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 tables.
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 work.
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 handless system.
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
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
||Agriculture has openly acknowledged the
need for labor: We also must accept responsibility for these
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
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.