Refusing to Bend – Threatened by pesticides near their homes, the children of CA farmworkers launch a battle

Threatened by pesticides in the fields outside their homes, the children of Central California farmworkers have launched a ground-level battle against agribusiness

Text by Rosie J. Spinks | Photos by Rowan Byers

17 year old fights pesticide It’s a short walk—about five or six steps—from the neat and cozy kitchen of Carolina Rios’s family home to the edge of the strawberry fields that serve as her backyard. On a calm Monday evening in April, Carolina’s father, Sabino, stands between two rows, his crisp white sweatshirt blending with the mist hanging over the farm.

Bending down, he places a ripe berry between two fingers and, with a flick of the wrist and a firm yank, plucks it from the plant. That’s the best way to pick a strawberry, he says. Sabino would know. He and his wife have been piscadores, or strawberry pickers, for 20 years, since emigrating here to Watsonville, California, from Mexico.

The berry that Sabino has picked in his demonstration is of a certain type: fresas chiquititas, he calls them. Small strawberries. They’re small because the fields in which they grow are too close to the family’s home to be treated with certain pesticides.

Sabino points to other fields visible from where he stands.

“Fresas más grande pero más peligroso,” he says. “Bigger strawberries, but more dangerous.”

Sabino and his wife have long known that the pesticides routinely sprayed where they live and work are potentially toxic. It’s why they wash their work clothes separately from their children’s clothes. However, they recently learned that a new fumigant approved for use in California may present an even greater threat to their family’s health. They have their daughter to thank for that.

“When I came home from school and told them about it, it was the first time they had heard of methyl iodide,” 17-year-old Carolina explains. Her parents nod in agreement.

In December 2010, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approved methyl iodide for use in the state. This despite fierce and ongoing opposition from scientists, environmental advocacy groups, and agricultural communities, who say methyl iodide poses a danger to farmworkers and residents—though not to consumers, since this particular fumigant degrades long before it can leave residue on a crop. Meanwhile, the manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, insists it’s safe.

For Carolina and her peers, there’s no debate. They believe that if methyl iodide is used in their community, it will end up in the groundwater they drink, in the air that dries their laundry, and on the boots that their parents wear home from the fields.

In the months since methyl iodide’s approval, no growers in the Watsonville or neighboring Salinas area have applied for the permit to use the pesticide. These young activists have had something to do with that. And they intend to keep it that way.

“My house is literally surrounded by the fields,” Carolina says frankly. “We’re doing this to protect our homes and our families.”

To read the full article please visit:

To learn more about farmworkers and see the dangerous daily exposure to pesticides endured by child farmworkers and their parents see THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA coming this summer to theaters.

Twitter: @theharvestdoc