29 Aug 65 : Desperation for tomato pickers : A cliffside in California

This continues the letter dated 27th August 1965 which began:

Dear family,

Sunday 29th August.

We spent last night in a car park on the cliff overlooking the sea. Next to us were a crowd of surfers, all sleeping out in the open. These surfers are quite mad I’m sure. When we awoke this morning we were in thick fog, and they were already in the sea down below us, lots of them sitting on their surfboards and waiting for waves.

Today we drove into the Salinas Valley where all the fruit is grown. This is a very nice valley in between two mountain ranges and is quite hot. They grow all sorts of things here – but mainly tomatoes.


Tomato picking in America (Public domain photo, from Florida in 1947)


At the moment all the crops are rotting, because the government has stopped the flow of Mexicans who used to come across every summer to pick them. They need 10,000 workers at the moment, where we are, and only have about two thousand. This means that the basic wage has gone up so we are fairly lucky.

We pulled into one camp and we were amazed to see men lying everywhere dead drunk, also they were staggering out of sheds and huts, and falling over each other. The explanation was that these are all the dregs of humanity – alcoholics, drug addicts, etc, who have been collected from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and brought down here in buses in an attempt to get the crops picked.

However, as they get paid daily, they work one day or so, and get drunk on their pay. We had a crowd of them pleading with us and offering us money to take them to the liquor store.

The accommodation is provided but it looked terrible. We certainly didn’t want to work there – I doubt if we would have survived. Of course we shall sleep in our camper and, if needs be, we shall drive away to spend the night, as apparently all these pickers this year are the same.

To be continued… 

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