Who Harvests Your Food?

August 2023 Produce Parable
Adam Calder, Wheatsfield Produce Manager

Every so often, we get a visceral reminder in produce about how much work goes into the food we all eat and enjoy every day, before it ever even reaches out cooperative. Our most recent one is a pair of needle-nose shears that were found in a case of grapes we were stocking.

At first glance, the shears do not seem imposing or impressive. However, upon closer examination and reflection, I realized this simple tool was actually telling a compelling tale.

These shears are well-used. The blades edges are pitted and dull. The spring still works, but creaks in protest. A strip of brittle, worn leather keeps the handles closed. There are spots of rust here and there, as well as a film of dirt built up from being handled and used so much. The rubber on the handles is worn off in places.

I looked at this small tool, and I imagined how many thousands of hours under the hot sun the person using it must have endured. I thought about the multiple tons of grapes this tool was used to harvest, the miles of vines the farm hand had to pick, and the acers of land they had to trod up and down. How tired were they when they misplaced these shears? Was the sweat blurring their eyes so much that they didn’t notice their harvesting tool slip away? How sticky and dirty were their hands? How many bugs had bitten them out in the field that day? Were they thirsty and hungry? Did their back ache and their feet throb? Were they treated well, and compensated fairly for all the work they did? Were they happy and healthy?

It is easy to forget that so many of the fruits and vegetable we eat and depend on are harvested by hand. Those farm hands are the bridge between you and your food. Without them, it does not matter how much food all the farmers of the world plant. Without anyone to gather that food, it rots in the field and will never make it to anyone’s plate.

Part of our mission at the cooperative is to do what we can to help protect the people who work to feed us from being taken advantage of. One of the ways we do that is by buying and selling as much organic food as we can. Organic food costs more than conventional food because more labor is required to farm organically. That labor has to be paid for, and the cost is reflected in the retail price of food. Without this knowledge, it can seem unfair that organic food has a higher price. Wheatfield is ok paying more for our food if we know some of that cost goes to pay the person picking our grapes, and if we know that person will not have to labor under an extra and undue burden of harmful pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers.

So, the next time you are sizing up some produce to buy, cook or eat, stop and think “I wonder who harvested this for me?”