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November 23, 2020 6:46 AM   Subscribe

As Americans begin preparation for Thanksgiving, United Farm Workers takes to twitter to show people how their favorite components of their Thanksgiving meal are harvested. Parsley - Cranberries - Brussels sprouts - Squash - Turnips - Onions - Apples- Sweet potatoes - Celery - Garlic - and more
posted by ChuraChura (19 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I am so thankful to those workers--some of those harvests (e.g., brussels sprouts) look particularly dangerous. Many are done in high temperatures and even harvesting cranberries, which looks beautiful, must be soggy and uncomfortable.
posted by pangolin party at 7:15 AM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that the discomfort around cranberry harvesting isn't so much the water (as long as you have good waders), but the spiders.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:32 AM on November 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Goodness that looks like hard work. And dangerous, as pangolin party noted. Not just the brussels sprouts (why can't a combine do the chopping?). Also the parsley, where they use a small sickle knife to trim the herbs and then with that same hand tie up the bundle, knife flashing around the other hand's fingers.
posted by Nelson at 8:19 AM on November 23, 2020

OH HI I KNOW STUFF ABOUT CRANBERRIES! My brother took over the family cranberry farm.

That "wet harvest" method is mostly used for cranberries that are going to be used in juice and sauce, stuff that's going to be processed. For the berries that you get whole in bags in the supermarket, they use the "dry harvest" method - a "picker" that looks like a giant lawnmower crossed with a baleen whale. It has rolling bands of "teeth" that "scrape" the berries up and carry them up a conveyer belt into the bin at the back end. In the older days they used a handheld toothed scoop; our bog is small enough and the manager indulgent enough that he's always let some family members "help" with some of the handheld scoops each year. One really old one that belonged to my great-grandfather got repurposed into a magazine holder at my grandparents' house.

Either way, they have a "bounce tester" - a hundred years ago, a cranberry grower got sick of carrying buckets of cranberries down from the loft in his barn and just poured them down the steps. He noticed that the ripe cranberries all bounced, but over-ripe or mushy berries didn't. So this also became a good way of sorting out the good berries from the bad easily, and they still use this kind of "bounce test" today.

A lot of the cranberries in the US are still grown on smaller family farms. Ocean Spray came up with a decent business model, to my mind - instead of buying out family farms, it united them all into a business co-op. About 700 farms are all partnered in a network, and that is Ocean Spray. The farmers are also the only shareholders in the company, and have a voice in the company management and business practices. In return they agree to sell most of their produce to Ocean Spray - they can save some berries for smaller local markets (my brother made a deal with the local indie general store in the town where he lives, and designing the packaging became a homeschool art project for my niece). It's a business model that other industries are looking at adopting to survive the epidemic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on November 23, 2020 [33 favorites]

This is why I don't buy large pumpkins/melons. Or bananas. I will add brussels sprouts to my list.
posted by aniola at 8:24 AM on November 23, 2020

Banana harvesting: Hold a bunch of bananas weighing 60? 100? pounds over your head. Then wait while someone detaches it from the banana plant with a machete.
posted by aniola at 8:27 AM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

P.S. With snakes and spiders and such living in the banana litter.
posted by aniola at 8:35 AM on November 23, 2020

In Australia it's called "humping bananas“ if you need s search term.
posted by aniola at 8:39 AM on November 23, 2020

If brussels sprouts are on the menu, I'd say this is a good way to discourage people from Thanksgiving travel, so there's that.
posted by aeshnid at 9:02 AM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wow, these are so great.

I try to remember to take a moment before each meal to offer gratitude for everyone who made my meal possible - the people who planted and harvested the wheat and the blueberries for my pancakes, the people who planted and picked the arugula and the tomatoes for my salad. These videos make my understanding of their work much more real.

Also, this makes my understanding of the UFW's current work much more concrete. I had no idea that California had passed laws about working in extreme heat, or that UFW was working to expand those laws nationally.

It's an excellent reminder to me to nudge UFW higher on my donation list. Every day, their work improves the lives of the people who feed me.

Thank you so much for posting this, ChuraChura. I will think of this every day, with gratitude.
posted by kristi at 9:14 AM on November 23, 2020 [11 favorites]

This is why I don't buy large pumpkins/melons. Or bananas. I will add brussels sprouts to my list.

UFW isn’t calling for a boycott - this is about awareness and encouraging support for their campaigns for better conditions and overtime. A few people here and there skipping brussels sprouts won’t really do much. Give to UFW’s Thanksgiving campaign instead, or consider one of the other ways of taking action.
posted by zamboni at 9:27 AM on November 23, 2020 [16 favorites]

They don't have to call for a boycott. I can't do everything, but that doesn't have to stop me from not buying some unethical products where I can.
posted by aniola at 9:42 AM on November 23, 2020

This is really fascinating and also disturbing in many ways. Walking bent over in front of moving farm equipment, having to keep constant pace just seems so exhausting and dangerous.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:26 AM on November 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dad grew his own brussel sprouts - we would harvest them individually off of the stems leaving them growing
posted by mbo at 10:45 AM on November 23, 2020

Oh hey - I meant to look up more and make a real post, but: this month the Washington State Supreme Court said dairy labor is entitled to overtime pay. It’s expected to extend to other dangerous ag labor, which is almost all of it, of course. A few other states have made smaller steps in the same direction.
posted by clew at 1:34 PM on November 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

Since the late 1970s the UFW has been about enriching its board (mostly members of Chavez' and Huerta's families) at the expense of its members. This article has some info, but I strongly suggest grabbing Miriam Pawel's two excellent books on the subject. They are far from take-downs, and her depiction is mostly positive, but she doesn't shy away from the cult-like techniques* that crept in at the dawn of the 1980s.

*Literally. They adopted a lot of techniques from Synanon including "The Game"** - where you are physically surrounded by your co-workers, and they take turns telling you everything that's wrong with you. Great for team-building and morale.

**It's been about 5 years, but I'm pretty sure the friend of mine who was an organizer for UFW said that they called it "The Rundown", not "The Game", internally.

I am pro-Union. I truly appreciate that people died so that we could have an 8-hour workday, and the weekend. I see that labor rights have been sliding backwards since the mid-1960s. I don't shit on unions joyfully. I just hate shitty unions that betray workers. Especially high-visibility unions like UFW that actively solicit donations - as with these (obvious propaganda) videos.

Where do those donations go? There are over half a million farm workers in California alone. Most reliable estimate say that it's probably closer to 750,000 if you count seasonal and undocumented workers. The estimate for the whole country is about 3 million. That doesn't count the estimated 500,000 workers in the related meat-packing industry - who are dying (literally) for better working conditions and pay.

The UFW has a little over 10 thousand members. That number has been pretty steady for the last 10 years or so, and represents a big jump from the 5 thousand members they were happy with for the previous 20-ish years, until getting criticism for taking in money and doing nothing useful with it.

Workers deserve strong, capable unions that look out for their interests. They don't need hucksters coasting on the legacy of once-heroic figures who have long since disgraced themselves by deciding that being charismatic cult leaders is more fun than helping people in need.
posted by Anoplura at 8:43 PM on November 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Anoplura, thank you for sharing that.

Do you have any information on organizations that are doing more, better, than the UFW?
posted by kristi at 9:42 PM on November 23, 2020

"Hold a bunch of bananas weighing 60? 100? pounds over your head. Then wait while someone detaches it from the banana plant with a machete."... Damn!! those flimsy looking banana tree are strong!
posted by CRESTA at 9:56 PM on November 23, 2020

I found this fun tumblr post with more cranberry anecdotes:
So yeah the first interview question he always asked potential cranberry bog harvester hires was “are you cool with spiders?”

“You’d be amazed,” he said to us, shaking his head a little, “how many guys would just straight lie. Like, you think I’m asking you that question to be cute? Nah man you’re gonna have like a hundred wolf spiders trying to climb your eyebrows, you gotta be chill, those wolf spiders are fellow employees. You really gotta be chill with spiders if you’re gonna work a cranberry harvest.”
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:11 AM on November 25, 2020

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