“I have just finished reading Tomatoland, by Barry Estabrook, and learned a great deal – most of it not very nice – about how Floridians grow most of the tomatoes we eat when local ones are not available.
Most of the book is about the workers who are exploited. Many are illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Central American countries and because they are afraid of being caught, they are open to exploitation. Some are literally slaves – bought and sold by “owners”, living in squalid conditions and never earning enough to get out of debt.
The tomatoes grow on sand, so all of the nutrients are supplied, mainly as chemical fertilizer. There is a hardpan layer below the sand which holds rainwater and irrigation water; if there’s too much, the fields are drained; if there’s not enough, they are irrigated.
The fields are fumigated with one of the most toxic pesticides on the market, a product that also is far more damaging to the ozone layer than hydrocarbofurans that were banned years ago.
Because Florida is so humid and hot, pests and diseases are a major threat. Pesticides are the answer. More types and greater volumes are applied to Florida tomato fields than for any other vegetable crop. Unfortunately, all too often the workers are soaked in pesticides….”
2 responses to “Cardboard tomatoes from Florida”
Your soil descriptions are accurate for many parts of Florida. nematodes are very bad, and yes dangerous chemicals are used by many, but there are organic growers and plenty of CSA’s.
Exploited is a relative term. People usually take advantage of the best options available to them rather than a lesser option. Perhaps we should be looking at reasons that people have so few options?
One reason I am personally aware of is the draconian FL building code. Four years ago I could have bought 5 acres of agricultural land in Central Fl for $25,000. The catch is there were the insane, draconian FL building codes. I would have needed another $100,000 to build a storm trooper approved home. That ended that dream. I am sure there are similar State created artificial barriers to many of those working in the fields.
Don’t demonize all of the business’s either. Many small business owners these days pay 50% or more of their gross to government. To believe that, that does not effect what an employee can pay is being naive. Perhaps looking at our tax rate is more appropriate. Serfs in the middle ages only paid their lords 10% of what they produced I am told. We are told that we are free, but we pay 500% of what mid-evil serfs paid in taxes.
I think the author offers a simplistic analysis of the many factors that are involved, and creates an us against them socialist mind set, rather than recognizing the real problems that do have free market solutions.
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