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Some, I Assume

August 25, 2018

The first time I went to college, I studied horticulture. A bookish person, I wasn’t suited to it, because it involved physical effort. This explains why I can tell you the botanic names of herbaceous perennials, but my back yard is a barren wasteland.

Between my junior and senior years, I did an internship in a greenhouse in Carpinteria. They grew cut chrysanthemums for the wholesale market. I went to try to learn everything about growing flowers, and left at the end of the summer, having learned mostly that growing flowers was too hard.At the greenhouse

“It’s a perishable luxury item,” said one of the owners. “If you have a luxury item like Mercedes cars and you have an economic downturn, you still have cars. If you have a perishable necessity item like milk, people still need that. But flowers? They’re the first thing people cut out in tough times.”

It wasn’t just economically hard. It was physically brutal. I worked with a crew of about 20 guys and 3 women, all Mexicans. They worked 9 hours per day, 6 days per week. I worked 8 hours, 5 days. They planted and harvested all day long. I did it four or five hours per day. And I could not handle even that. I would go home at the end of the day, empty the dirt out of my pockets and ears, and lay on the floor, immobile, my back aching. Eventually I would work up enough energy to go take a shower and eat something.

I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have any other responsibilities. I had my mommy to make food for me. And even then, I couldn’t cope.

The greenhouses were hot, sweaty, dirty. Workers sprayed pesticide at one end while people worked at the other – the rule for many types of poison was that if it was dry, it was ok to go back and handle the plants. People got rashes. They got respiratory ailments. Who knows what long-term problems they got?

I started thinking about this experience today when I read about high-schoolers trying to pick strawberries. I tried to do farm work, and I failed.

Trump and his cronies are trying to force farm workers out of the country because they are “illegal.” My question is this: when they’re gone, who is going to pick our crops and raise and slaughter our food animals? I’m not arguing that we should keep exploiting undocumented farm workers. I’m saying that we either need serious immigration reform and/or we need to pay citizens enough so that they have an incentive to perform farm work. In either case, food is going to be a lot more expensive.

Until then, I give thanks for the many labors that bring me my food each day. I got a tiny sliver of experience doing ag work, and it gave me a lifetime of compassion.





One Comment
  1. August 28, 2018 09:51

    It really helps keep things in perspective.

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