October 10, 2009
Cold weather is influencing the harvest of crops in the Yakima Valley. Grapes are being harvested at night all around me. Most, but not all of the field corn is in storage. Some apples remain to be picked. Peppers and other vegetable crops are victims of frost. For weeks now many hay trucks have been hauling their product to or from farmers.
Harvest season for hops has been more or less over for a about a week. But during the active season, night and day, workers riding on specialized machines detach the hop vines from their supports and load them to trucks. The hops are then taken from the fields and loaded onto mechanisms that propel them through machinery that removes most leaves, stems or other debris.
Despite the many advances in mechanization at the various stages of hop production, there are still many migrant farm workers that handle the crop.
The final step of the process at the facility prior to transport is to bale the hops. As the compressed bale exits the machine, partially wrapped, workers move it quickly to the floor to hand sew each end. Each bale is then marked and will be taken by truck to the storage facilities.
September 15, 2009
The cherries are long since picked. Asparagus fields are fluffy with their verdant stems and leaves. The hops crop is probably close to three fourths harvested. Corn fields are full. Apples are ready for picking.
It has been a good summer.
May 21, 2009
Cut flowers are fun to give and a joy to receive. But do you ever think about all that goes into growing, processing and shipping cut flowers? There are many factors that a farmer has to deal with to bring you beautiful flowers. The crop must be monitored daily for insect or disease outbreaks and chemicals must be used safely in such a way that the chemicals used are not a hazard to the workers. This means sometimes holding back workers from the crop until it is safe for the workers to return. And this does not affect just migrant farm workers, for often on small flower farms the farmers own children, brothers, cousins or other relatives are involved in the field operations as well.
Once it is safe to work, the day or night temperature often can speed up or delay the cutting of the flowers. Idle time is not easily picked up with other work. Often a worker must ride out this time because other work is not available or the other work available is taken by other workers. There is an overlap of seasons for many crops and for other crops there is not. Timing and connections are constantly needed to stay employed during the growing season. While the migrant worker is perceived as a job stealer and no account, if one were to trade places with them,one would find out in a hurry that the work is hard and tenuous.
Savor the aroma and beauty of your cut flowers. The human element makes it more real.
May 12, 2009
When a farmer grows asparagus he usually assigns a certain number of rows or plots based on the number of members in the family tending the crop. So when one looks at an asparagus field closely, one will see stakes arranged to let each family know where they venture and where they do not.
A face of America's Food Supply
Cutting for a Living
With finely sharpened asparagus knife in hand, the workers are out sometimes over an hour before dawn picking before the heat of day or before going on to their next job. Its tough work bending over cutting the spears precisely, for the quality of their work also predicates the amount they are paid. This is no time for slackers or slouches. Migrant farm workers know that the price of quality and their ability to produce is paramount to their continued success. Any farmer for which they work is under constant pressure as well, on many fronts. A worker who can’t cut it (pun intended) won’t either make much money or be around very long.
Think about this next time you prepare your bacon wrapped asparagus.
May 4, 2009
What do I know about people, let alone migrant farm workers? After all, I am a Caucasian, a Southerner transplanted from Louisiana and of Cajun ancestry. Well, when I was a young child if you went to the doctor “white folk” entered the front door and “colored people” entered by way of the back door. The Russians were the hated people that wanted to start World War III at our expense and there was no way that either the Berlin Wall would ever come down or a black man would be president.
My how times have changed. For the better I might add.
I have been fortunate enough to have worked side by side with migrant farm workers in the Lower Yakima Valley of south central Washington state. These individuals come from many places not just Mexico, but from Central and South American countries and Asia. Working long tough hours together under often grueling conditions sorts a lot of things out. I have been impressed by the generous and kind spirit of these workers. I can call a number of them friend. Many have become citizens.
Many of these people will get up at 4 a.m., work one job such as picking asparagus for a couple of hours go to another job such as processing horticultural crops for another 10 to 16 hours, go home, go to sleep, and do the same thing day after day for weeks on end.
- Working the Fields
Granted its very hard physical work and they earn every penny, but if they are blessed, they can earn good money. As far as I am concerned, once they earn it, what they do with it is their business. They get slammed for sending money back to family in their home countries. But if you wanted a better life for your family wouldn’t you send as much back as you could? Does this not sound exactly like the experience of Europeans of the 1800’s and early 1900’s?
May 2, 2009
From Apples and Asparagus to Tomatoes and Watermelons, America’s fresh fruit and vegetables are picked and brought to you with the hard work of migrant farm workers and the best farmers in the world. Despite advances in agricultural mechanization at some point a human hand is involved in some way with the processing of America’s fruit and vegetables. Migrant farm workers, those three words alone can be depending on your point of view, a lightning rod for debate, discussion or furor.