How do we take care of the people who fill our table?
By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences
First, she would do no harm.
That’s what photographer Katie Orlinsky told herself. She immersed herself in the world of migrant laborers, who were picking America’s blueberries in eight weeks, amid a pandemic. The people she met were hard-working, resilient, but also vulnerable (dozens of states don’t mandate coronavirus safety guidelines for farmworkers).
Katie saw that when a member of one family got COVID-19, other family members got it, too—it was hard to avoid. “They are a family of seven living in a three-room trailer,” Katie tells us. Other laborers share bathrooms and dorm rooms with beds jammed close together. They don’t feel safe. (Above left, a farmworker has his temperature checked before heading to work at the Atlantic Blueberry farm in New Jersey; right, blueberries at Glossy Farms, also in New Jersey.)
Without identifying these workers in a way that would provoke retribution, Katie put faces to the undervalued people whose work fills our tables. In her story for Nat Geo, Katie also showed volunteers trying to fill educational gaps and improve conditions for the workers and their families. In some states, kids 12 and over take to the fields, too—and are allowed to work as much as 12 hours a day. Below, Katie’s photos—and a few insights from her work:
The kids: “I had no idea so many workers brought their families with them,” Katie tells us, “and I definitely wasn’t expecting that I’d spend so much of my time working on this story just hanging out and playing with all these adorable kids.” Above, farmworkers and their children register at a COVID-19 testing and PPE distribution pop-up tent, run by Southern Jersey Family Medical Centers, which does much of the farm testing.
On the job: Blueberry pickers fill plastic crates about the size of a school lunch tray with fruit, which are then inspected for quality. “Accessing the blueberry farms was very difficult,” Katie says. “Most denied me access, as they have been under a fair amount of press scrutiny even before COVID."
Close quarters: Plastic divider sheets hang between beds at a workers’ dormitory at Atlantic Blueberry. Many farms have not taken this protective measure. Says Katie: “There is such a disconnect between the way the pandemic highlights food workers as ‘essential’—yet our country continues to treat them as anything but."
Where families live: At right, the workers’ camp at Atlantic Blueberry includes dormitories and a cafeteria. At left, children sleep while their parents are at work in the fields. “I know the pandemic has been so difficult for parents across the board,” Katie says. “It was interesting to see how universal that is—summer camps being closed, the boredom, the repercussions of losing the spring semester—these things are affecting every single family, regardless of who you are and what you do for a living.” Read Katie’s full story here.
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Today in a minute
The mother’s story: On Wednesday, a Louisville grand jury did not return charges against Louisville police for fatally shooting EMT Breonna Taylor after mistakenly barging into her home in the middle of the night. The decision prompted outrage nationwide as well as protests, including in Louisville, where two officers were shot. Photographer Laylah Amatullah Barrayn made this image of Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, who recalled her daughter as a go-getter. “She had her head on straight. She always lifted people up. Her friends. She was a problem solver ... she was honest and had integrity.” In June, writer DeNeen L. Brown called Taylor’s slaying part of a brutal American legacy.
After an iconic photo: The world saw AP photographer Hassan Ammar’s image. Ammar showed a man carrying his wounded 11-year-old niece over his shoulder just minutes after the Beirut blasts on August 4. But what happened next? Ammar has gone back to tell the story of the family, which fled violence in Syria only to be torn apart by the massive (and accidental) explosion in their new home.
Can you smell a photo? One of the early triumphs of legendary editor Harold Evans, who died this week, involved a heavy lift for visual journalism. In 1961, he used a photographer to prove there was a chemical leak from a British chemical plant. “The images came out wonderfully—the first photographs of a smell ever published!” the Guardian quoted him as saying. “I splashed them across a whole news page. They proved the ... smell was localized, and that, with its pollutant, it lingered."
Your Instagram of the day
Remembering RBG: Photographer Maddie McGarvey took this image of a makeshift memorial for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside of the Supreme Court on Saturday. See more of Maddie’s images here, at the Nat Geo In The Field page on Instagram.
Related: How Americans remembered Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The big takeaway
You’re not alone: It can be isolating and frightening to feel like you are different in a rural community. LBGTQ people are everywhere though, caring about pets and plants and nature in small towns and farms, like their neighbors. Through 65 interviews so far, an oral history and new podcast shows often hidden rural LBGTQ communities across the U.S. “As much as this project has been about amplifying people’s stories and raising our visibility, there is such a personal piece for me of like, how do we do this?” says folklorist Rae Garringer, behind the Country Queers project. “How do we thrive in these places?” (Above, Hermelinda Cortés, pictured with son Santos Timmons Cortés at their Virginia home, is part of the editorial advisory team for the Country Queers podcast.)
In a few words
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In Mondays, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.
The last glimpse
Never too old to dance: The 79-year-old woman at the center of the image does a handstand with the Sun City Poms, a dance team from a retirement community outside Phoenix. This image is among those compiled from our archives over the past month by photo editor Breann Birkenbuel for our Photo of the Day feature, found on our homepage.