Sweatshops Of Soil

“We used to own our slaves. Now we just rent them.” ~ quote from Harvest of Shame documentary.

America is a funny place.

Land of wealth and prosperity for many.

A McDonald’s on every corner (not quite a chicken in every pot, but you get the idea.). A McMansion on every block. Or so it seems.

Yeah, both sides want to bicker about the unemployment rate – its up, it’s down, you’re using skewed numbers, that number is downright implausible.

Whatever the case…the sad fact remains…there are many, many jobs that Americans don’t or won’t do.

We’ll eat that $42 steak…but we won’t wash the dishes. We’ll live in that McMansion, but we sure as hell don’t want to clean it.

And we’ll put those blueberries on our Cheerios in the morning, but we sure don’t want to bend our back and pull them off the bushes.

Nope, for the most part, all those blueberries that get picked in Monmounth, Ocean and Burlington counties of New Jersey don’t get pulled from the bushes by locals – except of course if it’s one of those fun Sunday outings with the kids – Hey gang, let’s all go to the U-Pick-‘Em Farm today!

All the lettuce, soybeans and corn that needs to get picked? That tomatoe on the Subway sandwich? Yeah, we ain’t getting our hands dirty with bringing that in either.

It’s below us Americanas to do that work, unemployment numbers and Jack Welch be damned.

But it has to get done, the land has to be farmed. New Jersey isn’t called The Garden State for nothing.

So, during harvest season, which has been ongoing and is in full swing now, it’s done by migrant workers. The Mexican and Hatiains that travel throughout the state, living in subpar conditions, hoping to find work and earn a little money – maybe $12,00 a year if they are lucky.

Some are here legally and have papers, some don’t. Often, the employers don’t ask.

They just know the work has to get done.

And it does. Starting at sun up till well after it’s dark. The fields get picked clean, tired bodies drag themselves back to a cramped migrant house and they get ready for the next day, to do it all over again.

Grapes of Wrath, Jersey style. Or a scene from Cool Hand Luke.

Often, there are children involved. Non-Americans for sure. they tag along as their parents try to find work, always the outsider. They have to get fed and clothed too. And educated somehow.

Luckily, there’s something called the The Migrant Education Program, a nationwide federally funded bipartisan program established in 1966 that helps these children get a basic education and a few nutritous meals throughout the day.

Title 1, Part C of the U.S. Department of Education.

What helped bring this progrma about was a 1960 documentary by the great journalist Edward R. Murrow called Havest of Shame. Click that link above to watch it.

Then, a couple of years ago, CBS News revisited this topic. Took just five minutes to revist the topic, rather than 55 when Murrow did it.

Some of the migrants have immigration papers, many are here illegally, but — under this federal policy — all are permitted and encouraged to send their kids to school.

Big of us, right?

A few years ago, I traveled all the way to China to report on a migrant education program that my company supports there.

Do we even support a local one? I don’t know but I’m going to ask and find out. Seems like we should right?

Every morning, on my drive into work, I’ve been passing scenes like the one above. Got me to thinking. And to doing some research.

It’s in my backyard. I think I need to explore this topic further.

© Mark V. Krajnak 2012 | JerseyStyle Photography | All rights Reserved

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4 thoughts on “Sweatshops Of Soil

  1. Mark, what an important post. Very well photographed, even with the one, and written. I found the same thing in the Salinas Valley of CA. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any such eduction programs for the migrant workers there though I hope some are in place. This is well worth exploring more deeply if you can!

  2. Really like your thoughts here, Mark. This is life, not some biased news report or figures on a stat sheet. Love reading your perspective on things. Definitely passing this on…

  3. Pingback: Weekend Shot: Working In The Fields | JerseyStyle Photography

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