Last year, for one day, no one came
to work in my peach orchard. A row of ladders stood
empty. This was my day without immigrant labor.
Without workers, I cannot farm. If I cannot farm, my organic
heirloom peaches and raisins won’t reach people's dinner
Without passage of immigration reform, I can't get enough
help to harvest my fruits. This work is transient and something
most Americans won’t do, even with higher wages. Under
the current system, which gives so many immigrants illegal
status, good workers from south of the border are forced to
hide in the shadows, constantly fearful of deportation.
As the debate over undocumented workers unfolds, the growing
of food seems to be left out. This debate isn't just about
citizenship. It's also about who works the fields and how
crops are grown. And it's about working conditions and treating
workers fairly —something that I and other small farmers
try to do as we labor side by side with our workers.
Immigration reform needs to grant some form of legal status
to the nearly 2 million illegal workers on farms and acknowledge
their contribution to the farm economy and rural communities.
At the very least, we should grant undocumented workers a
guest-worker status, ensuring fair treatment for their hard
Specialty fruits and vegetables depend on these hands. Now
more than ever, a labor shortage threatens these crops.
I almost lost my raisin crop two years ago. Last year, pear
farmers in Northern California were forced to let fruit rot
on trees because there were not enough workers. I try to ripen
my peaches to perfection, but lose many when I can't get pickers;
some of my best fruits fall from my trees.
|There's an art to pruning and growing
a perfect peach that requires years of practice and many
hands. Without workers, I'll have no choice but to farm
differently: The politics of undocumented immigrants can
change the flavor on my farm.
Without labor, agriculture will mechanize the process as
much as possible, substituting technology and capital for
people on the land. This shift is not simply about the invention
of a machine, but rather a dramatic change in how things are
grown. It means rewarding plant breeders not for great flavor,
but instead for fruit that works with machines.
I can imagine the ideal machined peaches of the future. Design
them so they will simultaneously ripen. (My crews revisit
a single tree four to five times, picking only what is ripe
at the moment.) Breed a peach with a stem that snaps easily,
so a tree can be shaken by a machine. Manufacture fruit that
won't bruise when harvested, picked rock hard to survive a
But there is no technology that can replace the human touch
without sacrificing good taste.
Sustainable and organic fruit farming demands constant attention
and response to nature each season: Our systems are labor
intensive. I need the human element on my farm.
Farming is an inexact science. There's an art to pruning
and growing a perfect peach that requires years of practice
and many hands. Without workers, I'll have no choice but to
farm differently: The politics of undocumented immigrants
can change the flavor on my farm.
But agriculture is morally wrong if the sole goal is to create
a new pipeline of cheap labor. Farmers must acknowledge the
value of the people in their fields.
Undocumented workers have labored like ghosts—invisible,
hidden, secluded. Immigration reform would shed light on them,
revealing their worth.
||Agriculture has openly acknowledged
the need for labor: We also must accept responsibility
for these workers.
As these new Americans are recognized, wages, working conditions
and health benefits must be addressed. This will challenge
farmers and the old ways of doing business. Agriculture has
openly acknowledged the need for labor: We also must accept
responsibility for these workers.
I farm with a social contract—a network of honorable,
mutually supporting relationships that contribute to the quality
I seek. My work can't be done by machines. I want to grow
"face food," produce with faces and their stories,
keeping alive the legacy of good, authentic food.
Undocumented workers are part of this food system. We all
have a stake in immigration reform, and the need to recognize
the important role of all food workers. We need to support
farming that contributes true flavors to life.