Stray summertime thoughts on getting Americans to do farm work from an American who’s picking your damn fruit again

Posting help wanted ads in English is always a good start. Making sure that the ads are scrutable is also good; that way applicants know where the fuck to report for work and roughly what they’ll be facing. So is NOT having an application process beyond showing up with I-9 documents, completing the federal paperwork, and being basically ablebodied and compos mentis. This standard excludes Mixups in my Mind and Psychotarp, both of whom I would gladly exclude from any farm job under my supervision. I don’t support discrimination against the mentally ill per se; I support discrimination against the utterly incompetent, Sweet Jesus this fucker is a useless nutcase mentally ill, because I’ve worked around them and don’t care to do more unpaid outpatient social work for permanent charity cases who can’t be induced to shut up within the next 45 minutes upon the unsealing of their mouths.

The owners of the berry farm where I’m now starting my fourth season don’t abide by all of the pointers above, but they come a hell of a lot closer than most growers. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to keep all the Craigslist farm help wanted ads in Linn and Benton Counties straight. Mother-in-Law has, as they say, issues, or as Timmy says, TIMMEH!, which probably explains most of the farm’s high employee turnover and, I’d also guess, my having been one of only three pickers on duty the other day: not good, but still a hell of a lot better than all the asshole growers who keep showing up on the radio (Hockenberry: the fuck?) and in the papers to bitch about how they can’t find enough help because Donny Boy over there in Washington is scaring off all the Mexicans. Mother-in-Law doesn’t want the Mexicans on her property in the first place, since she had some bad experiences with them years ago, so we Yankees are as golden as we possibly could be with someone who still gets wound up from time to time and lectures the younguns. I think she figures that I’ll ghost her again and force her to phone me days later to get me back if she bugs me again, so I’m in even better shape.

By the way, #TeshTips: MiL’s problem, as far as I can tell, is specifically with profoundly non-Anglophone Mexicans from Mexico, especially when they come by the crew, not with, I dunno, Cruz Bustamante. That is, she doesn’t discriminate on the basis of national origin, or even necessarily on the basis of nationality, but on the basis of not being able to speak English or interact adequately with Americans. That’s a huge improvement (yuge!) over the industry standard of discriminating on the bases of nationality, national origin, and race against Americans. The farm isn’t a Whitey Rez, and neither, sanctimony about historic racial covenants in the state constitution and enduring Wow Much Whitey notwithstanding, is Oregon. Oregon has become a safe community for integrable members of the Community. Going back to 1850 to look for the uptight white who weren’t comfortable with the local color reveals many such cases, including Abraham Lincoln. If the pro-covenant explicit white nationalists and the anti-covenant revealed white nationalists insist on fighting over the racial composition of Oregon, Orange County, or Northern Idaho, that’s their problem for being such losers.

The ethnic and caste composition of America’s farm crews, on the other hand, is worth some spilled pixels. The hoary chestnut about Mexicans being willing to do the shit jobs that Americans won’t is one of the most racist things that can be said in polite company. Precisely because it’s so polite, it’s much more pernicious than the open lunatic racism of the doofus on the berry crew two years ago who peddled racist jokes about the Obamas (thanks for making me feel sympathy for those crooks, asshole). It’s racist against Americans, by shutting us out of labor markets, and it’s racist against Mexicans, by treating them as an entire nationality of indentured subalterns who must work themselves to death in the hope of being belatedly given a civic stake in the country that they’ve been hired to run.

This bigotry is hardly any less unfair to Mexico as a nation, which it treats as an endlessly refilling pool of surplus peasant labor that can be siphoned off at will to fill cut-rate shit jobs in El Norte. Mexico’s rather white elites (Wow Much Reflective) are mostly cool with this dysfunctional arrangement, since they’re able to buy their families hereditary shelter from its ill effects, but for everyone else, this bigotry and the policies arising from it are powerfully negative. One of these ill effects is suspiciously infertile Yanquis claiming to admire the family-oriented culture of the Mexican people. To translate this into English, rich white motherfuckers want the beaners to keep being good breeders for their own continued socioeconomic benefit as classy crackers.

How the fuck do you suppose ordinary Americans would feel about Canada if prominent, socially acceptable Canadians kept yammering on about how great it is that rural Mainers and Mississippians from the most dirt-poor families in our most dysfunctional counties are so fecund, and how great that is for Canada? It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine a strong Fuck Canada lobby in this case. Now assume that the Canadian government were also provoking drug cartel violence verging on a state of civil war in the streets of New York and Chicago. Try to tell me now that Mexicans aren’t more gracious towards us as a people and towards our government than any of us have cause to expect. We’re fucking monsters.

Sick Willie and Colonel Underpants are, too, but they aren’t structural problems, eh.

The ruling class of the US loves living in a country whose two main neighbors include a non-English-speaking one with large pockets of effectively third-world dysfunction. It’s an awfully convenient arrangement. A prosperous, well-governed Mexico would be a rather inconvenient development. It might even become prosperous enough to singlehandedly boost its outrageously troubled southeastern neighbors into a state of stability and prosperity, choking off our nanny supply. What fun would Guatemalan nannies be if they just up and left because they got tired of working for a family of assholes? Hell, what fun would it be for Chiquita if their relatives reliably went on strike and the local police totally flooded the zone any time there was a credible threat of corporate violence against union leaders? We don’t know these things because we don’t try.

We do know that the children of Latin American immigrants tend to integrate healthily into American communities, as do their parents when given a chance. The problem is that management doesn’t want them to integrate, especially in the first generation and especially those from the poorest, most destitute points south. Why waste an existing land bridge with through rail service to the US border? The way this multiculturalism is supposed to work is for the campesinos to maintain a parallel culture of poverty, ignorance of sexual hygiene conducive to large families, and no civil rights, allowing Yanqui to maintain its culture of indolence, thievery, family planning, and full civil rights. Latin American family planning, even just in the sense of let’s not have any more kids right now, has the potential to really crimp our style fifteen or twenty years down the road.

No American is about to venture into Michoacan and put saltpeter in the water supply; we’re much more likely to see scandals involving defective condoms distributed by shadowy groups with inferred ties to US intelligence and/or reactionary elements of the Roman Catholic Church. What we’re really likely to see, though, are continued efforts to keep rural Mexican government at service levels worthy of Niger. There are powerful elements in the United States that very much do not want Mexicans voluntarily choosing to have small families because their country and their communities have become stable, prosperous, and well-administered. For reactionary Catholic elements, family planning is a great excuse for a pissing match with evangelical upstarts over “their” spiritual territory in Mexico. For US intelligence and corporate interests, Latin North and Central America are great places to pay off local elite shitbirds to destabilize their own governments. All three very much enjoy the maintenance of in-country “cultures” centered around having unmanageably large families due to a combination of pervasive forcible rape and sexual ignorance.

The point of all that is that it’s harder to orchestrate the importation of a foreign peasantry from overseas. Management has to do more advance work and spend more money. WAFLA’s asshole “boots on the ground” buses rolling up and down Highway 97 may be empty billboards, for all I know. Washington State’s big growers don’t really need a dedicated bus service to transport legal Mexican field hands when they’ve got a semilegal Mexican peasant workforce voluntarily paying its own way north. I have no idea how much Donald Trump’s hostile language and beefed-up ICE deployments are actually scaring illegal immigrants away from the fields. There’s probably something to it, but the big growers and their lobbying associations have a compelling incentive to muddy the waters and a long, sordid history of fabricating labor shortages for political purposes. They’re just about the first association I’d expect to orchestrate false flag attacks against itself.

What’s problematic about the children and grandchildren of immigrant farmhands, of course, is that they soon start thinking of themselves as Americans. Maybe they go back to the old country to visit relatives from time to time, or maybe they go as tourists, but with their American identity they demand American pay and working conditions, and that’s a huge pain in the ass for the planter gentry. Maybe I should exclude American pay: the berry farm is understaffed more because it hardly advertises for help and because Mother-in-Law keeps alienating pickers than because the piece rate is shit. The work is really meaningful and pretty enjoyable on the whole, but of course we’re well within our rights to expect zero drama and to quit when that expectation is violated.

But that’s the thing. Many of us earn effective hourly rates that are objectively awful but still more or less stick around. Daughter-in-Law is able to keep at least a few of us satisfied with our working conditions by treating us well, and Mother-in-Law mostly stays out of the way. The 2015 season featured a special kind of crazy, and that’s probably part of why so few pickers returned in 2016, but the spotty help-wanted advertising and the below-industry-standard piece rate can’t helped.

They’re able to get Americans to show up anyway, so yeah, we’re truly a nation of feckless wastrels.

One of the absurd things about the supposed shortage of American farm labor is how many all-American crews can be found bucking hay. Hay bucks are a special kind of misery, far worse than any kind of fruit I’ve commercially picked or tended. I’ve spent one afternoon in my life bucking hay, three years ago, and that’s more than enough for now. I’ve never picked strawberries, which I’ve heard are their own special hell, but picking pretty much any other kind of fruit is better than heaving fifty to sixty pounds of hay onto a trailer again and again all day long. I’m not even sure that stooping over in a strawberry field is worse. To clarify, I’m assuming that none of these jobs are chain gang shit or Mexican day slavery; I’m thinking instead of how awful each job inherently is when it is not under the supervision of anyone who belongs in federal prison for slavedriving.

We’ve got one of the worst jobs in agriculture being done by some of the most all-American crews. If any farm job should be left to Mexicans because it’s so horrible, bucking hay should be it. The prevalence of free Americans in the hay fields indicates that hay, unlike many crops, isn’t grown by cartels of landed gentry assholes, but by upstanding yeomen.

By comparison, picking blueberries or grapes is the easiest thing in the world. It’s the difference between finishing the workday a bit tired and maybe sunburned and wondering what in God’s name one just did to one’s shoulders, back, and hands. These aren’t the only easy crops to work, either. I enjoyed picking olives much more than the olive-growing class in this country enjoys having people like me around picking ONLY 160 pounds on a slow day because it’s hot as fuck and I was deliberately put on an underpruned tree with dead wood jutting every which way. I’ve never picked apples or pears commercially, but they don’t look too hard. The problem, again, is managerial: payment by the full crate (900 pounds or so, if I recall correctly) is nuts.

There are some weird local cultural problems, too. Linn County has one of the highest  birthrates in Oregon and, probably not unrelated, a lot of parents who want their kids to get a damn job. Thirteen is the minimum hiring age for farm jobs, assuming that one doesn’t have community connections enabling the under-the-table hiring of twelve- or ten-year-olds. I ain’t gonna hate on any of that; the perfect is the enemy of the good here, and there’s a whole lot of bad in the industry. There’s a hell of a lot more accountability in this child labor arrangement than there is in the American day labor, farm labor contracting, or illegals-at-the-ranch-gates industries. If Mother-in-Law gets seriously out of control with the little ones or if the property becomes squalid, the minor pickers’ parents will hold her to account. For a smallholder point of comparison, think back on Joe Dirtbag and Pot-o-Shit Friend.

Getting paid aboveboard by owners who generally treat their help quite well and run a physically clean operation is some good shit. Or, as Pot-o-Shit Friend would say, I’ll show you some! If you liked it then you shouldn’a put a lid on it. Seriously, the alternatives in this industry can be horrific. Hell, two or three dollars an hour at a lowball piece rate is better than any of the legion WWOOF shysters who never pay their help a dime. In my case, I don’t feel like jumping ship and having to establish business relationships with a new set of growers growing the same crop in the same valley just to get closer to minimum wage, and if there are berries to pick on payroll, I sure as hell don’t feel like wandering into the midst of some let’s-you-and-him-fight set-up across the driveway from a simpering little putz who’s shitting in a trash can.

The constituency for shitshacking hippie communes is too bourgeois for me. I’m in it for the money; I welcome the money and the cash. It isn’t always much, but I still welcome it. What I find incomprehensible are all the bougie parents who would rather have their children work unpaid for totally derelict shysters who maintain their properties in squalor because they make a show of being organic than get paid to work for a grower who’s less groovy but basically upstanding. FICA deductions, no yo-and-him-fight, and no endlessly festering piles of shit are upstanding enough for me. I’m not saying that fourteen years of age is too late to teach the kids a work ethic, but it’s probably because my bosses are so lax about hiring teens that I’ve been able to get work with them year after year in my thirties.

I’m lucky to have found a reliable, near-zero-bullshit employer in a field that I love. I imagine that my employers are avowedly reactionary in their formal politics, but they’re obviously liberal enough towards their employees. (Mostly; the ones they recruit through their parents get to deal with some bullshit that the owners know better than to inflict on me or on their older teen pickers.) It’s the groovy hippie boomer retirees in places like Hood River County who would rather have their own sparse descendants either work for free in a pile of shit in the incoherent interest of career advancement or stay the hell out of fields that were never fit for anything better than a Mexican peasant in the first place.

If you want a real downer, think about what the common cause of moneyed pseudoliberal dipshits with the planter class means for the future of the Democratic Party. Or for the future of American politics in general. Child labor one can outgrow in a matter of a few years. Good luck outgrowing what the overclass and the bourgeoisie aping it have made of America.


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