In the year 2000 Featherstone Farm had at most 3-4 seasonal employees (among them current CSA program manager Patty Zanski!). But as the farm expanded to serve CSA and wholesale markets in Rochester and eventually the Twin Cities, it had to add more seasoned, professional farmworkers. And going with “Spanish speakers” seemed like a no brainer for me; after 4-5 years of working with Mexican-American fieldworkers in California, I was very comfortable with the energy, the culture, the joi de vivre that comes with employees from “south of the border.” Enter the Gasca family, starting 2001 or 2002 (?? …all blurry memory).
Initially we hired 2-3 (eventually all 5) brothers of the Gasca family. The arrangement was always- and remains- a seasonal one; these folks have “farms,” livelihoods and extended families in their “rancho” (central Guanajuato province) that keep them more than busy in the offseason. They are quite content to work in Minnesota for 5 or 6 months a year before returning home for the offseason. And the H2-A guest worker visa program- cumbersome and expensive as it is- does seem to serve this need fairly well.
As Featherstone Farm grew in scale and complexity, the brothers began inviting cousins, in-laws and eventually their father and children to work here (FF is now a 3 generation employer!). Women started to join the crew in 2011 or so. My 3 sons spent many hours hanging around the Gascas houses, initially for Twins games broadcast on satellite TV (we had no TV in our house), but eventually for meals and off hours lounging around; the Gascas are from an old school “visiting culture” that I love, even if I have all too little time to enjoy it most days.
I visited the village of Vista Hermosa for the first time in January 2008, and returned again in December 2011 with my oldest son Emmet. At that second visit I served as Godfather of the Chains at the quincinera celebration for Saul’s youngest daughter Xochil; Emmet held his breath as I entered the spotlight at that evening’s celebration- surrounded by hundreds of villagers- and placed a gold chain (with an impossibly delicate clasp that I could hardly work) around her neck. What a sigh of relief we all breathed, once that chain was in place and the tall patron retreated into the shadows…!
So this was the context for my third and most recent trip to Mexico in late March. This is why I wanted to bring Oscar, to see the village and to meet the extended family. To see a way of life that is at some level so much more sustainable- if a great deal poorer- than our own. To strengthen the connections between our families beyond the limits of work and employment.
And Esteban just called last night; he and Juan Gasca will be arriving Saturday morning on the bus. Another season is just beginning…