California strawberries and the path to the American Dream
The California Strawberry Commission has prepared a report celebrating the crop's role in building opportunities for immigrants, as part of a Fourth of July promotion of the industry's multicultural history.
The 16-page report "Growing the American Dream: California Strawberry Farming's Rich History of Immigrants & Opportunity" highlights stories ranging from European immigrants in the 1900s, to Japanese colonies in the 1940s to present-day Mexicans involved in farming the fruit.
"For thousands of immigrants to California, the path to the American Dream quite literally winds its way through the state’s 40,000 acres of strawberry fields," the report says.
"Perhaps more than any other crop, strawberries are defined by decades of immigrants from Europe, Asia and Mexico. Not only do they work in the fields as harvesters, but they benefit from the unique attributes of strawberry farming that create numerous opportunities for upward mobility, including farm ownership."
Victor Ramirez, a second-generation strawberry farmer and the commission's chairman, says the report coincides with July 4 for a very good reason.
"Independence Day is a great time to celebrate strawberries as an all-American fruit, including the opportunity to better our lives," he says.
"California strawberry farmers embody the pursuit of the American Dream by growing a crop that lends itself to achieving that goal.
"Their success plays out in their ability to grow 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries, supplying the nation with one of the most nutritious fruits in the market."
The report estimates 65% of California's strawberry farmers are of Mexican-American descent, while one in four Latino strawberry growers started out as field workers and worked their way up to become farm owners.
Today, an estimated 65 percent of all the state’s strawberry farmers are of Mexican-American descent, according to the report. About 25 percent of these Latino strawberry farmers started out as field workers and worked their way up to become farm owners.
The report also mentions 20% of farmers are of Asian, mostly Japanese, descent, and 15% are of European descent.
"For nearly a century, California strawberry farming has provided a ladder to success for Japanese-American and other Asian families. It has allowed generations to rise up from the fields to improve their lives, assimilate into American society and assume leadership roles in business, academia and government," says former California Secretary of Food and Agriculture, A.G. Kamawura.
The report highlights several factors in strawberry cultivation that are conducive to supporting small farmers in operating successful businesses, including lower barriers to entry, the ability to harvest high-yield crops almsot year-round on a small amount of land, and strong consumer demand.