A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Real Cost of Fresh Produce

Last night we watched a segment on 60 minutes about children as young as 12 years old working in the farm fields. I sat in my chair and cried.

These kids worked alongside their fathers for 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. They did this in the summer when they were out of school. They were not illegals. Their families were poor and this was what they did to help them buy food and clothes. 

They were not spending the money they made on iPods or going to the mall to buy $100 shoes and jeans. They were not even going to the movies with the money. The family together, a father and 2 sons, one son 16 and one son 12, made a total of $10,000 for the summer. This was half the family income for the year.

I have been working outside in the sun a lot lately. And not just the planting of flowers that some people would consider "yard work". I've been doing masonry work, and building storage sheds, and hauling hay for longhorn pets, and shoveling poop and dirty hay. Not for 10 hours a day. For maybe 4 and this is interspersed with breaks on the back porch under the fan, with a cool drink. I am not young. When I was young I spent a lot of time outdoors. I did the mowing on 2 acres we lived on. I did all the outside yard work, including a garden and tended to 3 horses with the help of my sons. I painted the exterior of my father-in-laws house in the summer heat when I was 7 months pregnant. I was strong and healthy and considered myself a hard worker. Even then I could not have hoed weeds in a field under the blinding sun for 10 or 12 hours a day.

The fathers and their sons lived in migrant housing that they had to pay for. The walls did not connect to the floor. The stove was rusted and the whole thing was in worse shape than the little travel trailer we used for a house at our ranch for 15 years, and that would have been considered substandard housing even for a hunting camp. It took all the money the father made to pay for the housing and food to support them as they worked away from home. The money the boys made was what was sent home for the rest of the family to live on.

The faces of the young kids was what made me cry. They were not whining and complaining about having to do this.They said they were doing this to help their families. Their skin was dark like my son Larry and grandson Anthony. They had the same open smile and happy eyes that Larry and Anthony had when they were this age. I saw my kids in their faces.

Their fathers wanted them to go to college and break the cycle of 5 generations that had done this every summer. The boys were very confident they would. Even though the high school drop out rate for migrant workers is many times higher than the population as a whole.

I think summer jobs are good for kids and I think that lots of kids today don't know how to work and don't care to. Every little injury at a ball game is made into a drama by the coaches and the parents. The things that make a child strong and grow up into an adult with "gumption" are not always taught to kids and we do them a disservice. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about working 12 year olds 70 hours or more a week in the blazing sun.

We sometimes don't want to buy meat due to the inhuman treatment of animals that are processed for food, and I understand that. Maybe we ought to also consider the inhuman treatment of children when we are buying fresh vegetables.

"Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?"

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