Saturday, February 21, 2009

Unsettling Info about the Men Who Pick Your Food

I admit it: I was shocked this week during a visit to the Farmworkers' Center here in El Paso. I learned some things about the guys who pick the raw ingredients for our spaghetti sauce and salsa. Maybe you didn't know, either, that:

***About half of all ag workers in New Mexico earn about $5,850 per year. Agricultural workers are among the poorest of the working poor. Paid by the bucket, a worker would have to pick thousands of peppers per hour to make even close to minimum wage. Essentially, we make poor workers pay for our food!

You might think this next one is incredible, but it's true...

*** Ag work is among the most dangerous of jobs in the US, according to the Department of Labor.

And, as you might expect...if we ever thought about it:

*** The average life expectancy of an ag worker is just under 50 years. Many of those who manage to live longer than that are seriously disabled due to work-related injuries and illness.

BUT, get this one (!):

*** The "man" who picks your food might be a woman.

*** Farmworkers labor seven days a week, 10 to 14 hours per day during the 25 week seasons. (I couldn't keep that pace--even for one day.)

*** Ag workers aren't eligible for worker's compensation in New Mexico, a state that has discriminated against them that way since 1917. All other industries there--including seasonal construction work--must provide it. Farmworkers don't have money for medical insurance; they live in a continual health crisis.

This can change! The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is lobbying right now for an amendment to give workers' compensation to ag workers. Find more info on their website.

[They filmed the video (above) at the Farmworker Center where I volunteer each week. If you watch it, you'll see some people I know and love.]

--crossposted on The Peace Tree


Laura said...

A great post, Border Explorer. Thank you.

Mauigirl said...

Really concerning and thought-provoking. Most of us can't even imagine being in their place.

I worked on a farm in the summers when I was in college - picked vegetables and tended the roadside stand. Picking vegetables was only a small part of my job; but definitely the hardest. I can't imagine doing it 12-14 hours a day, and doing it for years on end into middle age.

Distributorcap said...

another thing that is swept under the rug by the corps and govt. while a lot of the big farm owners get tons of govt subsidies and make a fortune....

Dada said...

B.E. Great post -- incredible synchronicity? This website was "down" when I sent you an e-mail a bit earlier this morn regarding the Farmworker's Center. But when it finally returned, I couldn't have been more pleased (and surprised) this was the very topic you were addressing today. Thanks for this. Just as with our dwindling supply of oil, it appears our food is grossly underpriced.

And I'm reading this post after learning of the drought in CA and the tremendous (negative) effect on farm workers in that state, many of whom with find themselves w/o the safety net of a job with no benefits and substandard living wages.

an average patriot said...

Trust me it gets much worse than any of that in segments where it is not tracked and it is a wide spectrum. You know a bit of my farm background.

100 hours a week was nothing and standard and that is for Americans! In this area it is apples migrant workers are used for but just put your mind to work and think about those unmonitored undocumented "shadow" workers and their personal condition!

Border Explorer said...

Thanks, Laura,

Mauigirl: your life experiences led to your very empathic comment. I could write another post on my young friend who climbs mountains and runs marathons but says her one day as a farmworker was the most difficult physical day she's ever spent. Thank for your comment!

Dcap: yes, it makes me sick. Very pertinent point. Thanks.

Dada--the poor are the first affected in a downturn. This is so sad. Another reason to "buy local?"

James: omg--yes, that's material for a post on "guest workers" and/or on human trafficking. Excellent point!

ThomasLB said...

You left out something: child labor.

When my Mom taught in public schools, there was a precipitous drop in Latino enrollment after the sixth grade. That was the age when the kids were expected to join their parents in the fields.

football said...
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Silent_Majority said...

I know I am opening myself up to a fire storm here but here I go: I live in an agricultural area as well and I know the pay sucks for orange pickers. This will never change because a majority of the workers are illegal aliens and we ignore that which happens to those whom cannot defend themselves. They are afraid to report abuses because of their status. We need to do something dramatic with our immigration laws or resign ourselves to their suffering. There should be no illegal aliens working in this country. Bring in people legally. Close the borders and ensure that those who come here are properly documented and fine the employers into oblivion. We cannot solve this problem until we solve the border problem. As long as employers know that they can get away with these abuses they will continue. .The Silent Majority

Border Explorer said...

ThomasLB: Sobering grist for another post. Yes, I just learned statistics about unemployed/out of school teens in Juarez that go a long way to explaining gang success/drug usage there.

Silent_Majority: Thank you! You won't get any firestorm from me! That is the logical conclusion from these facts. I appreciate the comment very much.

Everyone: "Football" has link spammed me in the comments section twice. I reported this user. If you would join me, the URL is:
and the place to report it is:

Thank you for helping make Blogger a spam-free site.

Missy said...

There are so many victims of greed--it's throwing me into a melancholy.