When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. - Edmund Burke
By: sp34n119w, 6:06 PM GMT on September 24, 2010
I have a mental image of farming that includes big yellow trackers, cute mutts, little boys running through the fields, overalls and straw hats, combines spewing golden waterfalls of grain, and silos standing tall. That makes sense because those are the images that show up on television, in movies, in magazine ads, and in country music songs. But, it's odd.
It's odd because my mental image doesn't line up with the real life images I see when wandering around Ventura County, where I live. Here, farming looks like people. Hundreds of people. People bundled head to toe in layers of protective clothing, with cuffs taped to boots, collars turned up and tied shut, bandanas covering nose and mouth, wearing wide-brimmed hats pulled low over their eyes. People carrying bags, boxes, or baskets, empty on the way down the row and 30 to 50 pounds full on the run back to the truck, and back to do it again, all day long. People bent double, picking or weeding, with arms stained to the elbow despite their best efforts to protect their skin from the plants, pesticides, and fertilizers. That's what farming is here in Ventura County and throughout the state – people.
The people don't just pick. They winnow and pull weeds by hand because many of the plants are too fragile to use even a hoe, let alone a machine. They lay the plastic over strawberry fields and weight it down so that fungicides can be sprayed underneath and they roll the plastic back up when that's done. Water in many fields is delivered directly, through hoses and pipes that must be laid and moved by hand – no arching water sprayers here. The acres of temporary greenhouses used to protect young plants are raised and removed by people.
The people also pack. They take the hand-picked lemons and oranges and avocados, the celery, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and artichokes, and they sort and pack them, by hand, for eventual delivery to your local grocer. Even the produce that goes to processors – for canning or juicing or other processing – gets sorted, at least in part, by hundreds of human hands and eyes.
Season before last, around February of 2009, the local citrus growers were having a hard time finding enough pickers and packers. Speculation at the time was that workers had been scared off by the freeze that winter. The freeze turned out to be minor and there was a bumper crop of lemons but, perhaps, the seasonal workers hadn't gotten that memo. We hoped.
Last season the labor shortage was worse and fewer workers means a longer picking season which holds the threat of rotten fruit, too long on the tree. The growers got by but it was worrying.
This spring the situation got really weird. In May, driving to Oxnard, I saw something I'd never seen before, not in over twenty years of living here: “Help Wanted” signs hanging on the fences bordering the strawberry fields. Actually, they were “Want to Work?” signs, but, the idea translates the same. The signs said to apply in the field. That is also weird. I asked a friend who would know and he told me that yes, there was a significant shortage of pickers this year and yes, all you had to do was show up in the field and grab a bucket to start work. See, normally, those jobs are much sought after and most growers send workers to a central area to apply and be granted work. Otherwise they'd be overrun every morning. Most even check for legal documents, but, not this year. They needed the strawberries in under any circumstances.
Where are our farm workers?
What will we do if they keep leaving and don't come back?
I believe we've established, per my last blog, that I have no met skills. Therefore, I feel confident in predicting rain within the next ten days, following the exit of the current high pressure system, since no one will take that seriously ;)
Fire watch and a special weather statement regarding the heat wave are up now.
The pareidolia graphic:
Expect clear skies but watch for smoke: