Adventures of a Modern Day, Middle-Aged Hero, on the Glory Road(to family security)


The politics of asparagus

The other night(while she was taking calls every 30 minutes from the vet), my wife and I went to an asparagus tasting that we had been looking forward to at Barnard-Griffin, one of our local wineries. 

A week night date night!

It was a bit different experience than we thought we were getting into.

One of the local farmers was coming in with 14-15 types of the first asparagus of the season, and the winery was going to pair it with the release of their new vintage of Rose of Sangiovese.  What my wife and I both pictured was sitting at a table, and being served different types of wine prepared different ways.  In reality, it was much more of a class, where we were sitting in chairs, while plates of the asparagus(simply boiled) were passed around as the farmer covered the history, and future of asparagus farming.

You know...we weren't the least bit disappointed. 

Alan Schreiber owns a local farm here in the Columbia Valley, and he also heads the Washington Asparagus Council.  While his farm is run for profit, it's also a research farm, on the lookout for the next asparagus variety that will help to keep Washington(and American) farms competitive into the future.  He was a highly engaging speaker, and down right(refreshingly in my opinion), blunt about some of the issues facing American Farmers.

He pulled no punches on labor when the topic was brought up by someone in the crowd.  First, Washington farmers pay the 2nd highest wages for labor in the world(he said Quebec is the only place they pay more).  Asparagus field workers start at $10 an hour, and based on amount harvested, can earn up to $16-$17 an hour, compared to the $5-10 a DAY that farms in Mexico, Peru, and China pay. 

He pulled no punches, saying even at that wage scale...white people European Americans(he corrected himself with a smile), WON'T do the work.  He said they occasionally get some Russian immigrants at the field, but they rarely show up a second day.  A few other farmers who were in attendance backed to the hilt, and they all expressed the opinion(one I had read before, but never heard from anyone's mouth), that if the United States southern border IS ever 'Closed' without there being some kind of 'Guest Worker' program in place, it will be the death of not just the asparagus industry, but American Agriculture as a whole.

Sobering.  He expressed the opinion that you could double the wages they paid and most American's would still not consider doing that level of back-breaking work for a season....but his workers risk 2-3 months in jail to come do it at 10-20 times what they could earn at home....and all they want to do is work for the season, and then go back to their families...something a Guest Worker program of some type will allow.

The War on Drugs also came up, and surprise, surprise, it's effect was not positive on the Asparagus Industry(at least not the American one).  Back in the early 90's, to support the War on Drugs, a law was passed to make it easier/more profitable  for South American countries to import food crops(including asparagus) into the US, the goal being, allow them to make money off other crops, and they will stop growing drugs.  To this day, they can still grow and ship their crops up from South America cheaper than our farmers can get them into stores.

All in all, it was a fairly eye opening and entertaining evening...even after my wife and I figured out that essentially we had paid for the right to participate in an Asparagus Testing and Focus Group. 

For the record...my favorites were the Jersey Supreme, and the Sweet Purple. 

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