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June 23, 2009 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Hope withers on the vine. A look at daily life among the produce workers in Mecca, California.
posted by univac (18 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Silly farm workers don't realize the benefits of a life of leisure, apparently.
posted by univac at 2:38 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mecca, California

Epondepressing
posted by xthlc at 3:10 PM on June 23, 2009


Population is increasing faster than agricultural production. National Geographic just did an article on this a couple of months ago.

The value of labor will drop relative to production (or it won't increase at the same rate, essentially the same thing that's happened over the last 40 years).

On the other hand, as population increases, demand for food increases and prices will rise. I expect that food quality will play a large role in the future - the best quality foods going to the wealthier segments of global population, and the rest of the world living at a sustenance level, or lower, essentially starving to death.

I grew up working on a farm. Under the best conditions, it's hard, dirty and can be dangerous. Immigrant workers (in the U.S.) have a really tough time of it, and the sad part is that it's better for them than staying home in Latin America.

One of the consequences of NAFTA is that American ag products are being marketed in Mexico cheaper than they can be produced locally (in Mexico), which is playing havoc with parts of Mexico's ag industry. Yeah, I know, it's counterintuitive, Mexicans getting paid better in the U.S., and undercutting their cohorts at home, but that's what's happening. Ag technology, better yields, better distribution are likely to credit/blame for that. Last year's tortilla shortages were pretty serious. People were blaming diversion of corn to ethanol, but I think it's more complex than that.
posted by Xoebe at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2009


Population is increasing faster than agricultural production. National Geographic just did an article on this a couple of months ago.

Try Thomas Malthus, 1798.

Yes, trade tends to mess with a country's domestic industries but I expect Mexico's problems have more to do with a generally weak government than anything more sinister. Canada deals with the same stuff but manages to balance free trade with domestic industry protection much better, notwithstanding the efforts of the right to dismantle protection for Canadian farmers. Why does Canada succeed where Mexico fails?
posted by GuyZero at 3:57 PM on June 23, 2009


Malthus was just a bit off on the dates.
posted by you just lost the game at 4:10 PM on June 23, 2009


I've lived in an agricultural area of California much of my life, and know that life is hard for the workers who provide our food. Normally, the workers do reasonably well during the harvest season, but this year seems to be different. Even those who have worked up to jobs in the oil industy have been shorted in hours and are having difficulties in meeting expenses. Our economic downturn has affected these folks who are on the thin edge to an extreme degree. Unemployment shouldn't be as high as it is at this time of year. And don't get this wrong - there are many folks I know who love working in the grapes and swamaping potatoes, but things have changed. I suppose you could blame the farmers, but the're trying to protect their investments in extremely expensive land, and most of the ones I know work at least as many hours as do their employees, only to wind up in huge debt, even with government subsidies. So, do any of you have a solution?
posted by path at 6:42 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, do any of you have a solution?

Subsidize the wages of unskilled workers with the Earned Income Tax Credit.
posted by russilwvong at 8:45 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


$8 to $9 an hour? That's good pay for the Texas area. REAL good pay. Most people around here make $6.15 an hour.
posted by Malice at 10:04 PM on June 23, 2009


$8 to $9 an hour? That's good pay for the Texas area. REAL good pay. Most people around here make $6.15 an hour.

Uhhhhh, Texas is most definitely not California.

Admittedly, I only know the larger cities in Texas so I'll pick a place with similar population size totally out of the blue: Pecos Texas. It's a random selection, so pardon me for knowing nothing about the town. But let's try a comparison of the two places just as an example.

As of 2009, Pecos' population is 7,898 people. Since 2000, it has had a population growth of -14.56 percent. The median home cost in Pecos is $27,640. Home appreciation the last year has been -0.40 percent. Compared to the rest of the country, Pecos's cost of living is 33.03% Lower than the U.S. average. The unemployment rate in Pecos is 9.30 percent (U.S. avg. is 8.50%). Recent job growth is Positive. Pecos jobs have Increased by 1.90 percent.

As of 2009, Mecca's population is 7,594 people. Since 2000, it has had a population growth of 41.30 percent. The median home cost in Mecca is $130,810. Home appreciation the last year has been -39.30 percent. Compared to the rest of the country, Mecca's cost of living is 3.70% Lower than the U.S. average. The unemployment rate in Mecca is 12.60 percent (U.S. avg. is 8.50%). Recent job growth is Negative. Mecca jobs have Decreased by 4.20 percent.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:04 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Normally, the workers do reasonably well during the harvest season, but this year seems to be different.

The article would seem to put the blame on the poor economy overall, which sounds about right. Some of the workers in the article were making much more money in the construction business, and would naturally prefer such work. But construction has ground to a halt, along with the rest of the economy. As a result, they're having to fall back on farm labor, depressing wages as the supply of laborers increases. Not a whole lot to do with NAFTA or dwindling agricultural yields.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:11 AM on June 24, 2009


Something tells me that the people who go to Burning Man and do such a good job staying cool and comfortable in the middle of a desert every year, could work together and significantly resolve the most pressing problems these people have, significantly reducing the heat-related misery and deaths these people suffer from.

I suspect a fair amount of them would be more than glad to help, given the chance.
posted by markkraft at 2:44 AM on June 24, 2009


I appreciate this post. I buy grapes now, but only because my four year-old wants them - I didn't buy grapes for years out of some vague sense of doing the right thing. It doesn't make any difference, though, except to my own conscience. But, that's the main reason I put in a vegetable garden, and a big one at that. I get seasonal fresh vegetables and what I don't grow I supplement with local farmer's markets - I won't buy vegetables at the grocery store unless I absolutely have to for some reason.

I have a huge backyard though- maybe I could grow some grapes...we have vineyards here in Texas, so it's an idea. What I'd rather have is an agarita bush, but I only know where 2 are, and I bet I'd have a hard time explaining why I was on the side of the road digging them up.
posted by PuppyCat at 4:53 AM on June 24, 2009


One of many glimpses at our undervalued food and the exploitation that goes into making it. Systemic problem, not just grapes.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2009


markkraft, the survivial mechanisms used by people at burning man are for enjoying a single week of leisure and occasional (fully voluntary work). no one is forced to go, nor is anyone summarily forced to leave if they stop to eat/hydrate/rest whenever they like.

I have gone to burningman 9 times. I have seen a lot of people work extraordinarily hard to create living spaces and art, but NO ONE worked at 18 day with someone vigilantly watching lest they slow down, take breaks, eat and drink as much as they want and need, or show insufficient 'animo'

however, I think organizing a group of burners to volunteer to go to the central valley and help work to improve both living and working conditions for ag workers down there is an awesome idea, good luck with that!
posted by supermedusa at 11:09 AM on June 24, 2009


Something tells me that the people who go to Burning Man and do such a good job staying cool and comfortable in the middle of a desert every year, could work together and significantly resolve the most pressing problems these people have, significantly reducing the heat-related misery and deaths these people suffer from.

This sounds nice, but we just do two things mostly: stay as shaded as possible and drink a lot of water. And beer. These are difficult things to do when doing real work in a field. Well, the water shouldn't be. But nor is it really a novel solution.

I also drive around a car with an ice shaver and a carpet dryer mounted on the back so we can blow snow on people. It's fun as all hell, but not exactly suited to cooling agricultural workers on a daily basis. If their employers were willing to spend that kind of money there'd already be shade tents with misters.
posted by flaterik at 4:14 PM on June 24, 2009




$8 to $9 an hour? That's good pay for the Texas area. REAL good pay. Most people around here make $6.15 an hour.

Uhhhhh, Texas is most definitely not California.

Admittedly, I only know the larger cities in Texas so I'll pick a place with similar population size totally out of the blue: Pecos Texas. It's a random selection, so pardon me for knowing nothing about the town. But let's try a comparison of the two places just as an example.

As of 2009, Pecos' population is 7,898 people. Since 2000, it has had a population growth of -14.56 percent. The median home cost in Pecos is $27,640. Home appreciation the last year has been -0.40 percent. Compared to the rest of the country, Pecos's cost of living is 33.03% Lower than the U.S. average. The unemployment rate in Pecos is 9.30 percent (U.S. avg. is 8.50%). Recent job growth is Positive. Pecos jobs have Increased by 1.90 percent.

As of 2009, Mecca's population is 7,594 people. Since 2000, it has had a population growth of 41.30 percent. The median home cost in Mecca is $130,810. Home appreciation the last year has been -39.30 percent. Compared to the rest of the country, Mecca's cost of living is 3.70% Lower than the U.S. average. The unemployment rate in Mecca is 12.60 percent (U.S. avg. is 8.50%). Recent job growth is Negative. Mecca jobs have Decreased by 4.20 percent.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:04 PM on June 23


I said it's good pay. I didn't say it's average pay. So by comparison, those making $6.15 an hour are making about the same perspective income as those making $8 an hour. Why does that require special treatment? People work just as hard all over the US for BS wages.
posted by Malice at 12:47 PM on June 25, 2009


I posted those statistics because the cost of living is INSANELY different... the cost of a house in Texas is 80% less than the cost of a home in California. Did you read them? I'm just completely confused as to why it's even relevant to the people in Mecca what people in Texas consider to be a good wage. These people don't live in Texas.

Your reality has no bearing upon theirs.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:21 AM on June 26, 2009


BTW, if we go by the difference in the cost of a home, then your good $6.15 an hour would be their $30.75 an hour... an amount that not one of these people will ever make in their lives.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:26 AM on June 26, 2009


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