December 5, 2011

College readers say 'Farm Hands' elicits 'surprisingly emotional' reaction and change of perspective

Genesee Community College in Batavia launched a new class this year, Western New York Agriculture (AGR 190). The college wants to make students aware of the job opportunities at local farms, from Cornell researchers, feed and chemical salesmen, environmental consultants, nutritionists, herdsmen, milkers and crop harvesters. There’s a long list of jobs. The college also wants students to better appreciate food production.

The new class read Farm Hands and welcomed me to GCC last week to talk about my experiences. I’m thrilled by their positive reaction to the book. They said it helped them better understand what they were looking at when they toured local dairy, fruit and vegetable farms. Some of the students even called the book inspirational. They admire the farmworkers for traveling so far as young men, and for working so hard while they are here.

The students wrote reaction papers to Farm Hands, specifically to the chapters on planting onions on the muck, milking cows and picking apples. The class instructor shared some of them with me. Here are some of their comments:

“Every American needs to read this book and then take them self to a local farm and try this work. Perhaps they will have a new understanding of where their food comes from and how it gets to their table. I suspect the anti-immigration rhetoric would cease quickly and more laws like H-2A would be implemented to aid farmers in finding their farm help instead of penalizing them. What a wonderful world we would have if everyone behaved like the workers and farmers in Tom’s book.”

“Farming is demanding physically, mentally and financially. You must be able to give farming everything you’ve got!”

“After reading Farm Hands I was surprisingly very emotional. Tom Rivers did an excellent job at conveying the reality of the term ‘farm’ and everything contained therein … Tom Rivers’ realness in expressing details allows me to empathize with each individual task. Personally, I’d never want to work on an onion farm, let alone spend any time in that filthy muck.”

“I believe there are not enough American workers locally to fill the farming jobs here and elsewhere in the country. The jobs are physically demanding and require teamwork and manual dexterity. The workers from the other countries are highly skilled, physically fit, and highly motivated. There are few American workers that can compete with them.”

“In the past I have gotten a little irritated when the price of milk would rise to over $4 per gallon. I now realize that it is worth every penny.”

“Overall I can say I was surprised at the relationship between farmer and worker. I had the impression that this relationship was little more than a legal master-slave relationship where the workers were exploited. Now I see it as a win/win dependent relationship. The farmers need the workers and the workers need the work to provide for their families.”

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