In your Jan. 30 edition of the Chinook Observer was a very thought provoking article by long-time contributor Victoria Stoppiello on tainted tangerines and their costs to our health and the environment at large. She ended her article with a paragraph on crop dusters and their sprays drifting out of the targeted areas and the ramifications to society without them knowing it. This paragraph caused instant flashback for me to my time growing up in one of our nation's largest produce areas, the central valley of California in the 1960s.
My father was a federal agriculture inspector. Each day he would go out to the fields where hundreds, if not thousands of migrant workers (most from Mexico at the time) were harvesting our nation's vegetables and fruits. Everyday he had horror stories of their working conditions, from lack of sanitation, lack of places to eat their lunch, and most of all their being covered by crop duster chemicals when the winds shifted suddenly — day after day, week after week. Even though we heard the stories daily, he wanted each of us when we were teens to experience what these people were experiencing so we would fully comprehend their experience as we got older.
When I was a junior in high school, I spent a summer in the fields alongside these people planting celery, broccoli and cauliflower. They thought I was crazy but appreciated what my father was doing. I am willing to say that no white person can fully comprehend what these folks endured. Then you throw into the mix the sprays from the crop dusters that drifted over us on occasion such that we were covered in powder or white droplets. We were told not to worry. Just wash it off when we went home. I only had to experience this for one summer — three short months! I was the only white kid out there that summer and I am willing to bet these are jobs that no Caucasian kid is willing to do for summer job in today's society. Today's youth want the top jobs, at top dollar, and they want them now. No way will most pay their dues and work their way up to better-paying, less-dirty jobs.
Once I moved to Seattle and started college, I kept wondering about the cumulative health risks for these people; most of childbearing age and how it might affect them in later years. In 1995, my father was diagnosed with cancer. He died four years later. In 2000, while my mom was in the hospital, an elderly volunteer (we called them Candy Stripers back then) approached me and asked if my mother, whose name appeared on the door of the room she was in was related to the man she knew and used to work with in the federal lab that tested the produce. I said yes. She asked how he was doing. I said he had passed away the year before. She then said, "I guess that leaves only me with my brain cancer." I asked her what she meant by that. She said all the federal field and lab technicians had died of cancer since I moved away in 1970! These chemicals do not discriminate against educated or uneducated people. She was on her way out, too. All I could think of was what was happening to all those young migrant workers, exposed day after day, week after week, year after year. What had become of them and any children they may have had. What a heavy and painful price we are paying for our "perfect" fruits and vegetables.
When I left to go to college, my father (long before he was ill) told me to never buy products out of season (that which was not coming from our country). Eat seasonal U.S. produce only. Even though most of the dangerous chemicals that were known to produce had been banned in our country in the ‘70s, ‘80s and beyond, they are still legally being produced by the powerful chemical companies and shipped to other countries with minimal usage instructions. So now we are contaminating other countries, their people, their produce, and their environments.
To make matters worse, this produce is then shipped back to the USA with all the chemicals contaminants on them! Dad told me to always look at the shipping boxes under the produce counters, the containers the produce is in, and to never trust how it is represented on signage in the stores. To this day, many people stop me in the store when I am looking under the counters at boxes or reading the containers in their entity. Stay away and protect yourself and your families from non-USA produce. The same holds true for seafood but I could write a column on that alone — don't get me started.
Everyone needs to advocate for themselves as current environmental laws are being lessened regularly under the current administration. I do not want to see others go through what I did for nine and a half years with my parents. Please be as informed as you can before buying any produce to "nurture" your family safely.
ALAN D. RAMMER