catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 16 :: 2011.09.16 — 2011.09.29


The backyard tomato

My kitchen counters are covered in tomatoes. In my zealous first attempt at a garden, I overplanted. I’ve canned salsa and tomato sauce and put over twenty cups of chopped up tomatoes in my freezer for winter chili and stew.

My goal in planting a garden was to eat healthier, organically and locally, and to have enough to freeze and can for the winter. Our growing season in Michigan is short, and I had no idea what to expect for this first year. I’ve been pleasantly surprised what my soil has produced with a bit of help from some chicken doo-doo.

One thing I didn’t consider when planting my garden was that I would be reducing my impact on slavery. A recent interview I heard on the radio with author Barry Eastbrook discussing his new book Tomatoland has me thinking differently about the piles of tomatoes on my kitchen counters.

The tomato capital of the United States is Immokalee, Florida. When I lived near Tampa, I often heard about the Immokalee workers. They have gained a certain notoriety as they have fought for better pay and working conditions in the tomato fields. A man from a local church regularly comes through my grandmother’s Florida neighborhood collecting clothing donations for the tomato workers. She always pulls something out of her closet to give them. I’ve seen trailers where I’ve heard more people than you would think is possible live together.  Eastbrook asked the workers he interviewed for the book if they had ever been sprayed by chemicals and pesticides. They replied that they were sprayed every day.

Just as we can know our carbon footprint, there are efforts to help us know our slavery footprint. More of our food that we would like to admit is picked by hands that are not free. And it doesn’t just happen in the fields of Florida. It even happens in my home state of Michigan. A friend who is actively involved in eliminating slavery in Michigan said our blueberry and tomato fields are another common locale for slavery.

Now, I’m glad I overplanted tomatoes, even though it has meant a few late nights hovered over the canner on my stove and chopping tomatoes until my hand refuses to release the knife. I have a new goal: to eat only tomatoes I’ve grown in my own yard or from local farms I am certain are not using slave labor. That means refusing tomatoes on sandwiches at fast food restaurants and, no fresh tomato slices in the winter since nearly all of those tomatoes come from Florida. I’m okay with that. So is my conscience. Because all I’m missing is tomatoes. That’s nothing compared to the suffering endured by those who pick the harvest.

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