The Promise and Perils of Restoring Battlefield Orchards


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

It was about six days into my eleven day Civil War study tour that I realized that replanting orchards at historical parks had become something of a movement. It wasn’t that I was completely unaware of this. I had read Susan Dolan’s  excellent Fruitful Legacy: A Historic Context of Orchards in the United States, which catalogues historic orchards at National Parks sites and also offers a nice historical overview of orchard agriculture in America. I was aware that the Gettysburg National Military Park had replanted the historic Sherfy Orchard. But as we visited one Civil War site after another, and my students rolled their eyes each time I asked a ranger or interpreter about orchards at that particular place, I was happily surprised at how many of them were planning or already in the process of restoring historic orchards.

Heritage Apple Orchard at Belle Grove Plantation

Heritage Apple Orchard at Belle Grove Plantation

Gettysburg has replanted dozens of orchards on their historic sites, and now that they have removed the old Cyclorama building, they intend to replant a historic orchard on that site as well. The oldest trees in Antietam’s restored Piper Orchard are now more than ten years old. The privately-run Belle Grove Plantation on the Cedar Creek battlefield now has a small orchard, of heritage apples and is also keeping honeybees.

Young peach tree in front of Grant's Cabin, City Point

Young peach tree in front of Grant’s Cabin, City Point

At Grant’s Headquarters at City Point on the James River, which had been the Richard Eppes plantation before the war, a few fruit trees have been replanted on the grounds. More significantly, the National Parks Service commissioned a study by the Olmsted Foundation which scoured sketches and paintings of the Eppes Plantation, Richard Eppes’ diaries and account books at the Virginia Historical Society, as well as the letters and diaries of other visitors to the plantation just before or during the time it served as Grant’s headquarters to determine what Eppes planted and where.  They are using that study as a blueprint for a gradual restoration of Eppes’ original landscaping, which included a wide range of fruit trees scattered about the property.

Irvin McDowel went 0-2 at Manassas.  But he loved the local apples.

Irvin McDowel went 0-2 at Manassas. But he loved the local apples.

Nonetheless, it is easier to decide to restore orchards on historic sites, than it is to actually succeed in these efforts. Our National Parks have been starved for funding for years, and the current sequester will only make an already tight situation tighter.  Privately funded sites like Belle Grove also struggle to meet their payrolls. While visiting the Manassas National Battlefield Park, I was delighted to learn that at least one orchard was mentioned in the story of the Battle of Second Manassas, and that Park Service staff had made some effort to replant trees on the Brawner Farm. It was under the branches of the Brawner apple orchard that the hapless but always hungry Ohio General Irvin McDowell spread out his maps and ate “apples by the basket” as he tried to figure out what his Confederate foes were up to.

Deer have made quick work of the netting at Manassas

Deer have made quick work of the netting at Manassas

When I arrived at the Brawner Farm, however, I was disappointed with what I found. In the middle of a pasture of waist-high grass resided a motley collection of young apple trees, each surrounded by not-so-sturdy deer fence, many of them collapsed in on the trees.  I strode into the wet grass to get a closer look, and found several trees completely entangled in the collapsed deer netting, some of them having been in that condition long enough that they were now growing sideways.  While I didn’t hold out much hope for these trees, I couldn’t leave without making some effort to rescue them, carefully untangling the netted trees while my bemused but patient students waited along a dry path some yards away.

At the Shirley plantation, staff recently planted one peach, one apple, one plum, and one cherry tree where an orchard once stood. Hope they are self-fertile varieties!

At the Shirley plantation, staff recently planted one peach, one apple, one plum, and one cherry tree where an orchard once stood. Hope they are self-fertile varieties!

In the interpretive center at the Brawner Farm, one ranger expressed skepticism about the whole project. The farmhouse that the interpretive center occupies was itself a post-war construction, albeit on the site of an earlier farmhouse that resided on roughly the same footprint.  If the very farmhouse itself was not the same as the one that was there in the midst of the battle, he asked me, what value was there in trying to replant a historic orchard on the site? Was this taking the desire to restore battlefields to their precise pre-battle condition a bit too far?

Given what I know about the effort and resources it takes to care for an orchard—and to protect them from the ravages of deer, insects, and harmful diseases and fungi—I had to conceded that this might not be the wisest use of scarce park resources. At Gettysburg and elsewhere, success in these efforts came only when the historic site found committed and knowledgeable volunteers willing to take responsibility for the trees. I can’t fault the over-stretched staff of Manassas National Battlefield Park for neglect, and instead I applaud their intention. It is my hope that they can find a group of committed volunteers to take over this project. And they will need to invest in some more substantial deer fence.

Volunteers for the Philly Orchard Project.

Volunteers for the Philly Orchard Project.

These local volunteer organizations might learn a great deal by looking at the efforts of Urban Orchard organizations around the country, which would no doubt be great resources for them. These include groups like the Philadelphia Orchard Project, Seattle’s City Fruit, the Portland Fruit Tree Project, the Boston Tree Party, and Los Angeles’ Fallen Fruit collective. These organizations have learned a great deal about the pitfalls and promise of planting and maintaining public orchards. I hope that efforts to replant orchards on federal, state, and private historic sites continues to grow, and am eager to learn about other efforts out there.  Please let me know about other efforts by contributing a comment below.

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Orchards and Slavery on the Rappahannock


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the second in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

Chatham Manor today. Before the Civil War, this was the back of the house, with the front yard overlooking the Rappahannock.

Chatham Manor today. Before the Civil War, this was the back of the house, with the front yard overlooking the Rappahannock.

Chatham Manor sits on the north bank of the Rappahannock River, on a high bluff overlooking the City of Fredericksburg. It was built for entertaining Virginia’s elite.  Its first owner, William Fitzhugh, was among that elite, and at different times both Washington and Jefferson were guests at the house. The 1280 acre plantation, surrounded by carefully-designed and managed gardens, two orchards, and fields of commercial crops, was designed to impress its guests with the wealth and refined tastes of its owner. We can imagine William Fitzhugh providing guests like Washington and Jefferson with a spectacular meal, perhaps one that ended with a dessert of fine and rare fruits from his orchards. And we can imagine the fruits of Chatham’s orchards being a subject of their conversation. Both Washington and Jefferson were immensely proud of their own carefully kept orchards of the fine fruit, acquired from nurseries on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps Fitzhugh and his guests promised to exchange grafts of especially rare varieties with each other, as members of this elite club were wont to do.

William Fitzhugh, member of the 2nd Continental Congress, builder of Chatham Manor.

William Fitzhugh, member of the 2nd Continental Congress, builder of Chatham Manor.

The Fitzhughs, Jeffersons, and Washingtons of Virginia could afford to devote time and resources to the hobby of fruit growing because they commanded the labor of hundreds of unfree persons. Slavery made Chatham’s fine gardens and orchards possible. Despite the efforts of Fitzhugh and other southern planters to present themselves to the world as benevolent patriarchs overseeing an Edenic and peaceable kingdom, the truth was that all of this wealth and refinement was derived from their exploitation of other people. In 1805, Fitzhugh’s slaves rose up in rebellion against their cruel treatment. An armed posse of white men put the rebellion down. Two of the rebels were killed as they tried to escape; another was captured and executed as a warning to others; two more were sold away to another plantation, probably in the West Indies. Fitzhugh, who had come to find both managing enslaved laborers and entertaining other elite Virginians a wearying task, sold Chatham the next year.

James Horace Lacey, owner of Chatham Manor, confederate staff officer.

James Horace Lacey, owner of Chatham Manor, confederate staff officer.

Its subsequent owners continued to operate Chatham manor as a plantation estate.  When southern states seceded in 1861, believing Lincoln’s election a threat to the institution of slavery, Chatham’s then thirty-seven year old owner, James Horace Lacy, followed his interests and joined the Confederate army as a staff officer. In April of 1862 when the Union Army occupied the north bank of the Rappahannock,  Lacey’s wife and children fled to Fredericksburg on the south side of the river.

In December of 1862, Union General Ambrose Burnside used Chatham as a command center. He hoped to launch a quick strike across the Rappahannock before Lee and his Army were prepared, then push on towards the Confederate capitol at Richmond.  But when he arrived with his army on the north side of the Rappahannock, the pontoon boats he needed to build a bridge across the river had not. As Burnside waited, Lee and his army dug in, occupying a long imposing ridge just south of the city of Fredericksburg.

The Sunken Road at Fredericksburg. Hundreds of Union soldiers fell trying to take this position.

The Sunken Road at Fredericksburg. Hundreds of Union soldiers fell trying to take this position.

In the 19th century, it was customary for armies to suspend campaigns in winter. Most of the major battles of the Civil War occurred in the spring, summer or fall.  But Lincoln, eager for a decisive victory before the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect on January 1, pushed Burnside to act. Burnside, too, was eager to demonstrate that he was different from the overly-cautious McClellan whom he had recently replaced. The result of this impatience was one of the costliest, most lop-sided Union defeats of the war. Union forces were able to make the crossing and take the town, but the assault on the Confederate position on Marye’s Heights, across open fields, was a terrible folly. Confederate riflemen fired upon advancing Union soldiers from a sunken road at the base of the heights; Confederate artillery rained down upon the exposed soldiers from the heights. Burnside stubbornly persisted, sending fourteen separate charges against the entrenched Confederates, all of them costly failures. At the end of the day, Union casualties just in the Marye’s Heights section of the line, were six to eight thousand, while Confederates lost less than a quarter of that many. After the battle, Chatham Manor was converted from Union Command Center to field hospital. Hundreds of wounded and dying men faced triage and amputation in tents set up on its grounds, many of those who did not survive were temporarily buried in Chatham’s gardens.

One week after the battle the poet Walt Whitman came to Chatham House to nurse and comfort the wounded and the dying. Today Chatham is owned and maintained by the National Parks Service, as part of the Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park. On a wall next to a window that overlooks the front garden, a copy of Walt Whitman’s The Wound Dresser is mounted, open to the pages that describe what he witnessed at Chatham:

“Outdoors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house, I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc., about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its brown woollen blanket. In the dooryard, toward the river, are fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of barrel staves or broken board, stuck in the dirt.”

Whitman's catalpa tree from a parlor in Chatham Manor.

Whitman’s catalpa tree from a parlor in Chatham Manor.

The catalpa tree which sheltered the pile of unsalvageable appendages survives, and is visible from that window.  Its bark more gnarled and knotted with age, and its aging trunk and some of its heavier branches now held up with steel supports, in a heroic effort to preserve the last witness to this terrible scene. It is as if this old catalpa has become Whitman himself, pointing at the precise spot of the carnage, telling us not to look away.

While Whitman’s catalpa tree survives, the orchards of Chatham Manor, a symbol of the luxury that slavery provided to an elite group of white men, do not.  After the battle the Union army hunkered down for the winter on the north side of the river. On January 1, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, and the Rappahannock became one of the most important boundaries between slavery and freedom. Throughout that winter Virginia slaves stole themselves and gained their freedom by crossing to the Union side.  Many stayed with the Union camp, and took jobs with the army. Soldiers and freedmen scoured the countryside that winter, seeking fuel to keep them warm. By spring the north shore of the Rappahannock was mostly denuded of trees, save Whitman’s Catalpa and a few other mature trees that graced the lawn of Chatham Manor. Chatham’s two orchards were no doubt among the first targets of the fuel foragers. When I asked the park rangers on duty at Chatham if they could point me to the original location of these orchards, they could not.  The opulent orchards of Chatham, created by slavery, were ultimately extirpated by the soldiers and freedmen who brought about slavery’s demise.

The gnarled, knotted bark of one of the last witnesses of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The gnarled, knotted bark of one of the last witnesses of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The Apples of Antietam


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the third in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

Two cannon sit on the southern edge of the new Piper Orchard at Antietam

Two cannon sit on the southern edge of the new Piper Orchard at Antietam

An Army marches on its stomach.” This old adage, commonly attributed to Napoleon, was certainly one every Union and Confederate soldier understood. Soldiers spent a great deal of time thinking about their stomachs: what last went into them, and what might next go into them. Even when rations were plentiful, they were nonetheless dependably monotonous—salt pork, hard tack, and desiccated vegetables were standard fare. When opportunities arose to satisfy their stomachs with something different, soldiers could go to extraordinary lengths to seize them. This truth was perhaps no more dramatically demonstrated than at Sharpsburg, Maryland in the Fall of 1862, on the bloodiest single day of the war. The battle of Antietam has long been remembered for the fierce fighting which occurred in the cornfield, the West Woods, along Bloody Lane, and at Burnside’s Bridge, but actions that day in the Piper Orchard were also worthy of commemoration.

Four fierce-looking members of the 22nd Georgia. Some believe the object in the hand of the soldier on the left is a confederate grenade, but I'd like to think it's actually an apple.

Four fierce-looking members of the 22nd Georgia. Some believe the object in the hand of the soldier on the left is a confederate grenade, but I’d like to think it’s actually an apple.

The Piper apple orchard sat on a hill just south of the Sunken Road, where on the morning of the battle Confederate forces were entrenched in what appeared to be an impregnable defensive position. But once flanked by Union forces, the Sunken Road quickly became a death pit now memorialized as Bloody Lane. To the South of the Sunken Road on a hillside resided the Piper cornfield and orchard, and it was to this ground that Robert E. Lee sent a division of 4,000 men in an effort to rescue their trapped comrades. While this high ground allowed the Confederates to fire upon Union forces north and west of the Sunken Road, it also left the soldiers in that orchard terribly exposed to both Union artillery and rifle fire. Caught at the highest, most exposed part of the orchard, Georgia’s 22nd Infantry hunkered down, as minie balls flew over their heads and canister shot rattled the apple trees around them. Private W.B. Judkins, a member of that Georgia regiment recalled “the company was in the thick of the fight there in the apple orchard and cornfield. The ground was covered with apples where we fought, shot off the trees.” Judkins himself was wounded by schrapnel, but he and his fellow Georgians wasted no opportunity and instinctively grabbed as many fallen apples as they could.

Major Thomas Hyde, whose 7th Maine suffered more than 50% casualties in the Piper Orchard that day.

Major Thomas Hyde, whose 7th Maine suffered more than 50% casualties in the Piper Orchard that day.

Later that afternoon, the focus of the battle shifted south to Burnside’s Bridge, but the scene near Bloody Lane and the Piper Orchard was far from peaceful. Confederates continued to use the high ground of the Piper farm and orchard to fire upon Union forces now firmly in control of the area around Bloody Lane. At this point, seizing the high ground of the Piper Orchard had no strategic importance, so Major Thomas Hyde was a bit shocked to receive orders from Colonel William Irwin to send his 7th Maine regiment—diminished by earlier fights to only about 200 men—to take the Piper Orchard from a Confederate force at least four times as large. The Maine men did so, but soon found themselves pinned down in the hilltop orchard, with no support coming from other regiments behind them. Thomas Hyde remembered “how the twigs and branches of the apple-trees were being cut off by musket balls and were dropping in a shower.” Another member of the regiment recalled how  “bullets, men and apples were dropping on all sides.” Nonetheless, in a fight so fierce that Captain John B. Cook declared it was in the Piper orchard that he “learned how thickly bullets could fly,” the fearless and hungry men of the 7th Maine were reaching up into the branches of the trees to gather apples.

When the fighting finally ended that evening, more than one in three of Georgia’s apple-gathering soldiers were casualties, while Maine’s second-harvesters lost more than half their regiment.

One of the heritage varieties planted in the new Piper Orchard was the McLellan, which has no connection to the Union's Commanding General at Antietam, George McClellan. Image from S.A. Beech, Apples of New York.

One of the heritage varieties planted in the new Piper Orchard was the McLellan, which has no connection to the Union’s Commanding General at Antietam, George McClellan. Image from S.A. Beech, Apples of New York.

The Piper Orchard at Antietam, like the Sherfy Orchard at Gettysburg, survived the war but not the century. When the Congress acquired the battlefield at Antietam and established a national park, there were no more apple trees on Piper hill. In 2002, as part of a wider effort to restore National Battlefields to their pre-battle landscapes, Antietam National Battlefield replanted 6.5 acres in apple trees, selecting 19th century varieties; five years later, they planted an additional 13.5 acres, this time including some modern disease-resistant varieties. Protecting the young orchard from the ravages of deer has been a challenge, and today about half of the trees in the orchard are surrounded by sturdy deer-proof fencing. Slowly but surely, the Piper Orchard is returning to something looking a bit like its 1862 appearance.

long.road.antietamA detailed description of the 7th Maine’s fateful charge into the orchard can be found here.  For a thrilling description of the entire battle, including the experience of the Georgia 22nd in the Piper Orchard, pick up Richard Slotkin’s The Long Road to Antietam.  More about the efforts of Antietam staff and volunteers to restore the Piper Orchard can be found here and and also at the Save Historic Antietam Foundation website.

Excellent, detailed maps of the entire battlefield, including the locations of the Piper and other orchards can be found in Bradley Gottfried’s The Maps of Antietam.

The new Piper Orchard at dawn, May 2013.

The new Piper Orchard at dawn, May 2013.

A Penny Per Pound


Tomatolandcover1“Any American who has eaten a winter tomato, either purchased at a supermarket or on top of a fast food salad, has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave.”  When I first read this line in Barry Estabrook’s book Tomatoland, I was both shocked, but also, I confess, a little skeptical.  The assertion, made by U.S. District Attorney Douglas Molloy, of Florida’s Middle District is based on his extensive on the ground knowledge of the labor conditions in Central Florida’s tomato fields, which, Molloy claims, have been until recently “ground zero for modern-day slavery.” Molloy’s insistence that the most exploitative working conditions in Florida’s tomato field amounted to slavery was no mere opinion, but supported by convictions of six men involved in the enslavement scheme. Migrant workers in the employ of Cesar Navarette were coaxed into accepting jobs that promised good pay and clean housing. Instead they found themselves lured into debt peonage, forced to live in unsanitary box trucks with no toilet facilities, locked in trucks overnight to ensure they would be available to work the next day, chained together, beaten and threatened.

Tomato Pickers in Central Florida are paid by the 32 pound pail.

Tomato Pickers in Central Florida are paid by the 32 pound pail.

While not all workers who toiled in Central Florida’s tomato fields in the first decade of the twenty-first century could be called slaves, instances of extreme exploitation and inhumane work and housing conditions were quite common. The good news is that in less than a decade, thanks to the collective action of workers and their allies, conditions in central Florida tomato fields have gone from among the worst in the United States to “probably the best working environment in American agriculture” according to Susan Marquis of the RAND Graduate School.

Before explaining how this remarkable turnaround occurred, I want to say a few words about my own interest in this subject. In the final chapter of my recent book, Johnny Appleseed and the American OrchardI offer a brief but sweeping history of the apple in America since 1860. When I finished that book I realized I had a lot more to say about the history of the apple in America, including much material that was too far afield from that book’s anchor narrative: the story of John “Appleseed” Chapman and the legend that emerged from his life. I decided that a broader history of the apple in American history was warranted, and have begun to map that book out.  One persistent issue in the story of the apple in America is, of course, the problem of labor: who picked your apple, and under what conditions was it picked? Was the laborer adequately compensated for her work?

Slavery and exploitation have been a persistent and recurring part of the global history of agricultural labor. Even in the early 19th century United States, a golden age of sorts for the family farm in the northeast and midwest, slave labor was the engine of southern agriculture.  In the middle of the 19th century most of America’s apple orchards resided on family farms and were picked by members of that family or local laborers, or not picked at all. (A significant percentage of the nation’s apples were simply left to drop on the ground, where they would fatten hogs released into the orchard.) In the late 19th and the early 20th century, as orcharding became an increasingly specialized and primarily commercial activity, orchards got larger, the challenge of seasonal labor needs became greater. And as markets became increasingly national and international in scope, competition, more often than not, exerted downward pressures on both the prices of apples and the wages those picking them received.  The same factors that created the exploitative working conditions in central Florida’s tomato fields have come to bear on agriculture across the United States and the world, and the apple industry has not been exempt from this.

Apple pickers were assigned numbers and placed a ticket in each basket of apples they picked. Then relied on the accounting of supervisors to determine their days' pay.

Apple pickers were assigned numbers and placed a ticket in each basket of apples they picked. Then relied on the accounting of supervisors to determine their days’ pay.

My project for this summer to is trace part of this transition in orchard agriculture in one small region by telling the story of the Shenandoah Valley’s orchard industry across the first half of the twentieth century. One part of that story is a transition in harvest labor, from family and local labor early in the century, when many Appalachian families came down from the mountains in the fall to pick apples, to their replacement with Jamaican and Bahamian guest workers by mid-century.  In the Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia I have found a large collection of the ephemera connected to this harvest labor, including the “picker’s tickets” given to each laborer, intended to help determine what each worker is owed in wages at the end of the day.  Agricultural labor was exempted from most of the labor regulations passed in the 1930s New Deal legislation, and the grower’s preferred method of payment–by the pound, bushel or barrel, rather than by the hour–has long made this kind of work especially vulnerable to exploitation.

Trader Joe's resisted the demands of the Campaign for Fair Food, but bowing to customer pressure, eventually signed on.

Trader Joe’s resisted the demands of the Campaign for Fair Food, but bowing to customer pressure, eventually signed on.

That has certainly been the case in central Florida’s tomato fields, where workers are paid by the pail. Growers have long insisted that workers make better than minimum wage, but make those calculations are based upon often unrealistic estimates of how many pails of tomatoes a worker can pick in an hour, and also by ignoring the time workers spend at the field waiting for the morning dew to dry before they can begin to pick. The wages and conditions in Florida’s tomato fields have improved dramatically in the last decade by the inspired creation of a “Penny Per Pound” campaign launched by the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW). Growers had long responded to worker’s requests for higher wages by claiming, not unfairly, that they, too, were victims of a global marketplace, and anything that raised their cost made it harder for them to compete against tomatoes grown in Mexico and elsewhere. The CIW’s solution was to go directly to the major purchasers of Florida’s fresh tomatoes–fast food chains and grocery stores–and ask them if they would be willing to pay one penny more per pound if they were assured that the additional penny would go to improving the working conditions and wages of the pickers. The CIW did not initially receive a warm reception, but through

Ohio-based Wendy's is the last major fast food chain holdout against the Penny Per Pound Campaign.

Ohio-based Wendy’s is the last major fast food chain holdout against the Penny Per Pound Campaign.

strategic boycotts, they have managed to bring many of the biggest buyers on board. Among fast food giants, the biggest player still refusing to pay an extra penny a pound is Ohio-based Wendy’s; among grocery chains, Kroger’s is one of the last holdouts. Even Walmart has signed on for the Penny Per Pound campaign, and gone one step farther–promising to see if they can institute a similar program with their suppliers of apples and strawberries.

The Penny For Pound program–now called the Campaign for Fair Food–has already dramatically improved conditions and wages for central Florida’s tomato growers, and is on the eve of a complete victory.  Please visit their website to see a full list of the supporters and hold outs.  Consider printing out information about the campaign from their website and stopping in to talk to the manager of your local Kroger’s and Wendy’s and letting them know how important it is to you, as a consumer, that the people who work to provide your food are treated humanely and paid fairly.

For a historical perspective on the persistence of slavery and labor exploitation, visit the Historians Against Slavery website.

These companies have all signed on to pay a penny more per pound to improve the wages and conditions of Florida's tomato pickers.

These companies have all signed on to pay a penny more per pound to improve the wages and conditions of Florida’s tomato pickers.

My Father’s Shoes, by Marcia Aldrich


This lovely little story and loss and moving on from loss, set in an apple orchard, popped up in my facebook feed this morning. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  It comes from River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative .

Photo "Old Brown Shoes" provided by Khánh Hmoong, via Flickr creative commons license.

Photo “Old Brown Shoes” provided by Khánh Hmoong, via Flickr creative commons license.

The day my father died, my husband and I drove in the bright, tilted light of autumn, past farms, pastures, and ponds, finally arriving at the orchard. We parked the car, picked up two half-bushel bags to fill, and walked up the trail of powdered dust, fine as confectioner’s sugar, that led to the grove. That’s when I noticed them—my father’s shoes on my husband’s feet.

They’re old man’s shoes, beige like the walls in retirement homes that take in widows and widowers when they have nowhere else to go. That’s where my father moved after my mother died, where by each identical door, on a little ledge, the resident displayed plastic flowers and stuffed animals.

I was disconcerted when Richard wore his shoes. I didn’t want him to put his feet where my father’s feet had rested. On the trail up the hill, Richard was shuffling like my father did the last time I saw him.

When we entered the lane of Mutsu trees under clear blue skies with fast moving clouds and the grass growing tall between the trees, the light went very pale. I no longer knew exactly who I was: was I a daughter following the footsteps of my father or a wife following my husband? Was my father dead or resurrected in my husband? Richard moved down the lane and disappeared inside the canopy of a tree. I could only see his shoes, my father’s shoes, glistening in the wet grass.

Marcia Aldrich

Mutsu Apples. Wikimedia Commons.

Mutsu Apples. Wikimedia Commons.