The book I read over the weekend now has a special place on my shelf since I have actually experienced a small portion of what author Tom Rivers describes in “Farm Hands“. The book is an accumulation of his writings for his local newspaper, The Daily News, where he chronicles the labor challenges faced by small farm operations in Upstate New York. While narrating his experiences of picking fruit, planting vegetables in the pouring rain and milking cows at the crack of dawn, among others, he also eloquently tells the stories of the immigrants who he worked beside each day.
Why was this an important and book worthy endeavor? Because Americans feel their jobs are being taken by illegal immigrants – jobs they feel are rightfully theirs. However, this is only partially true. Many difficult and grueling farm jobs are in fact taken on by immigrants, many in the States as part of a special farm labor program. However, the jobs are available because Americans don’t want them. They are low paying and high intensity positions. Yet without these immigrants, most of the farm operations would no longer be able to financially survive.
To learn more about why Americans don’t want these farm jobs, for one year Rivers became a farm hand at various operations near his home. While working next to men and women who have come to the States from other countries, Rivers discovered that working on a farm is one of the hardest jobs imaginable. He lost more than 30 pounds during the year and spent countless hours nurturing sore muscles. The result was rewarding though, after the year ended, he successfully completed the Disney Marathon.
I too understand how difficult work it is having lived and worked on a produce and fruit operation for several months. I can honestly say that I do not have the fortitude to pursue this kind of work; yet I have a much greater understanding and respect for those who toil away in the fields to put food on my table. Quite frankly, I’d rather make the same amount of money working in a coffee shop for minimum wage and tips (something I’ve actually done extensively) and I’m not alone.
The labor issue has become very prominent in the U.S. this year due to many states, particularly Arizona that are attempting to curb illegal immigration. In response to this issue, along with ramped unemployment in the country, the United Farm Workers launched a “Take Our Jobs” campaign. To my knowledge, Americans are not jumping off couches to “take their jobs”.
That said, the next time you’re eating dinner and you’re about to lament the immigrants who helped put food on your table do two things. First, read Farm Hands (or read it anyway because it is truly a moving book). Next, sign up to “Take Their Job“. I bet 99 percent of you will stop complaining and begin working with ag producers to help address the farm labor issues.