Journalist's Viral Post Calls Attention To An Underappreciated Industry — And Its Workers

"I don't know how they do it. It's backbreaking work. They make very little money. And in my opinion get very little recognition."

Frank Somerville, an evening anchor at KTVU in the Bay Area, is doing his best to highlight the importance of empathy, especially in a culture that's frequently inundated with hateful rhetoric.

A Facebook post shared by the 59-year-old on July 16 starts off ordinarily enough, as the father of two details about six hours worth of work he'd done in his yard the previous day — including clearing out brush, trimming trees, and planting fruits and vegetables — but then it takes a surprising turn.  

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"After I was done, I was exhausted. My knees hurt. My back hurt. My whole 59-year-old body hurt," he wrote. "I was thinking to myself: 'What a day. But at least I can rest now and sleep in on Sunday because my hockey game isn't until 2:15.'"

"But then I had another thought: What if I was a migrant farmer?" he adds. "They work ten times harder than I did today. AND THEN THEY COME BACK AND DO IT AGAIN THE NEXT DAY AND THE NEXT AND THE NEXT."

And Somerville's hypothetical scenario of placing himself in a farm worker's shoes hardly ended there. He continued, also calling to attention the fact that the workers are typically paid very little for the hard labor they do and treated poorly.

"I don't know how they do it. It's backbreaking work. They make very little money. And in my opinion get very little recognition," Somerville added, taking a moment to thank the workers who pick the crops that go from the field, to the supermarket, to our dinner tables. "It takes a lot of very hard work to get the fruit and vegetables to the market. So the next time you're there maybe take a moment to think about the people who work in the fields."

"To me, they are the backbone of America," he concluded.

Though Somerville's one-day experience offers a very limited perspective on farm work, the essence of what he's saying rings true. According to the National Center For Farmworker Health, more than 3 million migrant and seasonal farm workers are estimated to be in the United States, and the National Farmworker Ministry reports the 2009 average income of crop workers was between $10,000 to $12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family. For some perspective, the federal poverty line that year was $10,830 for an individual or $22,050 for a family of four.

In other words, these workers toil in the fields day in and day out, but often barely make enough money to support themselves and their families. A Farmworker Justice report found 76 percent of all farm workers identify as Latino/Hispanic, and the majority of farm workers are married with children.

Since the majority of farm workers are foreign-born, many have the incorrect belief they are "stealing" jobs from Americans. But in reality, as Attn: points out, many Americans aren't willing to take low-wage, labor-intensive positions in the agricultural industry. 

Many experts report that they are seeing the beginnings of labor shortages in farming communities — due, in large part, to recent immigration crackdowns.

"We are kind of at a crossroads now, where we either make the decision, do we want to allow workers to come in to help produce our food here in this country, or do we want to import our food into the country?" Tennessee Farm Bureau President Jeff Aiken told The Tennessean.

Though we shouldn't need someone who is not a farm worker to prompt empathy towards an underpaid, underappreciated segment of the population, Somerville's post has struck a chord with millions. In just two days, it has been shared nearly 57,000 times and liked by over 135,000 users. "[The post] "just happened to say what a lot of people already think," which is "that migrant farmers work really, really hard," Somerville told Attn:.

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