Politics and Reading
Ate it Anywayby
Did you know?
- 1970 - United States strawberry production, in pounds: 496 million
- 1983 - U.S. strawberry production: 894 million
- 2003 - U.S. strawberry production: over 2.1 billion
Did you know?
Over that same time period the production value has increased from just over $100 million to almost $1.5 billion. Acreage devoted to strawberries has also increased, from 600 acres to over 60000 acres.
Did you know?
Factoring in inflation rates, strawberry prices have actually decreased, from 73 cents in 1970 to 57 cents in 2003.
Adjusted for inflation, the hourly wages of some California farmworkers have dropped more than 50 percent since 1980. They are among the poorest workers in all of the United States.
The majority of strawberry fields are in California.
In the 1970s, it is estimated that there were 200 000 migrant farmworkers in the United States. Today, it is estimated that there are over 1 million migrant farmworkers.
Many migrants are illegal immigrants from Mexico who travel to the Santa Maria Valley in California, where they sometimes work 12 hours a day for below minimum wage.
The federal penalty for employing an illegal immigrant is a $250 fine for a first offence. A third offence may result in a fine of $3000.
The average migrant farmworker is a 29 year old male, born in Mexico, who earns less than $7500 for 25 weeks of farmwork. His estimated life expectancy is 49 years.
Many migrant strawberry workers live in labour camps because of the high housing costs in the area. For $80 a week, workers share an unheated room, roughly 12 feet by ten feet, with three other men. Other workers, those with families, will share a house with other families, sharing a room with seven or eight people.
In 1996 the United Farm Workers began a major organizing campaign on California's strawberry fields. The goal was to force the growers to increase the price of strawberries by 5 cents for every pint and give that extra nickel to their workers, thereby increasing migrant wages by as much as 50 percent. The strawberry growers launched a counter-attack. The UFW campaign failed. Today, only 1600 of California's roughly 20 000 strawberry workers belong to the UFW.
Maintaining the current level of poverty among migrant farmworkers saves the average American household only about $50 a year.
Strawberry picking is labour intensive. The strawberries must be twisted off the vines to preserve the green cap and then carefully packaged. Bruised or superficially damaged strawberries are discarded and never reach the market. Consumers insist on impeccable looking strawberries; this is why the process has never been mechanized.
Many migrant strawberry workers suffer from back pain and other related ailments, due to the strenuous nature of the work.
Many migrant strawberry workers lie, swear, drink beer and liquor, and abuse their spouses. Many migrant strawberry workers are honest and hard working.
Some migrant workers become growers, managers of strawberry fields. They are caring and compassionate, often putting the needs of their employees before their own; some pay their workers before they pay themselves.
Did you know that much of southern California's most sought-after and valuable real estate sits directly next to strawberry fields and their hidden labour camps?
Did you know that the unionizing campaign of the 1990s put a deep scar on the face of the strawberry growing industry? In fact, if the industry had a face, it was now one with a tiny, nearly imperceptible yet perpetual tick by its left eye that it vainly tried to ignore but kept it up all night long anyway, tossing and turning, the tick getting bigger and bigger, until the first hint of light in the silver morning after.
Did you know that most migrant workers send their earnings to their families back home and that this money preserves rural communities in Mexico that might otherwise have collapsed, and that these communities are among the saddest gatherings of people known to man?
- Reefer Madness (Eric Schlosser; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003)
- US Department of Agriculture Economic Reserve Service Statistical Bulletin Number 914: The U.S. Strawberry Industry (http://www.nal.usda.gov/pgdic/Strawberry/ers/ers.htm)
- USDA Economic Research Service