No Migrant Workers, No Tomatoes Harvested, You Pay More This Winter


Rice field off Interstate 5 in Williams, CA

I saw a headline with tomatoes on the vine.  No workers to pick crops, so crops are dying on vines.  This will translate to higher prices in our supermarkets, because there will be no product for the demand.   I don’t know all the politics of immigration.  I lived in California most of my life and every election year, immigration was an issue.  Now, because of the economy, the unchecked drug wars in Mexico and our border states, the backlash of a President of color, for whatever reason, the illegal migrant worker is targeted.

A cropduster dusting a rice field, no flaggers in sight!


I was a young woman when I married and moved to Northern California.  I was clueless about farming and how crops made it from the fields to our stores shelves.   One of my firsts jobs in agriculture was one in which I flagged in watermelon fields.  Flagging is when two people station themselves at opposite ends of the field with poles with flags on them and wave them when the corp duster buzzes the fields and drops fertilizer on the field.  Not the smartest thing I ever did to earn a buck, but thankfully it was short lived.  I eventually came to my senses and I worked in the offices of a rice, wheat and bean warehouses, working the scales when truckloads of crops came to the warehouses to be processed and stored.  

Wheat field across from the sunflower field, Colusa, CA

  A lot of agriculture work is seasonal.  Not just for the workers in the field, but the warehouse workers, the truck drivers, and processors in canning facilities.    Six to nine months out of the year, life in agriculture towns is pretty quiet.  But, the three or more months of harvest and processing, it is a twenty-four hour machine.  It was during one harvest season, after the birth of my son, that I found myself between seasonal jobs: weighing trucks for stored rice during the late spring and early summer, and waiting for my job weighing trucks during rice harvest in September, when I took a night job working in the tomato harvest.  

  I had always supported Caesar Chavez and the farm worker’s movement.  I boycotted lettuce sold at Safeway and to this day have never drank Gallo wine.  But, I had never worked in the fields.  Before harvesters, it was all done by hand, the hoeing of the weeds and the picking of tomatoes, but automation brought harvesters, with people riding them in the fields, while the tomatoes,vines, dirt, bugs, and the occasional snake came up on the conveyor belt while men and women on both sides of the belt, pulled out the tomatoes that were rotten were tossed back in the rows to be scavenged by birds and animals that night and into the next day.  I never worked a more dirty job.  I have done janitor work, waitress work and construction site cleanup in my lifetime, but working on a tomato harvester left me so filthy with dirt from the field and tomato juice and grime, that I had to undress in the confines of my screened in porch where I could readily put my cruddy clothes into the washer.

Sunflower field near my daughter's house.

  Most of my readers know my position on immigration because of my heritage and my paternal grandmother who was illegal until she was awarded citizenship by default.  All I know is we ship our best work overseas and no one wants to work like migrant workers do, or I even did, back then.  There has to be a better way to do this.  There has to be a more efficient way to have workers pick the crops so the farmers don’t lose money, so the average citizen that is counting every penny doesn’t lose more money.  We are better than this.


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