HUMAN HANDS or the lack thereof. Mechanisation has always been a part of the horticultural industry, not so much in the picking but definitely in the packing, and now that there are less migrant workers and the existing workforce is getting older  –  mechanisation is taking big steps to keep the industry of growing food alive and well.

Most of the big packhouses offer pretty good job packages.    This packhouse has free onsite health care for all employees and their families.  Plus a free cafeteria that serves food cooked on the premises.  College Scholarships, etc.  These growers are competing with each other to attract good workers.

Minimum wage is rising to 15 dollars in the next few years.

(I cannot name the packhouse as I actually don’t have their permission to do so). Bad Mama.

Still, this industry is struggling to find enough farm workers.

In fact with the rise of employment opportunities in Mexico plus the numerous other factors  (I don’t really want to get into the politics of it on my blog)  there are less people coming into the country to do these jobs. And (this confuses me) there is no rise of Americans to take the jobs vacated by the immigrant workers.


We have to be careful with this discussion because we are discussing the fate of fresh American food.

In this packhouse, on the presort machine, 26,000 fruit per minute are rushing past my camera. About a 450, 000 bags per day, the bags vary in weight up to 5 pounds.  of good mandarins are packed per day.  And every piece of fruit is handled with care by a machine with cups  and brushes designed to be as soft and gentle as a human hand.


And even though these packhouses are needing less people to run them due to the increase in mechanisation  (though god help us if the internet goes down).  And the expectation of the consumer is for perfect fruit and vegetables which only a machine can do perfectly. Still there are more workers needed – especially in California.  All these mandarins are picked by hand after all.

Crops get ploughed back into the ground every year because there is not enough labor to pick them.  This is a very real problem. Where is the labor force who was waiting in the wings hungry for the jobs immigrant workers have been doing. I read that over 3 million dollars in crops were lost last season due to the lack of pickers.


And where are the young people coming up to join this existing and legal labour force. Many of the women and men I talked to in this packhouse were older – they have worked here for years. The immigrant labor force is aging too.  Interesting.


As an interesting aside all the fruit that is not good enough for your table or for juicing is sent off to be turned into cattle feed.


Yesterday they were installing an extra wash to clean fruit affected by sooty mold.

Most washer water is cleaned and recycled on site to reduce waste.  Probably not from this section of brush bed though.

This family owned company also installed a huge solar power farm that feeds electricity to the packhouse.


ROT is written on this tower where all the last of the last of the fruit destined for the cows is poured into the truck.


We took a bag of mandarins home. Tasty.

I hope you have a lovely day.

There is not much to see in the suburbs so I will only pop in when I have something for you.  I go home to RAIN Tuesday.

Love cecilia

WEATHER on the farm.

Sunday 02/18 0% / 0 in
Partly cloudy. High 44F. Winds SSE at 10 to 20 mph.

Sunday Night 02/18 80% / 0.07 in
Partly cloudy skies early then becoming cloudy with periods of rain late. Low 37F. Winds S at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 80%.

WEATHER in the Central Valley.

63F as I write.



37 Comments on “HUMAN HAND

  1. Another interesting insight, a window we couldn’t ordinarily see into. It is good to see beautiful local produce, straight out of a field. Sadly, I imagine a lot will go into cold storage and after shipping have lost someting of itself in transportation. Much of my local horticultural industry jobs, predominantly blueberries, are either available to skilled, qualified people ie an employer’s market for supervisor/horticulturalist level jobs -so many qualified people so few positions- or unskilled, to backpackers as pickers, processors, labourers where too often, it seems there are questionable practices around temporary workforce, and also chemical heavy production to expedite efficiency as profit margins are slim in a crowded commercial market.

    • For the packhouse the mandarins moves fairly fast – yes I was one of those who worked the summers picking apples in Hawkes Bay and there is a lot of spraying going on out there .

  2. FASCINANT c’est vraiment beau je meure vraiment envie de visite ce coins merci!!!

  3. For so long, that kind of work has been seen as undesirable, inferior, fit only for immigrants and illegals. As you’ve clearly pointed out, it’s decent work, worthy of respect and consideration by those who lack skills in other areas. Sadly, I fear a major culture change would be needed to make it seem desirable. Mechanisation in primary production can only go so far. Hands and hearts are still needed by the soil, by the plants and trees and animals that feed a nation…

    • I think we have to mechanise as much as possible in horticulture – no one wants those hard working jobs anymore. It solves the problem of bad pay and questionable conditions straight away. The perfect way is a machine driven by a person.

  4. Hah! At first frame I thought you’d sent us a photo of a colorful abacus! Well…………..NOT! It is a frightful situation here, agreed. We need to work together for the benefit of all!

    • yes – if the immigrants are not welcome then machines it is – but many of these crops still cannot be picked by a machine – table grapes for instance. We may just have to do without them.

  5. Dale speaks correctly for Australia . . . . here for decades packpackers, often young and strong, have filled most of the workforce needs. It was largely an untaxed work: now that matters supposedly have changed and some tax has to be subtracted, the work has become less attractive for such also . . . We also have to dig in unpicked/packed crops, and yet enough people in the country cannot afford fruit . . . and money should be found to transport such crops to 3rd world countries/ children . . . I honestly feel that if some people exist on the dole for generations: if you want help – go work for it where you are needed . . .

  6. We too have a very large migrant population here in Washington state for our crops and lots of complaining always going on about how they are stealing American jobs yet we see not one trying to get those jobs. Illegal or not…they are good, hardworking people and are putting food on our tables. Do you want to go out and do this back breaking work for minimum wage? I don’t and neither do the jerks that complain about them…Grrrr!

  7. I remember back in the 70s and 80s, I had two aunts that lived in Sun City Arizona (a retirement city). When the farms close by were done picking, they would put out a notice if anyone wanted to come to get the leftovers on the vines, trees, or digging up (onions), they were welcome for about a week or two before they plowed the rest under. This really helped many folks who were barely making it living on Social Security alone–though you had to be in good enough shape! I know that my aunt would get the sweet onions and dig out enough for neighbors who could not.

  8. I may have commented about this before. In the small California farming valley where I live, several landowners lease their property to 3 farmers who grow vegetables and sell them at a farm stand here. They start the season in late February with asparagus and end it in December with Christmas trees. In between, they grow everything imaginable and sell it directly to the public. At the height of the season, they employ about 40 people. Many of these people have worked here for more than 25 years. There are two main families and several of their friends. Some became citizens and raised their families here, some work here seasonally and send their paycheck to family in Mexico. All of them are a wonderful part of our community, a definite asset and not a liability. The Senior Gleaners and food banks have taken free surplus produce from here for many years. A more recent activity involves schools and church groups, who are given tours, lectures, and the opportunity to pick crops specifically for the charitable organizations. It gives these people a very realistic experience in the kind of work involved to produce food. In addition, there are two days a week when people can pick their own produce from designated fields for 25 cents a pound. I find it interesting that most of the people who take advantage of U Pick It days are recent immigrants from many different countries. Things that are culled from the farm stand are put into a dump truck that goes to a local livestock grower. The result is that nothing is wasted. The workers here make more than minimum wage. They can take home whatever they need to eat and if there is surplus, something to share with neighbors. People who run the government in Washington D.C. don’t have a clue. Their attitude about immigrants and industrial farming (as opposed to family farms) disgusts me.

    • This was wonderful to read, I was so pleased to see a local community garden that requires everyone to agree to giving 10 percent of their allotment to the local food bank but here is the big one.. if you are away, sick or on holiday and food is ready to be harvested, picked in your garden, everyone pulls together and will do the extra work picking and preparing and twice each week all extra food goes to the local church soup kitchen or the food bank.. There is NO waste at their community garden and it was so successful that the city allowed them to use more green space x4 and they now donate ton’s of food per growing season (an in Zone 5 in Ontario Canada we have a much shorter growing season). I wish we had more gleaning days locally. its such a great idea and yes like you the ones that seem to use the gleaning days most are recent immigrants.

  9. Very interesting and thanks for the birds view of this process. I hear you on the fact that if you want to have it, someone does need to do the work. Second, the idea of turning food under just hurts.. so much effort and work done to get to that point and then to lose it.. ouch.

    Third.. there is a local herb company that all last summer and already starting this year has a hard time getting workers.. they offered 20 a hour for the hand picking of clover buds with bonus on top for amounts picked and they still could not find people that wanted to come pick for them.

  10. My mother learned Spanish working summers along side migrant workers in California in the 60s. I’ll have to ask her her thoughts on this. Thank you for the food for thought (and fodder for more family history.)

  11. 7.45 pm E Au Summer Time – Have just realized how bad the cyclone devastation could be out Wellington way . . .am hoping for the very best ., , ,

  12. Really enjoyed reading this… brought up a lot of concepts I’ve never even thought about before re: our food systems. Thanks for sharing!

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