In the produce aisle of a supermarket in Madera, in California’s rural Central Valley, Francisco surveys the fruits and vegetables on display in the produce aisle. He’s 40 years old and stocky. He’s also undocumented, and he asks to use his first name only.
For years, he’s picked produce in Mexico and along the West Coast of the United States. He’s good at it, but there’s one thing on display here that he wouldn’t mind never harvesting again: the tomato.
It’s the crop that “leaves you the most tired,” he says. The tomatoes are heavy and you have to squat all day to pick them. You also have to inspect each tomato to make sure the color is even. It’s hard to work fast.
Plus, they’re messy. “Oh man, you leave the fields dirty. The tomato’s green leaves stain everything and it’s muddy work,” Francisco says.
Then there’s the avocado — also tough. Francisco picked them in Mexico. When he looks at them, he thinks heavy but delicate.
“You have to make sure you pick them at just the right time, when they’re not too mature or too ripe,” he says. “And if you drop them, they’re ruined, even if they still look good on the ground.”
He remembers how much the avocados weigh once they fill up the picker’s bag that’s harnessed around the shoulders — a full bag is about 50 pounds. And once it’s filled, you then have to lean over slowly, dropping the avocados in the bin without damaging them.
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