FOOD FOR THOUGHT: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PLATE

Picturing the dedication of the Hudson Valley farm workers

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY U. ROBERTO ROMANO

From farmers’ market stalls with their overflowing bounty to grocery store aisles lined with a uniform array of bagged and tagged produce, the surroundings in which we buy and sell food rarely reflect the effort involved in getting it to our tables. In addition to difficulties like long hours and unpredictable weather, Hudson Valley farmworkers contend with personal challenges ranging from problems around finding work during the off-season, repetitive stress injuries and the heartache of leaving family behind to bigger-picture issues like immigration policy, climate change and colony collapse disorder.

This series of environmental portraits of New York State farmworkers, shot by award-winning filmmaker/photographer U. Roberto Romano, aims simply to introduce New Yorkers to the people who cultivate our food. These are not nameless migrants; they are our neighbors as well as providers, and each plays an integral role in one of the most vital systems to human life: agriculture.

ETHAN

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at Sepascot Home Farm, Rhinebeck

At 23, Ethan is new to farming, but speaks with the easy pragmatism of someone more experienced. Brief stints on a hydroponics farm in Costa Rica, then a school garden in Florida eventually led to Sepascot Home Farm, where he milks cows in the mornings and afternoons, tending crops in between. Ethan loves the work but recognizes how very difficult it can be. “You have to be ready to go all the time, checking their milk and their udders every day.” However, he also holds a deep appreciation for spending days outside, knowing where his food comes from and sharing his farming and dairy knowledge with others. Growing up, he “didn’t know what a tomato or piece of broccoli looked like before it got to the store. It’s a good thing to get out there and meet your farmer.”

CLAUDETTE

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at Taliaferro Farms, New Paltz

Originally from Jamaica, Alvira “Claudette” Bruce has been in New York for seven years and has worked on Hudson Valley farms for five. A bit shy for the camera, she is more at home working in the fields, a job she loves in spite of its physical challenges. Claudette hopes to stay in the area and to bring her family here from Jamaica to further their education. “There is a lot people need to know about farming,” she says. “It is not an easy task. It takes time and patience and a lot of effort from planting to harvesting. I think overall it is a wonderful job if you can do it.”

HERIBERTO

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at Hoeffner Farms, Montgomery

In August, a few weeks after this photograph was taken, Heriberto left Hoeffner Farms, where he’d worked since arriving in New York from Mexico in 2009. Quiet and goodnatured, Heriberto has left farm work behind to concentrate on his studies and spend more time with his girlfriend. The long, inflexible hours didn’t leave time for such activities, he says, and such limitations extend to his fellow farm workers as well. “They could give a lot to the community but they don’t have time because they only work from when they wake up until they go to bed.” A former tae kwon do instructor, Heriberto describes farm work as dignified and important but is excited to return to school and continue his education. “Right now I am living my dream.”

CHRIS

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at Honeybee Lives Apiary, New Paltz

When roof repairs uncovered several hives in the walls of Chris Harp’s New Paltz home, he sought out a beekeeper to remove them. Unable to find one, he hired an exterminator instead, and the sight of the countless poisoned bees weighed on him so heavily that he in turn devoted the 23 years since to beekeeping. Chris tends hives throughout the Northeast and is sometimes paid in vegetables from farmers who hire him to pollinate their fields. Harp feels most people have a limited concept about how much work goes into their food. Still, his devotion runs deep: “This is the rest of my life,” he says happily. “People ask me what else I do. This is all I do.”

LINFORD

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at Montgomery Place Orchards, Annandale-on-Hudson

A proud Jamaican, Linford Robinson is pushing 70 but reveals little to indicate the countenance of an older, road-weary man. Originally from St. Catherine, Jamaica, he travels back there at the end of each growing season to tend to his own small farm. He’s worked 16 consecutive seasons in New York State, but he has farmed his entire life, a skill he learned from his parents, who taught him how to start with a seed and “nurse it like a little baby so that it grows up strong.”

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