[Marxism] Tomatoland

Greg McDonald gregmc59 at gmail.com
Wed Jul 6 14:08:59 MDT 2011

On Wed, Jul 6, 2011 at 1:01 PM, Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> wrote:

> The New York Times July 5, 2011
> That Perfect Florida Tomato, Cultivated for Bland Uniformity
> How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit
> By Barry Estabrook
> 220 pages. Andrews McMeel. $19.99.
> It’s far more infuriating to read of the labor practices on these farms.
> That pickers are exposed to pesticides is only the tip of the iceberg.
> “Child labor and minimum wage laws are flouted,” Mr. Estabrook writes. “The
> most minimal housing standards are not enforced.” Worse, he writes, actual
> slavery is tolerated “or at best ignored.”
> The author writes: “I began to see that the Florida tomato industry
> constitutes a parallel world unto itself, a place where many of the
> assumptions I had taken for granted about living in the United States are
> turned on their heads.”

> I have a personal interest in “Tomatoland.” I spent a large chunk of my
> childhood in prosperous Naples, Fla., a scant half-hour — and yet a world
> away — from small-town Immokalee, the grim and scrubby home to Florida’s
> largest farmworker community. Immokalee is tomato central. Mr. Estabrook
> attends to reality when he writes, “Should you want to experience culture
> shock in one of its starkest forms, take the drive from Naples, Florida, to
> Immokalee.”

As a young graduate student at the University of Florida, I spent a
year doing volunteer work in Indiantown, close to Immokalee, home at
the time to hundreds of Guatemalan/Kanjobal Mayan political refugees
who had been caught up in the migrant stream. Anyone coming out of a
placid suburban childhood to spend any amount of time there, as I did,
would agree that the experience is indeed an extreme form of culture
shock. As a result of that experience, which led to my short tenure as
a CISPES activist, to this day I feel strangely apart and alienated
from the so-called mainstream.

 I still recall the time we were following up on rumors of a slave
camp deep in the orange groves a few miles out of town. (What we would
have done if we had found it I still don't know). Driving down a dirt
road, our passage was suddenly blocked by a helicopter which descended
out of nowhere and menacingly blocked the road in front of us.
Needless to say, we got the hell out of the there real quick. It
became apparent to me after a few months that nothing short of a
revolution would change the exploitative social relations inherent to
Florida Agribusiness. And now, 25 years later, it seems nothing has
changed at all.

Greg McDonald

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