Meet the workers who put food on America’s tables – but can’t afford groceries

Undocumented immigrants are doing the backbreaking farm work that keeps the US food system running but struggle to feed their families

Roberto, shown at his home in the Rio Grande Valley, has been working in agriculture all his life, first in Mexico, then in the US. Photograph: Encarni Pindado/The Guardian

 in the Rio Grande Valley

Guardian: In the piercing midday heat of southern Texas, farmhand Linda Villarreal moves methodically to weed row after row of parsley, rising only occasionally to stretch her achy back and nibble on sugary biscuits she keeps in her pockets. In the distance, a green and white border patrol truck drives along the levee beside the towering steel border wall.

For this backbreaking work, Villareal is paid $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage since 2009, with no benefits. She takes home between $300 and $400 a week depending on the amount of orders from the bodegas – packaging warehouses which supply the country’s supermarkets with fruits and vegetables harvested by crews of undocumented mostly Mexican farmworkers.

Villarreal works six days a week, sometimes seven, putting food on Americans’ tables but earns barely enough to cover the bills and depends on food stamps to feed her own family.

Every day is a hustle: she gets up at 4.30am to make packed lunches for her colleagues, charging them $5 each for homemade tacos, before heading to the fields for a 7 o’clock start. She skips breakfast.

Healthcare is a major struggle for farmworkers: Villarreal takes diabetes medication a ‘legal’ friend buys from a cheap pharmacy across the border, rather than take time off to attend a nonprofit local health clinic. It’s the wrong dose, but better than nothing she reckons.

Linda Villarreal works six days a week, but barely makes enough to support her family.
Linda Villarreal works six days a week, but barely makes enough to support her family. Photograph: Encarni Pindado/The Guardian

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  1. Another gauge for sentience is how a species treats and cares for a recurring food source.
    We actually throw out a ton of food into the garbage. Excellent food sources are treated with poison, and bad food sources are mass produced. We even eat things that we know are not food at all. Most people in the US are incapable of growing their own food, even after 13 years of mandatory education sponsored by the government.

    Most farmers have been replaced with machine operators, and the number one qualifier for being a farmer today is the ability to purchase, fix, operate and maintain machinery. Making machines or mechanical ability is not a gauge for sentience.

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