UFW’s Campaign Against the Use of Pesticides in the Fields (by Johnny Wang)


Grade 11-12 Students

Reading Standards

• Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

• Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

• Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

• Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Writing Standards

• Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

• Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

• Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


The purpose of this lesson is introduce the students to a rather unique facet of the Chicano-Latino movement. Specifically, the students will learn about UFW’s journey though fighting against pesticides.


In this lesson, students are expected to first build general knowledge regarding the farm workers’ movement in a larger context. Through analyzing either primary or secondary sources of choice, as well as giving presentations, students will quickly become familiar with the main components of the farm workers’ movement. Lecture by the instructor will further solidify these concepts. Afterwards, the students will then be exposed to the central topic of this lesson, pesticides, through analyzing a provided secondary source and attending lecture. Students will be expected to participate in a discussion structured in a debate-like manner. This type of discussion motivates students to think critically about the subject matter throughout the activity. Moreover, the students are to engage in an activity that involves doing research on the central topic and finding relevant sources. Students will then have to analyze two more primary and secondary sources, one of which will be provided, and finally using all the analyzed sources to organize their thoughts into coherent essays. This activity motivates the students to not only critically evaluate the sources but also come up with their own fresh perspectives, within bounds of the three sources.


UFW’s attempt to stop the use of pesticides, which caused severe health issues among farm workers, was rough and met with little success.


1. What was the status quo when the pesticide problem was publicized by UFW?

2. What were some consequences due to pesticides in the fields?

3. How much support did UFW receive? What “type” of support was it?

4. What was the government’s response to UFW’s attempt to ban pesticide?

5. What role did the environmentalists play in the whole process? Was it effective?

6. Who were the main hindrances against UFW’s pesticide campaign?

7. Was the UFW successful in fixing the pesticide problem?


Nonunion – not made or produced by people of a particular labor union

Teamsters – a labor union involved in a dispute against UFW

DDT – chlorinated hydrocarbons widely used as pesticides

AWOC – the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, an organization that merged with the National Farm Workers Association to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.


The malicious effects of pesticides came to prominence upon the publication of Rachel Carson’s influential piece, Silent Spring, in 1962.1 The appearance of this novel played a significant role in initiating the environmental movement in the United States. However, at the time, Carson’s focus was the effects of pesticide on the environment rather than the effects on the human beings, as one source states that the issue of pesticides “focused more on the impacts of pesticides on the nonhuman environment.”2 The effects of pesticides on humans were still largely obscured and unaddressed. Coincidentally, the year 1962 was also the beginning of Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA).3 This organization would then evolve into the United Farm Workers, or UFW.

Initially focusing on improving the general working conditions and raising the wages, UFW launched the grape boycott hoping to reach agreements with grape growers. However, during the process, the issue of pesticides became one of the main focuses of Chavez and the UFW in the late 60’s, as more evidence of harmful effects due to pesticides was reported.4 The problem of pesticide use intensified as the relatively less harmful DDT was replaced by more detrimental organophosphates.5 Although determined to mend the pesticide problems, UFW received little support from not only the growers but also the state and federal government. Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) were largely ignorant towards the issues faced by the farm workers as they placed more emphasis on agricultural production and profit.6 The UFW took early actions such as testifying in 1969 in front of the Senate regarding the harmful effects and issues due to pesticide exposure.7 However, their efforts were futile.

The environmental movement was prominent at the time thus Chavez turned to various environmental organizations to seek for support. Although UFW was able to form temporary and loose affiliation with small organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Friends of Earth (FOE), they had little success with mainstream environmental organizations.8 These organizations were the more prominent and influential ones in the movement, hence “mainstream.” These include the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and more.9 Although some of the mainstream organizations supported UFW’s stand against pesticides, they were more concerned about the effects of pesticides on the environment not the farm workers.10 Nevertheless, UFW continued to fight hard against the growers through grape boycott. In 1970, the UFW was successful and signed 150 contracts with the grape growers.11 All of the contracts included strict regulations on pesticide use.

However, UFW’s success was short-lived. Before the UFW was able to proceed and negotiate with the lettuce growers, many had already reached agreement with the Teamsters, who did not set up strict rules against pesticide use.12 The Teamsters also threatened to take away UFW’s contracts with grape growers.13 Moreover, pesticide issue intensified as new and more potent pesticides were introduced that led to widespread health consequences. Faced with these problems, Chavez decided to continue the boycott and again attempted to seek support from environmental organizations. However, these efforts were largely unsuccessful as most environmental groups refused to support the UFW.14

Despite intermittent surges and falls, the UFW’s attempt to fix the pesticide problem persisted even a few years before Chavez’s death. In 1988, Chavez began his second major fast and according to him, it was an “act of penance” and a “declaration of non-cooperation.”15 In his first address to the public after his 36-day fast, Chavez emphasized the horrendous consequences that the pesticides had brought not only to the farm workers but also their families.16 Chavez exposed and criticized the unfair and inhumane treatment that the farm workers were experiencing. The detrimental effects of pesticides and the cruelty of those who were indifferent towards these consequences were vividly exposed in this address. This address ends with a short by powerful call-to-action. The fight against pesticides continues even after Chavez’s death.


A copy of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century can be obtained at click here

Cesar Chavez’s first major address after his 36-day 1988 fast over the pesticide poisoning of farm workers


This topic should most likely be taught/discussed over a course of three 1-hour class periods. The first day will be focused on introducing some major figures and organizations of the Chicano-Latino movement. This will provide students who may or may not have prior knowledge in this subject a preliminary background needed in order to do the activities. Prior to the first class, students are expected to do a pre-exercise at home, which will be shared in the first day of class.


A week before the first class, briefly introduce Cesar Chavez and the UFW to the students. Afterwards, allow students to raise their hands and talk about what they know or what they have learned about Cesar Chavez and the UFW. Finally, inform the students about an upcoming assignment that will be due in a week through the following procedure:

1. Divide the class into two groups: group A and group B

2. Ask the students to each find either a primary or a secondary source. Inform the students that primary sources are highly recommended.

3. Students from group A will focus on finding sources that talk about the background of Cesar Chavez and the UFW. The questions below can serve as guideline:

• Who was Cesar Chavez? What type of historical figure was he?
• What is UFW? How did it form?

4. Students from group B will focus on finding sources that explore the major events that Cesar Chavez and the UFW were involved in between 1965-1970.

5. Inform the students that each student will give a short presentation (90 seconds maximum) in the next class on the sources they will have found.

Note: Some students may find similar sources that talk about similar ideas. However, students will most likely offer differing perspectives even on the same subject matter.

Day 1

Allow each student a maximum of 90 seconds to give his or her presentation. After the presentations, divide the class into groups (about 3-4 people per group) and ask the groups to discuss and reflect on what they have learned and heard after the mini research activity and the presentations. Have each group elect one representative to present the main idea of the small discussion.

Afterwards, give the students a short pop extra-credit quiz regarding the topics being discussed. Inform the students after the quiz that they will receive full credit as long as they write down something along the lines of:

• Cesar Chavez led the UFW
• Grape boycott
• Farm workers’ movement

Note: Other answers are acceptable and are to be determined by the instructor. Also, reveal the surprise to the students that if they wrote something about “pesticides,” they will receive double extra credit!

Give a lecture that provides student with a better understanding of Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the farm workers’ movement in general. The structure of the lecture is determined by the instructor. Construct the lecture so that it emphasizes certain ideas that were not mentioned or talked about by any students during their presentations. Be certain to talk about the Delano grape strike and the subsequent boycott. The lecture should be interactive with the students. The students should be given multiple opportunities to voice their opinion and thoughts during and after the lecture.

At the end of the lecture, students should have a pretty solid understanding of the basic background needed to understand the pesticide issue that involved the UFW and the farm workers. Provide a brief introduction and transition into the pesticide issue and ask the students what they know about it.

At the end of class, give each student a copy of the fifth chapter of Randy Shaw’s <em>Beyond the Field: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century</em>. Ask the students to read, highlight, and annotate the piece by next class.

Day 2

The purpose of this class is to build the students’ understanding of the specific subject matter regarding the UFW’s campaign against pesticides. The students will learn the multiple facets of the pesticide issue in this class, which will be half lecture and half discussion. Students will explore the driving force behind the UFW’s work towards banning pesticides, as well as the “stopping force” against UFW’s attempt. “Stopping force” includes those who are for pesticide use as well.

In the first part of class, give the students a detailed lecture regarding the movement against pesticides. This lecture should provide the students necessary background information on the pesticide campaign in order to prepare the students to be able to analyze both primary and secondary resources on this subject matter.

Afterwards, split the class into two groups (subject to change dependent upon the number of students in class). Have one group discuss the driving force behind the UFW’s effort against pesticides and have the other discuss the stopping force against it. The two groups will then collaborate and “discuss” their ideas in a debate-like fashion. One group will be for pesticide (growers, certain government officials) the other will be against it (UFW, farmworkers). The discussion should include materials from the take-home reading and from the lecture.

Wrap up the class by adding to the discussion, if necessary. Inform the students that before next class, they are to each find either a primary or secondary source and seek your approval through email. In addition, provide the primary source of Cesar Chavez’s address after his 36-day fast. Then, ask each of them to carefully read and analyze both the provided primary source and his or her source of choice.

Hint the students that there may be an in-class essay scheduled for next class.

Day 3

This class is designed in a way that allows students to not only demonstrate what they have learned about the UFW’s involvement in the pesticide campaign but also to come up with their own ideas/perspectives in regards to the subject. This activity will allow students to show off their analytical skills and practice to think and write as a historian.

Ask each student to write a synthesis essay on his or her topic of choice. The topic needs to be bounded by the three sources: the provided primary and secondary sources and a source of choice by each individual student. All three sources are to be included in the essay. Students have approximately 60 minutes to complete the assigned task.


Laura, Pulido, and Pena Devon. “Environmentalism and Positionality: The Early Pesticide Campaign of the United Farm Workers’ Organizing Committee, 1965-71.” Jean Ait Belkhir, Race, Gender & Class Journal. no. 1 (1998): 33-50. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/41658847.pdf

Mills, Paul K., Richard Yang, and Deborah Riordan. “Lymphohematopoietic Cancers in the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), 1988-2001.” Cancer Causes & Control 16, no. 7 (2005): 823-830. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/10.2307/20069533.pdf

Rudd, Peter. “The United Farm Workers Clinic in Delano, Calif.: A Study of the Rural Poor.” Public Health Reports. no. 4 (1975): 331-339. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/4595267.pdf


1 Shaw, Randy. Beyond the fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the struggle for justice in the 21st century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

2 The University of Richmond. “Cesar Chavez Testifies on the Health Effects of Pesticides Among Migrant Farm Workers.” History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research. http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5828 (accessed May 3, 2014)

3 Shaw, Randy. Beyond the fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the struggle for justice in the 21st century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

4 Gordon, Robert. “Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and
Environmental Politics.” University of California Press. no. 1 (1999): 51-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3641869.pdf (accessed May 3, 2014)

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7Nash, Linda. “The Fruits of Ill-Health: Pesticides and Workers’ Bodies in Post-World
War II California.” Chicago Journals. (2004): 203-219. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3655240.pdf (accessed May 3, 2014)

8 Gordon, Robert. “Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and
Environmental Politics.” University of California Press. no. 1 (1999): 51-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3641869.pdf (accessed May 3, 2014)

9 Shaw, Randy. Beyond the fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the struggle for justice in the 21st century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

10 Gordon, Robert. “Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and
Environmental Politics.” University of California Press. no. 1 (1999): 51-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3641869.pdf (accessed May 3, 2014)

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Shaw, Randy. Beyond the fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the struggle for justice in the 21st century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

15 Bishop, Katherine. “Fast by Chavez Over Pesticides Passes 29th Day.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/16/us/fast-by-chavez-over-pesticides-passes-29th-day.html

16 United Farm Workers. “Address by Cesar Chavez, President United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO Pacific Lutheran University March 1989-Tacoma, Washington. “UFW: The Official Web Page of the United Farm Workers of America. http://www.ufw.org/_oage.php?menu=research&inc=history/10.html (accessed May 3, 2014)

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