At Arizona-Mexico border, field workers commute to meet crop quotas

In the salad bowl of the U.S., field workers are working through long hours, harsh weather and border commutes to put food on America's tables.

At Arizona-Mexico border, field workers commute to meet crop quotas
Scripps News

Nearly every morning while the moon glows in the dark sky, field workers wake up for a time-consuming commute to cross from Mexico into Arizona, using the San Luis Port of Entry.

Bianca Castillo was 23 years old when she began working the fields in the U.S., and now she's a field manager. She guided Scripps News along the Arizona-Mexico border during the commute, where many workers said they're beginning a typical 12-hour day, which they do six days a week.

One man named Javier said it was one of the lucky days because it only took 15 minutes to cross the border instead of the average time of three to four hours.

Select companies will rent out parking lots and provide buses for transportation to the fields. It's where some workers will try to catch some sleep before they clock in for a physically demanding day under the sun.

A dry irrigation canal runs between two unplanted fields.

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As the sun rises, workers across Yuma Valley begin the harvest. The area became famous for its head lettuce, and cutting it just right requires skill. Plus, each lettuce head picked means money for workers, prompting them to move quickly.

This farming in Yuma Valley lasts year-round, with the fertile soil allowing farmers to grow two to three harvests annually. The $4 billion industry in Yuma fuels Arizona's economy, and it requires the extensive labor force, which is dependent on what they call "lechugeros."

"Farming is the lifeblood of Yuma," said Bruce Gwynn, president of the Yuma County Historical Society. "Lechugeros... those are our labor force that helps us harvest the lettuce. We can't do it without them. It's been that way forever."

Across the U.S., approximately 80% of the agriculture work force identifies as Hispanic, according to the latest study posted by the National Center for Farmworker Health.

"Every one of these guys that work on our farm is, is like family," said Ryan Lee, owner of Lee Farms.

They're families that stretch from Arizona to Mexico in pursuit of the American dream and hoping to provide their families, while farmers say without these workers, it would be nearly impossible to harvest all of the crops that feed so many Americans.

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