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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bay Citizen, Built on Barely Paid Labor, Runs Story Glorifying Unpaid Labor

Posted By on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 3:30 PM

click to enlarge Pick that damn arugula , intern!
  • Pick that damn arugula , intern!
The Bay Citizen, the nonprofit news organization launched with much fanfare May 26 by local investment banker Warren Hellman, has earned ample flack for its offer to pay $25 per story to local bloggers.

But we learned today from the online newspaper that some employers don't pay their workers anything at all. And we learn this can be a good thing.


The story, titled "Marin's Organic Farms Wilt Under Labor Laws," is about actions by California labor inspectors against agribusiness owners who weren't paying their workers. But it turns out these modern-day serfs  went without pay to help bring certified organic food to America's pantries -- so their wage-free status was for the greater good.

The story, written by Cassidy Friedman, an alumnus of the Twin Falls Times-News (where your narrator long ago served as an agriculture reporter), opens with a heartstrings-tugging narrative about a North Bay farmer who got his start in life working as an unpaid "intern" on an organic farm:

As a teenager, Dave Retsky was just about the last kid an organic farmer would want to hire. The son of a Hollywood doctor, Retsky admits he was a tad lazy and knew next to nothing about organic farming before he began his first internship. Now he owns County Line Harvest, one of the top organic farms in Petaluma, in Sonoma County.

"Where else was I going to learn the trade but as an apprentice?" said Retsky.

Now, thanks to a bunch of visits by state inspectors, other boys won't get the same leg up on life as Retsky, the story notes.

Every year, interns weed, hand-wash and sell their produce at farmers markets. Such unpaid and work-trade programs have fueled the organics movement since the Bay Area's first certified organic farms sprung up in the 1970s in Bolinas.

Who knew that organic arugula shared so much in common with antebellum cotton?

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Matt Smith

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