Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One of the challenges of our Sonoma County Food System Alliance is getting enough representation from workers in our meetings. Though many members of the Alliance work with and speak for low wage earners and the poor, it's a pretty elite group. So I was interested today to read an article in our Press-Democrat about an invention designed to benefit the laborers in the vineyards, a device for cooling folks off in hot weather.

It uses mist and shade to create a cooler environment - just like the outdoor seating at posh restaurants.

This is in part a response to the death of a young woman in 2008 due to heat stroke. Some growers ignore regulations to provide shade and drinking water. And according to the article there is a standoff between unions and growers about proposed CalOSHA regulations. Should the temperature at which heat stress requirements for the growers go into effect be 75F or 85F?

(Personally I always hark back to a Finnish study I read about when working in an office without AC in Los Angeles, that brain function begins to be impaired at 78F. I bet the medical reality for heat stress is somewhere in the middle of those two figures being debated, though closer to 75, especially for physical labor under the sun.)

Whatever. The effort of a Napa Valley guy to do invent something to help with this situation is to be applauded.

I've got a couple of questions, though.

Is there some way other than heavy water use to achieve a cooling environment for workers? The grapes are already using so much of our water, and misting people cools them, but doesn't do much to rehydrate them.

The other thing I question is some of the language used in the article.

"Patterson [the inventor] characterizes his trailer is[sic] an 'asset protection tool' for businesses whose employees labor in the sun because the penalties for failing to properly care for workers can far outweigh the Cooling Station's $20,000 price tag."
So this is not about respecting the lives and health of workers, it's about covering your ass[ets].

"The Cooling Station was named as one of the top 10 products of 2010 by World Ag Expo in Tulare County for its potential to advance agricultural production." Again, it's about producing more, not really about concern for people at all.


Susan said...

Please explain to me why they are growing grapes. Do we need the wine? What crop would use less water and not have to be picked in the hot weather?

Phina Borgeson said...

Well, the big issue is land prices. That's why high priced crops are grown. Wine grapes are about all most can afford to grow. The big tradeoff is local salmon and their friends - pretty much gone.
We've also got some problems with generational transition in farmlands. If those who inherit land don't want to farm it, it's sold, and the price is usually prohibitive for a new or young farmer to buy it.