Farmworkers are climbing up the organic food chain
- Saturday, 29 January 2011
by Heather Smith.
The strawberries, purchased in November, in a rainy parking lot behind a community clinic, feel like they’ve traveled in time from summer to here. Out of season, strawberries usually taste like rainwater. These have a taste that is sharp and unexpected.
The North Oakland farmers market is almost deserted—it’s a new one, just getting off the ground. The people here selling their wares look soggy and wan and not especially thrilled to be here. Nor does the wet goat that a couple in rainproof anoraks are trying to coax onto a milking platform.
But Rigoberto Bucio, arms folded, flanked by an army of beets, carrots, chilies, chard, kale, and baskets of the surprisingly sweet strawberries, surveys the scene with equanimity. He’s encountered all kinds of weather working in the fields. At least here he’s standing under a white plastic tent and selling what he grew himself, at Bucio Farm.
Bucio got into farming out of a certain pragmatism. “It’s the best thing that I know how to do,” he says. “And I don’t want to work in a closed space. And I love it when people tell me my produce is very good.”
Although he looks older, until he cracks one of his shy smiles, he is just 25 years old—astonishingly young compared to the average age of U.S. farmers, which is 55. He is also in a distinct minority: not only does he farm organically, but only 2.5 percent of all U.S. farm operators are Latino (or Hispanic, as the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture records it .
Bucio is one of a growing number of young migrant workers who, thanks in part to changes in the Farm Bill that freed up funding to train and otherwise assist beginning farmers, are no longer making pennies per bucket picked but working for themselves, running CSAs, and introducing new blood into American farming.