La Cosecha:

(The Harvest)
Our Life in the Fields
Sponsored by The People's Seminary (at Tierra Nueva) of Burlington, Washington

La Cosecha

Friday evening, June 27, 2003
Tierra Nueva, 102 N. Pine Street, Burlington

-The program started with a challenging and informative Immigration Quiz provided by Bob Mercatante of Tierra Nueva.
-Next we heard moving testimonials from local hispanic immigrants, on the topic of "Why we leave for El Norte - push and pull factors driving immigration." Speakers included Luis, Saul, Casiano & Bernadina, Rocio and Epifania, and Felix.
-The evening concluded with a presentation by Mike and Jean Youngquist (owners of Mike and Jeans Berry Farm) on agriculture from the farmer's perspective.
(Sorry, no photos; I didn't bring my camera on Friday.)


Saturday, June 28, 2003

Our first morning stop was the Sakuma Brothers processing plant on Cook Road. Company president Steve Sakuma discussed "Who's getting rich off of strawberries?" (short answer: nobody.) He described three big issues that effect his family's business:
1. Decreasing acreage in the Skagit Valley devoted to strawberry production;
2. Changing labor demographics;
3. Economic pressures on farmers.

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From inside the conference room we watched processing of quick frozen strawberries for the Japanese market:

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Then we drove out to Sakuma Field #35 in Burlington. Steve Sakuma oriented us to field operations.

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Berry Picking!
Pickers are paid 14 cents a pound for strawberries; they need to pick at least 50 lbs. of berries per hour to earn minimum wage (14 cents x 50lbs. = $7.01).
Pickers unable to meet this minimum level of production are terminated.

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After picking, the berries are poured into flats, and then weighed.

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Pickers are issued tickets, stamped to indicate the weight of berries picked.

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It's very hard work, but we saw lots of smiles!

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Next we came back to Tierra Nueva for a delicious lunch:

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After lunch we heard from Bob Mendez, an officer wth the Bureau of Customs and Border Protecction (new agency within the Department of Homeland Security / previously known as the Border Patrol.) Bob explained how the mission of his agency has turned more towards preventing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. He described in some detail what Customs/Border agents look for (search criteria) in terms of evaluating people for possible "suspicious activity."

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John Gerondle, a Mount Vernon police officer who is stationed at the Kulshan Creek neighborhood, spoke next. He told us that the Mount Vernon Police Department is oriented towards crime prevention, and not interested in detention of undocumented aliens who are not involved in crimes. John is trying to develop a number of community programs in the Kulshan Creek neighborhood, including ESL training, neighborhood clean-ups, a soccer program, a community garden, a parents group, and a newsletter. "My job is to listen to them and improve their quality of life."

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Felix Remedio offered his view that there is a general perception amongst the immigrant community that "If you go to jail, then you're sent back to Mexico (or another country)." In his view, the three most common problems of immigrants are:
1. Immigration ("Migra", immigration agents);
2. How to find work;
3. Learning English.

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Bob Ekblad of Tierra Nueva offered summary comments on the day. He believes that the "Big Issues" are somewhat hidden:
1. Family issues (esp. separation, which leads to drug abuse and other problems);
2. INS/deportation from jails;
3. The Courts: the courts serve those with money and power, not people without money or legal status.

La Cosecha

**The workshop was tremendously educational; tell your friends about it!
It will be repeated on Friday, July 11 and Saturday, July 12, 2003.
To sign up, call Bob Mercatante at 360-755-9062.

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