Ever read a story that makes you feel guilty, sad, and horrified all at once? This one from ABC News was that for me. Four journalism fellows working with ABC News through the Carnegie Corporation uncovered children as young as five picking blueberries in the fields in several states. These children, usually the children of migrant workers, are pressed into service because workers are paid by the number of buckets they fill, not any sort of hourly or living wage.
The story focuses on a particular farm in South Haven, Michigan. One of the most shocking visuals in the story is a pretty little 5-year-old girl girl named Suli lugging two heavy buckets of blueberries, her little feet clad only in flimsy sandals. And this is where the guilt and revulsion comes in for me. See, my family vacationed in South Haven this year. In addition to being the one of the largest producers of blueberries in the country, South Haven is a lovely little beach town nestled along the shore of Lake Michigan. Based on the establishing footage they shot and when the blueberry harvest happens, we were likely there just a few miles away while they were filming these kids working in the fields.
Worse? I could have some of those blueberries picked by that little girl, or her slightly older cousins, in my freezer right now. Here I thought I was doing it right, buying them at the farmer’s market in town, enjoying the chance to get one of my favorite fruits locally and in season.
The grower in the report, Adkin Blue Ribbon Packing Company, was cited by the Labor Department this week for child labor violations, and WalMart and Kroger both said they’d stop carrying his products. But the problem of child labor in agriculture is widespread, and hardly limited to one kind of farm or one state.
I’m not sure how we can make sure our food is not picked by children (please share if you do), but the idea of my children wolfing pancakes with blueberries picked by a girl hardly older then they are doesn’t sit well with me.