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In New Documentary, the Realities of the American Food System Are Laid Bare

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A brand new documentary, premiering on PBS’s POV sequence right this moment, follows a California teenager with desires of graduating highschool and going to school who’s compelled to work in agriculture when ICE raids threaten her household.

Known as Fruits of Labor, the documentary follows 18-year-old Ashley Pavon as she juggles working her two jobs whereas navigating college and household obligations. The movie is centered in Watsonville, California, a coastal metropolis close to Santa Cruz, the place strawberries are the important crop and the place many residents are related to the agricultural sector. To assist assist her household, Ashley finds jobs choosing strawberries which might be clumped tightly collectively in large rows and packing frozen strawberries in a processing plant.

Though Ashley’s is only one story, filmmaker and director Emily Cohen Ibañez aimed to spotlight the realities of so many agricultural employees, many of them teenagers like Ashley, who need to labor beneath harsh circumstances whereas simply barely scraping by. Ashley and her household stay in a cramped home with one other household, sharing one washroom amongst 12 individuals. It’s a actuality for a lot of Individuals, says Cohen Ibañez. “We have half a million children today working in agricultural fields, despite it being one of the most dangerous forms of work in the United States.”

Filmmaker and director Emily Cohen Ibañez. Photograph by Andy Lemmis.

All through the movie, there’s a way of dread that permeates every scene. We watch as Ashley retailers for a promenade gown with a looming unease. We see Ashley and her mom, Beatriz, mendacity on a mattress, speaking about her nail polish, however issues are tense. At the same time as Ashley smiles and hangs out  along with her boyfriend or her siblings or her mates, a heavy query hangs over each second of the movie and Ashley’s personal life: Will Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers present up right this moment?

“There is a constant threat of not knowing when you could be swept up in a raid,” says Cohen Ibañez. “When Ashley came to me and said, ‘Oh, when I turn 18, I’m going to adopt my siblings in case my mom gets deported,’ I kind of freaked out.” The movie exhibits Ashley and Beatriz assembly with a lawyer to stroll by means of the course of of making Ashley a authorized guardian of her siblings in case the worst occurs. (Beatriz has since began the course of of citizenship and documentation).

By way of Fruits of Labor, Cohen Ibañez needs to point out the finesse concerned in these jobs which might be typically dismissed as simple or unskilled. “We did a lot of slow motion in the field, and we had to ask Ashley to slow down to capture her picking the strawberries, because she moves so fast,” she says.

As the important breadwinner of the household, Ashley carries an unimaginable quantity of accountability on her shoulders, and Cohen Ibañez needed to faucet into that interior world in the movie. Ashley narrates a lot of the documentary, speaking about her hopes and desires for the future—resembling graduating highschool, going to school and serving to her siblings and her mom. She and Cohen Ibañez labored collectively to jot down the voiceover, and Ashley is credited as co-writer of the movie. “It was very intentional to have Ashley be a part of the authorship of her own story,” says Cohen Ibañez. “I wanted this perspective of the complex young woman, and I wanted to show the universal struggles of a teenager coming of age, but within her particular situation and within the precarity of this contemporary moment.”

Ashley and her mom, Beatriz. Photograph by Gabriella Garcia-Pardo.

Cohen Ibañez honed in on the little issues that make up teenage-hood right this moment, “whether it’s finding the right prom dress or worrying about your grades or falling in love for the first time and the teenage reflections on one’s existence.” At the similar time, it’s clear that Ashley carries burdens that different teenagers don’t. She’s unsure if she’ll graduate highschool, as an illustration, as a result of she typically misses class to work her two jobs. She takes on the accountability of caring for and financially supporting her youthful siblings. She works to domesticate a group backyard for individuals in her group, particularly welcoming undoumented immigrants to hitch in the course of. “I was impressed by her, and I was drawn towards her,” Cohen Ibañez says. “I loved learning her view on berries, for example, that her ancestors lived with the wild berries; I thought that was beautiful.”

Cohen Ibañez hopes that individuals watching the movie will suppose deeply about the meals chains on which all of us rely and about who’s concerned at every step of the course of. “To me, the food system is working for a very small percentage of people, but for the majority of us, it’s a broken system,” she says. “This is essential labor. We need it. Without farmworkers, we’re not going to make it. We aren’t going to grow all our food. It is great to garden. I love gardening, but most of us don’t have the capacity and the bandwidth to grow all of our food we need.”

The slice of life that Fruits of Labor explores underscores the must elevate agricultural jobs and see farm employees as important to each the economic system and native communities. “Give that work the dignity and respect they deserve. A living wage, good bathrooms, hazard pay. We have these wildfires now [where farmworkers] are getting asthma and health problems,” says Cohen Ibañez. “This is treating people as if they’re not useful human beings. We need to change that.”

Fruits of Labor debuts on PBS right this moment, and is accessible for streaming on pbs.com. 



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