Citrus farming turned California from a capitalist dream into a reality. After the gold rush in the 1870s, agriculture drove the state’s economy. Even as real estate took over and farms were priced out, citrus still left its mark. Today, California citrus is a billion dollar industry, second only to Florida. Farm conditions for workers who provide this beautiful fruit, however, are more akin to a nightmare.
During World War II, there was a farm labor shortage, so the US and Mexican governments agreed to allow Mexican “guest workers” to farm California’s fields. These men worked for much less than American farmers, and because they were only allowed to be in the country if they worked, they had no say in how much they would be paid, or under what conditions. The capitalist farm owners liked this arrangement so much, they made sure it stayed in place even after the war. They brought in more labor than they needed, in order to force workers to compete against one another, driving wages even lower.
As an elementary school teacher in the San Joaquin Valley the 1950s, Dolores Huerta saw many children of farm workers come to class without being fed or clothed, because their parents couldn't afford it. She organized a farm worker's union, along with Caesar Chavez and Fred Ross. In 1964, their efforts helped end the “guest worker” program in California.
In 1965, farm owners in Delano, California tried to hire Mexican workers to replace Filipino grape workers on strike. Filipino labor leader Larry Itliong reached out to Huerta and Chavez, and together they formed the United Farm Workers, with over 1200 members.
Huerta asked the country to boycott California grapes, and got national grocery chains to stop stocking them. With their bottom line hurting, the grape farm owners agreed to pay the federal minimum wage and provide healthcare for workers.
Today, a new boycott is happening in Washington state. Familias Unidas por la Justicia
is asking the public to boycott Driscoll Berries. Union leader Ramon Torres claims wage theft and poverty rates. Farm workers across the country contend with low wages, crowded living conditions, unforgiving heat, and now, a devastating virus. The LA Times reported that farm workers have been hit especially hard by Covid 19. Their living conditions and tenuous access to healthcare have only made things worse. The struggle continues.
The Huerta cocktail has three types of citrus, three ways: fresh lime juice, grapefruit cordial, and orange bitters. At CCC, fresh, bountiful produce from California always inspires us, but so does political activism. We should look to the example of leaders like Huerta and Itliong, and join in solidarity with those who provide our food today. Don’t buy Driscoll Berries. Call up your grocery stores and demand they don't carry them. The Huerta is sweet and sour. It's different types of citrus working together to make one whole, and it’s dedicated to those who put their lives on the line for their families and ours during this challenging time.
Join the Club to get the recipe for the Huerta.