Pt 1 Farm labor
June 2012: Strawberries $0.99/lb., blueberries $1.29/pint, and cherries $1.49/lb. Look at these prices: a pound of strawberries for $0.99! How can this produce cost so little? In many instances before we can consider about food itself, we have to talk about those who harvest.
“Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit” the book by Barry Estabrook does just that. As you can tell by the title, the book is not a happy story. He reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry. (2 “vine-ripe” Florida tomatoes at the Carmel Meijer cost $1.49.)
Fields are sprayed with over 100 different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green, and artificially gassed until their skins get the right color. Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but produced tomatoes with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and 14 times more sodium than the tomatoes a generation ago.
Part or Estabrook’s story reveals the high “price” migrant workers pay so we can buy inexpensive produce. The constant drive for low costs has fostered a thriving market for cheap labor. He describes worker conditions in South Florida as “ground zero for modern slavery” See these links for more information.