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 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, the 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 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. To gain a comparative snapshot of current farm labor conditions I will also interview farmers, ranchers, cowboys (yes, really), farm workers, journalists, and farm labor activists.
What do I expect to be the outcome of this project? I will build a knowledge base from the research and interviews: the entire trip will be fully documented on the Farm Labor Tour blog and the Farm Labor Tour page on Facebook. There I’ll post photos, audio interview clips and other field recordings.
So, what’s the travel plan? On Labor Day, 2012, 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 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 my aunt Oleta, then to the coast to gather commentary on the topic of modern slavery from a writer/activist. My next West Coast stop is near the Bay Area for a recorded interview with my aunt Gerry, 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 aunt Leola. 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.
Since I'll be focused on the structural organization that comes with journaling I'll keep extensive notes and post regular entries as I travel. In interviews, I’ll inquire about experiences and views on agriculture in general and labor in particular.
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.
The funds raised through Kickstarter are needed for several vital things. Though my car gets fantastic mileage, the single biggest cost will be fuel. Research materials and some food costs are also included. If this project is funded beyond my original request I’ll be able to rent a car to save the wear and tear on mine.
A huge thank you for your interest in this journalism project! Please consider co-funding this work with me. But most important, please pass along the blog and Facebook sites through your networks to build the audience for these stories of farm labor history and farm worker justice.
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- (23 days)