Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Asparagus Question

I'd have missed this, but the only reading available this morning in the Real Change bathroom was a three week old business section from the Seattle Times. Apparently, they couldn't find enough workers to harvest the asparagus this year, and about 7.5 million pounds of the stuff were plowed up. The amazing thing was that the story went on for a full twenty paragraphs without saying why.

Analysis stopped at the tautological level: There weren't enough workers because there seems to be a worker shortage.

"It's strictly due to the lack of labor," said Jim Middleton of the state asparagus commission. Jobs R Us owner Christin Esquivel agreed. "We are having a lot of trouble finding people," she said.

I walked into the production room, where Rosette was racing against a Real Change deadline, and waved the page in front of him. "This story goes on for twenty paragraphs about how there aren't enough workers to harvest the asparagus, but it doesn't say why."

"I know why," he said, wrinkling his nose.

As a father of four year olds, I knew why too.

"Because it's yucky," I said!

"That's right."

Sensing there may be more to the story, I called Carlos Marentes at El Comite Pro-Amnestia General y Justicia Social to ask what was up with the asparagus.

He didn't know.

He did, say, however, that about a third of California's crops had been left in the fields as well, and that Yakima growers were now using employment agencies and resorting to the desperate measure of actually raising wages.

Part of the issue, he said, is that the raids have taken their toll. But the bigger issue is that fewer people are coming north. "A lot of people have accepted that there is no place for them in this country," he said sadly.

Finding data on the impact of immigration policy on farm labor isn't easy, but Washington Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee confirms that there is a shortage, and that prices are going up as a result. She cites the strong economy, an aging agricultural workforce, high gas prices, and immigration policies that discourage migrant workers as causes.

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