Farm Workers at the Bottom
California farm workers lived in substandard housing, in labor camps, mobile trailers, and sometimes on the banks of a river. With bracero labor removing half or more of the jobs from California’s factory farms in the years from 1957 to 1965, California resident farm workers, legal and illegal, faced a life in poorly constructed labor shacks as they followed the crop harvests or found rents for permanent homes too high. During these years, resident workers came from many parts of the country, the state and from Mexico, Central America and the Philippines. Many workers, black and white, came from the South following the trail opened during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s when John Steinbeck wrote his famous book Grapes of Wrath and when Dorothea Lange photographed the migrants. Because of the seasonal nature of agricultural labor, the lack of unemployment benefits and the hardships of migrating with the crops, breadlines and soup kitchens arose in many towns in the central valley of California to help keep people alive. Rich growers contributed to the soup kitchens as a way to keep farm workers available without paying them or housing them in times when there was little or no work. The photos in this gallery show the diversity of people who worked in California agriculture and the homes they lived in. Buy or license these photos.