Produce prices going up, grow your own

>> Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The headline reads “Get ready for $4 lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower”

I found this on the Project: Green Industry blog this morning and immediately accepted it as further validation for growing your own.

The Arizona legislature came up with this plan to force all illegal aliens out of their state, or to become legal, by enacting Arizona’s Employer Sanctions Law which went into effect yesterday, Jan.1, 2008.

The blog author predicts consumers will begin seeing higher ‘winter-produce’ prices within a few months, if not sooner.

The law has already survived two legal challenges and will be reviewed again on January 16, 2008 in Phoenix, where business and civil-rights groups are expected to present their case for blocking enforcement of the law.

The law enforces the use of a federal system, called E-Verify, to electronically verify employment eligibility of newly hired employees against a federal database maintained by the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security. Employers that fail to begin using the E-Verify system risk having their business licenses suspended or revoked.

According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, farmers in the Yuma area provide 80-90 percent of the country’s salad crops from November through April and need an estimated 25,000-30,000 workers a day. Last year farmers estimated they faced a 20-30 percent shortage of workers. The shortage caused a price increase of a couple of dollars for a carton of lettuce.

Picking America’s produce has become the domain of illegal immigrants. Farmers have been forced to hire the cheap labor because Americans don’t want to do it and because demand for cheap food prices makes paying a decent wage cost preventative.

The farmers are not sure how big of an impact the new law will have on the availability of workers but they are already planting fewer acres, having workers work longer hours, looking at using the federal H-2A program and moving more production to Mexico.

Moving to Mexico? Oh no! The first thing anyone learns when going into Mexico is you don’t drink the water! That same water is going to be used to grow vegetables that are made up of a lot of water. The picture I am painting is not a pretty one.

Illegal immigrants concerned about the effects of the new law are already returning to their home countries or moving to other states. Some employers have already started to fire workers who cannot provide the proper documentation.

I lived I Southern California for twelve years and I can tell you that there are a lot of illegal immigrants picking our produce. The influx of these illegals into surrounding states is going to create problems.

Aside from the politics of the situation, the author states that Americans better get used to paying more for their food and they better get used to buying more imported food--especially “fresh” produce.

One thing that struck me about this statement is that the author did not even mention the option of growing your own. Is this a sign of how far away from gardening this country has gotten? What has happened to our self-reliance? Those of us who grow our own, of course, know all the benefits of doing so. I realize not everyone has the plot space or the time or the inclination to undertake our passion but one day the increasing prices for what we eat is going to have to be addressed more seriously.

Now, I am all for giving anyone who wants to work a fair shake and, hey, if Americans don’t want to pick our produce and someone comes along and says they will then we ought to let them do the job. It works out best for everyone involved.

I don’t really want to get into the politics of this law or whether it is the right way to handle the national problem of immigration but it does help bring to light the fact that we need to start seriously considering growing our own food.

So, gardeners everywhere, lets hone our crop growing skills and start spreading the word to our neighbors about the benefits of growing our own. We can all recite the benefits of being outdoors for the exercise and fresh air not to mention the better flavor or our own crops provide and the satisfaction that we grew them ourselves is immeasurable. Now we can add to the list the benefit of saving ourselves some money.

One of the reasons I have been given for people not growing their own is that they can buy whatever they need at the grocery store without the mess and bother of gardening. Well, this law, in my opinion, is an indication that surrounding states, namely California, will soon force their employers to follow Arizona just to handle the influx of illegal immigrants. This in turn will result in higher produce prices, not just in winter, but year round. As a result, politics is going to cost us even more in the very near future.


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