The Farm Labor Tour is a travel and journalism project covering this seldom discussed and immensely critical aspect of putting food on our tables. The national local foods movement has drawn a groundswell of attention to the economic benefits and the ecological values associated with eating food that’s grown close to home. And yet, few stories closely examine the lives of the people who do the difficult field work necessary to ensure that a consistent supply of food makes it to market.
This project combines my personal and professional lives by investigating the farm worker history of my grandparents and exploring current farm labor practices and key issues. My intention is to tell the stories of farm labor in a way that’s accessible, and encourages and inspires readers to make closer connections to the people, economics, and environmental elements of a truly enduring food system.
Through face-to-face interviews, written essays and photos I will create an historical record of three migrant farm workers who lived and struggled in the 1930’s and 1940’s in California. These elder farm workers are my aunts who migrated from Tipton, Oklahoma, to the San Joaquin Valley in central California with my grandparents in 1937. To gain a comparative snapshot of current farm labor conditions I will also interview farmers, ranchers, cowboys, farm workers, farm labor activists, and others.
So, what’s the travel plan? On Labor Day, September 3, I’ll begin driving from my home in Carbondale, Illinois, to the central part of the state for an interview with a successful sustainable farmer. The next day I’ll head west for more farmer interviews beginning in Iowa and then on to stops in Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. Around the second week of September I’ll travel south through Oregon to northern California for the first recorded family interview with one of my aunts. On to the West Coast for more gathering, including the Bay Area for a recorded interview with another of my aunts, then on to the Central Valley to interview more family members, activists and others.
The second half of my travels will begin near the U.S.-Mexico border. I’ll investigate the current farm worker landscape by visiting entry points along the border in Arizona and New Mexico and interviewing people involved with immigration issues. Then through to Tyler, Texas, for the final family interview with my third aunt. My travels will come full circle, literally and figuratively, with a visit to the hometown of my grandparents in Oklahoma. I’ll arrive back home in Carbondale on Monday, October 1.
What do I expect to be the outcome of these stories? First I will build a knowledge base from the research and interviews: the entire trip will be fully documented on this blog and the Farm Labor Tour page on Facebook. Photos, audio interview clips and other field recordings will be posted regularly during the month-long trip. When the travel project is finished I’ll continue posting regular articles to follow up on the project and extend the research and education. Some of my friends have independently suggested this project sounds like the beginning of a book. I’m willing to let things evolve however they may.
To minimize costs, I’ll be staying with friends and family quite a lot and car-camping in between. I’ll have my laptop, mobile phone, digital recorder, lots of maps, and plenty of driving time to muse over the day’s events.
A huge thank you to everyone for your interest in this writing project. Please contribute as you like by posting your thoughts and relevant information in the Comments section of this site. Please also pass along this site to friends and family that you believe might find the information inspiring.