harvest gypsies

Harvest Gypsies On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath

In 1936 John Steinbeck was commission by the San Francisco News to write a series of articles on the migrant workers and labor camps in the area. He along with photographer Dorothea Lange lived among the migrant workers for weeks to try and fully comprehend the tragic living situation and squalor they were forced to subject themselves to in order to get by. Both Steinbeck and Lange were sympathetic to the plight of the migrant workers and committed to representing the truth through their photographs and journalism. 

Some context might be helpful. Big farms did not have large machines or factories to help pick and process their crops yet. So migrant workers moved from crop to crop picked the fruit as it came into season. The farmers depended on the migrant workers but refused to treat them fairly in fear that they would organize themselves and demand better wages, better living conditions and more rights. Towns were afraid that migrants, if given better treatment, would decide to stay and become part of the community and therefore become a burden on local institutions like schools and relief programs. 

As long as there had been farms in California there had been migrant workers, but up until now, they had been Japanese, Mexican or Filipino. The dust bowl in the midwest however was driving “Okies” west in search of a promise of a better life and opportunity to earn a living. These were strong, independent, hard-working Americans through and through. And the unfortunate reality is that as Steinbeck predicted,

Farm labor in California will be white labor, will be American labor, and it will insist on a standard of living much higher than that which was accorded the foreign “cheap” labor. 

Farms had long bunkhouses for the migrant workers and their families. But they were not kept in clean condition, workers were forced to buy food every day more expensive than their daily earnings causing them to be indebted to the farmers. Guards with guns, with no hesitation to kill, would keep the workers from gathering in groups or doing anything that could lead to organizing themselves into a union. Sickness was everywhere, babies and children died of malnutrition and starvation. Houses, if they can even be called houses, were made of cardboard, blankets, or any other materials collected on the road. Conditions were awful. 

The proposed solution that Steinbeck was advocating was the Federal Migrant Labor Camps that were going to provide a stable camp setting with decent conditions and well-maintained facilities for the migrant workers. Workers would become a part of a community while they stayed there, each having responsibilities, chores and leadership which would make life tolerable, if not more functional and productive if they could work together. Steinbeck met Tom Collins who was manager of one of these camps. Tom would become a great help to Steinbeck in understanding the plight of the migrant workers. Steinbeck also commissioned his help on the writing and directing of the movie version of Grapes of Wrath. Tom Collins can be seen in the picture below by Dorothea Lange.

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Check out the beginnings of an herb spiral I am making for my mom’s garden as a Christmas gift. I hope she likes it! Any ideas for what herbs to plant when spring comes?

Also a little backstory on how to build an herb spiral garden:

I went to multiple permaculture websites and saw plans and designs for spiral gardens. Most of the websites said that building the spiral would take days. With the help of my friends Krugs and Sebasti, we were able to build the whole thing in one day. 

We went rockhunting in the mountains near where I live (not recommended or totally legal) and filled up a quarter of a pick-up truck bed with some sandstone we found scattered on the side of the road. 

Back in the garden we laid down some newspaper and then spent about 45 minuntes forming the spiral. It is kind of like doing a 3-D puzzle. For the middle we used some old cement pavers to make a sturdy tower and worked outwards. I think finding jagged rocks is better since smooth rocks are harder to build with.

Then I put two bags of soil and a bag of steer manure in the spiral and finished it off with some extra mushroom compost and soil from the yard.

There is not much to plant in the winter so we will have to wait for spring, especially since my mom wants lots of italian herbs like oregano and rosemary to cook with.

A pretty easy little project for a free day and I think most gardeners or chefs always dream of fresh herbs from their own back yard.

Merry Christmas everyone!