In Motion: Bellingham, Poetry, San Juan Islands, Ted Talks

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blueberries and Veal

The Puyallup Valley with Mt Rainier
Date Written: 2006
This was one of the first rants I had ever written, on purpose. 
I kept it in it's original form for posting here:


I grew up in Federal Way, a small city 45 min. South of Seattle, Washington. Thanks the volcanic activity the state is extremely fertile. As a child we very seldom ventured to the dry, hot eastern side, mostly due to fact that there is not much to do there. After I was married, my husband and I wanted to explore Washington. He was also raised in Federal Way; however we didn't meet until 2 years after graduating.
My brother was working as a forest fireman in eastern Washington the summer of 1991 and we decided to go visit him. He had found a house to rent on an apple orchard. Our week was wonderful! I remember walking out to the porch and watching the bats swoop over head eating at all the flying bugs that come out right at dusk. I had never seen a bat until then and was fascinated. The lakes in eastern Washington are so clear and cool. Apple, peaches, wheat, all kinds of fields full of life!! I wondered “Why didn't we visit this side of the mountains more often?”

Migrant Workers Live Here
During the week we took a little trip on a scenic route we randomly choose from an auto club map. Since it was the first part of summer the apple trees were green and there were small apples growing on them, all different colors and shapes. As we drove around one orchard, I noticed 7 white shacks, that reminded me of the tool shed my dad built in our backyard to house the lawn mower and other yard tools. These shacks were all white with a little window. They were placed in a row directly next to the orchard. “Why don’t they face those sheds towards the orchard?” I asked. “Why would they do that?” “ Isn't that where they keep on the watering tools, hoses and whatnot for the trees?” “No honey,” my husband answered, “that is where the migrant workers stay.”  ***!POP!***
...That is the sound of my “reality” bubble popping! “People STAY, LIVE in those shacks?” “Yep. It’s a hard life.” “Well why can’t the farmer give them a better home?” “Do you want to pay $5.00 for an apple?” Some questions don’t have answers. I have many questions, but I am still looking for answers.

Two memories came to mind, right then. There are plenty of cow fields in Western Washington. If you get lost a few times trying to find a way around traffic you may stumble across a few. There was this one farm, way off the beaten path next to the Green River. Rows and rows of little white boxes were on this farm. I immediately assumed it was a bee farm. I rolled up my window to make sure no bees would get in my car as I zipped by this “beautiful bee farm”. I saw a gate, and a sign. It read “VEAL FARM”

Veal farm? I later learned that those little slits in the front were the breathing holes for the baby cows. They place them in those little white boxes to keep their meat tender.
The little white veal boxes reminded me of these migrant worker homes! Are the migrant workers just as trapped in their “box” as the baby cows? Do they have any other options?

I never ate veal again.


Berry Picking
Blueberries
My other memory was from my childhood. For about two summers my brother, and my two cousins and I were told we would pick berries for money. My mother had found summer jobs for us that provided transportation and paid cash at the end of the day working for local farmers. A big yellow bus would take our little “suburban bottoms” to the Puyallup Valley and place them in the middle of the berry fields. Berry fields and tulip fields are predominantly in the valleys all along the west side of the Cascade Mountains. We picked berries for 6 hours a day. We felt like we were being punished! The bus rides were long and hot. Let me tell you, the kids on those buses were tough. They were the brats parents didn't want to look at. So, the four of us stayed close to each other, for protection more than anything. Somehow sending us on a bus to pick berries would install the value of hard work and money earned.
A flat equals 12 pints

It will not be a big surprise to you, but young teenagers are not naturally good berry pickers. You made about $1.50 a flat, the flat was wooden and heavy and you had to FILL IT UP. After carrying it to the truck, if the boss didn't like it he would send you back to fill it up more. If he liked your flat he would punch your card. At the end of the day you would hand in your card for CASH! COLD HARD CASH!



The Koreans
I can’t remember which one of us was the better picker or how many I could pick in a day, but I do remember seeing the Korean pickers. We would rotate from one field to the next, not out of choice or strategy but because of bad behavior. It seems even old dusty farmers have standards in the work place. Berry fights, eating the berries and playing tricks on the boss like filling the flat up half way with dirt and claiming it’s full are reasons to get “reassigned”. One year we picked at four different fields: strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry. Every field we picked at Korean immigrants would be there. They picked four times faster than we could. I tried to race one once. We both started the rows at the same time. He would visit the boss three times for my one! Did their moms make them pick also? Why weren't they on our buss? One day we were talking about it around the house and my mother informed me that they pick berries for a living. FOR A LIVING?! That seemed amazing to me. I guessed if I HAD to pick berries for groceries and a roof over my head I would have taken it all more seriously.

I remember looking at a family of Koreans one morning. Fog on the ground, sun coming up, hundreds of rows of berries lay before us all. Because of their hard work and determination they would pick more berries, work longer hours, and make more money. I have much respect for people that work in the fields. It’s hard work, but it feeds many people in different ways.



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