The Farm Labor Tour is a travel and journalism project covering this critical element of putting food on our tables.
The national local foods movement has drawn a groundswell of attention to ecological values and the economic benefits associated with eating food that’s grown close to home. And yet, relatively few stories even mention 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 interests by investigating the farm worker history of my grandparents and others, and by examining 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 human elements of a truly enduring food system.
The goals of this project are many. Reconnecting with my extended family and recording our past is primary. This research will also build a knowledge base to include an oral history and accounts of past and current farm labor issues.
Through face-to-face interviews and photos this project creates an historical record of three young migrant farm workers who lived and struggled in the 1930’s and 1940’s in California. These now elder farm workers are my aunts who migrated from Tipton, Oklahoma, to the San Joaquin Valley in central California with my grandparents in 1937-39. To gain a comparative snapshot of current farm labor conditions I will also interview farmers, ranchers, farm workers, writers and farm labor activists.
This project began on September 3, 2012 – Labor Day. On this day I drove from my home in Southern Illinois to the central part of the state for an interview with successful organic farmers. The next day I drove west for more interviews beginning in Nebraska, then on to stops in Wyoming and Oregon. From Portland I moved southward through Oregon to northern California for the first recorded family interview. A good deal of time was spent back home in the West, filled with interviews, visits with family and a brief hiatus among the Sequoias where we played as children. From California, the trip veered east through Arizona at the Mexican border, then up to northern New Mexico. The last week of the Farm Labor Tour was south to Austin, Tyler and Dallas in Texas. My final stops were in Oklahoma where I was pleasantly surprised to have a random encounter with an elder who is possibly a distant cousin.
The Farm Labor Tour ended on October 1, 2012. In one month I met and interviewed 18 people and had driven nearly 7,500 miles. For a complete list of stops, visit the Tour Route page.
So much thanks goes to so many people. Please visit the Support page for a list of the many friends and acquaintances who support this work. As you weave through the Farm Labor Tour website, please share pages of interest through your networks and help us build the audience for stories of farm labor history, farm worker justice and resistance.
With honor, love and appreciation for those who came before.