In the world of produce, this is not a lot of peas. If we were wholesaling peas, this would be one case. About $25 worth of peas. If we were selling these to a distributor, we would probably need another 50 cases at least. Ideally a pallets worth.
Lucky for us, we don’t need a pallets worth. Just a couple bushels should be plenty for each CSA pick up day. But as Alex dropped off his first haul, I couldn’t help but point out to him how screwed he would be if his livelihood depended on pounds picked per day.
Probably more than any other activity, picking really gets me thinking about the larger world of food production. When you go to the grocery store and pick up a quart of blueberries only to role your eyes when you see that they cost $7 dollars, do you ever pause to think that every blueberry in that quart, and the hundred stacked below it, was likely picked by hand. Forget the associated risks and expenses in growing the blueberry, what about the picking??
As large scale agriculture becomes increasingly industrial, more specialized harvesting equipment comes on the market. But they are expensive beyond my comprehension. Last year a large scale blueberry farmer down in Hammonton showed Alex his new harvester that he had just purchased. It cost him a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Instead of bringing in a hundred people to pick his fields, he could just drive it over the plants and harvest the berries. But here is the catch, the reason he had to purchase it was that labor was too hard to come by. In a time of record high unemployment rates, I find this mind-boggling.
As it would turn out, large-scale farm operators are having a harder and harder time finding the labor they need to harvest their crops. And can you guess what is making it harder? Tighter immigration controls. As people from countries with deep agricultural traditions have a harder time getting into the country, farmers are having a harder time getting their crops out of the field. It turns out that Americans are no longer interested in the hard labor associated with farm work. In some towns in South Jersey with some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, farmers cant get their crops out of the fields. I am not trying to suggest that I have the solution to immigration reform, or that Americans are lazy. I would just like to take a moment to pause and thank all of the immigrants who do come to this country each year, without whom Americans would not be able to eat.