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Blackberries, bittersweet - Vecinos

Marianne Martinez
  • August 7, 2019

By: Katie Kayser
This post originally appeared on Katie was placed at Vecinos through SAF.

From the backseat of the mobile clinic van, I peered outside the window. I thought that the farmworkers would be asleep, as it was 11:30pm on a Tuesday night and their workday started at dawn. However, groups of men sat outside talking; maybe they were talking about the heat, the camps, the exhaustion, their families. I am not sure. But I do know that when they saw our van and recognized it as Vecinos, a few stood up and came to greet our outreach team.

We came to the camp that night to deliver a prescribed medicine to one of the patients. Unfortunately, we had to deliver the medicine so late because we had physician outreach at a different camp earlier that night. But rather being annoyed at our late arrival, the workers were grateful. Within minutes, a crowd had formed outside the van. They all needed knee, ankle, or back braces. For one man, his ankle had been broken before migrating to the states but the constant standing and kneeling in the fields had aggravated the fracture. While another outreach worker talked with the workers and took down their names, I searched for the braces and passed them to the patients. We fell short of one brace but promised the man that we would return in the next few days to deliver it.

After a few conversations, we said our farewells and as a token of gratitude, one of the farmworkers gave us boxes of blackberries. We left the camp with blackberries and the heaviness of our exhaustion and the exhaustion of the workers. But we also left the camp that night feeling accomplished. Accomplishment in that, as Vecinos workers, we met our goal. At the first camp we had registered new patients and made it possible for 8 or so workers to see the doctor in the mobile clinic. At the second camp, we brought a patient his medicine, provided braces to others, and above all, reminded the workers that Vecinos is there to take care of their health needs.

Back at home, I washed a box of the blackberries and sat down to eat a few. I reminded myself that I was eating what the farmworkers had spent all day picking in the fields and sent wishes of gratitude for their labor. Lost in thought and the bittersweet taste, I looked at the berry package and read the name of the farm and “Go Online to Meet our Growers.” I knew the farmworkers who picked the berries. I knew that they spent an entire day in steamy fields under the blazing sun. Picking, picking, picking at dawn. Water break. Lunch. Picking, picking, picking into the afternoon until sunset. I went online to “Meet our Growers” curious to see if the workers I know were mentioned in the blackberry farms of North Carolina.

They were not. The featured growers were all white males. It was their legacy, their pride of farming, their families and their stories of generational family farming that was mentioned. There was no mention of the farmworkers that I know. And what I know is that the labor of migrant farmworkers, many from Mexico, is the reason why this farm even exists. They are the people who pick and pick the berries that go from farm to table. Yes, farm management by farm owners is important. But crucial to their success are the farmworkers. Farmworkers need to be represented by the companies they work for. Their stories need to be shared too and heard by consumers. Stories allow consumers to make the connection to people with legacies, lives, and families who helped put food on their tables. As a SAF intern, I am here to help farmworkers lead healthy lives and advocate for their rights so that they too can be recognized and respected by consumers and our society at large.

–  Katharine Kayser, 2019 SAF intern
Vecinos Farmworker Health Program