Phantoms in the fields: Mexican workers drawn to harvest California crops, despite hardships and talk of a wall
by Mark Arax, via The Sacramento Bee
There’s a stretch of Highway 99 in the middle of California where the new plantings of almonds at last give way to vineyards. This is where Selma, raisin capital of the world, still lives and dies by the grape. When the berries sugar up fast, as they have this year, harvest comes early.
The season finds the farmer at his most sour, contemplating an age-old question: Can enough workers be rounded up to pick the crop? He knows from empirical evidence that few citizens of the United States are willing to do the work. He knows that Selma’s salvation lies across the border.
When a grape grower plows under his father’s vines and plants almonds, he doesn’t speak of heartache or profit or pests or the need to save water. The reason, he’ll plainly tell you, is labor. A nut doesn’t require a hand to pick it. Because a machine does all the work, nothing bleeds in an almond orchard. The grape harvest, on the other hand, remains a race against rot: man against sky, man against fruit, man against man.
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About the writer: Mark Arax, author of “West of the West,” is working on a book about California’s water wars, to be published by Knopf. Contact him at: [email protected].
[Pictorial content added by TLB]