Thank the people who grow your food

Yesterday was my tour-guide day at Kearney Mansion. I had been forewarned that it would be a difficult set of tours as there were 130 students coming through the house. It turned out to be 131 students, 2 bus drivers, and 6 teachers. A normal tour day is 60 students, divided into three tours, so this was going to be challenging. A second tour guide was brought on and we worked it out that he would start in the usual manner, in the entry way, and I would start at the back door, in the dining room, and we would do a little dance around one another as we maneuvered our groups through the house.

The first set of students worked beautifully. The second set? Oh my. Somehow the division of students was no where near equal. The second tour guide had about 10 students and I had over 40. Although the 10,000 square foot house has spacious rooms and seems to easily accommodate large groups, this was TOO large. I was exhausted after herding that many children and adults (one of whom talked all the way through the house). But, there was still one more group to go through, so I shook myself out, got a drink of water, and took off, one more time.

There is a large photo in the farm office (which is part of the house) of Mr. Kearney’s vineyards, taken in 1902. The vines are on the ground and there are about 100 workers scattered through the rows, picking grapes and putting them on wooden trays to dry in the hot valley sun into raisins. M. Theo Kearney was famous for developing the raisin industry.

After I pointed out this photo to the students, one little boy raised his hand and asked, “Are those slaves?”

This was a great opening, and one I don’t usually have, to talk about farm workers and how they are paid and how hard they work. Back in 1902, Mr. Kearney actually housed and fed his farm workers there on the 5,000 acre estate. The farm kitchen was in the first building on the property and it is still being used as the museum store and offices. We talked about how much food it would take to feed 1,000 workers a day and how many cooks there were. We also talked about  how far the estate was from the city and without cars, the workers could not run to McDonald’s for lunch. We also discussed the wages Mr. Kearney paid his workers and how they were able to save their money because there was nothing to buy, being so far out in the country.

Because the students know how hot it gets here in the summer, we talked about working in the fields, in the heat. We talked about the dirt, bugs, and need for water. In other words, we talked about how hard it is to work in the fields. I then told the students, who attend a country school, that if they know anyone who works in the fields, they should give them a hug and thank them for working so hard to provide us with food. One little girl raised her hand and said that her grandmother does field work. Another little boy raised his hand and said his mother works in a chicken processing plant. More hard work.

So, even though it was an exhausting day, it was also a very gratifying day in that unintended lessons were taught. We were all reminded, people work hard to put food on our tables. It’s been going on for centuries.

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6 responses to “Thank the people who grow your food

  1. Having worked for the Census Bureau and visited migrant camps on the East Coast, I am familiar with the issues of the workers. How prescient your young charge was to notice the workers and ask just the right question. I love it.

    • I just love the kids and their questions. One little boy, last year, at the end of the tour and after hearing so much about the servants, raised his hand and asked if Mr. Kearney was lazy. I was a bit taken aback until he pointed out that he had all these servants doing the work!

  2. I cannot imagine how the groups ended up being so unequal. But then again, you were up to the task. And I will think of those who labor to put food on my table, because of you. Thanks for the great post! 🙂

  3. Immigrants worked the cane and pineapple fields in Hawaii during the early 1900s, not too long ago. Those plantations have disappeared and descendants of those immigrants have gone into other professions.

  4. Sharing wisdom with little ones…. you are wonderful 🙂
    a/b

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