To the Editor:
I address this letter to the people of Keremeos, as well as all of the Similkameen, Okanagan and Kootenays.
My name is Jodee and I am a migrant farm worker. My occupation is more frequently referred to as “fruit picking.” This is my fifth year. As you all know it is a seasonal job. I, and those of my trade, migrate to your lovely hometown and others along the cherry trail when summer comes. When the season begins we journey to these towns to reunite and catch up on what’s happened since last summer or welcome newcomers to our family and teach them the ropes. It’s a happy time for us.
I understand that for the local people of the towns we work in, it can be anything but joyful. It’s the time your home is invaded by strangers from across the country or even the globe. These strangers may seem scary, rude, dirty or just plain disrespectful. I personally feel that if the lines of communications were to be opened up, we could begin to work together rather than grate against one another. I would like to speak up on behalf of my community in this address to yours.
I spent perhaps a month in Keremeos looking for work and waiting for the beginning of cherries. I ended up leaving to look for work elsewhere due to my discomfort with some of the conduct I have witnessed here. I suppose it’s all the things you have come to associate with us: people leaving a mess on the land they camp on, theft, distrust, and I have even heard rumors of altercations although I personally have not witnessed or been a part of any.
While you may find this to be suitable reason to continue to dislike and distrust us, I would beg you read a bit further. I am writing to explain to you that this is not the way it normally is, nor the way it should be. In years past, my camps and the crews I have worked with have been nothing so much as a big happy family. We support each other. Even though there is often a language barrier – I have worked with English, Quebecois French, Parisian French, Dutch French, German, Australian, Japanese and many more – we have always done our best to understand each other and work together.
We’ve always been diligent about maintaining the cleanliness of our campsites and even the parks we sit in after work. Countless times we have all banded together to tediously gather every scrap of garbage our fellow pickers or our pets have left behind before moving on. Despite our vagrant lifestyles we are thoroughly against theft of any kind as it spreads distrust through our community.
When you are essentially homeless in a strange town with only other fruit pickers as companions, you strive to build a place where everyone can feel accepted and safe. Until this year, I have never seen any glaring violations of our code. Even still, the people who are responsible for that are a minority among a large crew that I came to regard as my trustworthy summer family. I have personally witnessed that one bad apple can appear to spoil the whole lot; especially when I consider how it must seem in the eyes of you, the local people who have been our host all these years. I appeal to you not to see us in such a light.
For every rude and disrespectful fruit picker you may encounter in town, there are at least two or three hardworking quiet types who you never end up having any dealings with. I know that I personally maintained a polite and respectful manner when I was a customer in any of Keremeos’ businesses and was never treated with any less in return. I know that this is not everyone’s experience and I apologize on behalf of the irresponsible who walk the streets as if they own them.
The bottom line is that we all need each other. We pickers come here to work. It is our trade. It is how we support ourselves in the summer and sometimes even through the winter. We need your town because it provides us access to necessary amenities like food and drink and all manner of other product. Of course, a farming town needs workers because if the fruit were not picked it would fall to the ground and rot, leaving the farmers with no produce and draining the town’s economy. I then pose to you that we are in a symbiotic relationship and would greatly benefit from learning to work alongside one another, understand each other and respect each other.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we pickers treat all of you with respect and dignity and that you do the same for us. After all, we are all just people trying to get by. Of course I can’t promise that all pickers will clean up their act, but I can promise that I and others like me will do our best to teach them better. I hope to be able to return to your town and many others in the valley in the future and be a part of the beautiful summertime culture, the way I remember it in years past. I hope you’ll regard me not as a foe but as a fellow.
Sincerely yours, Jodee of Vancouver