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American agriculture looks very different than it did a century ago. Small and mid-sized farms are practically relics, eclipsed by large plots built for mass production.
As the structure of farming has changed, so have the people who work in it. According to the USDA, the number of minority farmers has grown in recent years. This development was preceded by agreements like the Bracero program, which brought in temporary agricultural workers to the U.S. to meet labor shortages during WWII. Before the government program’s shutdown in 1964 (due to allegations of exploitative labor conditions), it attracted more than 4.5 million Mexican nationals and changed the demographics of farm workers in America.
Rosalinda Luna has worked in agriculture for over 11 years. Born in Mexico, she’s spent most of her life in the U.S. and is now an orchid grower at Matsui Nursery in Salinas, California. For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke to Luna about the stubbornness of orchids and the challenges of being a female grower. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Valeria Pelet: What drew you to agriculture?
Rosalinda Luna: Being the eldest in my family, with a brother and four sisters, I felt obligated to set an example for my siblings. It was difficult—but not impossible—because I was trying to balance a full-time job, a husband, and two children. Another reason I decided to study agriculture was because that’s what my parents dedicated themselves to upon arriving in the U.S.