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Agricultural Invisibility

Today I ate an Asian chicken salad from Soup Co. for lunch. In the line, I watched the worker grab the correct box of mixed greens off the shelf and proceed to gather each ingredient. After compiling the edamame, she mixed the entire concoction together with medium dressing for a total work time of about 3 minutes. Three minutes of visible labor went into making me a delicious, and relatively nutritious meal. However, many more workers put hundreds of hours more of unseen labor as the salad developed from seeds to an entry on the Soup Co menu.

Our agricultural system is characterized by an intentional cloak of invisibility. The system is set up to mask the entire production chain from start to finish. As consumers, we have the ability to walk into a grocery store, purchase our prepared ingredients from neatly arranged shelves, and leave without ever having to confront the hours of labor and intense inequality that went into the agricultural products. The agricultural system thrives on criminally low wages for invisible populations, largely due to undocumented status. At the Gill Tract, we have the opportunity to expose some of the invisibility. Working to prepare beds this past Monday, we discovered the true amount of sweat that is required to produce each ingredient. In order to prepare a new bed at the Gill Tract, one must clear out the old plant material, perforate the bed, mix new soil from sifted compost, lay down the new soil, and perforate once more. From learning about the compost cycle to actually prepping the beds, I began to think about the cumulative hours of labor volunteers put into the Gill Tract. Bed prep work is challenging; it requires a limber and healthy body. Clearing the weeds strains the back and the knees. Last Monday, we worked on this task for a mere hour, and my back and knees had already begun to feel the pressure. As my legs grew weary from constantly squatting, I thought of the men and women who perform this labor under harsher conditions for an absurd amount of consecutive hours and very little pay. I thought about the workers of the Bracero Program, a labor exchange program with Mexico that exploited and dehumanized the participants. I thought about the legacy of the Bracero Program and the lasting implications for agricultural invisibility. Urban agriculture provides a small opportunity to push against the current system and its accompanying exploitation.

*On an unrelated note, we saw a gopher at the farm this week. Gilly the Gopher was both a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise. While he was adorable as he snatched the broccoli plant, his presence indicated a larger issue that must be addressed in order to save the crops.

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