Saturday, September 15, 2007

Camarillo, CA

The sun shines bright here. There is not a cloud in the sky. The car rested at the curb overnight; windows down and the morning dew with a hint of ocean air freshening up the miles of vegetable oil that lingers in delight. A banjo tune plays plays, it was a CD bought this morning from the unexpected kind and sincere woman in the manicured stucco home in the older part of Camarillo on the garage sale saturday morning rounds.

The nephews of the Carman house are at their soccer games, the pappa of the house is here, after a completed and well seasoned pork shoulder that was cooked to finish at the top of the night hour.

This home stop in Camarillo, Ca has been brewing with visitors. Aunts, counsins, 2nd counsins, nephews, grandpas, sisters, moms and more kids. It has been vivacious in hugs and food. A place anyone can call home and find a warm meal cooking on the bar b q.

The sharing, making and thought about food is the most impressionable here. It is not so important the source and local nature of the food but the shear form of sharing it. With visitors and family of all different walks of life, food takes all forms, making sure there is a bountiful enough for all visitors to feel welcome and nourished. Just yesterday morning I was welcome into my aunts home and gifted with warm of fresh bread. The outdoor bar b q has been beaming with hot dinners as a welcome to feast over the tales of south texas fishing and vietnam fermented fish breath blocking holders used by barbers.

Just last night, as the bustle of kids plunged into the pool, Jaima and Laura sat around the fire. My sister had encouraged them to stop by. They family became part of our family a year ago when they became displaced in their home and came to live here while they gathered their next plan. Jaime the father, has always worked in the fields. Although we shared the walls and welcome of a home, the mystery of his actual day to day work was often a mystery.

Camarillo is a small town interlaced with suburban homes and teaming with agriculture. It is a place where you can smell the harvest of the morning from the freeway. A place where cilantro is harvested in the fields at 6:15 just when the sun breaks the horizon to be able to see the base of the plants. Broccoli and celery, kale and lettuce are planted in rows, tightly packed in with as many as 6 rows to each soil mound.

Jaime invited us out to see his morning harvest. At the crack of dawn for us, which was 8:00, we arrived, just 2 miles down the freeway, entered on the dirt road to park in next to all of the other cars. The workers had almost completed the morning harvest. They had cut, rubberbanded and packed as many and as precisely as 60 cilantro bundles per box. There must have been 400 boxes. They took a few minute break waiting for the truck, marked the boxes, and the supervisor took the morning inventiry. The 40 or so workers loaded up the truck to call it a day.

Hopefully there is more work in the next week, which can be found by taking a look at the harvest crops, to see which one is in need. Jaime supports his family from his fruitful labors. He has been a friend and part of the family here. He is pround of his hardwork and has a humble manner of sharing even the fear and information for the chemicals that are still settling on the surface of the soil when they go in at the crack of down, disredgarding the 24 hour warning. He wares the marks of hard labor on his hands. His forearms blotched with his reactions from the many sprays that make the land clear of all bugs and prevent not a single invasive weed.

Cilantro still sticks to our palms, or the beautiful and pungent smell that is. The same boxes that Jaime was packing this morning on our tour to the agricultural site.. and these boxes make it as far as New York, Joanna remembers the graphic on the box from working in a restaurant in brooklyn.

This labor is hard. Jonathan, Jaime and Laura's son want to be a rancher. He loved his last visit to work with his dad. Laura knew that as a young kid, as eager as he was that working there even just casually, and to help him make a small allowance would be wonderful for his work ethic, but ran the risk of exposing his youthful body to a slew of chemicals that are being sprayed and resting on many of the leaves and topsoils.

Organic farms are harder to work on Jaime said. They often smell like fish from seaweed fertilizers, the produce is crawling with little insects that are not being sprayed for and the weeds and manual labor to mantain them, is laborious.

Can one really afford to choose the healthier work? Can agricultural labor become better? Will anyone take initiative to encourage better standards for farm labor? Did you know that the same pesicides that you wash from your lettuce is what others breath and wear on their skin and take home when they hug their children?

It was Jaime's family life that made him shine past his work challenges. It was the health of his spirit that has seemed to heal any physical ailments from his labor.

Here's to the cilantro that will cross the US to restaurants and markets all over the country. Here's to the risk of the exposed labor force who provides hand harvested produce to our grocery store shelves. Here's to eating locally and washing vegetables plentifully.