Chasing the Harvest is, quite simply, a superb read that I would recommend to anyone. Gabriel Thompson did a brilliant job weaving together the personal stories of 17 individuals deeply involved in the California migrant worker system, spanning a diverse range of positions, including farmworkers, growers, mayordomos, and other positions. The stories of these people of different background, age, and work experience paint a vivid picture not only of life in the fields, but also the personal lives of agricultural workers.
Chasing the Harvest is an emotionally challenging read at times, but I found it impossible to put down. These days, as issues like organics, genetically modified organisms, and meat consumption come more to the forefront, it seems like the stories of those harvesting our food is often largely ignored. The same person fretting about his/her child’s (more minimal) exposure to pesticide residues may never have thought about the (dangerous, constant) exposure of farmworker families to pesticides. And pesticides are only one challenge, amidst wage theft, sexual harassment, unsafe and unfair working conditions, and more. These stories of those working in the fields deserve to be heard.
So many poignant moments, so many eye-opening statements…I took away more from Chasing the Harvest than I could share in a short book review. Through what often seemed like never-ending challenges, the individuals in this book continuously amazed me with their perseverance, their focus on providing for their families despite their personal hardships, and the ways in which they later in life assumed roles dedicated to helping others overcome the challenges they had faced.
In Civil Eats’ interview with Gabriel Thompson about Chasing the Harvest, Thompson says that although many farmworkers don’t want their kids to stay in the fields, “they wanted their kids to understand that when you have a salad, someone bent over and harvested that lettuce.” As one person in the book says, “these are the hands that feed this country.” Is it too much to ask that we listen to their stories and play our part in creating a healthier, fairer, safer work environment?