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Pepper Pickers and Eating Local

August 27, 2012

Vegetable ValleyMy vegan and vegetarian friends will be very proud of me. These past few months, living in Vegetable Valley1 have changed my eating habits.

Our campsite is nestled between thousands of square miles of an unending cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.  We have attempted to eat every variety of melon, tomato and pepper we can locate... to say nothing of squash, corn and onions... and then there are the local olives and olive oils. There were even olive oil tasting rooms. Just yum! This is not to say that I am giving up eating things with faces, but when the fruits and vegetables are perfect, meat comes in a distant second.

I was just a kid during WW2, but I remember my grandparents had a Victory Garden. Until the day they died, it would have never occurred to them not to grow their own fruits and vegetables.  Every year at the end of the summer, I had to help my grandmother “put food by.” We boiled jars, blanched beans and peaches, made applesauce and pie fillings, did something awful with salted boiled hard green leafy stuff (Oh, my tongue curls just remembering it), and pickled cucumbers and cauliflower. So, as a kid, I was pretty much a locavore... year-round. There was either our garden or the cellar shelves full of mason jars with dark orangey or green things inside.

Sumi ink chickens by Peg

Anyway, living here in the horn of plenty, I have been shopping amongst the wandering chickens at the local farm stands, and cooking lots of vegetarian dishes. I do use rinsed, canned beans and tortillas from the local grocery store in the recipes, but other than that, everything is from the local farmer’s markets.


The turnover of crops here is quick and intense. A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours in a field of banana peppers with the men and women who were picking them. The workers were spaced out along the rows, while a tractor driver moved the huge bins and the conveyor belt slowly across the field.

The pepper pickers work very fast pulling and cutting the stems away. For each bucket picked and dumped on the belt, the picker is paid $1.40. The fastest picker among them could pick about 120 buckets a day. As the buckets are dumped,  the person monitoring the conveyor belt punches the worker’s card. These pepper pickers are paid at the end of each day based on the number of holes punched in their card.

pepper pickers

pepper pickersAlthough I picked no peppers, it was fun to hang out with the field workers for a while. Some lived locally and had green cards while others had come up from Mexico to earn money for their families. They were friendly and fun and whenever I went to take a picture they were sure to smile and even wave at me and my camera. We talked a bit about football... they were mostly Raiders Fans, but a few were pretty excited about Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers. Yeah, I talked the talk.

...and by the way everybody seemed to have beautiful, white teeth...

The field was empty when I returned the next day. And a few days later, there were four tractors turning the field for a new crop

Sadly, this entire crop was for a commercial buyer, and as it turned out, nowhere could I buy any of these banana peppers locally. This led me to try every other variety of pepper I could find and stuff them with anything I could think of.

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1 The San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta - Part of the Central Valley of California that is south of Sacramento

Excellent, as always.  But the slide show moves a little fast for us slow readers.


Wonderful story! I am on the other side of the world where people are harvesting summer fruit from their gardens and picking mushrooms in the woods. I have also been where you are and always wished I could stay much longer....


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