Every work day, Road 43, leading to our Full Belly Farm becomes a busy thruway. First, as soon as it is light, our crew arrives, parking their cars under the trees along the sides of the fields. Families and car-pooling neighbors head down the driveway, store their lunch makings in the walk-in cooler, and meet at the packing shed, where the day always starts and ends. Within a few moments, a truck is being unloaded, a forklift is coaxed to life, several trucks are packed with boxes and picking supplies, and 4-wheelers are zipping off with their loads.
All day long, the tractors, trucks and 4- wheelers go up and down the road as the crew goes in and out of the fields picking the produce, packing it into the picking boxes, carrying it to the truck and going back for more. In another field, seeds are being planted and weeds are hoed by a group not yet needed on the picking crew for the day. In the packing shed, produce is washed, boxed and labeled for order. Potatoes are weighed and bagged for the CSA boxes, celery is washed, winter squash is sorted.
There’s a rhythm to the work on the “pick- and-pack,” a rhythm of repetition as one bag of potatoes after another is complete. It’s also a rhythm of patience, with 10-hour days, 6 days a week the norm. Finally, it’s a cyclical rhythm of seasonal change, from hot days to cold days, from dust in the fields to mud in the fields, from watermelons to winter squash. A good portion of our crew has been here so long that the season’s changes bring back the familiar rhythm.
Just think how many hands it takes to bring a potato to the dinner table! The seed potatoes often need to be cut to size, one by one. Next, they are planted with a tractor. We irrigate if we need to and may hoe the weeds. While other, less delicate potatoes are mechanically harvested, we dig our potatoes from the ground by hand. Next they are carefully washed and sorted for size and quality and weighed for their final destination. It takes many hands.
The majority of those hands, historically, have been recent immigrants. Farm workers have come to the U.S. from many foreign countries. Many of the farm workers on our crew are first generation immigrants from Mexico, here because the opportunities for their kids are better and because they can’t find good work in Mexico. Transplanting their lives to California may be better than staying home, but it is a bittersweet choice and brings many uncertainties.
We owe the farm worker many thanks for their work. Long hours, cold or hot don’t seem to dampen their spirits, teamwork or dedication. At the end of the day, our crew heads out, often with bags of onions, greens or garlic for the evening meal. Road 43 calms down. The cooler is full, packed with thousands of pounds of food ready to be loaded on our truck and driven to the city. It happens daily, all that food being carried out of the fields and into the packing shed. It seems miraculous at the same time as it seems commonplace.