Something to think about at the grocery store…

16 Dec


I watched the CBS Report1960: “Harvest of Shame” yesterday and it haunted me all day, especially when I was at the grocery store buying fruits and veggies.  A report about a marginalized sector of the population, migrant farm workers – that is still marginalized today.  The description below the video:

Watch the entire original broadcast of one of the most celebrated documentaries of all time, 1960’s “Harvest of Shame,” in which Edward R. Murrow exposed the plight of America’s farm workers.

While it is almost an hour-long, it is worth it to watch the entire report.  Usually I try to only post video’s that you can just listen to – but this time to get the full impact of the visual pictures – watch if you can.

It’s important to watch because it is history, and this is the era that is touted as the time many wish to turn the clock back too.  Specifically in regards to labor laws, workers rights, child labor laws, environmental regulations, and other rights including access to contraception – that didn’t exist back then. Going back isn’t an option.  It was also enlightening to see that lobbying existed back then, and the same arguments given.

I am willing to pay higher prices but I don’t believe the workers would reap the benefits.

This morning, I decided to check and see if over time the conditions have improved for migrant farm workers, and in some regards they have, but there is still a long way to go.

Facts about Farmworkers

I’d like to see CBS do a follow-up report 50+ years later – with as much honesty.  I do know they won’t do it with less than 7 minutes of commercials in a hour-long program like they did back in 1960…


Posted by on December 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


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5 responses to “Something to think about at the grocery store…

  1. Beth

    December 17, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    TAO, the farm life is a hard thing to balance. I own and run a farm. I (we) plant crops, manage orchards, and I’m a tree farmer. I hire migrant workers, some for a day, some for a season. I house seasonal migrant workers and their families when needed, however and whenever I can. I have 10 full time workers with families that I help house on our property. Dozens of migrant families have left their children, wives or parents behind over the years as they went on to the next job, unable to take them along. It’s not easy. They do better traveling in groups in my opinion. As a community we do what we can to assist. I can’t financially put all the workers up in a home like I live in (which isn’t much LOL but it’s modern) I can’t offer them all a full time non-seasonal job with benefits. I wish I could. I have some that trade housing for part time work, and they work elsewhere. Some people hate me for housing many of these people. I’m not real sure why other than they are afraid of what they know nothing about. Yes many of the travelers are uneducated, dirty, and often drunk and occasionally desperate enough to steal. And yes, the housing isn’t pretty, and often not as comfortable as we’d like, but it’s functional and clean. We eat well. They’ve fought me in getting zoning for all year multi housing, and won. I was able to get zoned for a campground recently which has grown to 60 sites now, 42 having a roof of some kind. But the rules state you have to move every 90 days. So we play the game and shuffle. People donate trailers, portable sheds, appliances, and all sorts of things. We’ve managed to install enough alternative energy sources to keep the lights on and the new well water flowing. Last summer with airconditioners, refrigerators and such running the electric bill was thousands of dollars. the farm doesn’t make that much money on good years to afford that bill and have the money for start up the next year. So I have to charge rent for those that need/want to turn the elec. companies meter on.

    It’s a poor life, it’s doesn’t pay well. Many choose it and won’t do anything else, it is a skill that is learned with experience. i do believe it gets in the blood. Last year due to the overpopulated deer, drought and the arrival of the new stink bug I am in the hole big time. Which means if I want to do it again this year I have to find money from somewhere else to make it happen. many dropped out of the CSA because of the bad year (not worth it to them) but that is part of the risky business. I dont’ feel so bad for them LOL I am more angry at them. So many farmers have realized that maybe from now on when things are good that year, that maybe it’s not wise to share as much as we have been, people get spoiled and they find out that they are not willing to take the risk (pay the price) like they thought they were. They expect the farmer to take all the risk, which includes the workers taking their share of it too. In the past few years I have seen farmers who have been at it for decades, like their fathers, go out of business. Their equipment sold at a loss, their fields sold for new neighborhoods, empty or rented by the big farms.

    The workers that I did hire got paid, but it came from other sources than the farm. I wasn’t able to hire everyone who came back this year, as they have for years. Many of my neighbors were in the same boat, it was very sad, but there just wasn’t enough work. “thanks” to the pine beetle I had to clear cut dozens of acres, when I never ever clear cut. So have many of my neighbors. Some have selective cut to pay their taxes to keep the land because of the bad economy and income/job losses.. If it wasn’t for that money I’d be in really bad shape. Many don’t understand the tree management and think we are the devil. It’s tuff.

    I and many have resorted to producing the finished product also (for example, not just selling the tomatoes, but making tomato products ready for sale) It’s not easy to do as start up costs and rules are enormous. Plus I understand the need for many of the new regulations on food production, but some of it is just ridiculous and too costly for a small producer. I think the government is doing that on purpose to put the small farmer out of biz, it’s tragic and will be far reaching.

    It’s too much to write here LOL
    I don’t know the answers. Big farm business is not the answer. Somehow helping small farms market/sell their products, as much of it goes unsold, would be a big step.
    Small farms typically donate thousands of pounds of food to food banks and their community.
    I can tell you, no one I know, and have access to, went hungry this year.
    Buy local, support your small farmer, donate and assist you local migrant workers, even if it’s all a pain in the butt, in the long run it will be worth your efforts. And believe me it’s not as much pain as being in the field with a crate or a hoe all day just to get safe, real food.
    That’s about all I have to vent about that for now.
    dirt farmer beth


    • TAO

      December 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      Beth – you would be proud of me – I fill out customer comment cards at the chain grocery store, or go up to the manager, when I see something wrong. I ask why I am buying produce from X when it is grown local – I use my clout as one of the customers they know has shopped there for 20 years. They changed – but I doubt it went farther than my store. I also made them bring in free run eggs from a local farm. I stick up for the workers and the manager knows me by name now 🙂

      Yet I am just one customer, so here too our local farmers struggle to survive, but people are starting to be more aware.

      The pine beetle has devastasted where I live too – forestry is one of the prime industries in the area. The problem if you don’t clear cut it – you are just waiting for a disaster if fire happens. I think most of the wood harvested has gone to good use but it appears the sheer volume of dust from the wood in the sawmills can be dangerous as well.

      I was shamed watching that report from 1960. I was shamed that I did not know. We should all know. We should all speak up and spend our dollars wisely. I do shop at the local markets in season, and the year round fruit and veggie stores too, but not as often as I should.

      My new years resolution is to do better at one thing – perhaps I have it sorted out already.


  2. Beth

    December 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    I am very proud of you 🙂 I know it’s not easy, and it’s often a huge pain. I’ve found that some areas and stores are very good at supporting local goods, my area, not so much. I believe it would also get cheaper if there were more of a demand. I get so frustrated at the two grocery stores near us, they say their hands are tied by corporate purchasers, they buy what they buy and send it to the stores. I can understand having accounts with certain producers, and not ditching them while expecting delivery every time. I think if it were more of a free agent sort of thing on many products it would work better for everyone. Well everyone except the big producers with guaranteed contracts.
    My chef daughter is huge on local substainable food LOL But in her area, western North Carolina, it’s easy. It’s a big thing there and people give you the eye in the chain grocery stores if you choose a brazillian pepper over a locally grown one! Many even point out the local stuff, right next to the shipped in stuff, which is easy because they have signs saying local and contact info about the farm where the food was grown or processed. They let the farmer advertise. It works great there and you can find nearly anything you need all year.
    But, doing this puts lots of workers out of work, those that just show up to pick beans or whatever for the big farms. But I would like to think that other small farmers like me would employ those who could offer more than just picking. There is tons of work here that doesn’t involve planting or harvesting all year long, tons of maintenance. My full time guys are mechanics, plumbers electricians, welders, fence menders, tree cutters, …….. jacks of all trades. And in this business if you want continuous work, work that you can make a living at, that’s what you need to be able to offer. I’m not dogging the pickers, because I need them too, but only a few days out of the year, if they have nothing else to offer I can’t keep them around. i have many that come back each year.
    Thanks for bringing this up tho 🙂 It’s good for me to see, gives me a little hope whenever I hear this type of discussion!
    Gotta run
    Beth 🙂


    • Beth

      December 19, 2012 at 9:51 am has some informative stuff if anyone is interested.
      The working children and human trafficing involved may catch your attention 🙂

      And, yes, I employ some of the children. Especially if they are trouble makers LOL I promise I am not the devil. There is always something easy, and safe, that they can do. They even like working, some are “farm geeks”, it’s good for them IMO. There is not much else for them to do while parents are working. It’s not like people can afford daycare, even if they can find it. The hours are really long some days, so we work it out so the kids and their parents don’t have to be far away from each other all day.
      I’m proud to say that the temporary worker’s children here get some sort of school every day of the year, even if it is just 3 hours/day with our older people supervising, even if they don’t want to! It depends on the time of the year. We are lucky, we have a local private school that has a partial summer session and will admit students that don’t stay in the area long, unlike the public schools. We have two recent college graduates, and two more still attending. I/we will find the money for school.period.

      “Next time you are shopping at the grocery store, take a few minutes to think about the farmworker who is responsible for the bounty in front of you and ask yourself, “Is there something I can do or information I can pass along that will help improve the life of this individual?”
      Who Are Americas Farmworkers?

      One of the best ways to help, if you are in the right kind of area to see such workers – offer a parking spot, water hose and an electrical hook up to a traveling family that has a trailer, as many do these days. Or a short term rental, without requiring all the deposits. It’s very hard to find somewhere decent to stay, or even just to park for a couple of nights, that is affordable, and safe.

      I’m glad you brought this up TAO. Forgive me, I tend to get carried away on this topic


  3. barbaloot

    December 19, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Here’s a good source of info on current issues for farmworkers. PCUN has a long and respected history in Oregon.



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