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Image: Farm workers in a strawberry field

No Such Thing as “Unskilled”: The Super-Speed Farmworkers We Couldn’t Live Without

Your experience at the grocery store will forever change after you see the skills these people have when bringing our food from the field to the shelves. I know I’ll never look at a box of strawberries the same way again! Just take a look for yourself.

How fast can you pick a strawberry? How about a perfectly bundled bunch of parsley? The folks we’re about to meet are the athletes of the fields, the Olympians of the onions, the MVPs of produce. Their skillful hands will have you shopping for groceries with a whole lot more awe!

Image: Farm workers in a strawberry field
Farm workers in a strawberry field
Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture // Flickr

The dance of the lettuce and the hands who perform it

Everything we see on the shelves, from our leafy greens to our sweet, plump berries, makes its way there through human hands! These folks spend hours in the hot sun, hunched over, delicately and skillfully gathering food to head out to stores across the United States where you and I find it, perfectly gathered and ready to bring home.

Have you ever stopped to wonder how it got there?

There are estimated to be 2.4 million farmworkers employed on farms and ranches all across the country—that’s a lot of hands! But more importantly, that’s a lot of skilled workers, with 36% of them having worked in the industry for over 15 years. Yet, we often hear this title used when regarding these unseen pillars of our health, nutrition, and culture.

Farm work is work—it’s back-breaking, time-consuming, sun-beaten, often thankless work. But when seen for what it is—the lifeblood of the United States, the work that ensures the rest of us can gather around the dinner table, and an athletic feat that borders on superhuman—it becomes obvious that we aren’t celebrating our farmworkers nearly enough.

So, why is this? If food is so crucial to the well-being of any human, why are the folks growing and collecting it seen as “unskilled”?

Yara Elmjouie of the fantastic channel AJ+ brings us into the Californian fields—where nearly half of these workers are employed—to get a closer look at what’s happening and to meet a few of these folks. The best part? We get to see them show off their amazing skills!

Prepare to be floored.

Via: AJ+ 1

For more insightful and entertaining videos like this, please head over and subscribe to AJ+ over on YouTube!

Changing the way we support the people who make our dinner possible

Even with years of work, and skill that would leave the vast majority of us in the dust, more than a third of our skilled farmworkers earn less than $20,000 a year, working 40-45 hour weeks. 2 3 Many also do not receive benefits or breaks.

If you would like to support these skilled workers in getting the compensation and care they deserve, please visit Farm Workers Justice’s website to see what they’re doing to help them, and give funds if you can! The nonprofit Center for Farmworker Families is also a great place to help.

To support them when you shop, look for the Agricultural Justice Project eco-label on items. When you see this symbol (pictured here), that means that it has a Food Justice Certification, where the people who grew and harvested it have been treated fairly. Learn more about this eco-label here.

Feeding the future

How are you feeling about these farmworkers after watching that video? How fast do you think you could bundle parsley?

It’s amazing to see the people beyond the store shelves, the hands that tended to the food we serve our families. Without them, many of us wouldn’t have access to this food at all, let alone all year round.

What would our world look like if they were seen as the most skilled individuals?

Farmworkers enable us to live, by nourishing our bodies, our communities, and our economy. And now that you and I know this, the next time we pick up lettuce and peppers from the store and prepare ourselves a dinner, we can send out thanks to the farmworker whose hands raised it—and share your newfound knowledge about their highly skilled work next time you hear someone call them “unskilled workers”.

Want to try your hand at this skill?

No matter where you live, the folks in these next articles can help you find all the inspiration you need to get started raising your own veggies. Talk about getting a better appreciation for the work of farmworkers!

Guerrilla Gardener Takes on South Central LA

Meet Ron Finley; an amazing fellow who’s come up with a better idea than battling over turf. How about using “turf” in a very old way! Take a look!

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
This Garden In a Pool Helps Put an End to Food Scarcity

What if an unused pool could be our blueprint to a more abundant future? It turns out that if we’re a little creative, we can breathe new life into almost anything and build everything we need in fascinating close-looped systems! Here’s one great example of a movement to revitalize our human ingenuity!

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

I’m even setting up a pretty robust container garden on the small strip of patchy grass between my porch and the sidewalk. So far, I’ve been able to find a lot of plastic storage tubs, wooden crates, dresser drawers, and pots either for free or at thrift stores. It’s been a lot of fun to put together and I’m excited to have a garden in this limited space!

Of course, your personal garden won’t be anything like the mass production operations happening in California that these folks are employed on. But it will give you a taste for the care and skill that goes into raising and picking crops, and help you connect with their experience, although on a smaller scale.

As always, my friend, stay open to new possibilities. There’s a world of wonderful people to explore, celebrate, and lift up—even in a single lettuce leaf.

  • Sam

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  1. AJ+. “What Everyone Gets WRONG about Farm Work.” YouTube, 10 Mar. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTCqyfJwkx0. Accessed 13 May 2021.
  2. “Agricultural Worker Demographics.” NATIONAL CENTER for FARMWORKER HEALTH, 2018, www.ncfh.org/agricultural-worker-demographics.html#:~:text=According%20to%20national%20reports%20from,workers%20in%20the%20United%20States. Accessed 13 May 2021.
  3. “Overtime and California Farm Workers – Rural Migration News Blog | Migration Dialogue.” Ucdavis.edu, 2020, migration.ucdavis.edu/rmn/blog/post/?id=2401#:~:text=USDA%27s%20Agricultural%20Labor%20Survey%20and,some%20regularly%20exceeding%2060%20hours. Accessed 13 May 2021.
Published: May 28, 2021

Image: Samantha Burns

Sam Burns

Former Editor-In-Chief

Sam wrote and edited hundreds of articles during her time on the Goodness Exchange team from 2016-2021. She wrote about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the Goodness Exchange, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses.

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