“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….”