Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Skagit Valley Herald Refuses To Cover The Mystery of the Missing Skagit Valley Strawberry Crop

In the palm of a hand you are looking at one of Sven & Ole's giant Skagit Valley strawberries. If you have only had a California Driscoll type strawberry you have really not had a strawberry in all its deep red, juicy, tasty glory.

This year much of the Skagit Valley strawberry crop was not picked, even though it was a bumper crop.

Why were the strawberries not picked? Not enough pickers. The reason there were not enough pickers I do not really understand, but it has something to do with a strike against the Sakuma Brothers and their farming operation.

What ever became of the Skagit Valley's school kids picking berries to earn a few bucks during summer vacation? I have yet to get an answer to that question.

Mr. Martin Burwash, he being the chief operator of the Sven & Ole strawberry growing operation tried to verbalize his frustration via a letter to the editor of the Skagit Valley Herald, that being the local newspaper, which apparently had been turning a blind eye to the plight of the valley's farmers.

The Skagit Valley Herald refused to publish Mr. Burwash's letter, so Martin then published the letter himself, on Facebook, along with a paragraph preceding the letter, explaining his frustration with the inability to be heard....

Interesting....during our plight to get a crew to pick our berries, my partner went to both the local radio station and the local newspaper telling them of the problems growers were having finding labor. Neither the radio station or paper saw fit to run any kinds of stories or announcements. Even the community as a whole did nothing to help us. In response I wrote a letter to the editor of the Skagit Valley Herald, taking them, the radio stations and the community as a whole to task. Today the paper called to say they would not print the letter as they categorically deny they were ever informed growers other than the Sakuma Bros were having problems finding pickers. Really?

Here's the banned letter.....

Collateral damage has been defined as “damage to things that are incidental to the intended target.”

In the ongoing dispute between Sakuma Brothers and their workers, we are the “collateral damage.” Who are “we?” We are the other farmers in the valley growing strawberries. “We” are the farmers for which there are no printed signs of support or shiny tractors driving through the streets. 

Our fruit also rotted in the fields due to a lack of pickers. Although we had no dispute with our workers, to show support for those on strike, the people we traditionally hire each year were encouraged not to pick. Where normally we hire 45 pickers, we struggled to get 15. Proportionally, 2/3 of our crop was lost.
When you are merely collateral damage, you find there is little interest in your plight. When the local newspaper was told of the labor crisis facing all local growers due to the Sakuma Brothers dispute, they showed no interest in expanding coverage to report the entire story. When asked to announce growers needed pickers in the fields, local radio stations followed suit and showed no concern.

Printed signs or tractors parading up and down local streets and roads are an appreciated show of support. But that is the issue, they are just that, merely a show. Those of us suffering collateral damage did not care about your signs or demonstrations. What was needed was support in form of people willing to help us save our crop.

Collateral damage is impersonal. It is a shake of the head. It is a “that’s too bad you got caught up in this.” But in the end it is a loss suffered for which there is little or no outcry and concern.


I have blogged about the Sakuma Brothers a couple times, once about the lack of pickers issue, once about their Sakuma Brothers Market Stand.

This is all very vexing and perplexing to me......

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why Are There Not Enough Pickers To Pick Skagit Valley Strawberries?

On the left you are looking at Martin & Cam looking at a strawberry picked at the Ole & Sven strawberry patch in the Valley known as Skagit.

A couple months ago, after I learned about the problems Skagit Valley berry growers were having getting their crops picked. I blogged about it in The End Of A Skagit Valley Sakuma Strawberry Legacy.

On Facebook I have been following the berry picking woes of Ole & Sven, currently not having enough pickers to pick their strawberries, resulting in tons upon tons of berries rotting in the field.

When I was a kid, growing up in the Skagit Valley, when school let out for Summer most of the Valley's school kids went to work picking berries.

We got paid 75 cents per flat of strawberries picked. I remember berry picking as both hard work and a lot of fun. With a party at the end of the season after which we got our paychecks.

I was more than a little shocked to recently learn that the current amount paid for picking a flat of strawberries is $20.

Wow. I assume this to be true due to the fact that I saw no one claim otherwise.

The most flats I ever picked in a single day, back during my berry picking career, was 29, at a field we called El Rancho.

29 flats times $20 is $580.

If this really is the case, that this much is being paid to pick a flat of strawberries, why are there berries rotting in the fields?

I don't understand.

Are kids no longer allowed to pick?

Back when I was a picker we co-picked with migrant workers, most of whom migrated from Mexico, following the crops across the west. Over the years many of the Mexican migrants decided to remain in the Skagit Valley, which is why the Skagit Valley has such a large population of Mexican descent, good Mexican restaurants and celebrates Cinco de Mayo.

I don't remember at what point in time the migrant camps disappeared from the Skagit Valley. Did the United Farm Workers movement result in better pay for working the California fields so there was no longer a motivation to travel north to Washington?

I have no idea.

Surely the people who live in the Skagit Valley know the berry growers are having a picking problem? Why aren't the people helping out?

This past weekend the town I grew up in, Burlington, had its annual Berry Dairy Days celebration. Berry Dairy Days was always a big deal for me and my siblings, partly due to mom and dad making us cool floats for the Berry Dairy Days Parade. And partly due to the fact that the carnival was located a block from our house.

What with this past weekend being the Berry Dairy Days celebration I am perplexed as to what there is to celebrate, what with tons of berries going to waste.

Is free strawberry shortcake after the parade still part of Berry Dairy Days? My best guess would be no.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

In Seattle At The Fremont Fair's Solstice Parade On My Bike Covered In Body Paint

Today, June 21, 2014 is the Solstice, also known as the First Day of Summer.

Since today is the Summer Solstice the Fremont Solstice Parade is taking place in the Independent Republic of Fremont, located in Seattle.

The Fremont Solstice Parade is known for its hundreds of bike riders riding in various states of undress.

The screencap you see here is from the Wikipedia article about the Fremont Solstice Parade.

The Wikipedia article dances daintily around the naked bike riding aspect of the Fremont Solstice Parade, simply saying, "The parade is famous for its wild and creative floats and ensembles and for the Solstice Cyclists, who strip down before the parade and paint their bodies, who unofficially start the parade every year."

The Solstice Parade is just one event in the three day Fremont Fair which opened Friday, June 20, closing Sunday, June 22.

Above is a screencap from the Fremont Fair website. On the Fremont Fair website you can find the answer to just about any question you might have regarding the Fremont Fair.

I found the following interest tidbits of information....

The event, a celebration of Fremont's "delibertas quirkas" (freedom to be peculiar) culture, is comprised of three free-spirited traditions: the Solstice Fair, the Solstice Parade, and the inaugural Solstice Concert Series. Where else can you find a massive stone troll, Lenin statue, and a dismantled rockets nestled among a thriving neighborhood of business and pleasure.

What is the etiquette with body paint?

We won’t deny it. The Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade are partially famous for body-painted bicyclists and revelers who magically appear every year and make this event truly one of a kind.

If you are one of the body painted participants, PLEASE NOTE:

The Fremont restaurants and bars greatly appreciate if you can carry a towel with you to place on the chair/booth while you dine and drink. If you don’t, they are left scrubbing body paint from booths for weeks to come, which is a mess and can permanently damage d├ęcor. They love to have you in their establishments, but please be respectful of their furnishings if you have paint that may rub off.

Remember that many families do attend the Fair, with small children in tow. While Fair-goers typically wholly embrace the free spirit of the event, when planning your costume/paint scheme, please be considerate of a child’s eye level in conjunction with potential painted body parts that may be exposed. Rude and obscene behavior at the Fremont Fair will not be tolerated and individuals will be asked to leave.

So, don't forget to bring a towel and don't forget to strategically consider a child's eye level regarding what needs to be adequately covered with body paint....

Monday, May 19, 2014

The 34th Anniversary of the Mount St. Helens Eruption on May 19,1980

Some moments in time are so epic that they are so etched into ones memory that the event always seems recent, even as the moment fades ever further back in time.

The 9/11 terror attacks are an example of this. This coming Septemenber 11 how can it already be 13 years since that horrific day?

This morning I had the same reaction when I realized it was 34 years ago today, Sunday, May 19, 1980, when I was soaking my aching back in a hot tub when I heard three distinct concussive explosive noises.

Fifteen minutes later the neighbor we called Godzilla, because she was so big we could tell she was heading our way because we could feel the ground shake, informed us that Mount St. Helens had exploded.  That news began a day, and days to follow, of what amounted to Mother Nature mounting a terror attack, releasing more energy than the most powerful of nuclear bombs.

We who were in the path of possible eruption ash plumes were advised to get breathing masks, or whatever ever it is those white masks one uses to block the flow of dust are known as. We were also advised to put some sort of extra filter on our vehicle's air filters. I don't remember how that worked.

I do remember there was only one occasion when the direction of the wind and an eruption sent volcanic dust north to my location in the Skagit Valley. I remember it resulted in a very light dusting, nothing like the multi-feet deep, snow drift-like dustings parts of Eastern Washington were hit with.

This happened almost three and a half  decades ago. Yet seems like yesterday in my memory.

If you are lucky enough to be touristing in Washington, do not miss driving the Spirit Highway to get an up close look at Mount St. Helens in her current state of mountain building, which has recently returned to active, with molten lava rising. The multiple Visitor's Centers one comes to as one drives the Spirit Highway are all worth a stop, each very well done, with the best  of the Visitor's Center being the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the end of the Spirit Highway, only five miles from the north face of Mount St. Helens.

The Johnston Ridge Observatory was built near where David Johnston died after uttering the famous words "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!"

We have blogged a couple times previous on the anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption, including a blogging titled Mt. St. Helens Harry Truman's Spirit Lives On in which you can watch the YouTube video you see below and listen to the song that became a #1 hit and a tribute to Harry Truman...

Monday, April 7, 2014

The End Of A Skagit Valley Sakuma Strawberry Legacy

It has been over 15 years since I lived in the Skagit Valley zone of Washington. A couple years ago the subject of picking strawberries, decades ago, came up. Who picks the berries nowadays we wondered?

Years ago migrant workers arrived in the Skagit Valley to pick the crops. Many opted to stay. Some of those who opted to stay were among my favorite classmates.

At some point in time, was it the 1960s, or 1970s, or later, that the camps which provided temporary housing for the migrant workers ceased to exist?

When I was a kid most of my fellow kids worked in the fields of the Skagit Valley, along with the migrant workers, picking strawberries, raspberries and cucumbers. My picking career ceased before blueberries became a big Skagit Valley crop.

I remember the experience of picking berries and cucumbers as a good thing. Particularly the picking of cucumbers after I graduated from being paid by filling a heavy bucket to being paid by the hour whilst laying on a padded board on a mechanical picking machine.

Picking strawberries you got paid by the flat, with 12  boxes to a flat. You were issued a ticket which got punched whenever you checked in a flat. At the end of the season the berry grower would put on a big party, after which we got our paychecks.

I do not remember ever seeing anything that I thought was some form of child labor abuse. We were a rather feisty bunch of pickers. I remember a group of us banding together once in a cucumber field, going on "strike" til the owner fired a supervisor we thought to be wrong-headed and over bearing.

So, with all that as preface, I was very surprised by an Open Letter from the Sakuma Brothers that I saw today on the Sakuma Market Stand's Facebook page.

From that letter I learned that this generation's kids don't have the chance to make some money like kids did when I was young. I am a little confused by what I read in the Open Letter, but one thing seemed real clear, that being that berry pickers are no longer paid for how much they pick. They are now paid by the hour, as in $11.87 an hour.

No wonder berries are so expensive in a grocery store.

Are kids still allowed to have paper routes? I had a paper route when I was in 7th and 8th grade. Do kids still load up their bikes with newspapers and deliver them? And then go collecting at the end of the month? I hated the collecting part.

Anyway, below is the entirety of the Open Letter from the Sakumas. And before I copy and paste that, in the interest of full disclosure I must admit I have always liked the Sakumas. Tess and Karen Sakuma were classmates of mine. My right knee still has a scar where Tess Sakuma whacked me with her clarinet......

An open letter to our community:


It has been said that hind-sight is 20/20 vision. Today, at this vantage point, we are able to clearly see the problems that faced us during last year’s harvest season and the actions that we could have taken if we had known better. And like most companies, it is hindsight that allows us to make better decisions today and prepare us for tomorrow.

Like many of you who have generations of history in this community, we too feel a deep gratitude and indebtedness to Skagit County. Our family moved to Burlington in 1937 where we began farming strawberries and where we were welcomed by our neighbors. In 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II, we were forced to vacate our property and move to relocation camps. Because of the compassion of the Oscar Mapes family, who willingly became stewards of our land, our family was able to return to our home and farm at the end of WWII.

We are committed to Skagit County because of the people that have allowed us to continue to be a part of this community and because of what our community has given back to us. This commitment is the foundation of the business decisions that we made in the past and will continue to make in the future.

Our signature crop is strawberries and since the end of WWII, our Company has been the employer of large numbers of both local and migrant labor. Our summer jobs drew local youths from Concrete, Sedro-Woolley, Anacortes, Oak Harbor, Mount Vernon, Bow, Edison, and Burlington. Many of you will remember the bus loads of local pickers that would arrive at our farm at dawn to pick in the strawberry fields. Many of you earned your first paycheck from our Company. We also provided advancement opportunities to our best pickers and hired them to work as they continued their high school and college education.

We continued to provide summer employment even after the child labor laws invoked a minimum age requirement which reduced the pool of eligible youths who could pick in our fields. Because of the popularity and demand by our community, we continued the “Local Kids Crew” and parents drove their children to the fields at 6 AM and returned to pick up their sometimes muddy children at noon.

In 1997, when our Company took over the responsibility and ownership of the last small fruit processing plant in Skagit County, we were able to provide more jobs for our local youth. Graduates of our Local Kids Crew were offered positions at both the farm and processing facility. The Sakuma Market Stand also provided additional employment opportunities for the young people of our community.

Fast forward to 2012. We were hit head-on with a labor shortage. As a result, we were forced to leave 400,000 pounds of our crop unpicked in our fields. With our 20/20 hindsight, we entered 2013 with the knowledge that we would again be short on labor. Our domestic labor pool was shrinking and we could not find alternative sources. It was because of this situation that we made our decision to apply for the federal H2A Guest Worker Program. The H2A program provides a means for agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. These Guest Workers are intended to “supplement” the local work force, not displace. Our experience in 2012, supported our belief that we would require 160 H2A Guest Workers to supplement our local and migrant labor. We also believed that we could harvest our strawberry crop without the use of the H2A Guest Workers and chose to bring them in mid-August for our blueberry and blackberry harvest.

Unfortunately we were wrong on two counts. First, we did not have enough domestic labor to pick strawberries, our first crop of the season. And second, we did not expect the targeted attacks made on our Company and employees by special interest groups who opposed our decision to bring in H2A Guest Workers. As a result, more than 400,000 lbs. of strawberries were left unpicked in our fields. The interest groups spread false information as they rallied against our Company and called for a boycott of our products. The interest groups believed that the H2A program took away jobs from our domestic local and migrant workers. This was and remains untrue. H2A regulations require the hiring of any domestic U.S. worker that is willing, ready, and able to perform the job requirement of a blueberry and blackberry picker. In addition, the H2A regulation prohibits the displacement of a domestic U.S. worker by an H2A Guest Worker. In other words, the Company did not and could not deny a qualified domestic U.S. worker the opportunity to work in favor of an H2A Guest Worker. However, because of the disruptions caused by the activities initiated by these interest groups, our labor force remained unsteady and the number of workers insufficient.

Farming requires a stable, legal and a cost-effective work force. Given our experience of 2013, we anticipate more of the same challenges this year. As a result, we are prepared to expand the coverage of the H2A program across all of our crops. We recognize that this decision creates unintended consequences. Our desire to continue supporting the youth of our community can no longer be sustained because of the economic consequences of using the H2A Guest Worker Program. The requirement to guarantee all pickers the Adverse Effect Wage Rate of $11.87 per hour, makes it economically unfeasible to operate the Local Kids Crew. As many parents already know, the average strawberry picker in the Local Kids Crew picks 86 pounds per day. In order to achieve the $11.87 per hour we must guarantee under the H2A program the average picker would have to pick 360 pounds daily. As you can see from this example, our decision to close our Local Kids Crew is based on economic necessity. Federal law, as it currently stands, does not give us the option to provide work to our youth that teaches the skills of a strong work ethic at an economic acceptable level. 

We trust that you understand and support our decision.

Steven M. Sakuma
Sakuma Bros. Family Business

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Skagit Valley's Big Rock With Spencer Jack's Grandma Cindy & The Nookachamp Star Child Falling From The Sky

Big Rock On Fire July 18, 2013
Yesterday my great nephew, Spencer Jack's grandma, Cindy, emailed me a couple pictures from the summit of the Skagit Valley's monolith known as Big Rock.

Earlier in the week, after Cindy mentioned hiking up Big Rock, I had asked if a parking lot has been added near the trail head.

The answer was no parking lot. Still  roadside parking only.

Big Rock is located on the east side of the town of Mount Vernon, about 2 miles from where I lived when I resided in Washington. Big Rock was one of my frequent hiking destinations.

The last time I saw Big Rock was in April of 2006. At that point in time I was surprised to see how close to Big Rock a housing development had been built. One of Cindy's pictures surprised me due to showing that now a housing development is encroaching upon Big Rock from the west.

The view above is looking west from atop Big Rock at the housing development which has sprung up in the last 7 years.

Below is a view from the Big Rock summit looking northeast, at Clear Lake and Cascade Mountain foothills.

Big Rock has a long history in the Skagit Valley, looming large as a sacred spot of the Nookachamp tribe, which called Big Rock "Yudwasta" which means "Heart".

As in Heart of the Nookachamp nation.

In Nookachamp legend Big Rock came to be when the Star Child escaped from a bad marriage to a man who lived in the sky. Star Child returned to earth using a rope she made from cedar saplings. When she got grounded, Star Child's sister, who stayed in the sky, cut the rope so the husband in the sky could not figure out how Star Child escaped.

After the rope was cut it coiled as it fell, forming Big Rock. When the light is right and you look at Big Rock from certain angles you can see how it could come to be that legend has it that the rock formation was made from a coiled rope.

This past summer, on July 18, 2013, fire broke out on the north face of Big Rock, which you will see in the below video...

Friday, August 30, 2013

More Mount Baker Hiking With Cindy, Michele, Ginny & Jeremy

Last Sunday my great nephew Spencer Jack's grandma, she being my favorite ex-sister-in-law, Cindy, emailed me photos of her hiking trek to the Park Butte Lookout near the Mount Baker volcano.

I then blogged about Cindy and her co-hiker, Michele, hiking to the Park Butte Lookout, in a blogging titled Hiking To The Park Butte Lookout With Cindy & Michele.

In that blog post I mentioned several things that I remembered about hiking to Park Butte. Things like the treacherous crossing of what I believe is called Sulfur Creek, with that creek being the melted water coming from the Easton Glacier on the slopes of Mount Baker. And how treacherous I remembered the hike up Park Butte to be.

That is the Park Butte Lookout you see in the above photo. It does not looks as treacherous as my memory remembers it.

Today Cindy emailed me a few more photos from her Park Butte Lookout hike, which illustrate some of what I mentioned in the previous blogging.

I also referenced, in that blogging, Pacific Northwest mountain hiking legend,  Dr. Fred T. Darvill. I'd infosearched Fred T. Darvill and found a memoriam. Dr. Darvill's wife, Ginny is mentioned in that memoriam.

After reading my reference to Dr. Darvill, Cindy sent the above photo with text saying that upon arriving at the Park Butte Lookout Cindy and Michele found someone painting the lookout. That someone turned out to be Dr. Darvill's wife, Ginny, she being the young lady between Cindy and Michele in the photo.

I do not know if by "painting" Cindy means Ginny Darvill was painting the lookout with a fresh coat of paint. Or if she was painting a water color picture of the lookout.

Below is a photo taken from the Park Butte Lookout, looking at the Railroad Grade, that being the name of the trail which runs atop the glacial moraine formed by the Easton Glacier. I am almost 100% certain I have this glacier named correctly. There are several on Mount Baker, Coleman Glacier and Deming Glacier come to mind.

That big slice of ice in the middle of the photo is the glacier. To the right, obscured by clouds, is the top of Mount Baker. That edge that follows the west side of the glacier is the Railroad Grade. Eventually you can go no further without proper ice/snow trekking gear. The last time I hiked the Railroad Grade was with my nephew, Joey. We hiked up to the far upper left of what you see in the photo. At that point you can clearly see the steam venting from Mount Baker's crater.  And smell the sulfur.

In today's email Cindy informed me that the bridge I was familiar with that crossed the glacier melt creek has been long gone, but was replaced a couple weeks ago by the temporary bridge you see below.

Crossing the creek did not look too treacherous for Cindy's most recent crossing, but she says 2 years ago, when she returned from hiking up the Railroad Grade, the return trip across the raging creek was scary.

I remember a couple times crossing that creek, late in the afternoon, where it took a long time because you had to be so careful not to get washed away by the rampaging water. The most recent time was a piece of cake because a well built suspension bridge took you over the creek, well above the water. That is the bridge that Cindy says has been long gone.

Now that I am thinking about that long gone bridge across Sulfur Creek I remember the last time I crossed that bridge. It was with a hiking group of 6 or 7, including my youngest nephew, Jeremy, about 7 at the time, 27 now.

When Jeremy saw the bridge that he was expected to cross he was not happy. It took a lot of coaxing to get him to cross. I remember Jeremy insisting both bridge ends be guarded.

Because Jeremy had watched in horror as several of the group crossed the bridge, having fun making it bounce and sway.

It took Jeremy about 10 minutes to slowly make his way across.

That hike was on a foggy, drizzly August day. By the time we got out of the woods, to the point you usually see Mount Baker, it was totally fogged in. We bailed.

When we got back to the point where the suspension bridge had to be crossed again Jeremy had developed a totally different attitude.

Jeremy's totally adjusted suspension bridge crossing attitude resulted in one of my all time favorite photos....