Two Tons Divided By 51 Pounds
Recently I had a pleasant morning devoted to harvesting produce. From my own carambola tree, a little over 40 lbs. of starfruit was picked to be shared with farmworker families at Misión Peniel in Immokalee, Florida. A couple of hours later, I harvested another 11 pounds of assorted vegetables from the new Misión Peniel Garden; mainly fresh greens such as mustard, cilantro and lettuce with some eggplant and peppers.
I felt pretty good about that day’s harvest of 51 lbs. of fresh, nutritious produce, knowing that it would be included with more food for distribution among farmworker families from Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico.
But then again, I have a knack for completely shredding my own positivity. And that happened when I thought about how many tomatoes one farmworker in Immokalee needs to harvest to earn the minimum wage during a 10-hour day. The latest figure I’ve seen is two tons. That’s right – 4,000 lbs. (or 1,814 kgs) of tomatoes harvested by one worker each day.
51 lbs. would be my day’s accomplishment vs. the 4,000 lbs. being picked by one of the guys in the trailer next to our garden. If I got up every morning and collected 51 lbs. of fresh produce, it would take 78 days to match what he’s doing daily.
Does 51 pounds of fresh produce even matter in a nutrition-insecure farming community of 20,000? With the produce I picked that day, the daughter of the two-ton per day guy might get one or two of those starfruit at Misión Peniel while his wife could possibly receive a half pound bag of fresh mustard greens.
By now I’m wondering why I’m even bothering to pull up nutsedge at the edge of the garden. But before completely spiraling out, some perspective begins to seep back in as I consider why I’m tending this four-month old garden in the middle of Immokalee, Florida.
I remind myself that we’re here because of:
Invitation - We were invited to help address the need for nutritious, local food. Even though they serve hundreds of meals every Friday and share boxes of surplus from regional food banks, the Misión Peniel staff sensed the need for an on-site educational garden. We were honored and challenged by this invitation and accepted the call.
Collaboration – Since the very beginning, representatives of local farmworker households have been advising and working beside us in planning and establishing the effort as well as their own doorstep container gardens. We’ve already spent considerable time learning and planning together as well as sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings and harvesting the new produce.
Transformation - Only six months prior, this 8,000 square foot plot was vacant and overgrown; the domain of semi-feral chickens. The ground was littered with just about anything you can imagine. In those days, a morning’s harvest of 10 lbs. of greens would have been almost beyond imagination. And we’re just getting started.
Although briefly, I had been comparing apples and oranges. Industrial farming and community gardening are vastly different. Both approaches have their own strengths and weakness. But while we’ve become dependent upon the largest system, its inefficiencies and inequities demand some answers
For instance, why should anyone have to pick two tons of produce each day just to eek by?
Why are there food deserts in a farming town?
And is there a connection between the two-ton a day factor and why there’s so much American farm “surplus” as well as food waste?
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that approximately one third of all food is wasted or squandered before being consumed. Therefore, I can only assume, for whatever reason, that a significant portion of that daily two tons of tomatoes is never eaten. But hopefully it’s not as bad as what researchers discovered in 2017 when they followed two supply chains in one of Australia’s largest tomato growing regions, finding up to 87% of undamaged, edible harvested tomatoes being rejected based on cosmetic appearance.
Yet, even though the amount of food that our tiny garden produces is miniscule compared to that of an industrial operation, I have a high degree of certainly that very little of the produce is going to waste.
That’s not to say that home plots, community gardens and small farms don’t overproduce. With that in mind, we appeal to local gardeners, institutions and small farms to share their abundance.
Finally, there’s another major difference between industrial farming and community gardening. One of these systems is not profit driven to the point of treating workers like tractors.
The essence of community gardening is collaboration born out of the reality that one or two little gardens may not make a lot of local difference. But what about 20 or 50 or 100 small gardens?
We’ve been so inspired by gardeners in Immokalee and elsewhere. In the same way, our goal is to inspire, encourage and equip others to grow, consume and share local food. And that’s what we’re beginning to see, whether it’s a housewife growing cilantro in a washtub or another local nonprofit planning its own community garden effort.
Meanwhile, our lofty goals probably won’t change the two-ton per day reality that our neighbor faces. But we know for certain his family, and a growing number of those around him, are gaining access to some locally grown nutrition of their preference.