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Crops don't pick themselves
June 23, 2011 6:17 AM   Subscribe

This year Georgia (US state) passed an Arizona-style law to make life and employment harder on its undocumented immigrants, including about 425,000 agricultural workers. In the spring, farmers argued that they would be unable to recruit new workers on time for the summer harvest with a sudden change in policy. Surprisingly, the Obama administration did not step in to block the law taking effect. The result is an estimated 46% of farms without enough workers and $300M of crops rotting in the fields. Georgia's govenor is shocked.
posted by a robot made out of meat (215 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
You have to admit there's a certain schadenfreude in watching ideologically-driven legislation turn to sand on its first contact with reality.
posted by unSane at 6:22 AM on June 23, 2011 [97 favorites]


Sometimes you need to take a step back before you can take a step further back...
posted by rebent at 6:24 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the "result" link:

Nathan Deal, Georgia’s governor, who signed the immigration bill into law, came up with a novel solution on Tuesday: give the jobs—of which there are around 11,000, according to farmers who responded to a survey by Georgia’s agriculture department—to unemployed probationers.
posted by Trurl at 6:25 AM on June 23, 2011


The new Georgia governor campaign will be called The Raw Deal.
Seriously, what did he think would happen - all the poor black folks that he never let get ahead sudden go "yes massar" and sing songs while picking crops?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is going to happen is that they are going to force the prison population (most of whom are Black) to work the fields, and history will ironically repeat itself.
posted by Renoroc at 6:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [33 favorites]


Shocker that discriminatory immigration policy might have some unintended (although definitely foreseeable) consequences for state economies.

I think the Republican legislators are going to have to really decide whether they want to promote xenophobic legislation that can harm the economy but plays well with a frightened base or promote business first policies that tend to annoy the base because they conflict with the xenophobic propaganda designed to get people into the voting booth.

It's kinda interesting that the absence of federal intervention is basically a "You've made your own bed, now lie in it" situation.
posted by vuron at 6:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I made a post a couple of months ago about the economic effects of immigration policy in AZ. It was based on this Center For American Progress report.
posted by OmieWise at 6:28 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, ten bucks says they use prison labor (or back-door prison labor by making people on probation or parole do it as a condition of their probation or parole.)
posted by craichead at 6:31 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Looks like the administration's decision to refrain from intervention may have been a good one.

As the sowing, the reaping.
posted by Shike at 6:32 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I live in a semi-rural part of Georgia, and I've been following this for a while. Watching this situation, I have no pity for the farmers at all. They built their business model on their ability to exploit a huge low-wage labor pool, and now they're getting their asses kicked now that that labor pool isn't there. Screw these people - if they weren't willing to illegally employ undocumented farm workers in the first place, they wouldn't have ended up in this situation. The one thing people don't seem to want to admit around here is that for every illegal immigrant, there's an American who was willing to illegally employ them.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:32 AM on June 23, 2011 [63 favorites]


The devil went down to Georgia...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:33 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The right wing has made a fetish out of the phrase "unintended consequences" as the excuse for their ideologically driven policies failing spectacularly when slamming into the brick wall of reality.

Policy based on lies and bullshit always fails and intentions have nothing to do with it.

Shall we talk about the unintended consequences of Fukushima?

Next up: the "few bad apples" excuse for systemic corruption.
posted by warbaby at 6:33 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Can anyone say what percentage of the cost of produce is generally attributable to labor?
posted by oddman at 6:34 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The obvious next step is to create work camps for welfare recipients, recent parolees, and recipients of public sector pensions, and renting them to farmers as a revenue generation scheme for the state. Win win!
posted by Forktine at 6:35 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


Serious question: why is it a reasonable argument that we need immigrant labor because citizens have rights and an expectation of pay and benefits that immigrants don't? Because that's pretty much what the last link is saying -- that the jobs pay too little, require too long of hours, and have zero benefits, and so obviously no American citizen would take them.

I'm continuously amazed at the intersection of people who claim to be 100% pro-worker and pro-union labor, and people who claim that immigration reform would lead rising costs of produce that would be too great a burden to bear. You can't have it both ways. If under-paying and over-working employees is bad, it's bad, even if the alternative does mean you have to pay more for onions.

"All these low-wage, impoverished workers are just so convenient!" is not a valid argument for illegal immigration.
posted by tocts at 6:37 AM on June 23, 2011 [77 favorites]


Oddman, someone on the AJC website says 10%, for letteuce. Forktine: that is what many commenters are suggesting on the newspaper website.
posted by thylacine at 6:37 AM on June 23, 2011


This author cites a cost of ~10% attributable to labor. (I found this article via the comments of the last link - I by no means agree with his crazy opinions)
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2011


The one thing people don't seem to want to admit around here is that for every illegal immigrant, there's an American who was willing to illegally employ them.

This is also why state-by-state laws like this won't work (even if this hard-ass approach was smart and ethical, which it is not). Even if Georgia farmers all of a sudden have higher costs (because of scarce labor, or needing to mechanize, or just from the losses), they still have to sell their produce at market rates, and the market prices are set by all the farmers in other states who still have unfettered access to cheap labor. As far as farmers in other states are concerned, Georgia is welcome to price itself out of the market, and they will laugh their way to the bank.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


If they actually do wind up giving these jobs to unemployed probationers, that could be a shockingly positive side effect of horrible legislation. Finding a job while you're on probation can be incredibly difficult, and I'm sure there are plenty of people on probation who would be incredibly happy for the work. Also, while they're still a marginalized population, and likely to be treated badly, they're not as vulnerable as people who are in the country illegally.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't understand, they seem to be paying the federal minimum wage and up. That isn't a lot, but it's what I'd expected to get paid picking vegetables.
posted by thylacine at 6:39 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"All these low-wage, impoverished workers are just so convenient!" is not a valid argument for illegal immigration.

I think rather than being what you say, it's an argument against "They are taking our jobs!" And it's not an endpoint, it's a stepping stone to other points or arguments.
posted by entropone at 6:39 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


deadmessenger: "I have no pity for the farmers at all. They built their business model on their ability to exploit a huge low-wage labor pool, and now they're getting their asses kicked now that that labor pool isn't there. Screw these people - if they weren't willing to illegally employ undocumented farm workers in the first place, they wouldn't have ended up in this situation."

This is very much a "race to the bottom" situation. If enough farms begin using cheap/illegal labor, it suddenly becomes impossible for the guys who are in compliance with the law to turn a profit.

No, the real criminals here are the ones who first realized that they could get away with this, and the government officials who allowed them to get away with it.

The best of these proposals sounds like indentured servitude. The worst of them sound like slavery.

(And, really...10%? Surely it's still more profitable to hire some workers at a a decent wage, and actually sell your crops, rather than let them sit and rot)
posted by schmod at 6:39 AM on June 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


Forktine: that is what many commenters are suggesting on the newspaper website.

It has been done before, and of course if you go back 150 years or so, there is a precedence for using unpaid labor in the region...
posted by Forktine at 6:40 AM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, on the one hand: hey, look, more indisputable proof that xenophobic economic policies are bad ideas, and that Republicans aren't capable of looking more than 8 minutes into the future when hatching their horrible racist plans.

On the other hand: it appears to have taken the state legislature less than 5 seconds to get from "Well, we drove out the brown people, but now we're fucked" to "OK, now who can we exploit to keep our agri-business donors profitable? Oh, hey, look! Prisoners and probationers! They're also not white, and this is a novel chance for us to perpetuate the cycle of economic oppression of felons who have already served their sentences! And hell, we don't even have to pay minimum wage to the ones who are still incarcerated!"
posted by Mayor West at 6:42 AM on June 23, 2011 [21 favorites]


I don't understand, they seem to be paying the federal minimum wage and up. That isn't a lot, but it's what I'd expected to get paid picking vegetables.

You've got to be kidding. Do you realize how hard that work is? Picking onions? It's back-breaking labor and the folks who do it to give the rest of us easy access to produce are way underpaid.
posted by mediareport at 6:43 AM on June 23, 2011 [34 favorites]


(And, really...10%? Surely it's still more profitable to hire some workers at a a decent wage, and actually sell your crops, rather than let them sit and rot)

If you're selling a commodity at 10% more than a producer from a neighboring state then you're simply not going to be able to move you're product. So the farmers options are 1) let the food rot or 2) sink more money into getting the products to market and see them rot there. At a certain point the farmers just have to cut their losses.
posted by papercrane at 6:43 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


As far as whether the farmers "deserve it" - take a gander at this article, which tells you the result of the jobs being taken by probationers -- who, please note are required to work as a part of probation but are free to turn down "unsuitable" jobs. If supposedly sadly unemployed Georgia natives -- and I live here, and I grew up in a rural area, where my parents still live -- then what are these guys supposed to do? If the Visa programs in place were sufficient, I'm sure they'd rather do something legal, but apparently those programs are NOT sufficient, or are so bureaucratic that there isn't a great ROI.

Farm work is HARD WORK. There is a reason that practically no one has taken up the United Farm Workers' "take our jobs" challenge. It is not "unskilled labor" - there is a skill involved in being good at this, and you have to learn how to be efficient and not tire yourself out in the first 15 minutes.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:44 AM on June 23, 2011 [24 favorites]


It's funny that the corner that Deal has backed himself into is one made by the intersection of two Republican staples: 1) That immigrants take jobs Americans would be willing to do, and 2) That state rights are unequivocal good thing (in this case, Georgia's principled stand against illegals prices it out of the market versus states that ARE using illegal labor. the farmers can't offer more money for their goods because of razor thin margins, people won't work those jobs for that salary, crops rot in the field).

I doubt that any law makers will be willing to admit that this corner exists, however.
posted by codacorolla at 6:44 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


The one thing people don't seem to want to admit around here is that for every illegal immigrant, there's an American who was willing to illegally employ them.

oh and don't forget for every corporation that doesn't want to pay their fair share of taxes to a state in the Northeast there is a state in the South that's more than willing to give them a free ride and criminally reduced regulations. Southern states have been poaching from the north this way for decades and they are subsidizing it by stealing money from education and social services. I don't understand why the states in the Northeast don't counter these hardball tactics by denying the immense farm subsidies to these factory farms which gives almost every single Southern state more federal tax dollars back than they put into the system. If they hate government so much let's cut them off the dole and see how long they last. Time for them to really walk the talk.
posted by any major dude at 6:44 AM on June 23, 2011 [49 favorites]


I think the argument is that without exploitation of low cost labor in many cases US agriculture is simply not competitive with it's overseas competitors who might have higher transportation costs to US markets but have much lower labor inputs.

So basically unless you want a certain percentage of farms to become unprofitable and close (with the consequential increase in unemployment particularly in rural communities) you have to balance the desire to increase worker wages, improve working conditions, eliminate exploitation and trafficking, etc with the desire to maintain agriculture as a way of life in many communities.

Perhaps there is a good solution to worker exploitation, use of undocumented workers and maintaining agriculture as a profitable enterprise but it seems that the confluence of politics and economics make any real sustainable solution incredibly difficult to achieve.

To many moving parts and too many agendas make for very difficult public policy decisions.
posted by vuron at 6:45 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand, they seem to be paying the federal minimum wage and up. That isn't a lot, but it's what I'd expected to get paid picking vegetables.

A legal citizen has the option to make the same money working a fry-o-lator in an air-conditioned McDonalds instead of picking berries in the August heat in the deep south. That's not a tough choice to make.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:45 AM on June 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Picking onions from dawn til dusk in the Georgia summer sun, I should have said.
posted by mediareport at 6:45 AM on June 23, 2011


The result is an estimated 46% of farms without enough workers and $300M of crops rotting in the fields.

No, the result is that 46% of farms are now forced to pay decent (or at least minimum) wages, workman's comp, and all of the other costs of legally employing people in the United States.
posted by three blind mice at 6:45 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Georgia currently has a 9.8% unemployment rate.

Some really quick and dirty math shows that they have way more than 11k people in need of a job.

Can someone explain the problem here? I find both obvious possibilities (either that GA farmers cheat minimum wage laws by hiring illegals, or that Georgians long-unemployed won't dirty their dainty little paws picking crops) extremely disturbing.



craichead : Yeah, ten bucks says they use prison labor (or back-door prison labor by making people on probation or parole do it as a condition of their probation or parole.)

I actually have no problem with that, as long as they offer the jobs to non-prisoners first. That said, anyone who refuses such a job needs their UI (and any other state benefits they may receive) cancelled immediately, possibly even retroactively to the start of the harvest season.


Basically, this problem shouldn't exist. That it does shows just about every side of the issue (except, ironically enough, the illegal immigrants) as nothing but lazy hypocrites.
posted by pla at 6:45 AM on June 23, 2011


mediarepot: I've done many kinds of day labor in the hot sun, admittedly it was never more than a couple days... it sucks but it's money and is something most people are capable of once you acclimate.
posted by thylacine at 6:46 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Foot, meet bullet.
posted by zarq at 6:47 AM on June 23, 2011


three blind mice, if you read the article I linked to, you can see that the farms are paying legal minimum wage, AND THAT SOME GUYS WHO ARE SUPER AWESOME make something like $20/hour.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:47 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand, they seem to be paying the federal minimum wage and up. That isn't a lot, but it's what I'd expected to get paid picking vegetables.

This was the part of the article where I actually laughed out loud. They just can't find locals who are willing to pick those crops! And they're certainly paying enough! Minimum wage and even higher! It's the law of the state and the nation, after all! It's not like they had a whole pool of undocumented workers who couldn't go complain to the Department of Labor about being paid $2.75 an hour and being forced to live in squalor on the premises because they'd be arrested and deported on the spot! No sir, everything was on the up and up until this law removed the entire local labor pool and mysteriously made the rest of the local populace too lazy to work for totally reasonable wages.
posted by Mayor West at 6:48 AM on June 23, 2011 [36 favorites]


Finding a job while you're on probation can be incredibly difficult, and I'm sure there are plenty of people on probation who would be incredibly happy for the work.
I'm not. It's incredibly difficult, dangerous, physically-draining work. It comes with no benefits, so no medical care for you when you mess up your back bending over all day. Farm workers are exempt from many of the protections which are given to other American workers, which are no great shakes to start out with. You have to move to the middle of nowhere, away from your normal support network, where you have little to fall back on if something bad happens to you or your employer turns out to be particularly egregious. For the most part, your other choices have to be deeply awful before you'll do farm labor.
posted by craichead at 6:48 AM on June 23, 2011 [32 favorites]


Can someone explain the problem here? I find both obvious possibilities (either that GA farmers cheat minimum wage laws by hiring illegals, or that Georgians long-unemployed won't dirty their dainty little paws picking crops) extremely disturbing.

You might consider reading some information - hey, some of it's even provided in this thread - about how fucking hard and underpaid farm labor is.

And as most of us know from some employment experience, fucking hard AND underpaid is a hell of a combination.
posted by entropone at 6:48 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


or that Georgians long-unemployed won't dirty their dainty little paws picking crops) extremely disturbing.

The poor should have no standards when it comes to finding a job? I don't think you know what goes in to farm work and what it does to one's "dainty little paws".
posted by codacorolla at 6:48 AM on June 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


Minimum wage in Georgis is $5.15 per hour. That is a 'salary' of $10,712 per year, assuming 8hr days, 5days/week, and 52 weeks/year.
posted by entropone at 6:50 AM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


not as vulnerable as people who are in the country illegally

I think "do this work or go to jail" is a pretty vulnerable position.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:50 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Finding farm workers is a challenge even when farmers pay living wages. My farming relatives pay almost double the US federal minimums to start (in SE Ontario) and they're still chronically short of labour.
posted by bonehead at 6:51 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's unbelievably hard work for long hours in deadly heat.

That can't be repeated enough.
posted by mediareport at 6:52 AM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


That said, anyone who refuses such a job needs their UI (and any other state benefits they may receive) cancelled immediately, possibly even retroactively to the start of the harvest season.

Whoah whoah whoah. Hold on now. I spent just over a month picking strawberries and raspberries on farms in Canada. I can attest that it is grueling, back-breaking, difficult work. Furthermore, it's not really advertised all that much, owing to the hiring of illegals part. I appreciate the notion that when you don't have a job, you might want to lower the bar more the longer you're looking, but bear in mind this is a low-paying, physically-ruining and poorly advertised job. Telling poor people to suck it up and stop being "lazy" sort of ignores these facts.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:53 AM on June 23, 2011 [26 favorites]


I'm not saying all people on probation would want this work, but many people on probation are already pretty familiar with hard, low paying work, that more jobs are available is a good thing for them, so long as they have the option to say no, which it sounds like they do in Georgia.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:55 AM on June 23, 2011


Let me get this straight -- Georgia is on the verge of sending thousands of unpaid, mostly African-American men out into the fields with some overseers to harvest crops because Mexican families who work for nothing are too much of a burden for the state to bear?
posted by swift at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


entropone : You might consider reading some information - hey, some of it's even provided in this thread - about how fucking hard and underpaid farm labor is.

Sorry to thrash your strawman so soundly, but I did plenty of underpaid farm labor as a kid and early teen. Yeah, it sucks, and hard - You come home exhausted and filthy and bug-bitten and sunburned and don't make a whole lot to show for it.

But it does pay more than sitting on the couch eating Cheetos, and you won't get a lot of sympathy from me regarding anyone too "good" to do it rather than live off the dole.


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing : Furthermore, it's not really advertised all that much, owing to the hiring of illegals part.

I'll accept that as a problem, but one the state can fix in a heartbeat. Have farmers list their unfilled positions with the department of labor. Offer those jobs to people unemployed the longest. Refusal means loss of bennies. Simple as that.

(I would point out that even in my own state, the welfare heaven of the country, UI comes with conditions very much like those - The state send you job listings, and refusal to take one without a damned good reason means they cut you off; They do, however, use a sliding scale of how long you've collected vs when "doesn't pay enough" counts as a good enough reason).
posted by pla at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


so long as they have the option to say no

That's sort of a big requirement in this case. Conscripts in the hot sun all day, handling and/or crapping on food I'm eventually going to be eating? Sign ME up!
posted by delfin at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Swift - NO. Probationers in the area of farms that choose to participate in the program are being given these jobs if they want them. They are allowed to quit if they want.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:59 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If enough farms begin using cheap/illegal labor, it suddenly becomes impossible for the guys who are in compliance with the law to turn a profit.

I live in an area with a lot of farm labor; we are on the west coast migrant stream, so the wages here are "market rate" and competitive with farms in other regions. I know both large farmers who rely on that labor pool, and farm laborers, both documented and undocumented.

The farmers here are paying well above minimum wage these days, now that labor is in short supply because of the border crackdowns, spot enforcement by ICE, etc. So you can earn $10-$12 in the fields, but it is for brutally hard work. You are out in the 100 degree heat, dealing with dust and chemicals, and working under a lot of pressure because many crops have extremely narrow windows for being picked. The farmers I know would much rather employ legal workers (and for some of them, ideally native-born white workers), but those people simply won't take the jobs, and when they do show up they rarely last an entire day.

At least in areas like this, it's not about slave wages and nasty greedy farmers trying to pocket every penny. It's about scarce labor, with fewer and fewer people (legal or otherwise) being willing to do the work, and farmers working under extremely tight margins and in competition with big agribusiness in other countries. I have a lot of sympathy for the farmers I know, and I see them making difficult decisions as ethically as they can and under extremely tight constraints.

These discussions are always simplified, and the reality is really complex.
posted by Forktine at 7:00 AM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Mayor West, do you have evidence that they are paying $2.75 an hour?

Etropone: The Federal minimum wage is $7.25
posted by thylacine at 7:01 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's unbelievably hard work for long hours in deadly heat.

That can't be repeated enough.


Bingo. I live in Savannah, GA and those sort of jobs are looked down upon by everyone. There's pretty much no way anyone with a modicium of schooling would do it. But god forbid the price of fruit and vegetables goes up, then there's much complaining.

The fallout from this bill was pretty much known ahead of time, but they went ahead and did it anyway.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:01 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll accept that as a problem, but one the state can fix in a heartbeat. Have farmers list their unfilled positions with the department of labor. Offer those jobs to people unemployed the longest. Refusal means loss of bennies. Simple as that.

So, are you retracting your assertion that the poor should have their unemployment benefits retroactively taken away from the start of harvest then?

Also, I'm not sure you can take away people's benefits for not working at a specific place of employment, and I think a government program rounding up the poor and sending them to farms would be poorly regarded.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:03 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let me get this straight -- Georgia is on the verge of sending thousands of unpaid, mostly African-American men out into the fields with some overseers to harvest crops because Mexican families who work for nothing are too much of a burden for the state to bear?

Let me get this straight -- you're throwing around allusions to slavery as an argument against having citizens with rights and the full force of labor law behind them do this work, but you have no problem with immigrants who do not get the benefit of our labor laws doing the same work?

(I'm not seeing anyone argue that parolees / probationers should be unpaid, just that they could do the work if they chose)
posted by tocts at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I imagine that a lot of the disconnect about "farmers pay minimum wage" comes from the part of this statement that is going unspoken -- "farmers pay minimum wage to the workers who are actually on the books."

It is unclear who may have been hiring workers off the books, and how much those people may have been getting paid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I picked cantaloupes for three summers when I was (much) younger, and I can't emphasize enough how backbreaking it is. It's stoop labor in the sun, like most produce labor - and anybody who says it's not a skill is insane.

This situation is a shame and a disgrace all the way around. Food rotting in the fields is a sin - and a pretty apt metaphor for the intellectual level of too many of our leaders today. Cutting one's nose off to spite one's face is a horribly shitty way to run a country.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:06 AM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


What is going to happen is that they are going to force the prison population (most of whom are Black) to work the fields, and history will ironically repeat itself.

I believe this is the quotation you are looking for:

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
posted by googly at 7:07 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sorry to thrash your strawman so soundly, but I did plenty of underpaid farm labor as a kid and early teen. Yeah, it sucks, and hard - You come home exhausted and filthy and bug-bitten and sunburned and don't make a whole lot to show for it.

Somehow "as a kid and early teen" makes me doubt that you were doing this work to feed a family, and that you didn't have other options or opportunities down the line. Part time work when your body is in its prime is one thing, sustenance work as an adult is another.
posted by codacorolla at 7:09 AM on June 23, 2011 [17 favorites]


As they sow, so shall they (not) reap.
posted by atrazine at 7:10 AM on June 23, 2011


But it does pay more than sitting on the couch eating Cheetos, and you won't get a lot of sympathy from me regarding anyone too "good" to do it rather than live off the dole.

In addition to the poor on unemployment, we also have to consider that "the unemployed" spans the gammut from the dirt poor to the upper middle class and everyone in between. These are people with mortgages to pay, car payments to make, kids to feed. Telling them to get to work on a vegetable farm for minimum wage or loses their benefits, "simple as that", isn't going to help them at all.

In fact, it might hurt them - how can you find the time to search for a job that will actually sustain your family if you're on the farm all day? And you do know minimum wage would be a drop in income for these people, right? Unemployment benefits are supposed to provide help based on previous income while the recipient looks for gainful employment. Spending the day at a minimum wage job that the government made them work at would crush these families.

And how do you know the unemployed are sitting on the couch eating Cheetos, exactly? Who's to say they're not out looking for work that would sustain their families better, whilst receiving benefits that just barely cover this?

I don't think forced labor has ever benefited a society before, and it certainly wouldn't do so now.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:13 AM on June 23, 2011 [53 favorites]


According to this report, most of the probationers aren't cutting it, with many of them just walking off the job.
posted by Gilbert at 7:13 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that if they had scheduled the law to go into effect next year, a lot of pain could have been avoided. Farmers could have tried to develop new labor pools (picking efficiently and not damaging the produce actually takes some skill), switch from labor to capital inputs, change crops, etc.

The point made in the last link is that if you raise labor prices on some industries, those jobs just go away. That's why crops are rotting: it's not worth paying 3x normal to harvest them. However, those people don't just go away, they're made poorer by being unable to work.

Agricultural work is a funny thing. There are pieces which make American agriculture more efficient (peaches and onions are not heavily subsidized) like climate, soil, and institutions than doing the same thing with the same workers in Mexico. A migratory agricultural worker also makes more money if he has a larger north-south range to work with; he can spend more time on the harvest. It's probably better for everyone (workers, farmers, consumers) to let it go on. There is a legal equivalent (H2-A visa) which was discussed, but I think that I dropped that link by accident. The summary is that it's a bunch of paperwork and a legal landmine for small farms.

Thanks for that link Medieval Maven. Results totally predictable. Farm work takes experience, and people are parole don't have the freedom of movement to follow the harvest.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:14 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love modern America. Have a labor problem? Why, that can be easily solved. Just round up the poor and make them work on farms! Get those lucky duckies off THE DOLE.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:14 AM on June 23, 2011


It seems like paying probationers to do work -- paying them minimum wage, etc -- could be a good solution, though as a farmer, I'm not sure that I'd want all my employees to be out on probation. But there would need to be supervision that I suspect wouldn't happen. I'd suggest that perhaps government subsidies for people hiring probationers might help on a lot of levels, but I doubt that is politicaly viable.

I don't support having prisoners do forced work for private citizens or businesses, nor do I support people losing benefits if they are unwilling to do farm labour for minimum wage.
posted by jeather at 7:15 AM on June 23, 2011


Mayor West, do you have evidence that they are paying $2.75 an hour?

Them specifically? No. But their contemporaries across much of the South are cheerfully fucking over their workers as hard as they can, and the level of aw-shucks economic bewilderment that most of these farmers are showing is a bit suspect.
posted by Mayor West at 7:15 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If farmers can get enough unemployed workers to fill the demand then good for them. However mandating that people on TANF or unemployment get out in the fields and work seems completely ludicrous.

If the farmers are willing to increase their labor costs I think they can probably find documented workers out of the legal labor pool, however it's entirely possible that the margins on various crops are such that it actually becomes worthwhile to let them rot in the field and plow them under rather than harvest them.

You'd think that harvesting something would be more desirable than harvesting nothing but in many cases that not necessarily true. Because many of these crops (berries, melons, etc) have huge labor costs at harvest time and the market price is more or less fixed you can actually lose more money harvesting than simple writing off the year.
posted by vuron at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2011


One of the other possible solutions to the farm labor shortage may be increased automation. Onion harvesting equipment does exist, and some South Georgia businesses that develop, sell and service such equipment (for onions and other crops), will likely, eventually, prosper, as capital replaces labor, although some farm consolidation will probably happen, forcing many small family farms to either go the coop route, or sell out to corporate farming interests willing and able to invest in such equipment, and its ongoing maintenance, fuel and skilled labor requirements.

Wheat used to be labor intensive, now it isn't. Corn used to be farmed entirely by hand, but now it isn't. The agricultural activities of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa have all changed markedly, for the better, in the last 100 years due to automation.

If the devil does come to Georgia on the back of this bill, he'll be driving a John Deere Green tractor, and Top-Air green onion harvesters.
posted by paulsc at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know, farm work is only so unpleasant and difficult because there isn't any pressure to make it not so. If farms were forced to deal with regular American laborers instead of illegal immigrants (who are, let's remember, only different in that many are incredibly desperate and can't walk off the job no matter how much it sucks), they'd find ways to make the jobs palatable to ordinary people. Maybe they'd develop better tools for the job so it wasn't so back-breaking, or have people work at night with headlamps so it wasn't so hot, or use more workers operating in shorter shifts so it wasn't so exhausting. The problems with experience and skill could obviously be solved by making the job attractive enough so employees were retained over time.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:22 AM on June 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing : So, are you retracting your assertion that the poor should have their unemployment benefits retroactively taken away from the start of harvest then?

Sure, fine. I said that more as an expression of annoyance that people would turn down valid work, than anything I seriously considered legal. Suspending them going forward for anyone refusing, however...

Also, I'm not sure you can take away people's benefits for not working at a specific place of employment

A specific place, no. Refusing a credible, serious offer of work, yes.

These are people with mortgages to pay, car payments to make, kids to feed.

Agreed, and as I said, my own state allows "doesn't pay enough" as a valid reason to refuse a job offer... For a while. After three months... Six months... A year??? Time to take any job, short-sell the house, downgrade from the Lexus, and start sending the kids to school with PB&J.


codacorolla : Part time work when your body is in its prime is one thing, sustenance work as an adult is another.

So these immigrants - Actually shoe-elves, illegally visiting from Faerie, and immune to long days in the hot sun doing hard work? And they don't also have families to feed on those same crappy wages?
posted by pla at 7:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't this another example of why "free trade" is such a sham?

They say we can't raise wages and remain competitive. Then they fight to establish businesses where labor is cheaper and have the nerve to bitch that wages here are "too high". How can the result be anything but a race to the bottom?

Cheap veggies from Chile only look cheap. This is what they really cost.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know who wouldn't have to stoop so far down, and have more delicate hands to avoid damaging the crops? Children! And, look, those lazy bastards have three freakin' months off from school to do nothing but ride dirtbikes and play with dolls. Why should they get to have fun when the rest of us work, forcing our poor businessowners to hire illegals? Children working in the fields from dawn to dusk, that'll get us back to the days of the Founding Fathers!

My ancestor immigrants came to the US in the 1910s as teenagers because they felt it unfair that they were being 'rented out' to the neighboring farmers by their parents and didn't see the fruits of their labor. Several got together, ran off in dark of night, got on a boat, sailed to America, the land where immigrants can come to make a good life for themselves and if they worked hard enough they'd get paid a worthy salary.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [28 favorites]


This is very much a "race to the bottom" situation. If enough farms begin using cheap/illegal labor, it suddenly becomes impossible for the guys who are in compliance with the law to turn a profit. No, the real criminals here are the ones who first realized that they could get away with this, and the government officials who allowed them to get away with it.

Oh, definitely. The thing that makes me craziest about this is that enforcement efforts intended to stop illegal immigration are entirely focused on the immigrants themselves, and not the American criminals who are exploiting them. By aggressively pursuing enforcement on the employers and not the immigrants, you eliminate the race to the bottom - because you're going after the people with far, far more to lose.

I'm of the personal opinion that there should be some kind of "economic death penalty" for repeat offenders - three strikes, and you have just earned yourself a lifetime ban from being allowed to register a business license or be an officer of any corporation. Of course, the powers that be will never allow something like this to happen.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:24 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


A legal citizen has the option to make the same money working a fry-o-lator in an air-conditioned McDonalds instead of picking berries in the August heat in the deep south. That's not a tough choice to make.


This is the point right here. Yes, the farmers are pretty low for paying such awful wages, but the real issue is our refusal to normalize immigration by brown people. If you want to see wages rise we need to do two things - regulate the farms more, and make the path to work permission much clearer and easier. You cannot stop immigration. I personally believe you shouldn't, but even if you wish it could be stopped, you need to recognize that it is an even bigger folly than the "War on Drugs"

This shit drives me crazy. My great-grandfather was a migrant farmworker when he came here from Poland, and yet I have to listen to my idiot cousins bitch about the latin community in the area our family is from.
posted by JPD at 7:25 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


vuron : If farmers can get enough unemployed workers to fill the demand then good for them. However mandating that people on TANF or unemployment get out in the fields and work seems completely ludicrous.

Why? Seriously, why? Why do you, and apparently others, consider it "ludicrous" that we solve a simultaneous (unskilled) labor shortage and a labor surplus by matching those two together? This seriously seems like a no-brainer to me. You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes. No more problem.
posted by pla at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes.

otherwise known as the fischer-price theory of economics
posted by pyramid termite at 7:29 AM on June 23, 2011 [31 favorites]


I love modern America. Have a labor problem? Why, that can be easily solved. Just round up the poor and make them work on farms! Get those lucky duckies off THE DOLE

I can't help but think that both the left and the right seem to be dead wrong on the immigration issue. Comments like the above seem silly when you realize it's basically advocating for an immigrant underclass that works for minimal wages and with no legal protections.

I don't know much about this particular law, and it seems to be poorly thought through and reactionary. But to me, laws that target employers of illegal workers (rather than laws that target illegals themselves, which mostly seem founded in racism) are a step in the right direction. Getting legal workers into these jobs is what will force politicians to give these jobs more protections, and, hopefully, make the jobs more appealing to legal workers. Anyone who says we need illegal immigrants for these jobs because of low wages and brutal conditions should not be able to call themselves a liberal with a straight face.

Or maybe I'm wrong. But it really seems like the immigration dance being played out by federal Dems and Repubs is designed to play to their respective bases while conveniently keeping a semi-legal underclass in the country to pick fruit and wash dishes without having to worry about things like "workers comp" or "minimum wage". Something needs to break.
posted by auto-correct at 7:30 AM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Several people have already made the argument that agricultural labor is skilled and that migratory labor is the more lucrative and feasible model, given the seasonal nature of the work. This law quite stupidly overlooked the social stigma of doing work typically seen as being the provence of illegal immigrants, which I believe has more to do with trouble in making new recruits than does poor pay or difficulty. Most out of work people are looking for a job in their own community and are reluctant to move for work. And as was already said, parolees won't be able to make a full years wage, and at least for a while their being employed as stand ins for an already resented class of workers isn't likely to allow for upward social mobility. This is what happens when the interested parties are left out.

And I thought those nasties wanted to keep the big government out if the market!
posted by Lisitasan at 7:30 AM on June 23, 2011


Because Pla - unemployment insurance is insurance, its not a transfer payment. I have money taken out of paycheck every week so that if I get laid off, that insurance will help bridge my savings until I have a new job. The unemployed aren't wards of the state. They aren't indentured servants.
posted by JPD at 7:30 AM on June 23, 2011 [47 favorites]


Surprisingly, the Obama administration did not step in to block the law taking effect.

Increasingly, I'm coming to the conclusion that the Obama administration has decided to take the "Be careful what you ask for" approach to governance on selected subjects (like immigration), and is letting the states hang themselves with their own reactionary ropes.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:31 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Short-sell the Lexus. Jesus. I hear a lot of whining in MetaTalk about how we shout down "differing opinions" around here, but who can take seriously such cartoonish bullshit, especially when it's exactly the same, all the time, thread after thread? No minds are being changed by engagement.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:31 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why? Seriously, why? Why do you, and apparently others, consider it "ludicrous" that we solve a simultaneous (unskilled) labor shortage and a labor surplus by matching those two together? This seriously seems like a no-brainer to me. You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes. No more problem.

Hmm, the state deciding what work you'll do and how much you'll be paid. That seems like a politically impossible solution in the USA.
posted by papercrane at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why? Seriously, why? Why do you, and apparently others, consider it "ludicrous" that we solve a simultaneous (unskilled) labor shortage and a labor surplus by matching those two together? This seriously seems like a no-brainer to me. You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes. No more problem.

Because that sounds a lot like a workhouse.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:35 AM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


They're not pegs, pla, they're humans. Unemployment benefits are meant to help people get back on their feet, not put them in a position where they'll be stuck doing low paid manual labour and lose the entire life they had worked hard to attain before.

And where did the Lexus non sequitir come from? When you trot that unsubstantiated rhetoric out, you really make yourself out to be arguing from a position of hatred, not reason.
posted by renderthis at 7:35 AM on June 23, 2011 [21 favorites]


Because in many cases these agricultural jobs are not in the locations that the unemployed workers are located pla

Basically what you are saying is that in order to meet the state's agricultural needs people from the cities need to leave their communities, their families, and their support structures in order to go work out in the fields in rural America?

Are you suggesting that housing be built for them, or transportation be built up, or schools and infrastructure be put in place for their children?

Never mind that in many cases they might not be physically able to do the work or might not be fast enough workers.

In many but not all cases unemployment is related to a spatial mismatch. The jobs are not in the locations where unemployment is most problematic (inner city urban areas) and the ability to get people to the areas that do have jobs (suburbs, exurbs) is really limited. Trying to get a largely urban population back into the country to fill agricultural needs is a pretty significant undertaking.

Combine that with all sorts of historical issues (slavery, sharecropping, rampant use of prison workforces) and you could see why this is a pretty bad solution.
posted by vuron at 7:35 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


Pla: as others have noted above, farm work is in no way unskilled labor. Summer squash will break on you if you don't know what you're doing. Not knowing enough about how to look will get you only half the eggplant in the row. Treating new potatoes too roughly will result in them being useless after being cured. Lemon trees have spines that will get you at least a handful of times during the day. I've only ever done about half a day of farm work in my life, and I can assure you that I did not have the necessary skills, or the back, for it.
posted by Gilbert at 7:35 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Didn't they do something like that in the other Georgia? Or was it Ukraine?

similar in that both were driven by misguided politics. Hopefully this one won't result in mass starvation.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:36 AM on June 23, 2011


Why? Seriously, why? Why do you, and apparently others, consider it "ludicrous" that we solve a simultaneous (unskilled) labor shortage and a labor surplus by matching those two together? This seriously seems like a no-brainer to me. You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes. No more problem.

This has already been addressed in the thread. So allow me to repeat things that you don't seem to have read before:

1. The urban unemployed are not where the labor needs to be, so someone has to transport them to the farms
2. Someone has to house and feed them
3. Someone has to house and feed their families
4. While you're out on the farm, you can't look for any other work, so
5. Once harvest season is over, you're back at square one, with a bunch of unemployed people who are now (in addition to unemployed), rightfully bitter and angry at having been abused as slave labor because they lost their job
6. Everyone pays into UI while they're working, precisely so that their world doesn't instantly explode if something happens to their employer

Here's a hint: any time you start thinking about humans as "pegs," you are probably wrong. And not just wrong, but the sort of wrong that usually requires a moral and ethical deficit in your thinking.

I dunno. I recently read a different mirror, so basically this just makes me sigh. It seems like the entire history of this country consists of "how can we find populations to do the most awful labor for the least amount of money until they die early". It would be nice if we could stop regarding the lowest tier of labor as scum.
posted by kavasa at 7:40 AM on June 23, 2011 [46 favorites]


So these immigrants - Actually shoe-elves, illegally visiting from Faerie, and immune to long days in the hot sun doing hard work? And they don't also have families to feed on those same crappy wages?

The exchange rate has a lot to do with this. Any percentage of shit wages that can be sent home turns into real money when it's converted into pesos.

The solution to getting Americans to do this kind of work is to have their wages suddenly multiply when they get back to town so it's useful to pay bills and buy things.
posted by nangar at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


pla has in the past protested very bitterly at having to work for "waste-of-flesh CEO after waste-of-flesh CEO" and said that "I consider the whole "noblility"of work myth as the single most offensive of the puritanical values ever imparted on our culture."

Assuming that he hasn't changed his mind, it seems a little odd that here he appears to be arguing that the unemployed should be encouraged to pick crops in fields.

Unemployed people are not all lazy or unproductive parasites. Some of them are looking for work that suit their qualifications and skills. Some are unemployable for all sorts of reasons (e.g. long-term illness). Some are creative people who will contribute far more to society by being allowed to noodle around in their garages than being compelled to pull up onions.
posted by lucien_reeve at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's an argument to be made here that the reliance on illegal immigrant labor has stifled the development of technology that would allow the crops to be harvested at nearly the same cost as using illegal labor, but without, well, the labor.

If John Deere can make this monstrosity that can level a rainforest in half an hour, I'm sure they can make a machine that picks berries or pulls up carrots or whatever.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:56 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Agricultural labor policy is also only one aspect of overall agricultural policy, or of broader labor policy, and is only one limiting input to agriculture. In Georgia, water is another big issue, that agriculture makes a bigger issue, as it competes with urbanization in state for increasingly scarce water resources, and with neighboring states like Florida and Alabama, who are increasingly unhappy with what Georgia does with river resources upstream of rivers that eventually transit or end in these neighboring states.

So, if Georgia farms can be pushed to mechanization, that's good for Atlanta banks, and for makers and maintainers of farm automation. But if an artificial shortage of farm labor forces a lot of agricultural endeavors out of business, even without creating opportunities for mechanization and continuing agricultural output, that takes pressure off of water resources, and still makes certain non-agricultural interests in the state a lot happier.

In Georgia at least, you can't see this issue just as one that affects illegal workers and farmers down on the farm, and urban populations in their supermarkets. There are a lot of tangential issues and interests that go into supporting such policy, but are easily forgotten.
posted by paulsc at 7:57 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seriously, what did he think would happen - all the poor black folks that he never let get ahead sudden go "yes massar" and sing songs while picking crops?

This is the Georgia GOP we're talking about. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that's exactly what he thought would happen.

Because that sounds a lot like a workhouse.

Sounds more like forced labor.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:57 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a hint: any time you start thinking about humans as "pegs," you are probably wrong. And not just wrong, but the sort of wrong that usually requires a moral and ethical deficit in your thinking.

"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end."
-- Immanuel Kant

"And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is. ... When people say things are more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."
-- Esmerelda Weatherwax

(I've felt for awhile that there's an entertaining, and possibly even good, paper that could be written on the topic "The Categorical Imperative In the Folk Wisdom of the Ramtop Mountains".)
posted by thudthwacker at 7:58 AM on June 23, 2011 [30 favorites]


When I have free time, I like to solve the world's problems. As I have a few moments right now, I shall solve this one.

Facts:

1. The farmers are willing to pay $7.25 per hour to the workers.
2. Because of the difficulty of the work, many people do not want to work for this wage.
3. There is over nine percent unemployment in the state.
4. The state pays people who qualify for unemployment, and usually much more than $7.25 per hour.
5. The federal government has already classified farm work as being exempt from some labor laws.

Solution:

Farmers pay workers $7.25 per hour. State/Federal government pays workers $5.00 per hour.

Result:

Farmers get the employees they need for a wage they can afford to pay. State saves money by paying people less than they would pay them on unemployment. Workers make a decent wage to perform a difficult job. General population gets their fruit on time.

Farmers, government, workers, and general population all do better. Problem solved.

Next?
posted by flarbuse at 8:01 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


Let me get this straight -- you're throwing around allusions to slavery as an argument against having citizens with rights and the full force of labor law behind them do this work, but you have no problem with immigrants who do not get the benefit of our labor laws doing the same work?

Well, it was bad enough eating onions picked by desperately poor immigrants who are apparently putting a heavy strain on state resources, but if the labor shortage isn't met it looks like I may have to eat onions picked by incarcerated wards of a state-funded prison-industrial complex or else the onions will stop coming from Georgia, and instead be picked by workers in some other near slave-like condition elsewhere in the world, shipped via jet fuel pumped from the Middle East, where we happen to be pouring a lot of money into endless military engagements, housing men and women in barricaded, barbed-wire encampments with their totems of technological death, and letting them occasionally run the streets so they can police the desperately poor locals, who grew up wanting to go to college in the States, but whose kids wouldn't mind just getting some work picking onions or poppies before they get shot or bombed or imprisoned or picked up the local warlords and/or religious wackos.

But that's okay, I have a vegetable garden here in the backyard.
posted by swift at 8:05 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why? Seriously, why? Why do you, and apparently others, consider it "ludicrous" that we solve a simultaneous (unskilled) labor shortage and a labor surplus by matching those two together? This seriously seems like a no-brainer to me. You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes. No more problem.

I would agree. It is a "no-brainer" for you.
posted by codacorolla at 8:06 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


When I have free time, I like to solve the world's problems. As I have a few moments right now, I shall solve this one.

flarbuse, surely you are just trolling, right?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:07 AM on June 23, 2011


America, and to a certain extent most of modern capitalist economies have always depended on unpaid or underpaid labor. There has to be a significant gap in wages for mass available cheap product in addition to decent sized profits.
posted by edgeways at 8:10 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Georgia's govenor is shocked.

Not as shocked as he's gonna be next election day.
posted by dobbs at 8:16 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


lucien_reeve : Assuming that he hasn't changed his mind, it seems a little odd that here he appears to be arguing that the unemployed should be encouraged to pick crops in fields.

Not believing in the puritanical work ethic doesn't contradict my stance on earning my keep. As I've said many times, I work to live, but I don't live to work. I don't have a choice on the former, but that doesn't mean I need to like it. I just need to STFU and do it, rinse wash repeat until the worms get what the lawyers didn't.


Unemployed people are not all lazy or unproductive parasites.

Agreed. We all (likely) end up unemployed at some point in our lives. I found myself in that situation about three years ago, at the peak of the recession.

And, guess what? I took shit jobs to pay my mortgage and car loan - Such as an overnight "remodeling" crew job at a local store. Such as fixing Grannies' PCs that I wouldn't normally touch with a 10ft doily-adorned pole. Such as running cable in the hottest, nastiest recesses of a converted chicken coop (think 4-story 500ft long oven, not cute little red shack-on-legs). Jobs "beneath" me, that didn't pay "enough", and not really suited to my physique as a desk-jokey (albeit in good shape, but still a desk-jockey).

But I did them, because I needed to. Not because I wanted to, not even because they paid the bills, but they prolonged the time I could keep paying my bills until I found a "real" job.

So yes, I do look down on anyone who won't do the same. If that makes me bourgeois scum, consider me proud of that.
posted by pla at 8:18 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I live in Alabama. Yesterday the high reached only 89 degrees here. It was the first time in 31 days our temperature had not topped out over 90 degrees. The heat index has consistently been over 100 degrees. The labor is back-breaking, but the real issue is the heat. There is no amount of money that can profitably sustain agriculture and pay a wage that would make someone willing to work in this heat.

That is, by the way, one of the chief reasons slavery existed here at all: the heat is so fucking miserable that a landowner simply could not have paid anyone enough to work in the fields while still making a profit off the agriculture. The labor had to be coerced.

The comments that I hear floating around down here amount to this: we don't want the illegal immigrants here because they drain the public coffers by sending their kids to school and by going to the hospital for emergency treatment without insurance. A lesser concern that is sometimes voiced is that they send remittances back to their place of origin, which drains money from the local economy. (That argument is a little too sophisticated for most people, though). The biggest complaint seems to be that Wal-Mart now posts signs in English and in Spanish. Many people I hear are livid that the internet and cell phones and cable television mean that the imperative to assimilate is gone. "America for the Americans" and all that.

But the undercurrent relates to another ideology: these people say the REAL benefit of these laws will be to push to illegal immigrants out of the South, which will in turn free up jobs for "the unemployed." You have to remember that for most people down here, "the unemployed" calls to mind images of Reagan's notorious "Welfare Queen." It is always racially charged.

The next step after pushing the illegals out would be to fight for an end to most social service programs. The conservatives here whom I hear talking think that "those people" believe themselves to be "too good" to go pick vegetables in the fields. These people believe that this is precisely the problem in America: traditionally, life was drudgery and miserable hard labor, so the chief incentive to work hard and get a good education and innovate was to find a way out of that miserable poverty. They argue that welfare programs have eliminated this incentive. They believe people now have the OPTION of sitting on the coach and eating cheetos while turning up their noses at farm labor. If there is no Government hand-out, they say, then people will either work or they will starve.

So:
Step one: Push out the illegals who will work for next to notion.
Step two: Eliminate the welfare programs that give people "the option not to work."
Step three: "Those people" go "back to the fields." Accordingly, "they stop having babies, they stop dealing drugs, they stop shooting each other in the streets, and they stop stealing my tax dollars."

There is an entire string of argumentation here being woven into a very dangerous white sheet, and a lot of people are all-too-happy to hide under it and burn a couple of theoretical crosses.
posted by jefficator at 8:22 AM on June 23, 2011 [41 favorites]


So yes, I do look down on anyone who won't do the same. If that makes me bourgeois scum, consider me proud of that.

I wouldn't be proud of oversimplifying a complex situation that willfully ignores facts just because you have a stirring tale of boot-strap-pulling-upping.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


Such as fixing Grannies' PCs that I wouldn't normally touch with a 10ft doily-adorned pole.

Are you fucking kidding me? You have to be trolling at this point.

This seems like it's devolved into personal comments at this point, and it's distracting the rest of the thread, but I think you've offered valuable insight into why Republicans continue to win elections in the modern era, pla.
posted by codacorolla at 8:24 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why do you, and apparently others, consider it "ludicrous" that we solve a simultaneous (unskilled) labor shortage and a labor surplus by matching those two together? This seriously seems like a no-brainer to me. You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes. No more problem.
Ok, so a hospital in Atlanta has to cut back on staff, and they lay off some people. Let's look at one of those newly unemployed people. She's a fifty-year-old woman who worked the night shift as a ward clerk. She has a high-school diploma and was making $30,000 a year. She's a little overweight and has some arthritis in her knees and hands. The reason that she worked the night shift is that her daughter is a single mother, and she takes care of her daughter's two-year-old twins during the day while their mother is at work.

There are many good reasons that this unemployed person can't drop everything and become a migrant laborer. She probably can't physically handle the work. She can't abandon the people who rely on her without causing big problems, including possibly making her daughter also have to quit her job.

The person I've described is probably a pretty typical unemployed person. Most unemployed people are not young, fit, and devoid of responsibilities that tie them to a particular place. Also, as other people have pointed out, you can't apply for jobs in your home town if you're two hundred miles away picking cucumbers. And therefore, requiring people to take migrant farmworker jobs in order to collect unemployment is a dumb, cruel move.

I don't know what the solution is to the problem of exploitation of farm workers. But it's not coercing unemployed people by making them choose between starving and taking crap jobs.
posted by craichead at 8:24 AM on June 23, 2011 [18 favorites]


Because I realize that many Metafilterians are from small states where things are close together, here is a handy map to demonstrate another reason why craichead's laid off hospital worker from Atlanta can't just go pick onions in Vidalia during the day and then go home at night. And no, there really isn't such a thing as public transit in rural South Georgia, either.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:31 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


You heard it here first. Running Malwarebytes is exactly the same as picking berries.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:35 AM on June 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


flarbuse, your solution is politically untenable. It is, indeed, one of the persistent thorns in the side of welfare, unemployment insurance, etc. Welfare is instituted at a rate to hopefully help people actually live in some shelter and be able to buy some food. Persons can find work, but it's not work that (on its own) allows them shelter and food. If they could take that job AND continue to receive welfare, they would. But then the system gets gamed and poorly administrated and Channel 7 does a TEAM SLEUTH INVESTIGATES report, complete with a soundbite from some lady in a fabulous kitchen going "oh I make $80,000 annually and I collect welfare" and then freeze-frame her winking and apply a negative-color image filter to it and pretty soon there's legislation mandating that you can either work or get welfare, but not both. I can guarantee you that TEAM SLEUTH INVESTIGATES will find someone who managed to find a "farm job" that consists of standing around inside a barn and he'll be collecting from your program amd there'll be kickbacks and we'll all just have a grand time at the circus.

edgeways - I don't think that's true. A lot of successful businesspersons would agree with you, for sure, but I think it's the same pennywise and poundfoolish attitude that has repeatedly destroyed societies. People are never satisfied with sedate, stable growth. They never want to make a more substantial initial investment for the greater returns down the road. There was enough money in this country to build the trans-continental railway with fair wages and labor practices, and once it was built we'd've had a population of tens of thousands of newly patriotic, newly flush railroad laborers in addition to the railroad. Instead we got only the railroad.

pla - and plenty of people look down on you because you lost your job at all. If you'd worked harder and been better it wouldn't have happened, right? After all, they worked real hard and they didn't lose their jobs.

Think about it this way. You are standing there, hands on your hips, looking at the American Economy, a system so large and complex that there does not exist the person or organization that can really successfully predict what it will do. Faced with this system, you have said "well things worked out in a certain way for ME, which OBVIOUSLY means that they will ALWAYS AND FOREVER work out that way for EVERYONE."

Not everyone is you. Not everyone has the skills to stoop to fixing the PCs of the elderly. And, by the way? Stooping to fix the PCs of the elderly is a lot easier than stooping for 8 hours to pick cabbages or whatever. And again, what is your solution for the persons that are nowhere near any chicken sheds that need cable run in them? Are you going to bus them to the sheds and the fields? Will you bus them back or house them there? Who will pay for the bureaucracy necessary to administrate your program?

C'mon, those are simple questions. You haven't answered these objections when they were pointed out before, all you've done is called people you don't know anything about lazy. That's it. So answer my objections. Transportation, housing, and administration. Who provides these services? How are they paid for? What provisions do you make for single parents?

Or is it possible that you haven't actually thought about this? That you just sort of rubbed out a quick righteously indignant one without actually devoting any consideration to the concrete realities?

Seems a little bit, you know. Lazy to me. Just sayin'.
posted by kavasa at 8:36 AM on June 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm continuously amazed at the intersection of people who claim to be 100% pro-worker and pro-union labor, and people who claim that immigration reform would lead rising costs of produce that would be too great a burden to bear.

I wouldn't argue that it's too great a burden to bear. In fact, I think produce prices should go up, and that farm subsidies should be cut. This would enable fair wages for farm workers, and would even require that living wages go up across the board, so that people aren't going hungry trying to afford newly pricey produce.

I wish. Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but I don't see that happening. Maybe if we had strong and well-respected unions that weren't perpetually being kneecapped, a living wage for farm workers could appear. But we don't, and haven't for decades. Workers don't have a decent lobby, on or off the farm. Farmers and agricultural corporations do.

Right now, a lot of the costs that go into getting fruits and vegetables to market are full-on externalities. From the true cost of labor, to the health costs associated with that labor, to the seasonal/migrant aspect of that labor, to the fuel involved in harvesting and moving that produce, to environmental damage. Some of these externalities end up getting picked up by everybody, through unemployment or medicaid or fuel subsidies or EPA cleanup. But a disproportionate amount of the burden falls on the workers themselves.

The way things work right now, some foreign workers are able to defray that burden through the avoidance of taxes and a beneficial exchange rate. If we really want American workers to work these jobs, shit is going to have to get more expensive. Period. That $7.25 wage only gets you above the poverty level if you're working regular hours the year round. It won't cover the months when there isn't a harvest to be had, or pay for you to move on and off the farm, or buy you a doctor's appointment, or send your kids to college. Well what about medicaid, and student grants? Again, externalities. Those programs are a way to cover for the fact that wages are not actually paying people enough to take care of themselves, and their children.

So, yeah. I do think prices should rise. I also think that immigration, itself, is not the problem. Implementing immigration reform may lay bare the systemic problems with pricing and labor that have resulted in the current system. But I'd rather address those problems directly, instead of pretending that demonizing and getting rid of Joe-migrant-worker will fix everything.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:37 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've responded to a few of you privately, in the interests of keeping this from going "all about me". Feel free to post back to this thread if you think it will add to the discussion.
posted by pla at 8:43 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


So in engineering-type fields there's this saying that goes something like "for every problem, there is a solution that is cheap, easy, obvious... and wrong." This "peg, meet hole, problem solved" stuff appears to be that solution for this problem.

but mainly I'm here to blast right past Godwinning the thread, all the way to pointing out that the logic involved in shipping people from the cities out to the fields is straight-up canonical Pol Pot shit.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


I never understand in this kind of discussion why people are so horrified at the idea of people on unemployment taking hard jobs, but apparently don't have too many problems with an immigrant taking those same hard jobs for half the pay. A person is a person and someone is going to be harvesting produce. afaik, it's not a less back breaking job if a mexican is doing it, right?

For what it's worth, I grew up on a strawberry farm-- I know plenty about what harvesting produce is like.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:59 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


geegollygosh: Not that I necessarily agree with the line of thinking that you're talking about, but I think the people are responding to the idea that people on unemployment should have to take these types of jobs as a condition of UI, say, regardless of their level of skill or fitness for the work (or that they're failing to bootstrap themselves for choosing not to do so). I'm not sure anyone upthread would object to an unemployed person voluntarily taking these kinds of jobs.
posted by dismas at 9:07 AM on June 23, 2011


If the fear is that paying workers a fair enough wage to get them to move to these desolate, horribly depressing little towns and do work that will kill them a decade or so early, will bankrupt the farms because of foreign competition, wouldn't the simplest solution be a judicious dose of protectionism? Make the non-Vidalia Foreign Country Onion a little more expensive, so that Vidalia and its environs can afford to grow and distribute their crop?
posted by mittens at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most unemployed people are not young, fit, and devoid of responsibilities that tie them to a particular place.

Hi! I'm young, fit, and marginally employed. I don't have any kids, and I can even afford the plane ticket down south. And, hell, I'm descended from peasant stock: I have thick-ass legs that are designed for root pulling, and skin that doesn't burn. Wanna know why I'm not doing it?

Because it doesn't make sense. On a personal level, I live near my family, including my overworked single mom and my younger brother, both of whom need help from time to time. I also live within a couple hours of my grandmother, who's nigh upon 90 and has been having health issues. I live with my boyfriend, who's tied to his job here, and live near friends I've known since I was a kid. Living on a farm thousands of miles away for a few months every year would interfere with almost every personal relationship I have.

Then there's the financial level. I currently work as an intermittent freelancer because I'm fortunate (I have savings, thanks to my dad's union pension), and because when I do work, I make a pretty nice wage: $25/hr (sliding scale, though—call me!). Assuming that farms don't want to pay overtime, $7.25 x 40 hours a week x let's say a nice, long, 20-week picking season = $5,800. Number of weeks it would take me to make $5,800 sitting at a desk, in air conditioning, without having to find new housing or buy a plane ticket or fuck up my back or get my arm caught in a tiller = 5.8 weeks. So in almost a quarter of the time, I can make the same amount of money, and do so without incurring any of the associated costs.

You want young, unemployed, fit people to work in the fields? Make it worth their while. $7.25/hr isn't actually better than $0/hr, when it requires me to be somewhere and do something that would prevent me from working, on and off, for way the hell more at far less cost and risk. And if I was totally unemployed and in a farm town? I'd take the $7.25/hr job at a Taco Bell existed ran year round, let me work indoors, and wouldn't ruin my body.

There are too many jobs that are much easier and ultimately more lucrative at that same hourly wage. Nobody is going to work that job until it pays more, or until you force them to do it at a rate that doesn't make sense.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:13 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


If the fear is that paying workers a fair enough wage to get them to move to these desolate, horribly depressing little towns and do work that will kill them a decade or so early, will bankrupt the farms because of foreign competition, wouldn't the simplest solution be a judicious dose of protectionism? Make the non-Vidalia Foreign Country Onion a little more expensive, so that Vidalia and its environs can afford to grow and distribute their crop?

Considering the power of the US as a global food exporter, the low prices we Americans enjoy were never really for our benefit to begin with.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:13 AM on June 23, 2011


The fact that removing illegals from the infrastructure makes it collapse reveals many inherent problems, not one.

Agriculture almost exclusively as a big-business operation where platoons of workers are needed to keep it running is one of the biggest problems, and also the least likely to change as a result of all of this.
posted by delfin at 9:14 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Make the non-Vidalia Foreign Country Onion a little more expensive, so that Vidalia and its environs can afford to grow and distribute their crop?

Great idea! But then we'd have to backtrack on 30 years of Washington Consensus WTO policy, with which we've been preventing other countries from doing just that.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:15 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is exactly why we need robots. But not smart robots, mmmkay?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:16 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


pla writes "I actually have no problem with that, as long as they offer the jobs to non-prisoners first. That said, anyone who refuses such a job needs their UI (and any other state benefits they may receive) cancelled immediately, possibly even retroactively to the start of the harvest season."

That's crazy. Are you really proposing to force 50 year old dentists, accountants and engineers to follow the harvest to receive the insurance benefits they paid for?

It would be a hoot if all insurance worked that way. Have your house burn down and you need to strap on a tool belt and drive a box of nails to get your pay out. Collecting for a hospital stay requires 20 hours of mopping vomit. Someone steals your car and you need to put a couple shifts in at the tire plant to get a replacement vehicle.

Mitrovarr writes "You know, farm work is only so unpleasant and difficult because there isn't any pressure to make it not so. If farms were forced to deal with regular American laborers instead of illegal immigrants (who are, let's remember, only different in that many are incredibly desperate and can't walk off the job no matter how much it sucks), they'd find ways to make the jobs palatable to ordinary people. Maybe they'd develop better tools for the job so it wasn't so back-breaking, or have people work at night with headlamps so it wasn't so hot, or use more workers operating in shorter shifts so it wasn't so exhausting. The problems with experience and skill could obviously be solved by making the job attractive enough so employees were retained over time."

I was observing farm workers working in full sun picking crops in conjunction with a farm mounted conveyor and I immediately thought that the job would be a lot more pleasant if they attached some shade to the conveyor.
posted by Mitheral at 9:16 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


geegollygosh: Not that I necessarily agree with the line of thinking that you're talking about, but I think the people are responding to the idea that people on unemployment should have to take these types of jobs as a condition of UI, say, regardless of their level of skill or fitness for the work

Yeah, and I understand the reluctance about forced labor, but there also seems to be a pushback against the idea that anyone should have to do such terrible, terrible work-- unless, of course, they're from across the border somewhere.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:16 AM on June 23, 2011


You heard it here first. Running Malwarebytes is exactly the same as picking berries.

This bears repeating. Pla - picking up freelance tech work, part time retail remodeling or whatever other bullshit semi-white collar work you're describing is not the same fucking thing as farm labor. Fixing grandma's computer is so far from farm work it's laughable. Your high horse about taking any job is a small rocking pony when compared to the brutality of manual farm labor.

And your simplistic, unrealistic, impossibly backasswards throwbacks of opinions in this thread make you look not only idiotic but aggressively if not dangerously insane and completely ignorant of the history of labor and harmful notions like workhouses for the poor and - for fucking fuck's sake - slavery.

As much as I hate to even respond to your simplistic yet incredibly alarming bullshit - there's a whole bunch of reasons why skilled/educated workers don't work on farms. Besides the fact that they're unsuited to the work and bad at it, besides the fact it doesn't even pay enough for their commute to and from the fields every day, besides the fact that this so-called readily available labor pool isn't anywhere near the farms - above and beyond all of that it's not going to do an office/computer worker any good if he goes out into a field and ruins his hands and/or body.

My hands are valuable, skilled tools. They're worth a lot to me intact so I can punch a keyboard at going industry rates whether that's doing IT work, graphics or writing.

This isn't special snowflake bullshit. I know what hard work is. I used to load 50 foot trailers full of 60 pound boxes of T-shirts by hand all day for my dad's company because we couldn't afford a fork lift. How far can you throw a 60 pound box? How many times can you do it an hour? I'm looking for a number that's in the high hundreds, FYI. I learned how to throw a 60 pound box about 50 feet, to the end of that open semi trailer. This was literally back breaking work. I don't miss it.

I've also done construction demolition, professional moving, janitorial work and all kinds of other grunt labor.

And I know that farm labor would be 100-1000x harder. I've casually helped on small farms and gardens. I don't think you have even the slightest idea how hard the work is and how much were underpaying people for our access to cheap produce.
posted by loquacious at 9:20 AM on June 23, 2011 [22 favorites]


I think produce prices should go up, and that farm subsidies should be cut.

Farm subsidies don't go to specialty crops like produce. They go to commodities. Subsidies are no part of this particular and horrific problem, except to the extent that they might be influencing land prices or some other externality that's not readily apparent to me at this sleep-deprived moment. There are certainly problems with the current US system of farm subsidies, but this is not one of them and reliance on subsidies as a generic bogeyman for deep, systemic problems in the ag sector is an impediment to examining the real problems and, hopefully, coming up with real solutions.

Other than that, we agree. The price of produce is too high for the consumer and too low for the producers. That's an easy problem to solve, right?

Producers, of course, includes farm workers. No farmworkers, no food.
posted by stet at 9:23 AM on June 23, 2011


Georgia politicians, can you get some Georgia farmers in touch with the unemployed graphic designers and office workers and businesspeople to create an American equivalent of a "fair-trade" designation for produce? It's grown in America by legal workers who are paid enough money to make it worthwhile for someone to do a hard job.

When someone posts an AskMe about wanting to work hard labor and earn lots of money for short term work, we'll be able to tell them "Go work on a Georgia farm" instead of crab fishing or diamond mining or prostitution.

People are willing to pay more for grass-fed beef and free-range chicken and organic vegetables. Farm-shares are massively popular. I'd much rather pay $10 a pound for whatever veggies I want at the local grocery store, though. Hey, Free Market, give me an option. Knowing my steaks had a happy life before they became dinner is not half as awesome as ensuring the happiness of the PEOPLE picking my cucumbers would be.
posted by Gable Oak at 9:24 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, and I understand the reluctance about forced labor, but there also seems to be a pushback against the idea that anyone should have to do such terrible, terrible work-- unless, of course, they're from across the border somewhere.

That's because anyone who worries about workers' health, viability of wages, safe working conditions, repetitive stress injuries, and other things that might cut into the overall profit margin for an employer gets tarred as a GODDAMNED SOCIALIST.

The work wouldn't get done (and isn't getting done) in these conditions without an underclass doing it. You don't see evidence of said underclass when you're picking your cabbages out of the bin at Safeway. Out of sight, out of mind.
posted by delfin at 9:24 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


People are willing to pay more for grass-fed beef and free-range chicken and organic vegetables

Given the decades of poison soaked into the soil of these farms, organic might be out.
posted by mittens at 9:25 AM on June 23, 2011


(No discussion of Georgia is complete without a nod to Brewer & Shipley's "Don't Want to Die in Georgia.")
posted by octobersurprise at 9:27 AM on June 23, 2011


create an American equivalent of a "fair-trade" designation for produce? It's grown in America by legal workers who are paid enough money to make it worthwhile for someone to do a hard job.

You won't need the sticker. You'll know because that pound of onions will cost $15.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:27 AM on June 23, 2011


You won't need the sticker. You'll know because that pound of onions will cost $15.

And the problem will be that the pound of onions next to it with the "Product of " label will be $3.99.
posted by delfin at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2011


(bah, insert [insert third world nation here] in those quotes. brackets got stripped out)
posted by delfin at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2011


I don't think you have even the slightest idea how hard the work is and how much were underpaying people

A few minutes ago I was trying to reply to an earlier post about making 7.25 at Taco Bell. I was going to use, for the purposes of my answer, an excited call I got one night from a cousin of mine, who was ecstatic that she'd gotten a job at McDonald's. And how, being young at the time, I had no idea that there was any way in the world McDonald's would be a step up from anything.

But the hitch was, I was also going to describe where her family lives--southeast Georgia--and what they pick--mostly peaches--but I kept using present tense. Which didn't seem right, because all of them, save one, are dead. None ever had insurance, none had much of a way to get medical care for the numerous ailments the work caused them, the chemicals, the accidents, the poor nutrition. And so, this one branch of the family, the farming one, is just extinct.

I don't really have a point here. Just agreeing that it's hard to conceive of how hard the work is, and the toll it takes.
posted by mittens at 9:31 AM on June 23, 2011 [24 favorites]


Yeah, and I understand the reluctance about forced labor, but there also seems to be a pushback against the idea that anyone should have to do such terrible, terrible work-- unless, of course, they're from across the border somewhere.

That sentiment does suck. I don't think people from across the border should have to do the work. I think whoever is doing the work should be paid a far wage to do it. And I think that if it did pay a fair wage (i.e., enough to offset the inherent costs of back-breaking, seasonal, migrant work), you'd see people lining up for agricultural jobs.

My dad worked in construction for 45 years, even though it tore his body to shreds. He saw a bunch of coworkers die in fucking gruesome ways, had his hand crushed under a 2 ton pylon, had acid burns up to his knees, lost about 5 inches in height as his back gave out, and was electrocuted innumerable times, often by bus ducts. He kept working the job because, even though he was educated, it paid him a better wage than he was likely to earn through white collar work, while providing him and his family with bad-ass health insurance and an awesome pension.

Construction work has slowly been taken over by immigrant labor. I have a feeling that if unions were taken out of the equation, and all construction jobs paid minimum wage, Americans wouldn't want to work in construction either. I'm not saying immigrants should work for sub-par wages. I'm saying that if wages are increased, immigrant labor will almost automatically decrease, because the jobs will become competitive and attract American labor.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:32 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think produce prices should go up, and that farm subsidies should be cut.

I think food subsidies should be converted into food-stamps that *everyone* get, which are only redeemable for meat, veggies, milk, eggs, etc, not frozen TV dinners or Doritos or diet coke. Competition to sell their products and get paid the food-stamp benefit will keep prices low, plus the food-stamps will also benefit local economies via the grocery stores who pay their employees who handle the stamps in-between -- and there'd be less fuming over "people paid to plow under their potatoes", because the government money would be spent only on actual, human-consumed food.

However, keep in mind that 60 years ago, food was the largest chunk of a household's expenses -- nowadays, it's housing. If those two could be reconciled, lowering people's housing costs so they have more money to spend on food, might be helpful to everyone, including farmers. Who knew that the cost of an apartment in New York affects the cost of carrots grown in the midwest? Economists do, but too few people listen to them.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:49 AM on June 23, 2011


Farm subsidies don't go to specialty crops like produce. They go to commodities.

Good point. I guess my thinking was that we might have to redirect or cancel some of those subsidies, in order for produce to be at all viable. Otherwise, even more so than today, we're all gonna be eating Kix out of the box—or some other prepackaged rice, corn, or grain product—instead of ever consuming one of our hypothetical $15 fruits or vegetables.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2011


The work wouldn't get done (and isn't getting done) in these conditions without an underclass doing it.

Then it shouldn't be done. If you can't pick cabbages, or onions, or lettuce, or strawberries, without an underpaid, abused underclass, then they should rot and be plowed under. And maybe that will force the price to go up enough, so that legal and protected workers can be hired. Or so the farms can mechanize and replace low-wage jobs picking produce with more highly-paid machine operators, designers, mechanics, engineers, programmers, etc.

Nowhere is it written that you have, as a consumer, a right to go into your local grocery store and get cheap produce. However, it is written that workers are supposed to have certain protections: minimum wage, workers compensation if they get hurt on the job, unemployment insurance, etc. The latter ought to trump the former every time. If strong worker protections are incompatible with cheap produce, then no cheap produce for you.

The only sympathy I have for farmers in Georgia is that, because this is being done on a state level rather than a Federal one, they'll have to watch farmers in other states continue to exploit migrant laborers and keep the market price artificially low. That's unfortunate, and leaves them in a crappy position (although it's one that they got themselves into, by taking advantage of the cheap labor in the first place).

Really, this should be done on the Federal level, and it should be done in concert with import tariffs in order to keep foreign goods from countries with shoddy worker protections and low labor costs from flooding the U.S. market. Prices need to rise, probably dramatically, in order to break the cycle of dependence on cheap human labor. That's the only way we're going to be able to replace exploitation with either fair labor, or mechanization.

It's unfortunate that the only progress we seem to have made in this direction in decades has been fueled by anti-immigrant sentiment and barely concealed ethnic hatred. However, despicable though some of the motivations may be, it seems to be doing the right things (arguably the wrong way), for the wrong reasons.

But it really seems like the immigration dance being played out by federal Dems and Repubs is designed to play to their respective bases while conveniently keeping a semi-legal underclass in the country to pick fruit and wash dishes [...]

No shit. Lots of coastal liberals are more than happy to ignore where their arugula comes from, just as long as it's cheap and there for them to buy on the way home from work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2011 [11 favorites]


You won't need the sticker. You'll know because that pound of onions will cost $15.

That's funny, my CSA onions don't cost nearly that much. My tomatoes grown in Northern Wisconsin sold at the local Coop don't cost nearly that much. I get 52 weeks of free range eggs for $140.... food is important and it doesn't have to cost outrageous prices to get decent food provided with decent labor practices.

Personally I think we should tax fast food and funnel that money into increasing wages for agricultural workers and better farming practices. Keep the cost down and improve the food supply, and deincentive cheap fatty foods.
posted by edgeways at 9:54 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sure the Georgia legislature will come around to pushing that law off the books. The only question is whether it pushes their budget off a cliff first.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:59 AM on June 23, 2011


That's funny, my CSA onions don't cost nearly that much. My tomatoes grown in Northern Wisconsin sold at the local Coop don't cost nearly that much.

That's because your CSA and your co-op aren't run by agricultural corporations that require hordes of workers to operate on a massive scale.

It's funny how that works out.
posted by delfin at 10:00 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


II think food subsidies should be converted into food-stamps that *everyone* get, which are only redeemable for meat, veggies, milk, eggs, etc, not frozen TV dinners or Doritos or diet coke. Competition to sell their products and get paid the food-stamp benefit will keep prices low, plus the food-stamps will also benefit local economies via the grocery stores who pay their employees who handle the stamps in-between -- and there'd be less fuming over "people paid to plow under their potatoes", because the government money would be spent only on actual, human-consumed food.



Well intentioned, but it does sort of reek of a sort of paternalism that says "the poors can't figure out what to spend their money on"

The reality of it is that many food stamp users live in areas where there just aren't the sort of food options that are available to the middle class.
posted by JPD at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2011


I'm curious about that. So industrial corporate agriculture actually gets more expensive per unit as it scales up? Like, without the use of superexploited labor it costs more, total, for one company to run a great whopping huge farm than it does for a bunch of independents to run a bunch of little farms?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:07 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's funny, my CSA onions don't cost nearly that much. My tomatoes grown in Northern Wisconsin sold at the local Coop don't cost nearly that much. I get 52 weeks of free range eggs for $140.... food is important and it doesn't have to cost outrageous prices to get decent food provided with decent labor practices.



I wouldn't be as confident as you are that their labor practices are "decent". Better maybe, but i'm not sure that their decent is so great.

$12 bucks an hour off the books sounds better, but you still don't get unemployment or most importantly workers comp. I'd guess a lot of well meaning farmers who try to be good to their laborers are essentially stuck doing that because they their status as undocumented prevents them from paying taxes.
posted by JPD at 10:09 AM on June 23, 2011


I'm curious about that. So industrial corporate agriculture actually gets more expensive per unit as it scales up? Like, without the use of superexploited labor it costs more, total, for one company to run a great whopping huge farm than it does for a bunch of independents to run a bunch of little farms?


of course it doesn't. the argument would be that the lower capital costs of a family farm allow them to accept lower profits than a corporate farm. But realistically I don't think that's true.

I think what really happens is that most small specialty product farmers survive by selling a differentiated product at a much higher cost to people who are willing to pay that higher cost.
posted by JPD at 10:13 AM on June 23, 2011


I'm curious about that. So industrial corporate agriculture actually gets more expensive per unit as it scales up? Like, without the use of superexploited labor it costs more, total, for one company to run a great whopping huge farm than it does for a bunch of independents to run a bunch of little farms?

The little farms aren't getting shelf space in major supermarket chains or in Super Wal-Marts. They're not becoming suppliers for big chain restaurants. They're simply not putting out enough product to be competitive in those realms, because the big boys don't want to buy product from a hundred different sources; they want one big source that sells cheap and makes it up in volume.

So how do megafarms compete with other megafarms for those coveted roles? By increasing their own size and subsequent output (buying out competitors) and by slashing their own costs (the cheapest labor available, typically named Pedro.)
posted by delfin at 10:16 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This story highlights yet again how broken the immigration system is in the US. In my view, kept willingly broken in order to satisfy a wide array of ideologies.

Conservatives grumble about welfare burdens, though pretty much debunked. I have a difficult time believing the irritation of seeing and hearing brown skinned Spanish speaking folks at the local Walmart isn't a huge factor here.

Liberals grumble about fair wages and working conditions. So we must crack down on evil capitalists exploiting illegal immigrants, because it's for the good of the immigrants that they not be able to take such shitty jobs.

Both sides grumble about rule of law. It's an angle that seems thoroughly principled, divorced from politics and removed from bigotry. Yet the results are the same, and sometimes the argument is used as a shelter for darker sentiments.

Either way, getting the sought after results, ends up with things work out badly for everyone. Badly for capitalists, whose profits and goods are not allowed to contribute to economic prosperity. Badly for immigrants themselves, being deprived of a means to earn money. Not to mention the larger government tasked with enforcing the law, a burden not only on the coffers directly, but also on the everyday living costs of being employed, free to move about, and so on.

After meaningful immigration reform, an unlikely solution, the next best solution to this problem is what we've done most of the time... ignore it. A situation that allows increased prosperity for for employers, for workers, for consumers, and still allows law enforcement agencies to focus on specific abuses rather than view every with suspicion.

I know, I know, the well meaning will cry, "But we can't ignore the law!" It grates against the fiber of may a person for many reasons. Yet, we can, and it often works out better for everyone involved, when a legal solution is so elusive, where the legal solution makes the perfect become the enemy of the good.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:18 AM on June 23, 2011


I think what really happens is that most small specialty product farmers survive by selling a differentiated product at a much higher cost to people who are willing to pay that higher cost.

Ding ding ding!

The fact that CSA onions are "only" $2-3 per pound is partly because they are, to an extent, competing in a market with $.69/pound industrially farmed onions. The CSA farmers do want to get some market share, and the current landscape of food prices is what defines how high the price of organic onions can really go before people just don't even bother. As much as CSA subscribers will pay a price premium, that price premium can only be so high before the CSA will not make enough subscribers to survive.

If/when industrial farming is truly impossible, and CSAs and small farms with well-paid workers are really the only producers of food for the entire country, that downward pressure on prices will be gone. You will have $10 onions, or you will have no onions.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:19 AM on June 23, 2011


JPD.. I can't speak for other practitioners, but literally the place that grows the a majority of my produce for 1/2 the year is 45 miles away, family run and open to inspectors and owners to come by at any point. When I say decent labor practices it is with the understanding that all work is...well.. work, and agricultural work even more so, but if small scale farms can avoid using undocumented labor and pay ok wages and meet stricter standards for organic product, sell that product for non ruinous prices, and still make money to live on then I fail to see why we are still stuck paying minimum wage, or less, for pesticide laden mass produced filler.



I've always understood that the economics of scale meant that the larger the operation the lower production cost per unit. Large scale farms should have a lower per unit cost then small scale farms, therefore the only thing I can see is that CSAs and suchlike are simply operating with a lower profit threshold. Which is not a bad thing if the profits are put into quality of product and better working conditions. But we value cheap and max profit margins which almost necessitates crappy product, and poor working consitions.
posted by edgeways at 10:20 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The little farms aren't getting shelf space in major supermarket chains or in Super Wal-Marts. They're not becoming suppliers for big chain restaurants. They're simply not putting out enough product to be competitive in those realms, because the big boys don't want to buy product from a hundred different sources; they want one big source that sells cheap and makes it up in volume.



not really. The distribution systems of the big retailers are sophisticated enough to take in product from a smaller producer on a regional level at least. The issue full stop is price.

If you think the reason why big producers is all about labor costs and their willingness to exploit labor, then you should be out campaigning for stronger laws, and real immigration reform - but I really think that there are massive economies to scale in farming, and no matter what you do size will win out.
posted by JPD at 10:24 AM on June 23, 2011


Ah, I forgot the other megafarm tactic of choice: increasing 'efficiency' of operations. Which typically means crowding more animals into smaller spaces, pumping questionable food into animals to make them bigger faster, pumping drugs into said animals to keep them alive despite eating questionable food and living in cramped conditions, and cutting as many corners off of the overall process as possible.

And if you don't do that? You lose out to the neighboring megafarm that does, because they turn out more product than you do.

The small farmer either changes his target audience (allowing grazing, proper diet, etc., and presenting the output as a premium product) or ends up selling his operations to the megafarm.
posted by delfin at 10:25 AM on June 23, 2011


What is going to happen is that they are going to force the prison population (most of whom are Black) [and probationers, and the poor, and anyone else society marginalizes] to work the fields, and history will ironically repeat itself.

And I'm sure that the wages and conditions will greatly improve for them. end sarcasm

I've done many kinds of day labor in the hot sun, admittedly it was never more than a couple days... it sucks but it's money and is something most people are capable of once you acclimate.

Yah, you acclimate, if you're young, not pregnant, don't have health issues, get your breaks and rest options, plenty of water, can eat enough calories to keep you going. We're talking heat stroke, dehydration, risk of injury with machinery, back problems, allergies, skin cancer, and other fun benefits. You don't get paid days off and often ANY days off during harvest. Seven days a week, folks. Living in labor camps is another great benefit, or you can try getting up at four am for an unpaid ride in the back of a truck for two hours. And that wonderful minimum wage you people here are so thrilled about--try picking by the piece, or by the pound or the bushel. Not. Fun.

Maybe you've picked for your parents, or have don't crappy blue collar jobs--but I doubt your parents treated you like Georgia farmhands, and OSHA mandates certain considerations for workers, something Georgia farmers are notably lax in providing for their workers, unless scrutinized closely. If white collar whistle blowers get no respect, it's highly doubtful any reports of abuse from prison workers or welfare recipients are going to be heard.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Farmers occupy a kinda weird spot in the economic continuum, don't forget.

If the marketplace were truly free and open, then bountiful harvests don't necessarily benefit farmers. A bumper crop means lower prices - sometimes too low.Being a successful farmer sometimes means you're cutting your own throat. A bad harvest gets good prices, but, of course, there's no product to sell.

Farming's a tough gig without all the other issues.

(Don't misunderstand me, though. If the only way to make it work is by exploiting workers, then something needs to be done. The only sane solution, I think, would be a return to family farms. Not gonna happen, though.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:36 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


The assimilation argument just baffles me. Here are some things people I've heard people whine about:

1. The stores have signs in both English and Spanish. Well, you read English, right? IGNORE THE SPANISH SIGNS THEN.

2. People speak Spanish to each other and I can't understand what they're saying. THEY ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU, SO WHO CARES.

3. My grocery store is starting to carry all of this stuff I've never seen before and have no use for. SHOP IN THE OTHER 96 AISLES, THEN.

I mean, goddamn, people, we are totally capable of living side by side. I can't pull the "some of my best friends are..." because it's not true. But I've never EVER had a problem with a Spanish-speaking person beyond them having trouble spelling my name. ("The letter I ... as in, um... iglesias?")
posted by desjardins at 10:43 AM on June 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


(Sorry, I know that was a tangent, just had to get that out there.)
posted by desjardins at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2011


Jefficator, I can't favorite that enough, and it is a shame that the point is so often overlooked. I would only add, for those who are frustrated that recipients of unemployment benefits do not take the first job offered that this is a feature, not a bug. We want to take care of people when they do not have jobs, but we also want to keep them from entering desperate bargains when looking for jobs.

The idea is that restricting benefits so much that the employed must take the first job offered would be extremely inefficient. The first job offer might be a bad offer, and time spent at that job is time not spent looking for a better one. Furthermore, a rule requiring the unemployed to take the first job offered or lose their benefits would drive down offered wages to the minimum since the worker's alternative to any wage offer is destitution. It would also lead to workers applying for fewer jobs, for fear of being caught between a low-ball offer and the total loss of income.

The unemployment benefits, by design, save recipients from offers that exploit desperate circumstances. Undocumented immigrants end up accepting these wages precisely because the immigration laws force them into desperate bargains. I suspect forcing them into desperate bargains to drive down wages is the point of the draconian immigration laws in the first place. The solution is providing them with better options and protections (dare I say open borders and easy citizenship for any who want it?) not forcing even more people into desperate bargains.

So basically unless you want a certain percentage of farms to become unprofitable and close (with the consequential increase in unemployment particularly in rural communities) you have to balance the desire to increase worker wages, improve working conditions, eliminate exploitation and trafficking, etc with the desire to maintain agriculture as a way of life in many communities.

I am deeply, profoundly, frothingly hostile to the notion that increased wages, improved working conditions, and the elimination of exploitation of laborers and human trafficking must be balanced at all with maintaining the "way of life" in Southern agricultural communities. To the extent that a way of life relies on relies on exploitation and oppression, there is no value whatsoever in its preservation, despite the South's arguments to the contrary over the last 250 years.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:52 AM on June 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think the point of this news coverage is the fact that the good theory (that local unemployed should have the jobs illegal immigrants were taking) does not, empirically, work at all. The scientific test has been performed, and guess what: it may have been a well-intentioned theory, but it was wrong. For some reason, the unemployed cannot, in fact, do the job that illegal immigrants do.

Conclusions:
1. The average unemployed person is not suited to do farm work.
2. Immigrants appear best suited to doing farm work.
3. Farm work is, in fact, skilled work, as unskilled labor (unemployed persons) are empirically unable to do it.
4. If we seek to have unemployed people take farm jobs, then we have to (a) train them to perform farm work, (b) change farm work to be more suited to an unskilled worker, and/or (c) incentivize doing farm work so that unkilled workers will take the initiative to train themselves.
5. In the short term, if we need farm work performed immediately, then we should provide an avenue for immigrant workers to perform it legally.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:55 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another way to think of it: American labor is a product. It can be bought and sold. You can have it, but it doesn't come cheap. If you want native-speaker, taxpaying, American labor in the fields, you're going to have to spend extra, because it is brand name shit. We are the motherfucking iPad of labor forces. Sure, you could get two or three "Samsung touchscreen tablets" for the price of one of us. But that's not what you want, right? Because this is America for Americans, right?

So pay up. I will pick your onions while reciting Shakespeare, and copy editing your website, and tutoring your kids in calculus. Shit, I'll bring a dozen friends capable of doing the same. Give me a bid. Make it worth our while. And know full well that if you delay our wages or have unsafe labor practices, we will have no fear or hesitation in contacting the relevant authorities, and raising holy hell in perfect fucking English.

(I'm not sure that local, CSA prices could be sustained industry-wide. Between their populations and growing seasons, Northeastern cities can't just buy from local farms. Shit is going to have to be trucked in. Which is going to lead to increased prices, even for producers-of-scale.)

(As goes what happens to the immigrant laborers: Yeah. Dunno. I often think Mexico might be better off if it didn't have a border with the US, and the illicit trade in labor and drugs that come with it. Mexico isn't a poor country, it just has the mixed-blessing of being next to an exceptionally wealthy one. I would love for the workers to be able to make a legal living here or in Mexico, but the current status quo is an exploitative farce, and should be changed.)

(Plus, can we just admit that this country is more or less bilingual, especially in the south and west? Jesus Christ, it is funny to listen to people complain about signs being in Spanish when they live in states named things like "New Mexico" or "Nevada" or "Arizona" or "Colorado" or "California" or "Montana.")
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:58 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why not have the unemployed and probationers forced into labouring on farms, on the condition that the Georgia legislators who voted for this and the governor who signed the bill also have to do the same? The moment a legislator or the governor decides to give up, so can everyone else. I suspect the whole experiment would last under 2 hours.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:00 AM on June 23, 2011


I'm curious about that. So industrial corporate agriculture actually gets more expensive per unit as it scales up?

I've tried a couple of times to write up a response to this, and I feel like I keep getting into the weeds, so to speak, so I'm going to try to go for as succinct as I can, which may not be that succinct.

Megafarms have two major disadvantages. First, that they have to spend a not insignificant amount of money to ship their produce. Second, that to ship produce long distance, you have to both trend towards using hardier, better-shipping variants (which frequently don't taste as good), and you have to pick produce when it's not really ripe and artificially ripen it (which doesn't taste as good).

But, from a price standpoint, they're coming from a huge position of strength. They can locate themselves wherever property taxes, land, and other requirements are cheapest. And, quite importantly, I think, they can use illegal labor to massively reduce their costs, which ends up more than offsetting the shipping costs.

What that has meant is that smaller farms have been dying off for a long time. It's just not possible, right now, to do much more than CSA-type specialty farms. Is there a market for that? Yes. Is there a huge market for that? No. And if you try to have a local farm competing with someplace half a continent away that's got not only economies of scale, but also masses of illegal laborers, you just are not going to be able to compete for non-specialty consumers.

So, what happens if the illegal labor goes away? I think what we'd see is that smaller farms would actually be viable. Yes, prices would go up, but they would not go up indefinitely. Eventually, they would reach a point where it was no longer viable to ship tomatoes 2,000 miles to try to compete with a farm 10 miles from the store.

The downside to this, and I'm honestly not sure I really buy that it's much of a downside, is that we'd need to give up on this myth that all produce should be available everywhere all the time. For as long as I can recall, the U.S. has continuously lied to itself in that we tell ourselves that we should be able to go into a grocery store in mid-winter and find fresh summer produce. It's crazy, and the produce usually is not very good due to shipping from so far away, and we should really not value this sort of "variety" as much as people seem to.

To me, that does not seem like a big loss, in return for not having a permanent underclass of people who we only tolerate in this country because they work as nearly slave labor. Having more local, seasonal produce is also a nice side benefit there as well.
posted by tocts at 11:03 AM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


To State of Georgia: Regarding the shipment of uppance? It has come.
posted by storybored at 11:16 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


1. The average unemployed person is not suited to do farm work.
2. Immigrants appear best suited to doing farm work.


What exactly do you mean by "suited"? 'Cause the only difference that I see is that they are forced by circumstances to take really low paying crappy work.

Immigrants are certainly not closer to these jobs, they're almost certainly moving much further and leaving families much further behind, they're not somehow immune to heat or work injuries, and while they may be skilled they learned those skills on the job, which presumably anyone else would do.

Of course, when immigrants do the work, your lettuce is half the price it would otherwise be and they complain less. Is that what you mean by "suited"?
posted by geegollygosh at 11:20 AM on June 23, 2011


What edgeways was trying to point out, delfin, in a somewhat Socratic way, is that the "$15/lb onion" being bandied about is a strawman, a scare tactic. If CSAs can survive selling onions for $2-$3/lb without relying on illegally underpaid labor, then presumably the megafarms can do the same.
posted by hattifattener at 11:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Geegollygosh, I think "suited" was a reference to the article where a farmer tried to get a bunch of parolees to come pick his vegetables to make up the shortfall labor, but still had a couple of migrant workers on the job; the parolees moved really slow and were completely worn out by 3 in the afternoon, but the migrant workers were working fast and kept going.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:23 AM on June 23, 2011


The downside to this, and I'm honestly not sure I really buy that it's much of a downside, is that we'd need to give up on this myth that all produce should be available everywhere all the time. For as long as I can recall, the U.S. has continuously lied to itself in that we tell ourselves that we should be able to go into a grocery store in mid-winter and find fresh summer produce. It's crazy, and the produce usually is not very good due to shipping from so far away, and we should really not value this sort of "variety" as much as people seem to.

To me, that does not seem like a big loss, in return for not having a permanent underclass of people who we only tolerate in this country because they work as nearly slave labor.


Imagine trying to convince Joe Average Voter that his/her ability to get cheap produce year-round at the Piggly Wiggly is less important than the health and safety of poor people they'll never meet.

Imagine trying to convince megafarm corporations that their ability to sell cheap produce year-round is similarly less important.

"Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death" isn't just a Dead Kennedys album title.
posted by delfin at 11:24 AM on June 23, 2011


What exactly do you mean by "suited"? 'Cause the only difference that I see is that they are forced by circumstances to take really low paying crappy work.

I think this cannot be re-iterated enough. Immigrants are not, as someone said earlier, magical shoe fairies. They are not made up of some special genetic stock that makes them stronger stuff than weak, lazy Americans.

The only reason that illegal immigrants do a better job at this type of labor is that they have no other option. They don't have money, they don't have any other job prospects, and they don't have legal protections. Their very survival depends on them doing this shitty, low-paying, difficult job in conditions that we would never, ever allow a citizen to be subjected to.
posted by tocts at 11:32 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Imagine trying to convince Joe Average Voter that his/her ability to get cheap produce year-round at the Piggly Wiggly is less important than the health and safety of poor people they'll never meet.

Actually, it worked for Cesar Chavez....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:32 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not that undocumented workers are uniquely capable of toiling in the fields it's that a large percentage of the unemployed are not suited for the job.

Undocumented workers are willing to work longer hours, with less breaks, less/no benefits, separated from their families in working conditions that the most US citizens aren't willing to do. They are also willing to live in cramped conditions with limited ammenities because even though the money they are sending back with remittances does make a big difference to their loved ones in their country of origin.

I think that's the key, these jobs are seen as absolute shit by the majority of Americans, and even if they were willing to do the job, they aren't willing to do the job for as little of compensation as an undocumented worker is willing to do it.

In contrast, in many but not all cases (there is still plenty of exploitation of undocumented workers across all levels of the economy) these jobs while exhausting and physically taxing offer a better life than is possible back in the home country. As such they are willing to risk substantial sums of money, the possibility of getting deported and even possible death for the ability to work in a nation that continual denigrates their services.

Does exploitation need to end in the undocumented workforce? Of course. Should there be a better system for immigration and guest workers? Yep. However villifying the undocumented as somehow costing Americans their job seems completely unfair. Further to suggest that somehow the entire agricultural economy can sustained with native labor seems deluded.
posted by vuron at 11:38 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only reason that illegal immigrants do a better job at this type of labor is that they have no other option.

Well, that and the fact that there actually are skills involved, meaning new workers need time and practice to get up to speed. Yeah, almost anyone can pick a cucumber. Not everyone can trot down to the farm, instantly pick six truckloads in a day, and be shape to do so the next day, and the next.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:43 AM on June 23, 2011


Well, that and the fact that there actually are skills involved, meaning new workers need time and practice to get up to speed.

This is what I meant by the average unemployed worker is not suited to doing the work. They may eventually be, but there needs to be training involved. I'm not against having unemployed Americans doing farm work, but the notion that you can just pluck a guy off the street and plop them in a field to pick vegetables is a faulty notion. The current workforce has a large number of skilled workers that can do the work efficiently and well, but those workers are all illegal at the moment.

But, I think there are other reasons that are why immigrants are better suited to farm work than unemployed Americans other than the empirical fact proven in Georgia.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2011


there are other reasons that are why immigrants are better suited to farm work than unemployed Americans other than the empirical fact proven in Georgia.

no. there are no reasons why they are better suited to farm work. Its just the only option they've got so they acquire the necessary skills, the same way a 17 year-old american teen acquires the skills to operate the fry-o-lator.

If you want to end the practice of illegal immigrants working as farm labor, and the systemic mistreatment of farm laborers - make them all citizens. If they want to come here that's good enough for me.
posted by JPD at 11:56 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What edgeways was trying to point out, delfin, in a somewhat Socratic way, is that the "$15/lb onion" being bandied about is a strawman, a scare tactic. If CSAs can survive selling onions for $2-$3/lb without relying on illegally underpaid labor, then presumably the megafarms can do the same.

I am a happy CSA subscriber and I am not trying to shill for some kind of pro-industry scaremongering. The reason I bring up $15/lb onions is because $15/lb onions are eventually coming (although probably not in yours or my lifetime). The current industrial model will cease to be sustainable for any number of reasons. What will be left will be infinitely better in quality--quality of food, quality of life, quality of landscape--but greatly reduced in quantity.

There will be less food when there is less fuel, less cheap labor, less land. If there is less food, food will be enormously expensive...until there are fewer people. That "fewer people" thing will either happen slowly and by choice, or it will happen very quickly and painfully.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:01 PM on June 23, 2011


the "$15/lb onion" being bandied about is a strawman, a scare tactic. If CSAs can survive selling onions for $2-$3/lb without relying on illegally underpaid labor, then presumably the megafarms can do the same.

Except it'll never happen. Not for any sort of good reason, mind you, but because of the incredible arrogance shown by every level in this supply chain. Look at how hard it was to get any traction for the Penny-Per-Pound initiative. 1 cent! Per pound of tomatoes! Less than 1% of their retail cost! To get worker wages up from $50 to $80 a day and stop some of the more egregious labor law violations affecting agricultural workers! And everyone, from wholesalers all the way up to an otherwise-socially-conscious Trader Joe's, fought it tooth and nail.

As long as businesses are being covertly encouraged to hire undocumented workers, this kind of shit will never stop. And I will never understand why the world has decided that the way to attack illegal immigration is to go after the supply, rather than the demand. (Well, that's not true. It's because people are racist assholes, and Republicans are miserable shitheads who have honed racism into a finely crafted blade. But we can at least point and laugh when it's proven, once again, that none of their "solutions" are anything of the wort)
posted by Mayor West at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


lowest price wins. you can only change things if the government intervenes with legislation that forces costs up. not prices, but costs. Campaigns like penny-per-pound almost never work. The incentive for people to opt out of them is just too great.

but that'll never happen. if there isn't the political will to raise income taxes on people who make 500k/year, there sure as hell won't be the political will to raise food prices and raise farmers costs.
posted by JPD at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2011


Imagine trying to convince Joe Average Voter that his/her ability to get cheap produce year-round at the Piggly Wiggly is less important than the health and safety of poor people they'll never meet.

Luckily you don't have to, because those voters will support materially similar policies if you sell it as "Illegals Go Home." Which, incidentally, is what is actually happening.

Different motivation but potentially the same result. You're correct that you're absolutely doomed to failure if you try to sell it as a way to protect those workers, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:27 PM on June 23, 2011


pla responded to me in a private message and clarified his position better. Sorry for calling you crazy and ripping into you, pla. I should refrain from posting before coffee.
posted by loquacious at 2:05 PM on June 23, 2011


I'm somehow seeing a whole bunch of things converge in this thread: The myth of the "Welfare Queen," Michael Pollan's indictment of factory farming, Al Gore's article in Rolling Stone about global warming denial, the recent thread about sterilizing people, and Robert Reich's brief explanation of the problem with the economy (the top 2% of the country take home 20% of the income and have 40% of the wealth).

Seems to me Americans all think they are going to be wealthy people somehow, and that everyone else who isn't going to be wealthy is that way because they are bad, bad people who should suffer because they are inferior. And meanwhile, we deserve to have incredibly cheap food no matter what it costs, even if it costs us the health of the whole earth.

Geez. When I was a teenager, in order to get this cosmic, I had to drop acid.
posted by Peach at 2:25 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fixing an economy that relies on labor exploitation has got to start somewhere. During my lifetime, there have been so few industries where I had an option to buy American-made, fair-labor goods. I'd like to. I'd like to just be able to walk in a store, pay $5 or $20 or $4000 more and know that I'm buying from a company who pays workers a living wage and offers them benefits.

Some of those few industries have been marred by attempts to fool consumers or get around the rules-- clothing manufactured in US Territories that were exempt from minimum wage laws, shoes made 95% in a sweatshop with "final assembly" here, American-owned car companies overselling how much is done here. So, yes, make me a big fat sticker so I know everyone who made it earned what they deserved. And give me that choice.

Give me a whole separate section of fair labor vegetables. Even our Walmart has "locally grown produce," so they have to be able to handle distribution. From my comfortable middle class high-horse, an extra $30 a week on vegetables wouldn't kill me. It might not even end up being more-- I'd probably just buy what I needed and throw out less. I don't need 5lbs of potatoes for $2.99. And I could give the 'Real Merkins' or the dude driving a Lexus a dirty look if they went for the cheapo stuff. Sanctimony would be a pretty sweet benefit.

I think I just need a marketing guy to realize I'm a group out here to be marketed to, and next year it can happen. And the year after, it could be a trend. And get more and more popular...
posted by Gable Oak at 2:52 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


"It's not that undocumented workers are uniquely capable of toiling in the fields it's that a large percentage of the unemployed are not suited for the job."

I at first agreed with the people who are saying "they're not elves -- they're no more 'suited' to the job than anyone else," but on further reflection, I think the above statement actually makes sense with a slightly difference emphasis: it's that a large percentage of the unemployed are not suited for the job.

Even at 10% unemployment, the unemployed are not a random sample representing a demographic cross section of America. If you're an able-bodied young person you're less likely to be among "the unemployed" in the first place. The sick and elderly and disabled and people responsible for childcare or elder care are going to be over-represented among "the unemployed" (though many of them are "discouraged workers" who don't count, of course...)
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:09 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


loquacious : Sorry for calling you crazy and ripping into you, pla. I should refrain from posting before coffee.

No harm, no foul. I know I can come off as a bit edgy sometimes, and I have a bad habit of escalating when I should back down.

Workin' on that, and perhaps I've finally found a good way to back down gracefully by taking it to MeMail. :)
posted by pla at 3:10 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If CSAs can survive selling onions for $2-$3/lb without relying on illegally underpaid labor, then presumably the megafarms can do the same.
I think, though, that it's important to think for a minute about how the CSA model works. The idea of a CSA is that conventional agriculture requires farmers to take on two unfair burdens. The first is the burden of high capital outlays. Farmers have to pay for lots of stuff before they see any returns. And the second is the burden of risk. Sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate or crops are wiped out by disease. In conventional agriculture, if that happens the farmer is screwed. With a CSA, the customer invests in the crop, taking on some of that risk. If it's a good harvest, the customer gets extra produce. If it's a bad harvest, then the customer doesn't get a good return on investment, which is a bummer but means that the farmer doesn't go bankrupt. CSA prices don't have to factor in the cost of the risk and the initial capital, because those are paid for upfront by the customer. That's part of the reason that CSA prices don't seem very high: the costs of initial investment and risk are invisible to most middle-class CSA customers.

This is a good model for many middle-class people. If you're not living paycheck to paycheck, you can afford the initial capital outlay. And the risk isn't the end of the world. If you don't end up getting enough produce in your CSA, you supplement with stuff you buy at the grocery store, which you can afford to do because you have some extra income or savings to spend on emergencies like that.

But 15% of American households are "food insecure", according to the American government, and more than 5% has "very low food security," which is government code for sometimes going hungry. Those people can't afford the initial capital outlay, and they can't afford the risk. They don't have $400 to spend in April on food that isn't going to start appearing until June, and they will be in really big trouble if they invest their food budget on something that doesn't work out. They're already too over-burdened to take on those additional burdens.

For some people, the answer to this is just that a significant portion of the American population needs to accept malnutrition as their lot in life. "If you can't afford to pay more for produce, you can't afford produce," as someone said above. But that seems kind of vicious and fucked-up to me, so I would say that the solution to this has to involve a broader look at the way our economy works and why it is that 15% of households don't know where their next meal is going to come from.
posted by craichead at 3:11 PM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


people are parole don't have the freedom of movement to follow the harvest.

Thank you. I just came across this thread and wondered why it was taking so damn long for anyone to realize that this is seasonal work in rural areas, mostly away from major population centers, that we're talking about. This is not work that's feasible for an unemployed office or retail worker from Atlanta, say, with a lease and possibly a mortgage or family, nor will said person have the skills for harvest work. Honestly, think before going off about about slacking and Cheetos and other reactionary stupidity like that.
posted by raysmj at 3:28 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]



@PLA

Sorry to thrash your strawman so soundly, but I did plenty of underpaid farm labor as a kid and early teen. Yeah, it sucks, and hard - You come home exhausted and filthy and bug-bitten and sunburned and don't make a whole lot to show for it.

Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:13 PM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


The "crops rotting in Georgia fields" are going to be big bounty, in an awfully dry year, for the feral hogs and whitetail deer of south Georgia. That could lead, in a year or two, to greater than average hog and deer harvests, with more paid hunting guide days, and more advertising by the hunting and outfitter businesses. TV crews that shoot outdoor and hunting television shows may be a bit busier. There may be marginally more business for airlines bringing in hunter/tourists from out of state, and bigger breakfast crowds of hunters leaving bigger tips at the local Waffle Houses. And pigs being pigs, and peanuts being peanuts, an explosion of the wild hog population this fall will mean peanut farmers buying a lot of new fencing, and much higher peanut prices in a year or two.

No storm that brings rain drowns every rat; somebody, somewhere, makes out on all hardship.
posted by paulsc at 4:33 PM on June 23, 2011


We are crazy if we think that we can just 'keep the mexicans out' or 'send them back home'. They are on our border, and even if we committed tremendous resources to it, we could never stop them from coming.

The answer is to become a good neighbor. We need their standard of living to rise, and their children to be educated. Closing the borders and running them off will not work. And, if you are think I am full of it, check out the changing demographics. In another generation, Hispanics will start to become the majority. We are all in this together for the long haul.
posted by UseyurBrain at 4:34 PM on June 23, 2011


You have holes and pegs. Pegs go in the holes.

Just because I can't believe nobody else has said it - round pegs, square holes. That phrase really makes me think you've been spending this thread sitting at your keyboard, poking letters with a special winding up stick.
posted by MattWPBS at 4:41 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, the result is that 46% of farms are now forced to pay decent (or at least minimum) wages, workman's comp, and all of the other costs of legally employing people in the United States.

The result you want and the actual, real-world result may not be the same thing.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:55 PM on June 23, 2011


This is just another tiny piece in the puzzle of global income inequality which is relentlessly working itself out. Americans face a hard, hard choice between the following scenarios:

1. Undocumented migrant workers working at low wages
2. Domestic unskilled wage deflation
3. A proper migrant worker program
4. Domestic food inflation

It's not restricted to food, either.
posted by unSane at 6:19 PM on June 23, 2011


You know who wouldn't have to stoop so far down, and have more delicate hands to avoid damaging the crops? Children! And, look, those lazy bastards have three freakin' months off from school to do nothing but ride dirtbikes and play with dolls.

They are one step ahead of you on this idea.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:08 PM on June 23, 2011


Haven't read every single comment in the thread, but.....

Why haven't we found ways to make farm labor easier for people? I mean, technology and automation, despite the downsides, has made people's jobs less difficult. Why hasn't someone come up with an "Automatic Strawberry Picker"? Is it just too difficult to accomplish?
posted by bonzo_dog55 at 9:10 PM on June 23, 2011


I got a real laugh out of this news ... people keep listening to these dumb, hateful bastards who keep babbling like they actually have answers ... then all of a sudden the completely obvious happens ... OH NOES!

Keep taking it and taking it, America, until you finally learn to read by that dim little light. Here let me help: it says We Want To Destroy You.
posted by Twang at 9:44 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nowhere is it written that you have, as a consumer, a right to go into your local grocery store and get cheap produce.

I realize you're only talking about fresh produce bought at a store - already a luxury to a significant chunk of American households. Produce in general, though, also gets funneled into the "panem" part of "panem et circenses" and must never, ever be allowed to get too expensive or else an unpredictable political situation may result.

I apologize if the above does not make sense, I haven't slept much lately.
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:02 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


deadmessenger writes: "The thing that makes me craziest about this is that enforcement efforts intended to stop illegal immigration are entirely focused on the immigrants themselves, and not the American criminals who are exploiting them. By aggressively pursuing enforcement on the employers and not the immigrants, you eliminate the race to the bottom - because you're going after the people with far, far more to lose. "

Bingo.
posted by bardic at 11:06 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


As somewhat of an aside, I'm interested in hearing how this law will affect the restaurant business. I've seldom seen a kitchen, be it Chinese, Italian, Indian, Vietnamese, or American, that wasn't largely staffed by brown-skinned guys listening to Spanish language music. Just a related thought.
posted by Gilbert at 12:05 AM on June 24, 2011


Why hasn't someone come up with an "Automatic Strawberry Picker"? Is it just too difficult to accomplish?

People are cheaper. Especially when you can get away with not having to treat them like people.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:06 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


CrystalDave, I spent several days while working for a temp agency collating handouts for 8 hours a day. The entire time I was doing it, I was thinking to myself "there is a machine that would do this for them, but I bet I am cheaper than the machine."

Margins on farms are really lousy, and that big piece of equipment would cost you so much more than manual labor (in the short term, at least). Just easier to get some migrants. Just for comparison, a combine seems to run about $80,000, not counting fuel and maintenance.
posted by Gilbert at 12:23 AM on June 24, 2011


The big trick with automated harvest equipment is getting a crop to ripen all at once; crops like strawberries, tomatoes, melons, and most vine, tree or bush grown fruits and vegetables is that the crop ripens individually, over a period of time, and you have to pick it several times over a period of weeks without major damage to the plant which is still harboring not-yet-ripe crop. Crops like corn and wheat, which are major mechanized harvesting success stories not only ripen nearly all at once, but are actually allowed to dry on the dying parent plant for some days or weeks before harvest. The parent plants have been domesticated to "keep" the seed kernels in relatively tough husks, which we can later break away with additional mechanical equipment in post harvest processing, but which protect the seeds we eat during the harvesting process.

So, work on automated harvesting of a crop is usually partly mechanical engineering of the harvesting devices, and partly breeding the crop for improved ripening characteristics. But when it works, it pays back big time. A $100,000 John Deere combine can do the job of about 40 men and 20 horses, using old time threshing equipment. Moreover, in most cases, because the crop the combine is cutting is an advanced cultivar of wheat, corn, milo or other combine harvested crop, the quality of the finished product is substantially better, as the farmer can take samples of the crop daily, waiting for lowest retained moisture, and balancing that against incoming weather forecasts, before starting the harvesting process. What might have taken several days even with many teams of horses and men, takes only a day or so with combines, and under good conditions, the resulting end product will have nearly ideal retained moisture for good storage with minimum rot, and still be capable of being processed into grain, meal or flour easily, and with good food value and taste.

Big wins for the farmer, the processor, and the end consumer.
posted by paulsc at 12:42 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


tigrrrlily : I apologize if the above does not make sense, I haven't slept much lately.

Makes all too much sense, sadly. Now just sit back in front of that great big cheap flat-panel TV with 5.1 sound, watch the latest reality show, and try to relax. But don't relax too much - we need to stay ever vigilant against grannies carrying bombs on our domestic flights between two similarly uninteresting middles-of-nowhere. ;)



MattWPBS : poking letters with a special winding up stick

Y'know, some people make it seem productive to back down. I leave, discussion carries on, and one or two people let me know I haven't lost my mind (yet). Some, such as loquacious, even make me feel like I've done the right thing.

Then, in response to publicly humbling myself, someone inevitably demonstrates that this has nothing to do with discussion, but merely scoring points in some bathetic game of seeing who can best taunt the bear.

Sad, really.
posted by pla at 3:41 AM on June 24, 2011


I used to teach English to migrant farmworkers who were here legally --- they lived in bunkers onsite and had almost no access to health services--both because they had no coverage and because there aren't many services that far out in the country and they had no transportation. Most of them were men whose families were in Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti. They had made the decision to live on next to nothing in order to save their earnings and return to Mexico, where the money stretched a lot further than it would here in the US.


That was a long time ago. Minimum wage is not a living wage here in the US. Telling women with children that they have to take the job far from home without providing childcare or be kicked off benefits doesn't solve anything other than the farmer's dilemma.

Real life is more complicated than "poor=lazy=loses all rights and must be surveilled/regulated/told what to do". If laziness is so morally reprehensible, there are scads of affluent collge students I'd like to send to work in the fields for life.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:00 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


CrystalDave, I spent several days while working for a temp agency collating handouts for 8 hours a day. The entire time I was doing it, I was thinking to myself "there is a machine that would do this for them, but I bet I am cheaper than the machine."

I had a couple of those temp jobs, too, and had that exact same realization. I was kind of grumpy about it at the time, especially when the task was something that required too much thought to just zone out, while remaining stultifyingly boring.

But now that shoe is on the other foot. I'm now the guy who makes decisions about when it makes sense to do things with manual labor and when we should bring in machinery. There are plenty of times it is just plain less of a pain in the ass, as well as cost-effective, to have a human do work that could be done by a machine. In the collating example, it makes sense to contract out to have a machine do it only if there's enough of it and if there's a long enough lead time; otherwise, for smaller jobs and quick turn-arounds, it would be far easier to bring in a temp and have them stand there in the back room with their brain turning to jelly. I try to be as humane as possible about this, but sometimes I have to send some guys out to do incredibly boring and repetitive work for days on end, even though they know and I know that there are mechanized alternatives.

A lot of farm work has already been mechanized, and I think the trend on that continuing is pretty clear. There are crops, though, where I doubt full mechanization will ever be possible. And, of course, that mechanization has a cost. Not only are there many people no longer getting those jobs (though in theory the overall economy does better, and they can now work at the farm machinery factory or something), but it raises farmers' fixed costs, lessens their flexibility (because people can do things machines can't), potentially limits the varietals they can plant, increases reliance on fossil-fueled engines, and increases economies of scale, adding one more push towards bigger farms.

Wheat was mentioned above as an example of this, and it's a perfect example. Back in the day a wheat harvest took dozens of temporary workers (back then mostly white, and including many children) who had to be fed, housed, paid, etc, along with teams of animals. A viable farm could be fairly small, so if you look at aerial imagery of wheat land you will see old homestead sites all over the place. Now that same harvest can be done by the farmer's family and maybe a few contract workers, using amazing (and amazingly expensive) high-tech equipment. The minimum viable size of a farm has increased enormously -- you either consolidated and got big, or you got out.

I don't know how you balance out the economic and environmental benefits and costs of this, though all you have to do is talk to someone who grew up doing it the old way to be relieved that humans and animals are no longer being put through that much brutal work. To the extent that the same mechanization can happen in vegetable and fruit crops, I think it is only a good thing from a human standpoint.
posted by Forktine at 5:54 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why hasn't someone come up with an "Automatic Strawberry Picker"? Is it just too difficult to accomplish?

the difficult part is in programming the "automatic strawberry picker" to ascertain whether an individual berry is ripe yet, or whether it should stay on the vine a few more days. Berries don't all ripen at the same rate.

##

It hit me only just now that there may already be an interesting model to follow in terms of "small farms vs. commercial farms" -- the route taken by Ocean Spray. There is no one single big "Ocean Spray Farm" -- instead, Ocean Spray is a collective, with 600 small family farms all throughout the country taking part. The farmers grow the berries and harvest them, then sell the berries to Ocean Spray headquarters -- who then takes care of the packaging and/or processing (turning them into the juice and the sauce, or packing up the raw ones) and shipping them around the rest of the country.

My family owns one such farm, and my parents have kind of taken over the day-to-day business end of it; another collective member with his own farm also helps out with the day-to-day maintenance, although Dad's getting a little more interested in the hands-on aspect. And I can personally attest that come harvest time their labor force is either legally hired labor, or family members there on a volunteer basis. A lot of the other Ocean Spray farms, I'm sure, work similarly.

I wonder if that same model couldn't happen with other produce throughout the country?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:13 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why hasn't someone come up with an "Automatic Strawberry Picker"? Is it just too difficult to accomplish?

It's not just that people are cheaper, as someone mentioned above; the issue with vidalia onions is bruising, according to a story I heard on the radio a week or so ago. I assume the same might be true for strawberries. Machines are too tough on certain fruits and vegetables, which means humans have to be used. I'm sure big farms and ag companies are using machines wherever it's possible.
posted by mediareport at 6:29 AM on June 24, 2011


Picking strawberries sucks. My urban-raised self thought they grew on bushes or something. Nope - they grow on the ground. As in, laying on the earth under a tangle of leaves and stringy stems. So picking them meant you had to develop a technique that wouldn't hurt your back. On my first day, I decided the best method would be for me to kneel at one end of a furrow and sorta scoot on down the row as I picked them. Didn't work out too well.

For one, this process is slower than you might suspect. You have to move aside a lattice of leaves and vines to find the berries, which are hopefully not being dined upon by a couple of yellowjackets, and then be sure to pick ones that are ripe but not too ripe - underripe and overripe berries alike are taken out of your basket (oh, yeah - you get paid per basket, not by the hour) so getting it wrong is less pay for you.

For another, kneeling, with your feet pointing behind you, for a number of hours will stretch the tendons connecting the tops of your feet to your shins in such a way that walking is very difficult. As in, your feet sort of flop onto the ground, out of your control. Tripping over things for a week afterwards is common.

So I took to squatting instead, shuffling down the row. This was murder on my calves, and so I copied the West African harvesters, who were by far the top pickers and took home twice the pay I did each day - they would stand with their legs splayed over the furrow and bend at the waist while keeping their backs straight, parallel to the ground. Sounds a lot easier than it looks, and I marveled at how they were able to do this.

The problem with a strawberry harvesting machine is one of biology. Not being able to tell ripe berries from overripe ones can be resolved by having humans sort them when they arrive. But not being able to tell ripe berries from underripe ones would mean the machine would be ripping up berries that might have grown into ripe ones. I reckon such a machine would also destroy the plants, so you'd only get one harvest out of a field, and even then not a very good one, as opposed to several very good harvest over a couple months.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:47 AM on June 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder if that same model couldn't happen with other produce throughout the country?
There was a pretty big agricultural cooperative movement in the US in the early 20th century, which was mostly copying stuff that was going on in other countries. I don't know this history at all, so I don't know what ever became of it, but cooperatives were once seen to be the thing that would save small American farmers.
posted by craichead at 7:44 AM on June 24, 2011


I don't know this history at all, so I don't know what ever became of it, but cooperatives were once seen to be the thing that would save small American farmers.

Seems to be working pretty damn good in this case, that's for sure. My parents are now the 3rd generation the farm's been in the family, and looks like it'll exist long enough for me to inherit a share of the annual proceeds someday. And my brother and one of my cousins seem to be interested in sticking around long enough to take care of the live-nearby-and-do-stuff end too. (Me, I settle for telling myself that ordering cranberry-juice-and-vodka when I'm at a bar is actually an investment in my retirement.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2011


I guess I don't understand the economics of why laborers couldn't be paid slightly more by increasing the price of the item by a bit.

First of all, as I understand it, the price we pay at the grocery store is practically an order of magnitude higher than what the farmer was paid. It seems like if you could add just a flat 5% "labor tax" on produce items, this would actually result in a huge increase in salary. So, for example, you can get strawberries in the grocery store, on sale, for $3 for a pound. Let's imagine that laborers are normally paid, oh, 25 cents a pound. That might be high, but let's stick with that. A 5% tax means an extra 15 cents for strawberries. So strawberries are now $3.15 per pound. That's not really that big of a deal for me. But now that laborer is getting 40 cents per pound picked. That translates to a 60% raise.

It just seems like that should be doable somehow.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2011


It seems pretty obvious that the Republican's agenda is to create legally enforceable hereditary economic classes with distinctly different rights and privileges. This will continue until the US does not have an economic differential with the places that undocumented immigrants flee. All the US just like Guatemala.

And the program sounds pretty good to anybody who for reasons of race, social class, current employment, etc. looks to be part of the exploiting classes. Sounds pretty good indeed.

Glad it's working out so well for Georgia.
posted by warbaby at 8:16 AM on June 24, 2011


I guess I don't understand the economics of why laborers couldn't be paid slightly more by increasing the price of the item by a bit.

Because demand for the strawberries will go down due to the higher prices, people will buy less, and then prices will have to be lowered again so they don't all go to waste. Strawberries are a perfect example of elastic demand and perishable product - no one needs them and they have a short shelf life. If gasoline is 5% higher, you suck it up and pay it, because for most of us, it would be much more trouble to rearrange your driving habits.
posted by desjardins at 8:31 AM on June 24, 2011


Coincidentally, I was just out to lunch in Atlanta and a woman sitting next to me was talking loudly about her family troubles, in particular those of her brother who is out on probation. He has been offered one of these vegetable picking jobs, but it's too far from home and there's no public transportation. She also acknowledged that he's totally irresponsible and would never work such a job anyway.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:14 AM on June 24, 2011


I'm really ok with demand going down; especially for a luxury product like strawberries. After all the same arguement can be made for pretty well any consumer product. Why the heck aren't we paying autoworkers/lumberjacks/street sweepers/garbage men/bus drivers etc. minimum wage when if we reduced their wages we could sell more product?
posted by Mitheral at 10:23 AM on June 24, 2011


Why the heck aren't we paying autoworkers/lumberjacks/street sweepers/garbage men/bus drivers etc. minimum wage when if we reduced their wages we could sell more product?

Why aren't we paying executives less when if we reduced their wages, we could sell more product?
posted by grouse at 10:43 AM on June 24, 2011


I personally don't care if strawberry prices go up and demand goes down. I rarely buy them anyway, and as you said, they're a luxury product. I don't understand your examples. If we reduced wages for garbage men, the demand isn't going to go down at all, but the available supply of people willing to be garbage men will drop like a rock. The supply of product (units of garbage that need picking up) is going to remain roughly the same, so you'll end up with piles of stink all over the streets.
posted by desjardins at 12:33 PM on June 24, 2011


Why hasn't someone come up with an "Automatic Strawberry Picker"? Is it just too difficult to accomplish?

Yeah, it's hard to make a strawberry picking device, but really, the main problem is that (superexploited) people are cheaper. Even if fully automating the process is impossible, it's pretty easy to imagine gadgets that could spare workers significant pain and injury.

Tangent here: Marx, famously, documented how women were used to haul boats through English canals, since women's labor, at the time, was cheaper than keeping a horse (and, of course, was cheaper than men's labor). This practice of using a person to do a horse's job didn't happen in the northern states of the U.S., where both men's and women's labor was more expensive — largely because if employers offered too miserable a compensation package, workers could just head out to the putatively empty land in the west.

Since laborers were relatively expensive in America (or at least in the north), America ended up fairly rapidly taking England's place as the prime seat of industrial machine innovation.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:37 PM on June 24, 2011


The discussion of the theoretical strawberry-picking machine - and especially Marisa Stole The Precious Thing's comment about the misery of picking them - reminds me of the ErgoAg Back Support System that I saw in one of the trade papers when I was working in the tree fruit business in California in the mid-noughties. It's meant specifically to relieve the stress on the back created by the weight of the upper body when working bent over on low-growing crops like strawberries. Sadly, I don't expect that it's ever been widely adopted...after all, what motivation does a grower have to provide something that reduces worker discomfort but likely doesn't increase productivity substantially, and benefits the worker in the long run, when he or she is only being employed only in the short run?
posted by jocelmeow at 2:41 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because demand for the strawberries will go down due to the higher prices, people will buy less, and then prices will have to be lowered again so they don't all go to waste. Strawberries are a perfect example of elastic demand and perishable product - no one needs them and they have a short shelf life.

Raising the price of strawberries 5% is not going to cause demand to drop 5%. And anyway, nearly all of the prices in grocery stores seem imaginary to me. How is that navel oranges somehow remarkably have a cost of 69 cents, no matter what the price/bushel (or whatever unit) it may be that day or week? It's because the store sets it to whatever they think matches the customer's idea of a price for a navel orange.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:07 AM on June 25, 2011


It's those navel orange gazers.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:12 AM on June 25, 2011


Because demand for the strawberries will go down due to the higher prices, people will buy less, and then prices will have to be lowered again so they don't all go to waste. Strawberries are a perfect example of elastic demand and perishable product - no one needs them and they have a short shelf life.

Raising the price of strawberries 5% is not going to cause demand to drop 5%. And anyway, nearly all of the prices in grocery stores seem imaginary to me. How is that navel oranges somehow remarkably have a cost of 69 cents, no matter what the price/bushel (or whatever unit) it may be that day or week? It's because the store sets it to whatever they think matches the customer's idea of a price for a navel orange.


You're right that the store sets the price to maximize its profit, but it's not true that raising the labour cost by 10 cents will only raise the store cost by 10 cents. Many of the steps between farmer and store add a percentage (because they have to do with the risk of unsold fruit due to competition and price fluctuation), so by the time that 10 cent increase has reached the store, it might be a 50 cent increase.

We'll see what the farms in Georgia do. Probably, they will switch to something less labour-intensive like growing tobacco or raising cattle. Georgians will pay more for berries (which will come from other states), and end up buying them less often. Whatever they do instead of berries (tobacco?) will be slightly cheaper.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:44 PM on June 25, 2011


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