May 5, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra
I’m lucky. I’m very lucky. I’ve been afforded a lot of opportunities in my life, simply as a result of good location and good timing. A good attitude and a fairly good brain helps as well, but both of those special attributes would be stymied if I didn’t have access to resources like good schools, clean water, medicine (hell, a whole drug store), a solid roof over my head, shoes on my feet, a grocery store, parents who can afford to provide such things for me, and people I can connect with, learn from and be supported by. I’ll be thinking about that today as I put on don a robe and mortarboard, and my name is read amongst my fellow graduates’. Some people are not so lucky. It’s my hope that someday, regardless of where on Earth you’re born, access to the resources for a healthy, productive and fundamentally unhindered life will be guaranteed. That’s a big hope, but there’s reason, I think, to be hopeful. Today’s project highlights some of the issues that must be addressed by that hope; stories and truths that if left untold will fail to stir us from peaceful ignorance and fail to prompt us into changing the world.
The Garden of Opportunities is a sculptural exploration of child labor in agriculture. With an installation meant to awaken first-worlders to the sordid past of our bounties, the artists are now turning to Kickstarter to help bring these provocative pieces into the view of more than 6,000 attendees of North Salem, New York’s Hammond Museum & Scroll Garden.
Every beautiful tomato we look at in the supermarket, and almost every fruit and vegetable we eat, is picked by a human hand. Even in the most sophisticated first world country, machinery has not been able to replace the oldest job on earth: harvesting.
Unfortunately, many migrant farm workers are children. To help their parents, they begin this hard labor as early as 5 years of age. The majority of pickers are undocumented immigrants from Mexico or other Latin American countries that usually leave their homeland in a search for security and better living. The developed corporate food industry has made harvesting a job that is done in very precarious conditions, among them working in under extreme high temperature, continued exposure to pesticides, and long working hours.
Child labor is not an easy subject to address. There are compelling cases on either side of the issue, but I think one thing that can be agreed upon is that every child’s life would be made better if labor were not a necessity for survival. Agriculture in particular is a dangerous domain, but back-breaking toil and exposure to pesticides aside, kids in the field are not kids in the classroom. Or library. Or wherever kids are best suited to learn algebra, physics, computer science, or how to read and write. It’s an ugly issue – one we’d rather avoid thinking about when shopping for tomatoes – but one that will remain in the lives of thousands of children unless we at least begin to acknowledge it. Gardens of Opportunity is a way to broadcast the dark secrets of child labor and bring attention where it can be used to help make a change. Become a part of that change, even if only in a very small way, by pledging before May 11.