Can you believe that nearly 500,000 children as young as six harvest 25% of all crops in the United States? We’re not talking about in foreign countries … we’re talking about right here.
If you’ve had onions (Texas), cucumbers (Ohio or Michigan), peppers (Tennessee), grapes (California), mushrooms (Pennsylvania), beets (Minnesota), or cherries (Washington), you’ve probably eaten food harvested by children.
This article claims it’s not a slavery issue, but a poverty issue. I can’t help but think that the two are connected. Children are working an average of 30 hours a week to earn about $1,000 a year – to try to help their families survive. That’s less than $1/hour. That seems like slavery to me.
It’s unreal. It’s unfair. It’s unjust. And it makes me sick to my stomach. No person should have to work for those wages – especially children. And the more they work in the fields, the less education they receive. Which means they are less likely to be able to help their families out of poverty. Which means the cycle will continue. Until adult laborers are paid a fair wage.
It makes me angry that there are no laws that prevent this kind of thing. Some argue that if the law changes to prohibit children from working in farms, most migrant families will fall even more into poverty than they already are. And it’s mostly because middle class America wants cheap food.
I’m not sure what the answer is. I have a hunch that the solution is much more complicated than we can really understand. I do think that with every dollar I spend on local food, that’s one less dollar going to support that kind of cycle. But only if I buy from the farmers I know and trust.
Because just because I buy local doesn’t mean I’m not buying something that comes from a local farmer that hires migrant workers. Many grocery stores sell local products – but how do we know that those local farmers aren’t using kids to harvest their crops?
Now, I admit, there are times when I find it so much easier to just go to the grocery store with my list. Not only is it easier, but I tend to spend less on the same items I might buy at the market. I’ve found myself over the last few weeks picturing my own daughter in the fields – and it breaks my heart.
So we have really tried to buy most of our produce this summer from our local farmer’s market. We’ve tried to meet our farmers, taking time to get to know the people who are growing our food. We haven’t gotten away from the grocery store completely yet – although I hope, in time, we’ll be able to. But we know, that with every penny we spend at our local market, we’re voting with our dollars. We’ve also discovered that the local produce we purchase is much more flavorful and delicious than anything we can find in the grocery store.
Armed with all of that knowledge, we’re working really hard to be willing to pay more for food. We’re working towards eating seasonally – buying locally – and making as much as we can from scratch. We can’t stamp out the cycle on our own, but at least I know that with every bite I take, there’s not a child on the other end of it.