Saturday, June 20, 2015
June 20, 2015: Who Will Pick Our Fruit?
As cars rush by on Interstate 5, locals take to a field to pick their own strawberries. This photo was taken some time back, as now this field is part of a big box home improvement store and mall parking lot.
Last year, due to a lack of Hispanic labor, we left over half of our strawberry crop in the field to rot. This year, the labor situation was no better. In fact it was worse. We needed roughly 30 workers for the 3 week season, we got 4 people for 4 days. But this year we were ready. With a major local grower no longer supplying strawberries for the fresh market, we were in a position to help fill that void. Other fresh market growers needed fruit, we needed workers to pick. It became a simple formula of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. The fresh market guys provided workers and packaging, we sold them fresh berries on the vine for an agreed price per pound.
Still, the question lingers. Who is going to pick our fruit? The migrant labor force has become a political hot potato. Like anything, once it becomes political, once the unyielding sides are chosen, any workable solutions from government go out the window. So that leaves it up to us, and maybe that's the best way.
We went the season basically without hiring a crew. It was a lesson learned. We plan to do the same next year. Less acres of berries, sell the fruit on the vine to the fresh market growers to fill in their needs, the rest, bring the public in and let them pick their own fruit.
So what's wrong with that? Well, nothing really. In fact, it might actually put a little fun back into a business that in recent years has become a real grind. But consider this: 6 years ago we had a crew of 60 people and a payroll in excess of $100,000, most of which went back into our local economy. Those jobs are now gone as is that payroll.
Who will pick our fruit? Who is going to make-up for those lost jobs? Who is going to pump that lost $100,000 back into the local stores and businesses?