Nancy Oden

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Machias Valley News Observer, June 27, 2009

NEWS with VIEWS

by Nancy Oden

WADING INTO CONTROVERSY

For those who thought May felt colder than usual – it was the incessant rain that made it seem so. It was actually the fifth warmest May on record.

Years ago we could only plant frost-tolerant vegetables until after the full moon in June. This year, I had nearly the whole garden in by the end of May, including tomatoes (Scotias from Canada).

Climate change is upon us, despite the few deniers still out there. The long-term weather trend is: lots of precipitation for us, drought for the West and Southwest. California’s most fertile agricultural region is in serious drought, another good reason for growing our own food locally.

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Have sympathy for the Milbridge Planning Board. They’re creating new land use rules (zoning) amidst harangues from all sides around Mano en Mano’s desire to build apartments for foreign workers in Milbridge.

While there’s nothing wrong with, and much to be said for, building low-cost housing for workers, subsidized housing should be paid for by the industries that bring the foreign workers here, not American taxpayers. Especially since the foreign workers have been brought in to replace local workers.

And why are the foreign workers here? For the same reason American industries moved overseas: REALLY CHEAP LABOR.

The blueberry, wreath, seafood, and forestry industries hire agents (called “coyotes”) to recruit and transport foreign workers here to replace local workers. These “coyotes” aren’t always scrupulous about whether a worker is in this country legally, so the illegals aren’t going to complain if they’re underpaid.

Most of these foreign workers come from desperately poor regions. Of course they jump at the chance to come here and work to send money home. We all understand and sympathize with them

But, so long as there are people willing to work for less, industry owners, for whom more-than-enough is never enough, will throw away local workers and bring in the more desperate to take our places.

These industries perpetuate the myth that local people won’t work those jobs; this simply isn’t true. If the industries paid decent wages, which they have in the past, local people would happily work those jobs.

I remember 20-30 years ago when blueberry growers were paying as much as $5. a box, which gave families money for new school clothes, as well as winter preparations.

Also, many people made wreaths and sold them from their homes or to wreath companies. This money also helped people get through our long winters. Now, though, industries use the cheap foreign labor for most work.

The ripple effect of Washington County’s primary industries deliberately bringing in CHEAP FOREIGN LABOR is devastating to local economies. If local people don’t have much money, they can’t buy very much. The effects are obvious.

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Large lawns take up space that could be growing your food. Pick out a good-sized, sunny spot and have someone roto-till your new garden now. You can still plant many salad greens this year, or plan now for an early Spring garden.

Having your own garden is great exercise, saves money, and it’s comforting to know you can grow food in your own yard. A home garden will become critical as the recession lasts years.

So, People, broken record, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that we’re entering a long, dark time. We will not get back to where we are today, hard as that is to accept. No, too many of the earth’s resources have been depleted and wasted on non-essential toys.

We won’t have to go back to the 1800’s because we know about solar, wind, and ocean energy, and we can use them locally for our well-being. Doing with less stuff will not necessarily be a bad thing.

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Summing up, industries that bring in cheap foreign labor should pay for their workers’ housing. It just isn’t right for American workers to subsidize/pay to house workers brought in to replace them.

We can help poor countries by sending Americans who are knowledgeable about food plants suitable for their climates. Thus, we can help them become more self-sufficient. This is much better than bringing desperate, hungry people here to replace local workers.

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One reason to live around here: had a flat tire in Jonesport the other day and was ready to call AAA and wait for them a while. But within 2-3 minutes a young fisherman pulled over and changed the tire for me. Nice young man from a well-known, local family (starts with an L).

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Word: live free, speak freely, banish fear, but be prepared.

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