk
The hurricane-force winds that leveled Cedar Rapids have impacted hundreds of refugees who were considered ‘essential workers’ at meatpacking plants and supermarkets.

h-2a guest farmworkers get temperature checks before starting their shifts.A Battle over Mandatory Farmworker Testing Reveals a Broken System
Michigan just instituted the most far-reaching protections for farmworkers, but some farmers went to court to scrap them.


Read all of our coverage in our Food and Farm Labor section.

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

More from



Volunteers from DTE Energy pack prepackaged boxes for delivery to churches and homebound seniors at Focus: HOPE, a local agency located in Detroit, Michigan that operates the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) in a client choice model so that participants can select the foods they want. (Photo credit: Preston Keres, USDA)

The Government Spends Billions on Food. Who Benefits?

In this week’s Field Report: A push to improve federal food purchasing heats up, the first food-focused COP kicks off, dust storms accelerate, and new evidence suggests that fair-trade certifications are failing to protect farmworkers.


With Season 2, ‘High on the Hog’ Deepens the Story of the Nation’s Black Food Traditions

Stephen Satterfield and Jessica B. Harris watching the sunset at the beach, in a still from Netflix's High on the Hog Season 2. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Building a Case for Investment in Regenerative Agriculture on Indigenous Farms

Jess Brewer gathers livestock at Brewer Ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. (Photo courtesy of Intertribal Agriculture Council, www.indianag.org)

Walmart and EDF Forged an Unlikely Partnership. 17 Years Later, What’s Changed?

Aerial view of cargo containers, semi trailers, industrial warehouse, storage building and loading docks, renewable energy plants, Bavaria, Germany

Relocalizing the Food System to Fight a ‘Farm-Free Future’