Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I have been thinking a lot about onions these days.

Two weeks ago I spent five days in El Paso Texas on the border of Texas and Mexico. I was there on work. I was interviewing representatives from an organization that provides services and vocational training to farmworkers.

I can't say much more about the project than that. But what I can say was the life of a farmworker is insanely difficult. Physically. Emotionally. Financially. These are all US Citizens who, due to lack of choice, are picking America's crops. These migrant workers move with the crops which is hard on families and very difficult on a child's education.

I spent some time with both current and former farmworkers who gave me a very good idea of their lives as workers. They would get up at 2:30 in the morning and wait to be chosen for a truck that would drive them through the night to a farm. The farm could be in New Mexico. It could be in Texas. The workers sleep during the ride. At 6:00, the day of picking begins. Sometimes they are paid by the hour. Sometimes they are paid by the piece. The workers would work in pesticide treated fields, in the hot, hot sun, sometimes without bathrooms, toilet paper or water. The day ends and they are returned home. They would fall asleep for a few hours and then go back to a center to do it all again. The pressure to perform is amazing. If you are too old or are not at the center early enough to be chosen to work that day, you aren't paid. Workers talked about the constant pressure and anxiety they felt.

The crystal clear moment came to me when interviewing one man. He is clearly a success story. After 40 years in the fields, he got his GED and some training and now teaches a construction class at a local community college. He is thrilled with his new life. He has a steady job. He has steady hours. He sleeps. He sees his children. And as he put it. "My entire life has changed! I used to make about $5,000 a year and now I am rich! I make 20,000".

The sentiment behind it warmed my heart. The reality of his statement stopped me in my tracks.

For Seren's bday party this weekend, I washed about 12 tomatoes. The entire time, I kept thinking about who picked these tomatoes. Where did the tomatoes come from? How much was an individual paid to pick them for me? In El Paso, the workers cut a lot of onions using huge scissors. Exhausting work meant that sometimes they would cut themselves in their haste to work quickly under crazy conditions.

There is more to say here. There is much more to the story than I'm writing about. And it all gets very political very quickly.

All I'm saying is that I've been thinking about onions an awlful lot lately.


LauraC said...

I have about a million things I want to say on this but mostly I will say that this is why we try to eat as much from local farms where we know the farmers as much as possible! It's just a small bit but it makes a difference.

Jessica said...

So many issues get political very quickly, don't they? This reminds me of going to work with the children of migrant workers for a week when I was training to teach English as a second language. We went to their camp and the conditions there changed the way I looked at produce permanently. I'm glad you're writing about it.