Who Picked Your Produce

I’ve had this piece from Chow: The Grinder bookmarked for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve been meaning to discuss it.

In a development that’s surprised exactly no one, fruits and vegetables are rotting in fields across the United States after a crackdown on illegal immigration.

It interests me because of the issues surrounding illegal immigration, but also in part because of the point of view many people involved in the local food movement take toward farmer’s markets, assuming that if the farmer is at market then nothing is being harvest back at the farm.
We seem to be of the belief that the farmer we buy the apple from is the same person who picked the apple. The truth is that almost all farmers, both here in Canada and in the US, rely completely on the use of seasonal or immigrant workers (both legal and illegal) to harvest their crops.

In the US south and California, those workers are mostly illegal immigrants from Mexico. Here in Canada, the pickers are (mostly) Jamaican and arrive in the country with specific work permits. The apple farms in Ontario’s Norfolk county rely heavily on Jamaican pickers, and the tobacco kills from these former tobacco farms have been renovated and turned into housing for seasonal workers.

In both countries, we owe our cheap food prices to the fact that there are people willing to work for minimum wage (or less) to do the back-breaking work that no one else is interested in doing.

Something to remember the next time you bite into an apple.