The racist history of Ag with Dr. Sarah Taber

You’re  listening to medicine for the resistance.

Kerry  Sarah, tell us about what you do because it’s such an incredibly unique space. I think it’s so important that you let you know the world know, or at least our audience know, what it exactly is that you do.

Patty:  Just to pop in a minute. I found Sarah on Facebook, on Twitter. And she was talking about the internment to Japanese internment camps being a land grab. And then from there, I just kind of followed her down that rabbit hole of agriculture, Western ag basically being a land grab, whether it’s Japanese internment camps or indigenous displacement or slavery, all of those, it’s all it’s all land grabs. So now I’m gonna let Sarah talk. <chuckles>

Dr Taber:  Yeah, like you have to preface it with like, yeah, I’ve worked with a lot of farms who like really Do like run tight operations. And as a result, they make enough money to pay their family members and their workers like they exist. And they’re a minority. And I feel like you know, the Sustainable Agriculture kind of world and industry does some good work and kind of publicizing the fact that they exist. But I think people come away with the impression that that’s normal. It is not. And so I’m kind of like, okay, we need to talk about the flip side of all this stuff, which is like what normal looks like.

And I feel like a lot of folks are kind of frustrated, like, you know, we’ve been talking about sustainable ag for 20 – 30 years, why isn’t going anywhere and we’re not talking about those underlying kind of like social root causes. You just can’t take care of the land until you can take care of the people who take care of the land. And I feel like a lot of the folks who like the the stability discourse that we have now is very much like focused on healing the land which is good and appropriate, but I think they’re kind of trying to fast forward through the people part. The people part is often kind of like an afterthought. I don’t think any of them sat down and said like, how can we disregard people, you know, but we have such a strain in kind of like US colonial culture, of being really into land and not that into people. And that’s just kind of what it looks like. You know, and they’re like, well, family farms are great and innocent. I’m like, Are you crazy? You’ve never seen one in person.

Kerry  Yeah, Sarah. Sorry to interrupt, but I think that’s so poignant. Like, not only is the language right on time and colorful, but it’s poignant what you’re saying. Most of us, you know, what is our experience of going to the family farm? I mean, I’m thinking back to my growing up in Markham, and we would get an hour out to go to like one of the petting farms where we could pick a pumpkin and, you know, pet one of the goats that was about as far as it went for me. And so, you know, we really have this disconnection to the understanding like the average city folk have that, you know disconnection because our food comes in a package or, you know, it’s all laid out on the shelf to pick your dozen of whatever it is that we really don’t understand the relationship that does exist between the land and even the food that we pick and the colonial system. So if you could break it down a little bit more for us, I think that that is real, especially because of what we’ve got going on on Saturday, which I’m sure we’ll talk about on Sunday. Sorry, but yeah, talk about later.

Dr Taber:  Yeah, I apologize, because I’m not as conversant on the labor situation up in Canada. So we’re going to hear a lot of very US centric stuff, you’re probably going to be able to identify parallels.

Kerry  I’m sure. Yeah, there’s lots of parallels, lots of parallels and the laws themselves may not be identical, but the practices are very, very similar.

Dr Taber:  Yeah. Yeah. So like, so what really counts gets the highlight in the US in terms of like clarity from labor in history is the slavery era, which you know, deserves a lot of attention. But there’s a lot of stuff that happened after that that’s in living memory that people have already forgotten about, which is really, really crazy. The so sharecropping and tenant farming, I don’t know how much of a thing that’s been in Canada was actually prevalent throughout the United States


before the South moved, like, that’s why after the slavery era


, like after it was abolished, that’s why the southern landlords moved to sharecropping, that was what was normal in the rest of the United States. So, I want in particular, like we kind of know it is the heartland now, right. But it used to be kind of mostly wetland, you can’t grow corn in wetlands and so there was a lot of terraforming that had to happen. They had to drain all this, you know, wetlands and everything. Most of that labor was done by tenant farmers and sharecroppers in Iowa.

Kerry Did not know that, wow. 

Dr Taber:  Yeah, yeah. They did all this terraforming, I mean all this ditch digging in order in exchange for a discount on their rent, they didn’t even get paid. And so like, this is a chapter in agricultural history that we’ve just forgotten. And especially, you know, a couple years ago, we had some massive floods up in the Midwest, and they’re like, oh, the government needs to like, get back on building these irrigation and drainage works and like you forgot who did that didn’t you.


Dr Taber:  You know?

Kerry  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  So when you offer that reminder, you know, when when, when you stand up and offer that space up? What does it is it having any impact? Or do you really believe that we are growing in the awareness? is there is there a desire or want to know about this history soon?

Dr Taber:  Yeah, you know, it’s wild, cuz like, I started tweeting about agriculture stuff, just because I worked in the business and I was like, really mad. <laughter>

Patty:  Not worth being mad about.

Dr Taber:  Yeah, like sometimes there’s just a whole lot going on. And again, I was in the same situation as a lot of these folks who work in agriculture where they see it and no one else, like you’re not allowed to talk about it. So there’s really nowhere for it to go. And fortunately, we have Twitter, you know, where just all the garbage thoughts go? <laughter>

Patty:  All the garbage thoughts.

Dr Taber:  Yeah, it was great. So like some sort of somewhere for it to go. And it really resonated with people, which is interesting. I did not, you know, you kind of expect when you talk about agriculture, like just like people love that stuff, right? So when you talk about it in a flattering way, like just there’s a real audience for that. But if you talk about it, and and not flattering way, I was like, this is probably not going to go anywhere. So it was kind of surprising to see that it was resonating for people. And when you talk about that, like northern sharecropping history, people to start crawling out the woodwork.  They’re like “Oh, yeah, my grandpa was a sharecropper in Iowa”.  Like, people start crawling out of the woodwork, but so the story of rural decline that we have like that, narrative is like, oh family.

Farms were forced to compete by agribusiness, which is a very like victim story.

What really happened? It’s the same story as industrial decline, which is people owned the property replaced people with equipment. It’s the same story. There is no world urban divide in terms of how that happened. It’s the same story. Yeah, um, migrant labor goes back a long, long ways, like, in the bonanza wheat era, like the 1870s. They’re already hiring  Mexican migrant laborers to go up and like cut wheat by hand and thresh it and stack it like old school peasant style, like yeah, it goes back a long ways. But that was kind of like the big corporate farms of their time. And then, you know, as prices and climate kind of changed. There was a couple decades when it worked. And then it didn’t it reverted the family farms that changes frequently cited as like, why family farms are superior, you know, they’re more stable and like, y’all are supplementing your income with jobs and farming as a side hustle. That’s, that’s the difference, which can work but let’s be honest about what’s happening.

Anyway, so that changed to family. Farming was actually also a lot of changing to tenant farming in sharecropping. And that gets obscured because tenant farmers and sharecroppers, it’s just like renting an apartment, you rent a farm. And that was usually families that did it. And so if you’re driving by and you look at it, you’re like, Oh, look, a family farm. They’re renters, they don’t own the place, they don’t inherit it. So in that sense, it is not a family farm, you’re just a family of adult laborers and child laborers. So as you know, replacing people with machines went along, there were certain crops where that just doesn’t work in that doesn’t make sense. You know, fruit, you know, vineyards, that kind of thing. So we can still still working on apple picking machines. So you still need people to do that by hand. But you don’t have this just population of sharecroppers and tenants around anymore. In the US like that really kind of ended in the 70s. Like, it was a long slide that you can kind of see on this graph, and it finally really kind of ended in 76. So you get all kinds of people were like, Oh, yeah, my family had people who just lived on the land and did things and this is like the 80s and 90s.

Patty:  So wait a minute.  Sharecropping, tenant farming, you’re saying that that ended in the 70s and 80s.

Dr Taber:  Uh hm, yeah. And they’re

Patty:  We  have this idea that it ended like 100 years ago.

Dr Taber:  No, that’s the last thing right. Yeah. So

Kerry  So I was very aware of that. I know there have been stories that have like almost I think it’s been in more the deep south like some places in Alabama and such where they’ve actually had like sharecropping, like share physical sharecropping still happening. It’s not I don’t even know like slavery, more so not even rental of the land where they they felt like they were still being owned, like the whole Emancipation Proclamation didn’t make it that far. And that’s going into the 50s and 60s that some people were still held in those kinds of bondages.

<agreement in the background>

Kerry  So, you know, the idea of agriculture, being like a safe haven, and it’s interesting because as you’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking about how I see the farm, you know, the way I think about farming, you think about, oh, it’s this wonderful family Baskin, where we come together. And you know, we work as a team and pull it in anything Little House on the Prairie. Told and I can’t lie huge Laura Ingles fan before I knew that

Dr Taber:  it was racist before we knew it was all day, right? Yeah.

Kerry  Every book I’ve read, okay, like it was crazy, but I get it, you know, we are painted this picture. And as you’re speaking, it really brings it to home how little we how disconnected I think we are with the idea of agriculture, which is scary because it’s also our primary food source. Like that’s where it comes from. And we have no concept of how it really runs. Right.

Dr Taber:  Yeah. So so that’s the wild thing is like, I think there’s a lot of understanding that we’re disconnected from the land and how agriculture works. And we’re, again like, why is that mass eviction? Yeah, replacing all the people with machines like that’s how all these sharecroppers wind up in the cities, right? So it’s like the enclosure movement all over again, you know, like, okay, it’s first we seize the land from native peoples, and then you know, if immigrants get into it, you have to get rid of them too. And if black folks get some, you have to get rid of them, too. And then now Oh, like even the white sharecroppers are too much. They got to go. Like, you know, it’s it’s just like a series of land grabs, because I think in a lot of ways, American agriculture never really figured out any other way to be. Like, we just don’t know any other way than like kind of low yield, like our yields compared to like other developed countries like the Netherlands, not comparable. Yeah, like they’re the world’s number two potato exporter. And they’re that big,

Kerry  you know.

Dr Taber:  They’re doing some things different than we do here because the land because of colonialism and land seizure has always been too cheap to really like support real investment in quality infrastructure and yields California is really the only exception to that the United States which is how their farms today competitive and high property values and the rest of us that’s like, Who does that? Um, and so like cheap land, cheap water, cheap labor, I’ll really kind of go together kind of in that in that economic model, but to kind of take it back to being disconnected. That disconnection happened on purpose because, you know, again, we kind of have this classic graph of there used to be this many farmers and a webstore. The 20 century that declined is almost entirely sharecroppers tenant farmers and black farmers being evicted from their lands that’s what that is the white family farmers actually stayed pretty steady ain’t going anywhere.

Dr Taber:  Yeah, wild.

Kerry  Wild is aware does then big business fit into this it big agriculture. Is that really a thing then?

Dr Taber:  Oh, it’s totally a thing. So it’s what the white landowners use to get rid of their sharecroppers and their tenant farmers and so they invited it into the house and also Yeah, also their wives to like subordinate their wives labor because poultry and dairy used to be women’s work. Then Then we’re like, I want to like there’s actual there’s money to be made here. I want to do it and I want to it wasn’t agribusiness, like coming in and home wrecking it was the men on the farm being like, I want to make poultry money but I don’t know how to raise chickens. Hey, Purdue helped me out. That’s what happened. Ah, I see. Yeah. So like the role of white women in agriculture is just like fascinated like as, as someone from a non landowning, like kind of white trash, white girl, white family, I’m just kind of like, what is in your girls is like, what’s going on? I just need to know. There’s just,

Dr Taber:  I love that I tell you, you always give something an incredible spin.

Kerry  I’m curious. So let’s talk about this idea of of, you know, women in agriculture. Once again, you know what immediately popped into my head. It was his Little House on the Prairie again, and I remember when, um, what was Laura Ingall’s, mom’s name Carolyn?

Dr Taber:  Carolyn Yeah, you

Kerry  were definitely a fan Patty. Carolyn Ingalls  would take her eggs in to Nelly Olsen’s mom. And and they would she would sell her eggs. But what what what is that role then? Like, where, where and how did that fit into the picture?

Dr Taber:  Yeah, so that’s totally how it went. There’s even a phrase egg money. Like if you’ve heard it, that’s what that’s referring to is like women kind of make their own household spending money. A lot of household expenses come out of that. And it’s a lot you’ll find it a lot of traditional economies, like men kind of do a lot of like, the basic raw good stuff. And then women do a lot of the food processing and they’ll also like poultry are to some extent the division of labor makes sense based on who’s like in the house taking care of kids versus like out in the fields like cutting trees down with their teeth or you know, whatever.

So like, to some extent there’s there’s a logic to the division of labor, but also just like, oh, poultry can’t hurt anybody. So the little lady And just commercial large flocks of poultry weren’t a thing. It was like, you know, five to maybe 20 chickens. So that was really more household chores. And it was business stuff. That’s how it was considered. Dairy the same way, you know, like you do the day’s milking, you turn into butter, it’s a chore, you know, and then you go sell some once a week or once a month. And so it was considered women’s work. And they kind of made that money on their own. And the husband didn’t always know, really, that it was happening, or like how much it was, I’m sure sometimes they knew it just depended. But there was a lot of financial independence.

So there’s actually like this huge power struggle over especially poultry and to some extent dairy in the US over who was in charge of it in the household, and then wind up winning. And, you know, a big part of how they did that was by kind of partnering with Agra, but like, you know, they could partner with their wife and grow the business, but they were like, or I could partner with this outside agribusiness guy who’s going to give me all these tools. And that’s, by and large, what men in general chose to do and that’s why The poultry and dairy industries developed the way they did and became very consolidated because of that tactic. So it’s really interesting to me how the beef industry is kind of like the blueprint for how we think of agricultural consolidation. Like, you know, the, the meat Packers got the rail lines and like they actually did force farmers to do things their way. But that’s not what happened in dairy and poultry. And no one talks about it. It’s why let’s

Kerry  let’s do because, you know, what’s coming to mind is that this new agreement, organized between Canada and the United States. The new NAFTA agreement, a part of that in the trade agreement, if I understand is that we have had to allow in now, a huge amount of American eggs and dairy. And I’m, I can’t, I’m trying to remember the details of it. But I know we’re letting in millions of dollars now, or we’ve opened up our egg and dairy market so that Americans can now Bring it over onto this side of the border. And I think that it’s so interesting when we’re talking about this space, how it was once a place of power and positioning for women. And yet now it has moved into this almost it’s a conglomeration space now, like, I mean, this is a huge thing that’s now traversing international borders. And once again, it when you were talking about that idea of consolidation down, we, I know there was a lot of blowback a little bit from our farmers here There weren’t impressed because you know, what happened? Our stuff will be interesting. And there’s a price differential that’s also involved in that I think they get to price a little cheaper. For for their eggs. How do we show up then? Like, what what when we look at this big picture of this amalgamation cross borders? How is that opening us up? To the vulnerabilities or what are the vulnerabilities to being this open? Or to being consolidated in? Maybe that’s a better way of putting it.

Dr Taber:  Right. Yeah. So it’s, I don’t really do policy right. So I’m kind of a, I have a lot more awareness of how it impacts the produce industry, because that’s my industry. But the livestock stuff, I’m just gonna like, Oh, my problem.

But like, what I can tell you is,  agriculture in the US has never been driven by the need for more food, right? It’s been driven by people going, I want to climb the property ladder. Where’s the property? I’m going to go out to there, I’m going to start a farm and I’m going to grow stuff and then question mark profit, like that’s literally how agriculture in the United States has always worked. It’s always been like that.

And like, so I’m reading through stuff and you know, we’d have things like the Whiskey Rebellion when basically farmers beyond the transportation, you know, infrastructure, we have They’re like, you know, I’m just going to go squat on some native land and I’m going to grow tons of corn. And now like, Oh, now I can’t sell it because I’m too far away. And by the time I ship inferior to a city for people to eat, it’s no longer like, I’m in the hole. So what I have to do is turn into whiskey, and then it’s worth it to move it. And then we’d like we’ve literally fought like a little war in the United States over this. And I’m like, Wait a second. They weren’t growing that corn because anybody needed to eat the corn. They were just like, how do I land grab it was literally why we do it. Um, and you still see Yeah, like, you still see that trait today.

Like we’re, we’re making way more of like, every food than anybody needs. And now we’re like, we have to spray the hose somewhere. And I feel like somebody maybe could ask at some point like, why are we growing so much food like it makes nobody needs it, nobody wants it. We’re literally having to dump it like there’s a word for it. You know, sometimes literally down the drain sometimes in other countries. And so I feel like the way a lot of people talk about agriculture is very policy centered. And it’s not inappropriate. Like, that’s very important. It’s just not what I do. So I’m like, I’m at a loss. But what I can tell you is like, none of this policy stuff would matter nearly as much if we didn’t have an agricultural system based on like property accumulation. And like, Look, you’re gonna eat the food. I just, I’m a dairy farmer. That’s what I identify as, and I want to stay in the business and the only way I can think of to do it is just raise more cows, you know?

Patty:  Because there’s a bit more land and then I get more everything. Okay. shift a little bit into the neighbor. And to because we are talking, we are going to be talking about migrant migrant farmworkers. You know, in a few days, we’re going to be in on the 23rd. This would be options across Canada, both migrant workers and here in Niagara, it’s mostly farm workers. And I know that the history of migrant farm labor, you’ve talked about that elsewhere because I mean, it’s not an industry that’s given stability. Right, like if I live around here and I want to work on farms, that’s huh. It’s not needed year round. So, migrants, you know, mobility, I think is inherent in in a lot of farm labor. And then that has kind of trickled down into very racialized categories. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr Taber:  Yeah. I can definitely speak to how it works. United States. I don’t just don’t know.

Patty:  I mean, I know migrant farm labor, you know,

Kerry  Yeah, I was gonna say, we’re cousins, no matter what. We’re cousins. So right. It’s probably similar

Patty:  policies, maybe a little different, but the fundamentals are pretty similar. Yeah,

Dr Taber:  right. Yeah. So with that asterisk got it. Um, so a big part of why farm labor it tends to make so in the US actually, most farm workers are stationary, like, especially in California like that’s part of why California agriculture is so amazing. It’s your the climates great. But none of that would matter if you didn’t have like a very skilled around labor force. Like that’s really kind of what Makes California the powerhouse that it is. If you always have someone amazing, like right there, and that’s not the case in like, say here on the south. It’s Yeah, it’s wild.

Okay, so the South is still kind of transitioning from local seasonal labor to migrant laborers. So like that that transition is actively happening right now. So you’ll get a lot of like particularly the Meatpacking plants they’ll kind of like split the plant between like local black crews and like migrant Mexican like they’re not brought in a migrant crews like they’re just immigrants who live and work there. And they’ll they’ll purposely play on that racial division and so the most successful firm labor organizing the largest meat like slaughterhouse in the world is 25 minutes from my house. Wow. Random It’s wild because every time you see reporting about like meat plants in COVID It’s always like in the heartland and like it’s darlin, yeah, but like everyone knows the South doesn’t really exist except as a punch line, right? Like nothing real happens here.

So except like we’re like model for the model that everybody tries to imitate, so they don’t want to acknowledge that. Anyway, um so the there was a really, really amazing successful labor organizing push at the Tar Heel plant here like the world’s biggest slaughterhouse within the last 10 or 20 years or so, and they found that the first thing they had to do was like deal with some racial animus like in order to get some organizing done because they’d already been so much like deliberate pitting people against each other, like using each group as a strike breaker for the other, but there was a lot of bad feelings and so in order to get anywhere they had to deal with that first which can really challenge a lot of white us leftist because they’re like, well, race shouldn’t matter. And you’re like that’s that’s cute, but but it do.

Patty:  It actually does matter.

Dr Taber:  People made it matter. So now matters.

Patty:  Yeah, so like, made it matter. Don’t get to say that now it doesn’t, right.

Dr Taber:  Yeah, yeah. So it’s so the people who are successful are the ones who kind of figure it out like, okay, we actually need to do this, we need to figure out how to build those bridges. And as a result had some amazingly successful labor organizing, which may or may not have, like, led in directly to the ballot fraud that then happened two years ago in that in that district, which we got to clean the mess I love.

Patty:  What a surprise. I know. Yeah,

Dr Taber:  I just can’t have people being friends and voting. Like that’s just wild.

Yeah, so there’s Go ahead.

Kerry  No, no, you just brought up something that makes me curious, with the idea of kind of trying to bridge the gaps and and coming into recognition of the racial divides that had been caused, has it created a more efficient system? Or where’s it going? Like, what is that doing?

Dr Taber:  Yeah, so, okay, so my my day job that I actually get paid to do is in food processing plants, you know, like just the basic stuff like wash it cool it, you know, maybe some slicing with produce. And so like that’s kind of like my hometown is like inside a produce packing and processing plant just let you know.

Kerry  And

Dr Taber:  I just like what goes on inside those meat plants because just based on what I know about labor efficiency and how stuff really works, I’m like the way they’re saying it works is not 100% accurate. What they’re using a really high turnover labor model. And they’re like, oh, people just don’t stay on like that’s because you don’t pay that like you know how this works. People get injured very quickly, you know, they kind of talk about what we need to speed the line up in order to get the work done quickly. And like if you always have inexperienced workers because you have a high turnover low pay model that is true. Just as someone who’s done a lot of like industrial design, I’m like, this doesn’t really totally hold water. Um,

I think there’s there’s a lot of assumptions that I think civilians outside of the the food processing and just kind of general industrial space are given about how it works. That it’s like a teeter totter, like you can either have low price, or you can have good labor like that it’s an either or choice. And it’s actually a triangle. And the third point is managerial competence. It’s funny how they never want to talk about that, right? Um, and that’s kind of a thing I hammer on in the book is like, we’re kind of only told like, these are the two things that matter and it’s consumers versus workers. Right. And there’s there’s a whole Third thing in there and it’s it’s a business owners job to not waste their workers time, like when I worked in a factory would have downtimes all the time because the machinery didn’t break because they didn’t maintain it, because they didn’t want to pay for a maintenance guy. And so the machinery is breaking all the time. So we spent all this time standing around the plant just be like  know what,

yeah, like, stick around. Because they might fix it before the eight hours are up, you know, and so, you know, I’ve got a buddy who works in a tractor and combine dealership and repair shop who found out his boss forgot to build like the labor parts of the parts and labor bill for them for six months. They just forgot to Bill hundreds of thousands of dollars in trench repairs for like the most sophisticated Mobile Equipment on Earth. They just forgot. Um,

Kerry  wow. Yeah. That is inefficiency in its highest form. That’s crazy.

Dr Taber:  Yes. And the mechanics are again, like they were playing. They’re repairing like, very sophisticated equipment for $30,000 a year and I says to myself, why are they only $30,000 a year? And the party line is, well, that’s the competitive wage and like, are you sure like I’m sure it’s not to carry your bosses and competence because you forgot to build labor for six months.

Kerry  See the correlation there? Wow.

Dr Taber:  Yeah. So there’s there’s a again like I don’t work in the poultry straight I don’t have a working familiar with a poultry processing line. What I do have is a familiarity with you know, how management in a manufacturing situation works in general, I’ve seen it in a lot of fruit plants, you know, it’s very similar, you have lines with a lot of people doing, you know, repetitive tasks. And so it’s like, I’m not 100% qualified in this, I’m going to give everything a big ol asterisk, but like the way they talk about it as a teeter totter, like you just when you’ve actually worked in industrial processing, you know, that’s not how it works.

But because you’re in the US if you ever if you hear about farm labor organizing and especially like ice raids and stuff like that, it always seems to happen in meat plants. Like it doesn’t really happen that often on farms themselves, which is interesting, you know,

Patty:  why do you think and I was gonna say

Dr Taber:  Yeah, there’s a reason Okay.

Yeah, so meat plants are just they’re, you know, 365 days a year, the migrant field workers, you know, unless they’re in California, they don’t really have a chance to stay in one place and organized like you have to be in one place to organize. And that’s a lot of the appeal of migrant labor. That is a lot of why they liquidated tenants back in the day replace them with machines was because they were stationary laborers. And so they actually had a chance to form unions. They were like farm worker unions. Mm hmm.

Patty:  There was an investment in the place where they were living, right. They had neighbors, they had friends, they had roots in the community, and you started picking up for each other.

Dr Taber:  Yeah, and like the South is really interesting, too, because obviously you had a lot of white supremacist like white tenants, like most of the tents in the south were white. And like populism in the north was like very much like socialism for white people. And in the south, it was like, you know, we could do that, but it wouldn’t work. Um, and so like in the rural south, that the, the organizing was like very, very biracial like, it was Very, very emphatic that this is how it has to work. And a lot of these organizing groups found that in the city, or excuse me, in rural areas, they could have one organizer, it didn’t matter who they were. And then as they got to urban areas, then they had to have a black organizer, and a white organizer, so everyone would talk to them. Um, and that’s not how rural areas work anymore. But back when that was a lot more populated, people kind of had a more sense of a shared fate.

Which is fascinating. And that’s not a story about the South that you really hear very often.

Kerry  All and I, I’m actually I’m intrigued, like you’re really opening up, you know, history for what it truly should look like. Because we don’t think about those spaces. And the idea of that there was a shared understanding for a space to happen, you know, we always think of it in that idea of it being completely divided. No matter how suspicious the two sides were, they might aggression. We work together is what I’m hearing you say? And that is, can you hear about?

Dr Taber:  Yeah, I mean, like, they wouldn’t have had to pass all these Jim Crow laws if people already behave that way. Now, would they?

Patty:  Know what that is a really good point. Right. That’s something that that’s something that we don’t think a lot about. But yeah, I mean, they wouldn’t have had to make rules against interracial marriage if people weren’t married. Right, they would have made had to make rules to separate, you know, black spaces and white spaces, if people weren’t joining together and doing things together. You know, so, I mean, I understand that if I’m carrying some problematic stuff people have been talking about on Twitter. But his point that things come that racism comes from the top down, as opposed to from the bottom up, is very relevant because you know, the policies it seems like every time we start working together, some new policy comes out that separates us again and like you were talking about, rural places, you know, people used to Be able to organize and have neighbors and then you know, and then the labor the labor shifted to to this more transient model. Because Yeah, it’s hard to organize people that are constantly moving.

Dr Taber:  Mm hmm. Yeah. And that’s, that’s a lot of the point. And so the problem with me plants is they’re just there all the time. And so people get to know each other, and they work there all the time. And there may be high turnover, but their family members who used to work there is still there, and they’re supportive. And so that’s why the raids happen and beat plants is because the grades happen after there’s some successful organizing, they’re actually starting to make some ground and then the boss is like our shit, we’ve got to flush and start over.

That’s what’s going on. Um,

Kerry  seems to be never a shortage of migrant workers. And so here’s another question I have if we’re talking about in in, you know, the fruit for fruit and plants and in dock production, and what happens to these migrant workers when you know the seasons. is over, let’s say is it that they just shipped to different states? Is it a movement in that regard? Do we even know? Does it run underground? There’s there’s a lot of

Patty:  Yeah, well, I know in Canada, they just go home, right? to Jamaica, they go home to Mexico, they go home to Guatemala, they go home to wherever they came from. So they may spend eight to 10 months a year here in Canada, working on various farmer, you know, working for various farmers. But then they go home for two months. And that’s, you know, why the action is for staff permanent status for all because if you’re here for eight to 10 months of the year,

Kerry  why not? I think about you know, my grandfather used to come up and work as a migrant worker in sometimes in the United States and sometimes in Canada. And he did that for many, many years. And I think to myself, we came in through a whole different source. I got an aunt of mine was a nurse who made it over and Then decided to, you know, funnel and channel the rest of us family over. But it wasn’t until there was that desire and need for nursing. But my aunt my grandfather’s story was coming here almost every year for about 20 years. And I’m just thinking about that, like, when you when you mentioned it, Patti, it really did bring back that memory. And I think to myself, for I know, in the states that they talk about, you know, a movements over the borders, but the dude, are they moving back and forth? Or are they just simply moving around the states is

Dr Taber:  very, it depends, like it just it depends on the family. It depends on the person. You’ll have some people and and this might have been a little bit more common earlier but you have people come up work for several months and then go back home and kind of raise like 10 their farm in the offseason. We still have a lot of that with migrant farmworkers to come from Jamaica like that stream from Jamaica to new England and kind of like, between Virginia New England has really been where most of that happened. Like where they were coming from Jamaica because that harvest season kind of slotted into an offseason in Jamaica so they could farm at home Come up here work you know it kind of save up and stuff like that. It’s funny because you care about like us farmers like complain a lot and I’m like, when you start going down to Jamaica in your offseason, then I will believe that things are bad.

Patty:  Yeah, border borders matter terribly until you need labor and then borders don’t matter so much. But one thing carry with you that just made me think about is let’s talk about the link between Trump’s shutting down the border and ice roundups of Mexican, Mexican, Mexican people who are living within the US and prison labor.

Dr Taber:  Do we start with carry on that one?  It’s only getting me to say,

Kerry  Well, no, I’m sending this one on us, Sarah, this is your area we are going to we want to hear your thoughts.

Patty:  Because that was a really interesting connection. I don’t remember if it was you or Kerry Leigh Merritt who made it, but that was a really interesting connection to me. Yeah.

Dr Taber:  Yeah. So this is okay. When I talk about it. Typically, the response from people who work in prison rights activism, you know, it’s just against the carceral state their responses. Well, no, they’re not hiring out prisoners for prison labor, because like they just make money providing the room and board and private prisons. And I’m like, but I’ve worked with migrant labor like prison laborers. And I’m like, so at the University of Florida research firm, there’s actually two different occasions it turns out my first job ever was in Iowa detasseling corn, which is pretty light duty for farm jobs, but they can’t get migrant labor come to it, because the seasons not long enough, it’s not worth it. And then close the embassies and realize like wait, I mean, I wasn’t the only people here getting paid. The rest of the keys.

Kids are all year for juvie. In this one for community service, but it’s a private company that they’re working for and providing value to, which is fascinating. I was 14 I had no idea anything was going on. I just like, oh god, that’s weird. You know, like, that’s why everyone’s smoking. I don’t know anything. And then, you know, fast forward, like, what another 15 years and 20 years I’m working in grad school at University of Florida. You know, they have their State Extension Research Farm. And because it’s a state owned farm, they cannot have any dealings with undocumented labor.

So they had a contract with the local prison to provide laborers. For most being if you’re going like in order to do farm labor, you have to hand people a shovel and you cannot, you don’t want to have like actual violent offenders. Give them a shovel because then you’re going to be new with it and run off right. So right off the bat, you have a big incentive to incarcerate people for nothing. Um, like, by definition, you need people who are like kind of chill, you know, and like, will do work. And if if they’re chill and like fulfill the obligations of Western society to do work then or do they need to be in prison is my question. It makes no sense like, insofar as there is an argument for incarceration, like they don’t fit it.

Kerry  So are we, I’m going to just elaborate a little bit on that, or maybe expand on it a little bit. Are we talking about the marijuana laws and the jobs that have that have existed in the state? That is fascinating to me, Sarah never thought about that, but doesn’t.

Patty:  And, you know, and, you know, rounding up of illegal migrant migrants, because like Sarah had commented earlier, agriculture is a skill, right? Like you couldn’t put me out in the field and get a decent result for my labor. It’s not that you can just throw anything into the skill. I’ve watched my son build a garden I can tell you I don’t have it. My mom, that woman can grow tomatoes out of anything it is a real skill and so when your labor force is drying up Who do you need to round up in order to get the skills that you need? You know that for me the American carceral system and I To be honest, I have no idea if the Canadian carceral system includes prison labor and whether it be prisons are bad whether they’re working or not. Labor isn’t what makes prisons bad. You know, but but I don’t know if Canadian system works the same way in terms of something I need to look into.

Kerry  I’m not sure so much I think that is an interesting thing to look into. I know we have definitely prison labor that is working more in like manufacturing like sewing and you know, making some of our beautiful license plates which really is a thing. I always thought that was an American thing, Sarah, I didn’t realize that are some of our license plates here in Ontario,

Patty:  if our prisoners are working, I’m sure they’re working on it, too, because right,

Dr Taber:  wouldn’t it? It’s not.

Kerry  Right.

Patty:  But you’re right. You don’t want you don’t want people that are particularly violent, because that’s dangerous. Why would you give them a shovel or sharp firm implements?

Kerry  And I thought that I think I can see now correlation where you’d want as you were saying that chill, and then if you’re going to have that, uh, you know, having drug laws that are going to skirt those lines, you know, are really going to be beneficial, because those are people that sometimes too, can be easily controlled. That that is fascinating that you got that conclusion.

Dr Taber:  Yeah, and the thing? Yeah, like there was actually like a big human trafficking case down in South Florida like within the last 20 years, and it was primarily Really like a labor crew, like contractors just kind of like scooping up homeless people outside of the streets and they’re like, hey, go pick tomatoes and I’ll give you drugs. So there’s just like paying them and drugs and they’re junkies so they can’t get like in the middle of nowhere and a mockery and they literally could not get away.

There were also migrants who got you know, caught up in that and like, because they’re not addicted to anything yet. They had to find other ways of controlling them and so like there is at least one kid who was like locked in a u haul trailer when he was working and you know, like, beat a lot. So yeah, these things all kind of come together and like you know, you guys kind of hit the nail on the head. The problem with these prison labor is so funny because I was I felt like I was the only person like, on the the academic side of that program who was like, This is prison labor like is anyone else like this is weird and everyone else is like, just kind of complaining about how they weren’t good at their job because they were waiting Xbox kids, you know who like it got picked up for Minor drug infraction, they didn’t go outside, you know, and now he has to do farm labor and they’re bad at it.

And one of our jobs that we had to do was plant like, we had a blueberry nursery  like blueberry settlings  and just like the IP involved in that is like the second biggest moneymaker at University of Florida. It was like kind of a big deal. So we make all these new crosses, like all these, you know, just, we pollinate some things, then you have to grow up the seeds and see if they’re good and just pollinate some things. Yeah, yeah, just sticking flower parts all open each other.

So then you got to plant them, see if they’re good. So the first step in that is you take all the seedlings and seed them in a greenhouse, and you have to plant them out six inches apart for an acre on your hands and knees. Thank you. Yeah, so then they’re like, bring in the prisoners, you know. Um, and so like it was it was really ambiguous whether we were on the same crew with the prisoners or whether we were You’re supposed to be supervising it was completely unstated It was fascinating. Um So yeah, it was like to sit I do contract work or was is a comic super i don’t know i still um, but like you down there on your hands and knees and then like so these guys like, they the lines are crooked they’re the things weren’t buried to the right depth, like they would plant them and then step on them like constantly and so it’s just messy.

And then one day he came, we had one convict who was Latino and actually had some experience doing like farm work. And he, my understanding was he gotten picked up and imprisoned because he he was in one yard over here and there was something in the truck over there. So he just like rode the riding lawnmower with the truck to pick it up and got pulled over for driving without a license, and that’s why he was in prison. And this dude was like a human zipper like planning stuff. He’s just like, it was totally straight. It was the right depth. Everybody, everybody, like all the academic folks on the side of the crew were like, Oh, he’s great. Can we have him back? He’s fantastic. And I’m like,

Patty:  what’s wrong with this system?

Dr Taber:  You know, I

Kerry  love you. I love the way you tell the story. I love the way that you can infuse such into, into something that, you know, we’re laughing at it, but they’re really horrible. Yeah, like, and that speaks, you know, when we are we’re in the space of looking at something that is, you know, so, you know, terrible and yet we have to find a way to find, you know, goodness or laughter at least in the space. But what what, when you think about that tell me that they couldn’t just have him back like that, that idea of quit like how I even that thought that the academics Didn’t see what was happening in that space.

How do we switch this up? Sarah? Is there any way

Patty:  I was going? How do we fix this? How do we? So what are other matter that Canada and the US can start doing if they weren’t so invested in exploiting people?

Dr Taber:  Right? So that’s all TBD. Right?

So like, I don’t know, of any, you know, like  developed countries that have really figured this out, because it’s never been in their interest to do so like it. Agriculture is almost always done by you know, in colonial and colonized countries, there’s a colonial lead. It’s always done by some kind of rich person who owns a lot of land and they just really don’t care. So like in in factories, we found a lot of really good labor saving tools like in agriculture, we also have a lot of great labor saving tools that just hasn’t been sorted. tended to the more difficult crops. I’ve also not 100% convinced that’s the only answer. Like, I feel like often when we’re like we need to fix labor. It’s always like, well automate it. There’s a lot of other options. So

Patty:  the system is set up, automating something just creates joblessness

Dr Taber:  doesn’t benefit anyone but the owners. Yeah. And in this context, that’s kind of okay. Because like the the number of people coming to the US to work in agriculture has already been going down, which is driving wages up, which I think drove a lot of the enthusiasm for Trump in farm country.

When people said economic anxiety, they kidding. Yeah.  You know, like, yeah, labor was getting too much bargaining power, they’re getting too much wages. Like, people were kind of mad about it. Um, and like, because of that decreasing supply of labor, if people always kind of go like, well, but Cesar Chavez was like campaigning to make sure that people didn’t get replaced by machines and That’s 50 years ago, though, that some things have changed. And it’s really important to listen to farmworkers now about the current situation and they’re, they’re voting with their feet. And like I actually reached out to the United Farm Workers and I was like, Hey, you know, I’ve got a tech company that wants to make a strawberry harvesting machine. Is there just labor have a problem with us? And I never heard anything back.

So I was like, Well,  you know, maybe they’re just like, Who is this lady? We don’t care. I don’t I don’t know. back.  So when you look at the things that farm labor today is talking about, like that’s really not on top of the list. And folks who do farm labor like they’re not stupid, they’re just not from around here. I’m

Patty:  not a big just because they’re not from around here doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Yeah, exactly. Well, right, like the migrant workers rights Alliance here in Canada is very driven by the, you know, by by the workers themselves in terms of speaking out in terms of what The priorities are, and you’re right, it is 100% important to listen to what they want, and then push policy in that direction as opposed to what I think sounds great, because I don’t know.

Dr Taber:  Yeah. And then a priority really like, the one that I was putting forward is, you know, over time, it’s about higher wages, and then you know, also protections from sexual assault and like worker compensation and stuff like that in the field. Like it’s really centered around better working conditions, not like we need more of the shitty jobs. Um, so that’s, that’s really kind of where the interest seems to be. And I’m like, okay, you know, I’m actually having reached out like, I can’t get any information otherwise. I’m like, like, the labor supply is decreasing. And I think that kind of tells you everything you need to know like the average age of workers is going up because new people aren’t coming in.

Dr Taber:  And I think that’s really what’s driving a lot of the interest like,  logically you would think, you know, if the labor supply is going down, then you have to be nicer to them. You have To treat them better. And that’s not just in the mental universe of American landowners, they just don’t do that. And so they have to find other ways to get people to work for cheap wages. Fear, intimidation, incarceration. So one last thing I really want to bring up that you guys kind of alluded to is like the separation of people from the land.

And I feel like we’re really kind of taught to feel shame about that. Like, we don’t know how it works. We’re so sorry. And like, I feel like we’re taught that shame for some very political, like, it’s a political talking point. The whole reason we don’t know how that works, it’s not because our ancestors were lazy and left late, it’s because they were kicked off. Um, and you don’t expect people who don’t make shoes for a living to like, know the ins and outs of that business, right? agriculture is no different when you’re evicted. You’re not like, friend center with it anymore.

But we’re taught to feel this shame about not knowing how it works, which is like the more I got to know about it. I was like, Wait a second. Because you’ll have and like I felt this and Time people don’t understand our profession, we can get kind of like a hat about it. I felt that, you know, I’ve had some not so polished responses to it. But like, at the end of the day, we we’ve been separated from the land on purpose for a profit. We’re taught to feel ashamed of that separation. And then no one ever tells us how it really works. Like no one ever fixes that problem.

And I think in a lot of ways, like land owners know that we’re ignorant about how it works, and they take advantage of it. And the shame is feels like begging, like, the more I work in agriculture, I’m like, Oh, this is nagging. Like they’re trying to keep us off balance. So we can’t ever really kind of engaged with what’s going on. We don’t actually know what’s happening. That’s why all this stuff is news to us like that we just talked about it’s news to most people because we’ve been evicted. So we can’t see what’s happening in the back room. And then she’s taught to feel ashamed about it, when we’re deliberately kept from that information. It’s crazy.

Patty:  But like you said, there’s Twitter now, right? Like, what was like, you know, like what john Steinbeck was writing back in the 30s. And really, I mean, I’m not even kidding when I say Grapes of Wrath just felt so contemporary, you know, in what in what he was writing. You know, people can, you know, and with every, you know, every new technological innovation around communication, things explode, right? Because stuff that had only been talked about in bars is suddenly being printed on bills and sent all over the place and people are commenting on it and talking about it. And now with the internet, we are talking about it and migrant workers and people who’ve been exploited can share their stories in ways that’s meaningful and people can listen to it without, you know, having to go we need to form those relationships. But those relationships start with listening and to paying attention to what’s going on in your area because really not all farm not all migrant workers are farm papers. But it is really important that relationship that we have with the food that we eat With what comes wrapped in plastic in our grocery stores, they’ve got grown somewhere. Somebody picked it, somebody did it. So

Dr Taber:  thank you so much. Love this conversation. Thank you guys. You were great fun.

Kerry  I really love the correlation because so much of the time we don’t get what  ends up in the grocery store get starts  somewhere else. So you brought that front and center today. We got have you back on that conversation.


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