While I was waiting to be assigned to a country for my Peace Corps volunteer service, because the country of my initial assignment had undergone a frightful coup and they were taking volunteers out instead of in, I went to California to visit a girlfriend. To earn some money and to pass the time while she was working, I applied to the California state employment agency for a temporary job placement. On the wall I noticed a list of harvest jobs that was very interesting to me. I had read about European students* who worked seasonally in the fields to help bring in the harvest. It seemed like a wholesome thing to do, down-to-earth! I have always loved being outside in nature, and I thought I would probably even enjoy working outside. I was young and capable of long, hard work. I was particularly interested in experiencing the difficult work of harvesting fruit.
My interview with the California state jobs recruiter was very brief. I stated that I was ready and willing for the job of picking fruit. He replied, “They won’t let you work, they will hurt you.” I asked, “Who?” He said, “The other workers, the migrants.” That did not sound right and I again asked, “Who?” He said, “They come up from Mexico, this is their job.” I, foolishly but correctly, insisted that I wanted to work, that I was able to work, and that I should be assigned to work. I told him that I got along well with my co-workers, “Please give me a job picking fruit.” He called several other California state jobs recruiters over to his desk (all of them being what would today be perceived as Hispanic) and they collectively, quickly, convinced me to leave without a job picking fruit. That was discrimination of some sort or another.
Later in life when I owned my own home, I planted fruit trees, a yellow apple, a red apple, a plum, and a peach. The peach tree bore luscious fruit with the thin skin and juicy flesh that I remember from my childhood in the fifties and sixties. Today industrial farms refuse to offer such tender fruit, supposedly because they are harder to ship. I could have picked any delicate fruit without bruising it, and industrial farms should be able to get it to market at least as well as farmers in horse drawn carts have done since time immemorial.
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* “Send British students to pick fruit, says Ukip”, Fresh Produce Journal. “There used to be a time when it was a rite of passage that people going through, if you like, an internal gap year in this country or on their way to university or at university, that to get some extra cash in, guess what they'd do, they'd go fruit picking.”
Caption: Picking A Peach From My Own Tree
photograph by Annmarie Throckmorton 2010
Caption: Touching An Orange To Pick It
watercolor by Annmarie Throckmorton 2010