A Labor of Love
I work for a marketing agency. But not just any agency… one that exclusively serves fresh produce brands. We’re the most eclectic group you’ve ever met, and we all love food. All kinds, but especially fresh food. Our tagline is “we believe in the good of food that is grown,” and we’ve all chosen to dedicate a big portion of our lives to increasing the demand of nourishing food by being the voice of the farmers that grow it, whether through brand management, public relations, or social media. As a marketing specialist, some of my daily responsibilities include writing blog and email content, strategizing and managing brand activations, optimizing SEO, and developing and photographing recipes. It is fast-paced, ever-evolving, and always exciting.
This week, I went on my first field tour trip to Yuma, Arizona, where the sky is painted like the pottery that adorns deserted sidewalks, and where the sun seems to hang out considerably closer to the Earth. It’s perfect conditions for growing all kinds of crops–especially medjool dates, which are said to do best with 100 days of 100 degrees to thrive. We were taken up to the top of the trees to try our hand at harvesting, tasted the fruit of our labor in the form of a golden date sweeter and creamier than caramel, and walked through the pack houses where the intricate process of sorting for quality resembled a certain Chocolate Factory… You’d never know the labor of love that goes on behind the scenes.
Eduardo, director of crop quality, was the one privileged with driving us around all day. He knew everything and more about farming medjool dates, from how the first tree got to America to how many days one needs to ripen at one glance. But it was more than a job to him. The harvest season wasn’t just about getting the fruit off the trees and en route to store as quickly and efficiently as possible; it was about impacting the community as a whole. It provided many with jobs, but more than that, quality of life because of the way they were cared for.
He told us the story of how he and his wife waited 8 years for the conception of their son, born prematurely at 6 months, and how his love for this miracle child had caused him to change his pace of life and look for a career to keep him close to home. It brought a steadiness that enabled him to savor the years of watching his son grow up. He spoke of their weekly family dinners and explained the difference between Northern and Southern Mexican food. He talked about carne asada and tacos al pastor as you would a childhood friend. When I asked him what his favorite thing to cook was, he said breakfast for his son. Papas con chorizo.
This made me realize that the fresh produce section of the grocery store is a mecca of stories; stories of families with generations of farmers who have dedicated their lives to good and honest work; stories of sticking it out despite drought, heat, and the tragedies life throws that are far greater than weather; stories behind each set of soul-bearing eyes that have inspected each head of lettuce and every bunch of bananas. I am touched by the hands that pitch in each step of the way to bring me the food I so often take for granted.
Where there is food, there is always love somewhere close by. I see this in the fields; the patience that it takes to grow it, the detailed care that goes into making sure it’s safe and nourishing for the body, and the diligence of those who are working to provide food for their own family. I see it in the culture as a way to connect, in the sharing of beautiful dishes on social media or physically gathering around a table to linger over food that was thoughtfully prepared. It’s one of the few things that all humans have always and will always share in common, no matter how divided the world around us may seem.
Yes, my work is fun. I create recipes and take pictures of food and keep up with the latest avocado trends in order to engage and inspire the media-centered world to eat more fresh food. But the true reward comes from knowing that my work touches the Eduardos of the world who have a livelihood and the chance to share breakfast with his 10 year-old miracle. The agriculture industry is highly un-glamorous. It’s hard work to grow fruits and vegetables and hard work to get people excited about them. It’s much easier to market a sugary soda or flavor-engineered chips. But the health of our world depends on fresh food- arguably the simplest and most effective way to prevent disease and improve quality of life while continuing to provide countless jobs along the way. I count it an unbelievable blessing to do what I love, with people I love, for the love of people.