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During the 2013 Youth Migrant Project in Burlington, youth participants and their leaders spent time harvesting crops in the “Garden of Hope,” a community project that provides fresh produce for several food banks serving migrant families.  As migrant workers picked the food that we eat, we picked food for them to eat.  All of this occurred in the midst of the worker’s struggle to secure just wages and dignified treatment from their employer.  As our youth picked, they began to empathize with the highly unjust situation facing our migrant brothers and sisters.  The following is a reflection by one of our leaders:
       
 
Pondering the Garden of Hope
By Christina Buchholz, Youth Ministry Adult Volunteer and Migrant Project Leader
 
The garden was beautiful.  Wild flowers and light purple garlic blooms greeted us as we entered the half acre garden filled with chard, string beans, yellow squash (loved the yellow blooms), carrots and the ten rows of snap peas that were to be our charge.
 
With my cheerful red bucket in hand, I listened as Bruno described the ideal pea.  “Take the fatter ones.”  I watched this young twenty four year old recent college graduate hold up a ‘fatty’ example.  He was accomplished and undocumented.
 
Then, I crouched down to hunt for a fat one.  At first I was hesitant.  Was this a good one?  What if I pick one that isn’t fat enough?  Someone asked “Is this okay?”  Bruno casually responded, “Someone will eat it.”  I kept picking.  Medium to fat, just like the one from the store.
 
After a while, my ‘genuflect’ posture became uncomfortable.  I think I’d clocked about an hour and a half.  The morning clouds had burned off, allowing the sun to shine on our backs as we bent over the rows.  Cheerful chatter amidst the picking.
 
With green fingers and an appetite, we put our buckets aside.  We gathered under the shade of a generous cherry tree to feed our hunger.  During our rest, we discussed the merits of filling one more box for our modest harvest.
 
Back into the garden we went, rejuvenated by our time in the shade.  The conversation meandered through the rows.  Lamentations of fatigue and sore knees and backs replaced the pre-shade chatter.  It had been only three hours of picking.  The last box was filled by our efforts.
 
Ninety-one pounds.  $27.30 earned in total by ten pickers and two weeders.  $2.48 per person for a half-day’s work.  What can only be described as humility settled upon us.  Even with twenty-four albeit untrained hands, we managed to only reap $27.30 of life.
 
Modest.  $27.30 could not support even the modest of lives.  How does less than $30.00 support a family of four?  How does such a humble wage afford a family its dream of a better life?
 
That same ninety-one pounds awoke in my heart compassion.  It stirred inspiration.  I want to learn to become more intimate with humility.  I need to embrace modesty.  My heart must cherish the ‘important things’ and offer up my struggles.  My challenges are trivial.  I want the wrong things sometimes.
 
Our time picking yielded ninety-one pounds.  Those three hours on that half acre garden yielded a glimpse into the lives of a hard-working people.  People filled with dreams, filled with a desire for a better life, yet full of hardship and often injustices.
 
And what can I do?  What contribution can I make?
 
A visit.  Every year.  To tend to the Garden of Hope.

 

 

Youth Migrant Project Journal 2013
Joe Cotton, Cathedral Youth Minister

JULY 29

I am delighted to report that we are having a fun and highly meaningful experience here at the Migrant Project.  Today, the participants headed out to the Garden of Hope, a half-acre community garden that exists solely to provide fresh produce to migrant families and other neighbors in need via Skagit Valley food banks.  Fresh produce, particularly the kind produced by this garden, are a rarity in food banks and recipients are therefore excited when ‘Garden of Hope’ products make it into the food bank supply.  What a joy to be a vital link in bringing this healthy treat to migrant families. 
 
As migrant workers toiled today to pick the food that we eat, we engaged in the same kind of work to provide food for them to eat.  It was a beautiful act of mutual caring, one that nurtured genuine empathy in our hearts for the hard labor offered daily for our benefit. 
 
Today’s crop was snap peas.  Participants harvested 91 pounds of snap peas for the food banks.  Others cut back the overgrown grass threatening to invade the garden.  Afterwards, all of us ventured to the Skagit Food Distribution Center, which distributes food to several food banks in the region.  We were able to learn a little about the logistics involved in feeding the hungry.
 
Upon returning to St. Charles, we learned that migrant workers are often paid $0.30 per pound of produce.  By this scale, our group would have earned a total of $27.30 for our entire day of labor.  If we were migrant workers, that would mean $2.48 per laborer to feed our family.  This, I hope, was eye opening, particularly as we wiped the sweat away, rubbed aching muscles, and longed for the nearest Starbucks.  It’s even more appalling when you realize that migrant workers can’t even afford to buy the very fruit they pick in the major supermarkets.  Where is the justice in that?  In addition, we learned some of the gritty details about the recent strike and caught a glimpse of the daily injustices that persist in our community. 
 
The evening offered a reflection experience where participants captured their thoughts in a journal and shared about the day’s activities.  And finally, no day would be complete without – you guessed it – Glow in the Dark Capture the Flag.  Ah, to be young… 
 
Please continue to hold us in prayer as our journey continues.  Soon, we will begin meeting actual migrant families and allowing them to teach us about faith, dependence on God, humility, and simplicity.
 
Thank you for all your support and prayer.  God bless.



JULY 31

During the second and third full days of the Migrant Project, the youth participants have completely lived into our ministry’s slogan of “Pouring our lives out for others, and finding life in doing so.” 
 
Tuesday brought us to the Tri Parish Food Bank, located on site at St. Charles.  The participants dived into a myriad of projects aimed at organizing and preparing the food bank for its opening on Wednesday.  We began by sorting through boxes and boxes of donated vegetables and fruit, trying to salvage as much as possible for distribution.  Some members went to work building piñatas for the evening fiesta at two of the local migrant camps.  Some tore cloth to make cleaning rags for the camps.  Others scooped beans and flour into individual bags.  Then, the big truck pulled up, filled to the brim with food and supplies from the Skagit Food Distribution Center.  All of us came together to unload the goods, forming assembly lines to quickly transport items into the food bank. 
 
That evening, we filled our vans with ice cream, juice, and treats and departed for the migrant camps where we engaged in a lively fiesta.  The participants began meeting the migrant children, offering piggy back rides and engaging in soccer.  Jump ropes were busted out and smiles were everywhere.  Eventually, we began to serve ice cream and watermelon.  Heaven on earth becomes possible in situations like this!
 
Wednesday proved to be the most tiring, yet fulfilling day.  We began by making sandwiches for the migrant children.  We then returned to the camps and served lunch, complete with fruit, juice, toys, and treats.  Special connections were established over games of Frisbee and tag, etc.  One migrant family graciously invited us to visit their home, a small, single-room, humble dwelling without a formal kitchen or bathroom.  We learned that 14 people called this small space home.  The mattress set we had loaded the day before was now situated in their living room.  A statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was prominently displayed and we learned how she had appeared to the home’s patriarch during a severe accident that nearly took his life.  Now they honor her with a statue encased in glass.   Something seemed to shift for all of us at this stage in the game.  When it was time to say goodbye, it was difficult to walk away from the children.  Thankfully, our time apart would be brief. 
 
Once back at the parish, the frenzy to set up for the food bank began.  Food was set out in an orderly fashion, clothes were carried out to large tarps on the field, arts & crafts were arranged for the children, and an entire dinner was prepared for all our guests.  At 3:00, the food bank opened as crowds of migrant families and other neighbors converged on the property.  And the marathon began.  St. James youth worked long and hard.  Some worked the food lines, greeting our guests and ensuring that they received what they needed.  Others served as runners, helping guests to carry their groceries to the car.  And others prepared and served dinner to each and every person who attended.  I can’t begin to tell you how much my heart swelled with joy in observing the participants interacting with the migrant community.  They lovingly served meals, hauled supplies, and played with children.  And as we all sat down to share in a meal together, I was struck, once again, by a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.     
 
Meanwhile, as the event went on, several migrant workers and owners of Sakuma Bros. Farm assembled at St. Charles for additional negotiations, this time with Federal mediators.  Hopefully, the peaceful and justice-filled gathering occurring in their midst somehow helped to soften hearts. 
 
At the end of the event, we learned that we had served over 400 people.  And, in doing so, we honored the human dignity of all our guests and communed as equals.  It was a beautiful evening, one that reflects the call of Pope Francis to be a Church that is for and with the poor…a poor Church.  Speaking of Pope Francis, we concluded our evening with an amazing presentation on the similarities of St. Francis and Pope Francis as presented by Franciscan Sister, Christine Still.  And – as always – no day would be complete without a silly game for the sake of communal enjoyment.  Tonight’s selection?  Zombies vs. Humans.  It doesn’t get much better than that…
 
Thank you for your continued prayers as we move into the home stretch.

AUGUST 2

The Migrant Project is wrapping up.  It has proven to be a meaningful and educational experience, one that will hopefully inspire some sort of action or internal change on the part of our participants.  The project climaxed with a Mass celebrated in a smaller migrant camp located near La Conner.  We began with a procession throughout the entire camp and then enjoyed a bilingual liturgy in between the humble dwellings.  In the background, pinned to the wall, were the daily tallies of fruit picked.  The price per pound has dropped to 27 cents.  Participants were saddened as we did the math and learned the daily salaries, particularly in light of recent tactics employed by farm owners, sending ambiguous security officials to the camps to intimidate migrants into working.  Given the harsh context, the singing and communal prayers of the Mass were a welcome addition.  Participants then served dinner and ice cream before playing with children, visiting migrant homes, and connecting with the people.  It was a beautiful evening.
 
In regard to final thoughts, I thought it might be nice to hear some reflections from the participants themselves.  Here are some selections from their journals:
 
“This week has helped me empathize with the migrant workers even more than I thought it would.  The inability to take a shower every day and even the inconvenient sleeping conditions, having to sleep on the floor, has made an impact on my overall comfort level.  So I have barely even scratched the surface of the discomfort these workers are experiencing.  However, seeing and interacting with the children, as always, was good.  It gave me a positive outlook.  Even with the terrible living conditions these kids are faced with, they still have enormous smiles on their faces.  They ran, played games, joked, and talked without a care in the world, just like any other ‘normal’ kid I’ve met.  It really shows how little these kids take for granted.  And whatever I can do to keep that spirit alive in them, I’ll do it! They are the future of their communities.”
 
--Payton, 17-years-old
 
 
“During this past week at the Migrant Project, I’ve learned a lot about the limitations of the migrant workers.  For example, they don’t have sick leave.  This week, I haven’t been feeling the best, so when I went to make scarves for the children to use during winter and weeded outside the food bank, I had a real bad headache and sore throat and I couldn’t even bend over to pull a plant out of the ground.  So I have given these migrant workers great sympathy because I had the chance to lay down and rest whereas migrant workers can’t afford to lay down, take a break, or leave their work because they NEED to bring home money, even if it’s only $27 dollars a day.” 
 
--Alexis, 17-years-old
 
 
(Reflections reprinted with permission)
 
As you can see, the project has certainly made an impact.  Tomorrow, we will engage in the closing ceremonies and then the REAL work will begin: the work of setting goals and deciding how to collectively respond to the injustices we have encountered up close and personal.  Our hope is that this project is simply a beginning…
 
There is much yet to be done!  Thankfully, our brand new youth ministry program provides a forum for our relationships and justice work to continue growing.  Ideas are already flowing from the participants about ways to support the migrant community from home.  The Migrant Project may be ending, but our work is far from done.

Thank you for all your prayers and support during our week of service.
 

 




 

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