In the weeks since the immigration law took hold, several hundred Americans have answered farmers’ ads for tomato pickers. A field over from where Juan Castro and his friends muse about the sorry state of the U.S. workforce, 34-year-old Jesse Durr stands among the vines. An aspiring rapper from inner-city Birmingham, he wears big jeans and a do-rag to shield his head from the sun. He had lost his job prepping food at Applebee’s, and after spending a few months looking for work a friend told him about a Facebook posting for farm labor.
The money isn’t good—$2 per basket, plus $600 to clear the three acres when the vines were picked clean—but he figures it’s better than sitting around. Plus, the transportation is free, provided by Jerry Spencer, who runs a community-supported agriculture program in Birmingham. That helps, because the farm is an hour north of Birmingham and the gas money adds up.
Durr thinks of himself as fit—he’s all chiseled muscle—but he is surprised at how hard the work is. “Not everyone is used to this. I ain’t used to it,” he says while taking a break in front of his truck. “But I’m getting used to it.”