“The Markham-Nathan Fund for Social grant will support the forthcoming project IndiVISIBLE: Celebrating Indispensable Agricultural Workers, Making Their Stories and Presence Visible
“Franklin County, in western Massachusetts, is the most rural area of the Commonwealth. It is rich agricultural land, home to 741 farms in 2007, a mix of larger farm operations and small family farms. Residents of Franklin County enjoy purchasing the bounty at their local supermarkets, buying direct at a dozen or more orchards and farms, and stopping at dozens of smaller roadside farmstands. Sometimes we know who has picked our produce, such as when we stop to pick up tomatoes or corn from a fourth generation young person learning the retail end of a family farm. More often, however, we don’t know who has done the picking. We see them as we drive down the side roads, past the fields of asparagus, corn, strawberries, cabbage, squash, and tobacco. We don’t know their names. We don’t know where they’ve come from, or where they will go when the season is over. Many are here on H2-A visas and will spend most of their waking hours working, living on the farms where they work, isolated geographically and culturally from everything around them. Others are undocumented, living in the shadows; they may stay in the area or they may move to follow the work. Another subset are documented residents, still others are citizens. They are all working from dawn to dark, and without them our food supply chain would break down dramatically and disastrously. IndiVISIBLE will seek out, through our network of collaborators and consultants, several of these individuals who are willing to share their stories with us through oral history interviews and photo-documentation.
These essential indispensable workers and their stories will become visible/audible, contributing in particular to a more inclusive understanding of the rural and agricultural areas of Massachusetts. Those who participate telling their stories, and in selecting the parts of it and the images of themselves they wish to share will, as the artist JR says of people he works with, “regain ownership of their identity.” Other Massachusetts residents who attend our gallery exhibits or access the exhibit virtually will come to know agricultural workers as people, not just cogs in a farm to table conveyor belt. Through context commentary and images, as well as through the curriculum component of our project, people will learn essential historical information that situates the stories we gather and display in the agricultural and labor history of Franklin County since its inception. Participating teachers and their
students, as well as anyone else who wishes to access our curriculum, will learn essential skills of doing their own research, anchored in agricultural labor history, and lifting up the lives and stories of today’s agricultural workers.” Jan Maher, LAVA