California's Burning, and Farmworkers Are Still in the Fields

“When there’s work, we work,” said crop picker Juan Magaña.
November 7, 2019, 4:01pm

OXNARD, California — Thousands of people fled Ventura County as smoke from the Maria Fire inundated the towns. But Juan Magaña and the 12 crop pickers he manages headed to the fields.

“When there’s work, we work,” said Magaña, who has been working in the fields for most of his life. As California struggles to cope with yet another devastating fire season, farmworkers like Magaña have to capitalize on prime strawberry season. The Maria Fire spread quickly last week, burning over 10,000 acres over the weekend and coming within a mile of one of the area’s largest farms. The state is the top producer of strawberries in the country, which means farmworkers stand to earn more during this time of year.

“The reason we get up to do this work is we need the money to provide for our families,” Magaña said as he hugged his two children, Brianna, 4, and Giovanni, 3. “We have to suck it up and go to work like we always have. Because if we don’t, what’s going to happen to our families?”

Cover: Farmworkers in Oxnard, California. Photo by Jeff Mercado.