Friday, August 31, 2007

Having it both ways

"For several seasons now, fruit and vegetable farmers have had to scramble to find enough workers to harvest their crops. One factor in the labor shortage has been an increasingly militarized border, making it more difficult for would-be workers to cross over. Another has been the building boom, which has lured undocumented workers into higher-paying construction jobs.

Thus farmers in production centers like California and Arizona were already tense about the labor situation when Bush rolled out his hodgepodge of measures designed to force farmers (and other employers) to stop relying on undocumented workers. (For the record, as I've written before, I think it's schizophrenic and childish to make a big show of hunting down and deporting the people who feed you.)

Farmers across the country quickly cried foul. In New York's Hudson Valley, where workers come from Mexico and Central America, apple growers fear a bumper crop could largely wither on the branches. "We have 3 billion apples to pick this fall and every single one of them has to be picked by hand," one grower told The New York Times. "It's a very labor-intensive industry, and there is no local labor supply that we can draw from, as much as we try. No one locally really wants to pick apples for six weeks in the fall."

What happens when farmers can no longer work their land profitably? They generally sell it to developers, and land under cultivation succumbs to low-density sprawl. Again, that's already happening in California. In the state's lush Central Valley, home to probably the nation's most valuable territory for growing fruits and vegetables, developers bulldozed 100,000 acres of prime farmland in the 1990s alone, according to American Farmland Trust. If present trends continue, AFT warns, another million acres of farmland could vanish within a generation." (thanks Rania)

It's going to be olive picking season in Lebanon soon. We are very very proud of our olive oil (which is not that great, although some of it is excellent). It is very expensive (2 to 3 times the international price), but we happily pay the price. Olive farmers complain non-stop about their losses from olive farming, and that their largest cost is the harvesting labor. Until a few years ago, this was partly resolved by hiring Syrian farm workers. They know about olives, and were willing to work for short periods of time. But since the assassination of Hariri, Syrian workers are reluctant to come and work in Lebanon, as they have clearly been told (with guns and shrouds) that they are not welcome. The Lebanese categorically refuse to work as farmhands.


Leila said...

Sex, drugs and immigration - mainstream Americans are schizophrenic on these topics. (See our Senatorial scandal in the airport bathroom for instance). Our society issues such stern prohibitions against sexual experimentation, drug consumption, and immigration, and yet all three activities are integral parts of daily life from the top of society to the bottom. Nobody consumes more illegal drugs than Wall Street financial workers who vote Republican. The so-called "red states" (conservative, religious) have the highest teen pregnancy and divorce rates. And of course without illegal immigrants we could not afford to eat in restaurants, buy houses, go to work (illegals care for our children) or do hundreds of other things - besides eat.

No, Americans are just insane on the subject of immigration. Dumb, dumb and dumb.

Leila said...

Re: howish az-zaitun - Only us second -generation, Veblenian American cousins are interested in harvesting olives. Here in America I gain food snob points when I talk about the family olive groves. I wish I could go to the village this fall to help with the harvest - for my own pleasure, not because of the snob value - but it would indeed grant me major foodie/eco points if I worked the olive harvest on my family land. But my aunt informs me that "nobody harvests any more, that's why we have Syrians and Sri Lanki."

Did I mention in these comments that my late father used to gather olives from trees in urban California? Nobody wants the olives - the trees are "ornamental" and some people even spray them in the spring with a chemical that inhibits fruit-bearing. My father would go around and collect bags full of free olives - foraging we call it in Berkeley.

Trouble is, his curing methods were eccentric and not all that tasty. Plus he was stubborn and wouldn't listen to the suggestions of even the most experienced of his relatives. Oh well.

In any case, I do admire his thriftiness and I well understand that his family considered such behavior beneath him. He was the first to get a graduate degree and he preferred to do things to keep in touch with his peasant childhood, even if this embarrassed his Lebanese relations. I am sure he would have objected if you described his behavior as Veblenian - he didn't forage olives to prove that he was prosperous or high status. But the behavior reflects that he was so far removed from being a peasant that he needed to do such things to stay in touch with a self and a world now swallowed by modern life.