Lee Corbin wrote:
> There is no better or more familiar daily example of free-market
> cut-throat competition than supermarkets. They want your business
> so badly that they stop at almost nothing except physically man-handling
> you into the stores from the parking lot. They lower prices whenever
> possible, and use ingenious jingles, advertisements, attractive
> floor plans, proper lighting, and every other trick that the ingenuity
> of humankind has come up with so far to get you to choose to patronize
> their particular chain.
> Well, so what is the actual guiding principle behind the evolution of
> the supermarket in the last fifty years? My idea is that to a great
> extent it's the doing of the store managers (or in the case of large
> chains, perhaps some of the company psychologists). But typically in
> an American store---where there is freedom, and things have not yet
> become too regulated---store managers lay awake at nights thinking
> about how they can improve their facility, and how they can beat
> the Safeway down the street. Month in and month out, they study
> their customers---their body language, their shopping patterns, and
> most of all, their buying habits. This immense concentration of
> knowledge takes place in the minds of a few people who have an
> enormous incentive to improve the quality of the stores. The
> immensity of this knowledge at present *cannot* be centralized.
> (For just one reason why, the customers in Appalachia don't
> resemble the customers in Chicago at all, and even the customers
> in Chicago's suburbs may not resemble each other if you travel
> in some direction a couple of miles.)
I wish the store managers who stayed up nights thinking about how they could
improve their supermarkets in order to beat the Safeway down the street
would also come up with some ideas about how best to treat farmworkers.
I wish the "immense concentration of knowledge [taking] place in the minds
of a few people who have an enormous incentive to improve the quality of the
stores" would also develop some incentive to improve the quality of people's
lives - people who provide the basic foodstuff and products for their
While supermarket customers' "body language, their shopping patterns, and
most of all, their buying habits" may indeed be worthy of a specialized
field of study, I'm afraid farmworkers' problems are all pretty much the
Sunday, August 19, 2001 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Who's minding the kids? Few options for migrants
By Jolayne Houtz
Seattle Times staff reporter
KEVIN GERMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Juan Bernal, 10, left, Daniel Valencia, 11, right, and Maritza
De La Cruz, 2, watch neighbor kids play in Mattawa, Grant County.
WENATCHEE - Angelica Navarro used to wrap one end of a string around her
daughter's braids and the other around a cherry tree.
With farm machinery, pesticides and snakes in the orchards, this makeshift
child care was the only way Navarro knew to keep the 3-year-old safe while
"I was afraid a tractor would run her over," Navarro said after a day
picking cherries in Wenatchee. "Sometimes, there's nothing else to do but
bring (her children) to the orchard ... But all day, you have one eye on the
fruit, the other on where they're going."
Thousands of farmworkers' children - some here legally, many not - grow up
in Washington's orchard country with minimal supervision while their parents
bring in the crops. The problem is most acute in summer, when schools run
limited programs if they're open at all.
>From Wenatchee to Walla Walla, communities are responding with programs,
especially for school-age children too old for day care but too young to
But the need far outstrips the care available. Many towns lack the resources
or political will to help. In communities where programs do exist, lack of
transportation remains a huge barrier.
And some believe racism underlies resistance to creating programs for Latino
children of migrant workers.
"Why can't they just eat the fruit that has fallen off the trees?" one
school official in Grant County said to a startled child advocate who was
pushing for a summer-food program.
"The power structure often doesn't reflect the makeup of the community in
this region," said Laura Strickler of the Children's Alliance, a statewide
advocacy organization. "You really have to convince them of the need."
At the same time, farmworkers - mostly poor, geographically isolated and
invisible by virtue of their illegal status - can be reluctant to seek help.
Economic realities often thrust older children into earning money or
providing child care.
"There'll be a little 8- or 9-year-old taking care of several younger
siblings," said Debbie Sanchez, who oversees a Boys & Girls Club summer
program in Othello, Adams County. "They're raising themselves."
There have been horror stories in Washington this summer - kids drowning in
irrigation canals, children locked in their rooms while parents worked, a
3-year-old raped by a neighbor while in the care of an older sibling.
Last month, a 2-month-old boy died in Othello in the care of a 16-year-old
girl while his parents worked in an orchard an hour's drive away in Pasco.
The baby, who had signs of pneumonia, had been to a clinic the night before;
his parents had planned to bring him to the doctor again the following
But during the day, the girl brought the baby to a hospital, where doctors
pronounced him dead. It took six hours to find the parents - an orchard
supervisor initially notified the wrong couple, who showed up in a panic at
"If you're a 16-year-old taking care of a 2-month-old, that's a big
responsibility," said Leo Gaeta of the Columbia Basin Health Association.
"You wonder: Could this have been prevented?"
And catch-as-catch-can child care contributes to longer-term problems: low
test scores, high rates of dropouts, teen pregnancy and juvenile crime,
child advocates say.
"Kids will only dream as far as they can see," said Ryan Graves, executive
director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Columbia Basin. "Too many of these
kids see no way out."
Needs come into the open
Two summers ago, when the state opened a tent camp for farmworkers in East
Wenatchee, it was as if a hidden community was discovered.
Families once scattered in abandoned trailers, illegal campsites or down
dirt roads were suddenly visible. Child advocates realized just how many
kids were living without much supervision.
With money and a push from state education officials, local officials
created a summer school and day-care program aimed at the children of cherry
pickers. It opened before dawn and offered bus service to and from tent
In all, 45 cherry harvesters' children joined about 150 Wenatchee School
District students. Among them were Navarro's three youngest - Juvenal, 8;
Jesus, 10; and Carlos, 12.
"I've been coming here 22 or 23 years now (from California)," she said.
"I've never had such a great program to put my kids into."
. A program in Walla Walla run by the nonprofit Center for Sharing serves
many of the 250 children from a farm-labor housing camp on the edge of town.
This summer, 45 preschoolers in a migrant Head Start program participated in
drama, dance and computer classes. A program that includes break-dancing
lessons draws 120 school-age youth.
. Some child-care centers adjust their hours to match the harvest. In
Brewster, Okanogan County, the for-profit Children's House is open from 4
a.m. to 6:30 p.m. during the cherry harvest. Parents carry the children in
and lay them on rows of cots to catch a few more hours of sleep. "It's quite
a sight," said director Keith Johnson.
Effort goes into recruiting
But just because you build it doesn't mean they will come.
Enrolling the cherry harvesters' children in the Wenatchee program required
an intensive, face-to-face recruitment effort led by a Spanish-speaking
couple - Ray Alaniz, who works for the North Central Educational Service
District, and his wife, Dania, a home visitor for the Wenatchee School
Together, they posted fliers in Laundromats, markets and thrift stores. They
visited tent camps and handed out enrollment forms for state child-care
They learned of illegal camps and visited them, too. "They'd tell me about
their comadre or compadre out there in the hills hiding with their kids. I'd
say tell me where, and I'll go out to them, and they'd say, `Really? Way out
there?' " Ray Alaniz laughed.
It is a calling for Alaniz, a former minister. He grew up in a migrant
family from Texas but lived much of the year in Prosser, Benton County. When
he was young, his mother put him inside empty apple bins to keep him out of
harm's way when she worked in the orchards.
Later, he worked alongside his father picking asparagus in Washington,
cotton in Texas, beets in Nebraska. Schools would send letters saying the
children needed to enroll, but his father would respond: "Quién va poner los
frijoles en la mesa?" (Who is going to put the beans on the table?)
That background gives Alaniz insight into some families' reluctance to send
their children to summer programs.
"One father said, `This country wants to take away my privilege to teach my
children how to work.' And I said, `Yes, but I give you another privilege -
to give them the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they want this
For every child enrolled in the program, Alaniz figures there are at least
two more he didn't reach or whose parents declined.
Many parents prefer their school-age children to work alongside them in the
orchards, despite labor laws that prohibit it. "Education is important, but
not as important as survival," Alaniz said.
And sometimes, it is the kids who resist. Rosa and Ricardo Negrete lived
this summer in a tent camp operated by Stemilt Growers. Their 12-year-old
son took the half-hour bus ride from camp to school just two days before he
decided he didn't want to go anymore.
He preferred to hang out at the camp and ended up watching several younger
His parents would check in when they could, but they worried about the camp,
where there were many single men and much drinking.
Almost too successful
Still, Alaniz's recruitment efforts have been almost too successful. He and
a colleague who helped families fill out paperwork for state child-care
subsidies were told to slow down because program managers weren't sure they
could afford to find space for all the children they recruited.
"Teachers would ask, `Where in the world are you finding all these kids?'
Well, these kids have always been there - we just weren't serving them,"
He anticipates enrollment will double next summer.
"Now I know where to find them," Alaniz said.
A $7 Slip 'N Slide and some sack lunches are enough to draw 60 children to
Mattawa's only park one hot afternoon.
Nowhere is the need for children's programs more pressing than in this tiny
town, population 2,609, where 96 percent of children live in poverty.
"There is absolutely nothing in Mattawa for anyone to do," said Ryan Graves,
executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Columbia Basin. "Bring
out a soccer ball, and it's a community event."
That lament echoes across Central and Eastern Washington. Kids can't legally
work until they're 14. They're too old for Head Start or many home day-care
An estimated 40,000 5- to 14-year-old children of migrant and seasonal
farmworkers live in Washington, according to a 2000 report prepared for the
Migrant Health Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A study last year by the nonprofit School's Out Washington showed only
enough licensed child-care slots to serve about 8 percent of all school-aged
children in Eastern Washington.
The state spends $9.2 million a year on child-care subsidies for seasonal
agricultural workers, serving more than 6,400 children last year, about 40
percent of them school-aged.
But 1,400 more children had to be turned away because the money ran out,
according to state officials.
Mattawa is the newest of five summer food-and-recreation programs launched
by the Boys & Girls Club in the past three years. Similar programs are open
in Soap Lake, Moses Lake, Quincy and Othello, which drew 200 children the
day it opened in 1998.
Summer school keeps many children busy during the morning hours in July, but
school closes in the afternoons and for the entire month of August. In
Mattawa, the Boys & Girls Club opens its program in the park at 1:30 p.m.
with sack lunches trucked in from Othello, 30 minutes away.
As in Wenatchee, the creation of a new farmworker-housing project in Mattawa
two years ago highlighted the needs of the children.
"We were just not prepared at all," said Mayor Judy Esser.
It took three years to find money and an organization willing to run the
Mattawa program. The Boys & Girls Club took it on with backing from the
Seattle-based Discuren Charitable Foundation as well as School's Out
Washington and the Children's Alliance.
Even so, the Boys & Girls Club lost money on the program this year, and it's
unclear whether it will continue.
In desperation, a few growers have started their own programs.
Cheryl Broetje and her husband, Ralph, run one of the Northwest's largest
farming enterprises, outside Prescott in Walla Walla County. About 11 years
ago, they built a farmworker-housing project on their land that is home to
600 people, including 250 children.
"We kind of became social workers right away when we built the housing.
Suddenly, there were all these needs that we never expected," Cheryl Broetje
The Broetjes now operate a private, Christian elementary school; a school
for older students and programs for troubled youth; a preschool; a
leadership program for youth; and a summer day camp that serves about 60 5-
Many orchardists and nonprofit organizations tour their farm to look at the
programs, "but it comes down to dollars, and there just isn't the money in
agriculture to support this," Broetje said.
Jolayne Houtz can be reached at 206-464-3122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company
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