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Call to the Fields Part V
by Baldemar VelŠsquez, President of FLOC


July 31, 2008

Iím getting more organized every day as today I remembered to put two bottles of Gatorade in the soft drink cooler with ice to supplement my water intake. 

Photos by Christiana Velasquez

This farmer complies with all the field sanitation standards and has plenty of water in the fields but no one uses the porta-john unless he really has to. Itís just too hot in there but we pull that stinky thing on a trailer with a pick-up all over the fields. 


One worker asked me about it and why it was necessary.  I assured him that in other parts of the state and the country not only is it not as hot as here but there are women farmworkers and that the law was very necessary. I told him how critical I used be with farmers, when my mom and my sisters had to look for areas in corn fields and woods or some secluded area to go to the bathroom when we were doing field work.   I told him how it took 12 long years of hearings to fight for us Mexicans and other farm workers to finally get a federal judge to make the regulation.   Itís embarrassing to think that this was the public policy debate for that long.


Itís impossible to keep really hydrated as the heat I think hit 100 today. If it didnít, then it was probably that much and higher because of the fields we were working in.  Somewhere surrounded or next to wooded areas so there was no breeze.  


We wore the plastic bags again today and I was smarter about removing it after the first round.  Even then the top half of my pants was soaked in sweat by 8:30 AM.   It is easy to see how men can die of heat stroke.   Heat exhaustion can be compounded by the nicotine which, thank God, has not affected me.  


Rudy, Caballo, and Nino were telling me today of men they worked with in recent years and how they got so sick that they had to leave by the first day. They would come to the camp after doing this work and be vomiting green stuff and they would get scared thinking they were going to die and left right away in a panic. 

My daughter, Christiana, came today to take pictures of my sojourn in case some of you donít believe Iím really doing this. Just joking, she was a big hit with the men. They were very shy at first almost as if they had forgotten how to act or speak in front of a woman since they hadnít seen their wives and children since April, May, or longer.  They warmed up and by the time she left after taking pictures in the field this morning they were waving good-bye with bouquets of the top pretty pink flowers they were topping from the tobacco stalks in the field.


I observed that the most stressful time can be anytime between 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  This is the time Iíve observed the men being really taxed depending how long we work without a break and that is largely due to the length of the row.  

I took my Gatorade yesterday around 2:30-3:00 and even with a 5 minute water break restored me well.  Today I put two bottles in the cooler and I had one at 10:00AM and the other at 2:00PM, with the water I drank it was the best I could do.  I say that because without being gross, I learned in my high school athletic days how to measure your hydration by observing the color of your urine.  Too much yellow and you need more water.  I havenít had a day that it was ideal.  I donít get really hydrated until I get back to the camp where I chug more water and another bottle of Gatorade.  I regret not following through with getting a canteen to bring on this trip. This idea might have some merits as standard equipment for tobacco workers.


I had chicken tenders for lunch again today as I didnít do too well with the rib eye steak sandwich yesterday.  It seemed too heavy to digest under the heat stress we were under.  I thought of what Iíd rather have and I was imagining some fidello (thin spaghetti) with a little ďcarne picadaĒ (hamburger meat) mixed up with garlic and unions in a little tomato sauce.  Then some fruit for dessert!  Oh my, it was a nice daydream munching on my tenders.  We did have watermelon though.  Earlier this morning the one they call Shorty had pilfered a watermelon from the farmer who rents the land.  The farmer has watermelon and cantaloupe patches all around the tobacco field.  He had been visiting our fields the last two days and usually mooches a soft drink (Dr. Pepper) from our cooler when he visits. 


He likes to talk and is always driving on of those 4-wheel recreational bikes.  He was bragging about those watermelon patches and his tomato and jalapeno ones too.  He only had to invite us once to take what we wanted.  Since we had just finished the field we were in, we quickly gathered several plush watermelons, cantaloupes, and a plastic bag full of jalapeŮos! Shorty came walking up last as he had gone back to fetch his prize watermelon that he had stashed out of sight.  He was smiling from ear to ear in front of the farmer seemingly pleased that he wasnít stealing it.   I told him to put it in the ice cooler so we could eat it for lunch.  It hit the spot, lots of water and sugar for dessert that sent us back into the broiling sun.


My body seems to be holding up okay as the damage has been limited to some sunburn on my nose and face, a slight rash on my calves and ankles and swollen hands.  The men say the rash is from the sand and the tiny particles that penetrate your pants when you pull the large stalks of Kelite and all the dirt is dumped on your shins on down.  My hands are sore but that is pretty normal because Iíve been snapping tops and pulling Kelite stalks.   They do ache at night like any part of your body thatís used after an arduous task. 


Although there has been some stressful moments from the heat, the menís attitude of helping on another makes a big difference.  When youíre pressing for a water break, the men who finish first come back and help the rest.  This has helped me since earlier this week; I had to struggle to keep up with the rest.  As Iíve gotten accustomed as to what to look for Iíve been able to keep pace especially with rows with a lot of Kelite. 


I remember more and more doing it in my younger years and have recovered my efficiency at it.   Iím a regular weed eater but it is harder on your back which is a little tight but it works.  Caballo and one they call Negro told me the reason they help each other stay close as a crew.   


A little after 3:00 PM a welcomed cloud cover came upon us as a thunderstorm was raging northwest of us.   Shortly after that, another wave of darker clouds moved in on us that had rain.  The guys said that it made it simpler to get everyone in vehicles at a time like this to get out of the field together when everybodyís in one place.  Well, the rains came!   This is the earliest time we quit this week, I donít think we made it to 4:00 PM. 


Getting to the camp early, I was able to do a wash with some gift of soap from Caballo for the washing machine which the farmer has here.   I brought four shirts to wear every day and today I wore my last one.  Someone always invites me to eat with them and today Caballo prepared some meat with papitas (fried potatoes,) frijoles and a guacamole pico de gallo while I did laundry.   After I hung my clothes on the clothesline outside, I had this great meal waiting!


Editorís Note: Beginning July 27, 2008, Baldemar VelŠsquez, President of FLOC, worked the tobacco fields in North Carolina. In Part I, Baldemar stated that: ďNorth Carolina leads the nation in heat stroke deaths,Öwhen men are not only battling the heat but also nicotine poisoning. The workers FLOC represents harvest 26 different crops, ranging from cucumbers to tobacco to Christmas trees. In my farmwork history, Iíve worked in all those harvests or close to them, row crops, bush or tree crops, but never anything close to tobacco with its particular challenges.Ē Experience Baldemarís sojourn in ďCall to the Fields.Ē Parts I-V appear online below.

Photos by Christiana Velasquez

Call to the Fields Part V

Call to the Fields Part IV

Call to the Fields Part III

Call to the Fields Part II

Call to the Fields





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