Ed. Note: "Does an organic strawberry contain more vitamin C than a conventional one?" That was the question posed by the New York Times following the release of a Stanford study last week concluding that organic produce is no more nutritous than conventional produce. The study has since sparked a heated debate over the merits and demerits of what is a $12 billion industry. Largely missing from that debate are the voices of the farm workers who spend their days harvesting these crops. For Jesús E. Valenzuela Félix, there's no one better to tell that story than... an organic strawberry.
An Organic Strawberry Recalls:
I grew up around Griselda. She is a young woman who speaks of a land she called home. She always has her face covered with bandanas but I know when she smiles because I see it in her eyes. In the time it took me to grow into a red strawberry I heard about her life.
She has three children. She loves to take them to the beach. She says it’s her favorite place to go and it’s free to just sit there in the sand watching them play. From what I hear, it’s hard being Griselda. Other women that pass through here complain too, that it’s not enough money, that they don’t like living in a garage or in a tiny room.
Griselda wants her own home one day, with a porch and a backyard and a tree with lemons. She wants that for her children because she tires of traveling back and forth. She goes to a place called Oxnard half the year and the other half she comes here. Her children go too. One of them is in school and is learning so much. Griselda is amazed at how much that little thing knows. “She’ll be a doctor one day,” she says, “and she’ll know English, Spanish, and Mixteco!”
Some days I see Griselda hurrying and hurrying, putting strawberries away in those little baskets and into the box. She gets paid by the box. I used to be happy for her because she worked on an organic farm, and that meant we were worth more so that must mean more money for Griselda.
It wasn’t until it was my turn to be picked that I found out from other strawberries that that meant more money for the boss — not for her. Which is not fair because this is hard work. There is a lot of mud and a lot of the humans get hurt and I hear the foremen yell at them. Griselda just bends her head down low and keeps picking strawberry after strawberry.
That’s when I left that farm. I was put into a little basket along with seven other baskets and into a box that Griselda picked all by herself.
For that one box with eight baskets full of organic strawberries she got one dollar. We were put together with other boxes and soon we were put on a truck and hauled off to a cold place. There they cooled us down and sent us off.
Before I knew it, I was on display in a nice store with other organic, locally grown strawberries. And this nice lady bought me for about $4. Just one little basket! Four dollars!
I heard the lady telling her tiny daughter that walked alongside her about how there was a war going on against corporate giants and how they had to defend organic products and those poor local farmers like the one Griselda worked for. That this was the most important battle of her generation, the battle for safe food.
She called this the Food Justice Movement. And it was up to them to insure that all products were organic and that made them feel good. “Sure,” she said, “it’s more expensive, but it’s better for everyone!”
I remembered Griselda and the food she would take out of her lunch bag. I wondered why Griselda wasn’t part of this Food Justice Movement. I remember her saying that she had to buy the cheapest foods to feed her children. And as we traveled through the supermarket I saw that none of the foods that Griselda bought were organic.
“Never, ever, ever,” said the nice lady, “buy any of these foods. They’re all processed.” Which I took to mean very bad, with things she called chemicals and preservatives and such. “If the food justice movement wins, all of these things will be banned and everyone will only eat organic!”
But what would Griselda eat? I wondered.
The cart was full of these organic products, and she had to pay so much money for them. Twice as much as Griselda said she had to pay to feed her family. I know that Griselda could never afford any of these organic products; so in a sense it wouldn’t be bad if only organic products were sold. Or if they could make sure Griselda got a better wage.
“It’s so great,” said the lady, as she was pushing her cart out of the store, “that there are farmers that actually care about people and grow organic products!”
She smiled, pushing her cart, her child hardly even blinking. “See honey, we just stuck it to the man! We are real revolutionaries!”
And so we went into a nice home with nice things. The lady explained as she prepared a salad about how the Food Justice Movement was a war where she voted with her money and it was for better food products. She talked about this conference where they had growers and activists and hippies and authors and how it cost money to get into the conference but it was worth it.
I got bored because never once did she mention Griselda, or her children, or the people Griselda works with or the garage she lives in or the fact that purchasing organic strawberries made the owners rich and Griselda was still poor.
This Food Justice Movement seemed so incomplete. I wondered if Griselda would have gone to that conference, but I decided that she probably couldn’t afford it, or if she could she’d rather spend it on her children and therefore wasn’t included. I don’t know. I think these things before I am eaten in the name of a revolution…
Jesús E. Valenzuela Félix lives in Salinas, where he works for the United Farm Workers. He contributes regularly to Coachella Unincorporated.
Ed. Note: "Does an organic strawberry contain more vitamin C than a conventional one?" That…