Washington wheat, the golden grain


Washington state is famous for many crops. We produce about 80 percent of all beer hops in the nation (yes, bow before our hops growers, please). We produce fruit of all kinds, from wine grapes to cherries. We grow many grain crops too, including wheat, particularly in the middle and eastern half of the state. Right now, harvesters are running night and day, grain is filling silos, and farmers are calculating their earnings. You can learn about the different varieties of wheat grown in the state, including durum for pasta and hard red wheat for Asian noodles and general flour, from the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. This is the fourth most productive wheat-growing state in the country, and yes, the golden wheat definitely does have golden rewards, relative to other crops on the global markets. As for me, I think I would be miserable without my pasta, bread, and cookies. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)


Cherry pickers, Washington state

Given that the fate of migrant children from Central America arriving at the United States’ southern border is now an international news story, I decided to dig up and publish some of my picture series taken in 1999, on cherry pickers and migrant workers in Washington state. The agricultural industry in Washington is staffed almost entirely by foreign-born labor to pick, harvest, and sort the many crops from cherries to apples to hops that make your local beer tasty. Some are workers who travel seasonally. Some are brought here under temporary permits, the H-2A visas. Make no mistake, the state’s economy would grind to a halt without these workers, and their work contributes to the wealth of this huge economic sector, which at last count in 2012 generated nearly $10 billion in the state.

When I took this photo, there was a housing crisis, and workers were camping on public lands, and efforts were launched to find affordable housing. These problems remain. Meanwhile, the debate over immigration and the fate of millions of undocumented workers continues. Here in Washington state, some of the workers will be authorized (they are being brought in from Jamaica, even). Others will be here without authorization. And nearly all of us who eat fruits and vegetables will be continue buying the low-cost produce picked by people why do hard work many U.S. citizens do not wish to do.

For more portrait photographs, please visit my portrait gallery on my web site. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)