The National Apple Harvest Festival in Arendtsville takes place over the next two weekends, October 7-8 and October 14-15. Many of us will make the drive up through the beautiful fruit belt that runs north and south on the east side of South Mountain . Ideally it will be two weekends of crisp, sunny afternoons bedecked in the regalia of autumn: leaves of red, gold and yellow, Van Gogh cornfields waiting for the corn picker, plump pumpkins sitting on porches, rolling hills of apple trees still holding their bounty, the smell of hot apple cider passing on the breeze.
With more than 20,000 acres of orchards, our little region of small towns, rural livelihoods, and down home goodness that fills the soul as good as any down home meal does on a cold night is also home to one of this country’s top fruit industries. Family-owned and operated, our fruit farms have been around for generations, but like the grain, corn and animal farmers of our area, they too are struggling to keep their orchards going.
We have been hearing a lot about immigration this year. We have learned both sides of the argument; it is easy to understand the pros and cons. For the fruit growers though, the reality is that they need the immigrants. In fact, several of them banded together a few months back and went to Washington to lobby for President Bush’s guestworker program.
But what does this mean for us, those that do not own orchards? Where do we fit in? What does this matter to us? Why should we care?
The way I see it, if we stop by any of the fruit stands along the road, if we buy peaches and apples from local producers at farmer’s markets, if we enjoy eating fresh apple pies and feel good knowing that the fruit came from a local family’s farm, that our dollars are going to stay in the community, that our dollars with be turned over a few times locally instead of going into a bank account hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, or on another continent for that matter, then we have to also acknowledge that immigrants have to be welcomed into our communities.
We cannot have fresh fruit, available in abundance and cheap, without the work of the immigrants. The fruit growers know this, and have accepted it for decades. We should too. We should support the fruit growers not only by buying their products, but also indirectly by being friendlier to the people of Mexico , Central America, the Caribbean, and South America that live amongst us.
Moreover, we need to look deeper into the flesh of the fruit we are eating, knowing that not only is it soil, sun, rain, insects, but also it is hands. Hands of various shades of brown that put shoes on feet and pull up a pair of work pants over britches in the morning. Hands that carry ladders and place them in the branches of the trees. Hands that reach precariously for Red Delicious and place it into the basket. Hands that ache and tire after a hard day’s work.
Hands that fold in prayer, asking God to watch over their families.
And our hands. White hands that inspect the best peck, the best bushel before we buy it. Hands that touch the same fruit that was touched by the brown hands.
Hands that also fold in prayer, asking God to watch over our families.
To build a bridge between our white hands and their brown hands, we can tell ourselves that the immigrants are welcome here. When we drive to the Apple Harvest Festival we can roll down our windows and wave, holler “Welcome,” and flash a big warm smile when we see them in the trees. At the Festival, we can go and watch the Mexican student dance group that will be performing there to learn a little about their culture. We can give them a rousing applause when they finish.
Rural landscapes define much of who we are in southcentral Pennsylvania . It is important that we support our local agriculturalists as much as is economically possible within our own means. Certainly, we should buy local produce over imported produce whenever possible. Doing so helps our neighbors. Doing so builds community.
In regard to the fruit industry, buying local also means we are supporting the foundation on which this country was built—immigration. The US of A was founded on this premise.
It was also founded on the notion of brotherhood. The brown hands are our brothers and sisters.
(written 1 October 2006)