Month: October 2011

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.

Mom in the Mirror

“Mom in the Mirror”

My mom is from Pleasanton, Texas, a small town south of San Antonio, Texas.  She is one of five sisters and four brothers.  I remember as a child, when we would visit my grandparents, I would go out to the chicken coop with my grandma and get eggs.  The roads leading from the main drag in Pleasanton to their house were dirt for the longest time and my grandparents did not have indoor plumbing until I was a teenager.   My brother and I still talk about that outhouse and how we didn’t want to go out there in the evening, but didn’t want our cousins teasing us that we were afraid to go out there. Another vivid memory, was in the late sixties when we returned from the Philippines, where my Dad was stationed, my mom’s family butchered a pig in the backyard of my grandparents house.  I don’t know why this didn’t seem out of the ordinary…it just wasn’t, it was the way of our family.  

My mom had been a Navy wife during the 50’s when women’s lib had not even hit the news.  But, even as she was a traditional wife, at home mom and homemaker, she took on the responsibility of paying all the bills and handling the household, the car and my brother and I, while my dad was at sea for 10 months at a time.  She drove us from San Diego to my aunt’s apartment in San Francisco in the early sixties so we could visit and go to Candlestick Park to see the Giants play.  My Tia Jane worked for the front office back in those days and we were a baseball family.  My memory of this visit was driving at night through China Town and visiting the Golden Gate Park…not the revered Candlestick Park.

My mom gained confidence from these responsibilities and experiences when my Dad was on deployment and it translated to me.  As a young wife and later, a single mom, I had to rely on this confidence to thrive in a workforce that was not tolerant of single moms.  I always thought I was so unlike her, she is petite, cool and collected…I am plus sized, emotional and demonstrative…but as I got older and had kids, I learned we had more in common than I realized…she instilled in me the value of education, whether formal or self-taught; to pay attention to the world around you, appreciate sports and politics and find a faith that speaks to you.  She dresses, to this day, impeccably, and only said to me, “always look your best, because you never who you are going to run into…” and that echoes in my ear when I have looked less than my best when running into one of the kid’s teachers or the principal of their school.  Now, my kids tease me because I am always “overdressed”…but I am old school and make no apologies…it is what it is.

Bottom line is that my mom is my mom, and she is my also my best friend.  She has been through a lot this year worried about me being laid off, about my brother working too hard, her struggle with her own health issues and tragically, losing her younger brother, my Tio Johnny.  Through it all, she has dealt with it as best anyone can…but my mom is strong and will not let you see her sweat.  My mom’s living legacy to me, my children and their children, is that family is everything…through the good, the bad and the ugly, family first…


My husband is taking serious some advice he received from a friend of his and is walking every morning. I am joining him for my own health and to stay motivated.
What has surprised me, is our early morning walk has become out time to talk out something that has happened, our fund raiser project, his thoughts about his group sessions, and similar subjects.

Yesterday, he made a comment about one of his young veterans in the group my husband volunteers in. The young man was confrontational. My husband recounted how he addressed the young veteran in his “real man” voice, rather than his “politically correct” voice. Because my husband has PTSD, he can get agitated by some behavior and has to talk himself into not being blunt in responding.

What I took away from this conversation, was how adept has become in critiquing himself, and more measured in his response, no matter what “mode” he uses. What I am also taking away from this conversation, is “Real Man”. That is his new “tag” in my posts, because it not only fits him to a “T”, it is distinct in origin…via the Real Man!


Hijole Salsa

I made salsa for the first time this weekend and I am afraid it didn’t turn out.  I went to Walmart and purchased the little half pint jars I found.  I roasted the jalapenos that my husband’s cousin had brought me.  I roasted the Roma tomatoes, as well, getting charred skins on both.  I chopped some onion and cilantro and threw it all in the blender.  I prepared to cook the salsa, the requisite thirty minutes, while warming the jars and lids. But, the final ingredient was either cider vinegar or bottled lemon juice.  I used what I had, organic apple cider vinegar and immediately realized I may have ruined my signature roasted chile salsa.  It didn’t have quite the right smell or taste.  Granted, it was spicy hot, just like we like it, but it had a …more than a… whiff of vinegar and a bit of a sweet taste. So, as attractive as my little jars look, I am afraid my salsa is going to taste a little like apple cider…just a very spicy, hot apple cider! I was crushed.  But not so crushed, that I am not planning a trip to the Farmer’s Market for more Romas and jalapenos.  Did I mention, I would be stopping at the grocery store and getting bottled lemon juice?

A Post A Day Until the End of 2011

I am taking on a blogging challenge to post once a day until the end of the year. I started on a project in May writing about my husband’s PTSD and our journey since we have been married, that I have put down after a month. I have struggled to find my voice in my blog posts since then, and hope to find it, as well as, improve on it, with this challenge. So look for a variety of posts, including those that address my original project. I am not at a loss for subject matter with a pending benefit golf tournament, the continuing job search, my favorite subject, my husband and best friend, so here we go, readers! A blog a day, starting now!