They Saved the Crops
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They Saved the Crops

Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California

Title Details

Pages: 576

Illustrations: 50 b&w photos, 3 figures

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 04/01/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4176-7

List Price: $38.95


Pub Date: 04/01/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4175-0

List Price: $120.95


Pub Date: 04/01/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4401-0

List Price: $38.95

They Saved the Crops

Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California

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  • Description
  • Reviews

At the outset of World War II, California agriculture seemed to be on the cusp of change. Many Californians, reacting to the ravages of the Great Depression, called for a radical reorientation of the highly exploitative labor relations that had allowed the state to become such a productive farming frontier. But with the importation of the first braceros—“guest workers” from Mexico hired on an “emergency” basis after the United States entered the war—an even more intense struggle ensued over how agriculture would be conducted in the state. Esteemed geographer Don Mitchell argues that by delineating the need for cheap, flexible farm labor as a problem and solving it via the importation of relatively disempowered migrant workers, an alliance of growers and government actors committed the United States to an agricultural system that is, in important respects, still with us.

They Saved the Crops is a theoretically rich and stylistically innovative account of grower rapaciousness, worker militancy, rampant corruption, and bureaucratic bias. Mitchell shows that growers, workers, and officials confronted a series of problems that shaped—and were shaped by—the landscape itself. For growers, the problem was finding the right kind of labor at the right price at the right time. Workers struggled for survival and attempted to win power in the face of economic exploitation and unremitting violence. Bureaucrats tried to harness political power to meet the demands of, as one put it, “the people whom we serve.”

Drawing on a deep well of empirical materials from archives up and down the state, Mitchell’s account promises to be the definitive book about California agriculture in the turbulent decades of the mid-twentieth century.

The bracero program was the ideal business recipe for cheap immigrant labor, cooked up by growers and stamped ‘Government Approved.’ Mitchell has written the definitive history of the era, which all future studies of California farming and Mexican immigration must build upon. By its archival depth and trenchant analysis, it sets a new standard in the study of farm labor and provides an unassailable indictment of grower power and abuse of workers—all the while expanding the theoretical envelopes of geography, political economy, and labor studies.

—Richard A. Walker, author of The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of Agribusiness in California

'They Saved the Crops is a tremendous book. It is extremely well written, and it organizes an astonishing amount of material in an innovative way, all the time avoiding the easy simplification so tempting with multi-layered material. Even more important, it couldn't be more timely, insofar as renewed assaults on immigrant workers remind us that 'guest worker' politics is a pot always on the boil.

—Geoff Mann, author of Our Daily Bread: Wages, Workers, and the Political Economy of the American West

The author’s research is extraordinarily thorough and well-documented, making the volume indispensable for scholars of agriculture, immigration, and labor.


Few people know the social and economic contours of California’s industrial agriculture landscape better than geographer Don Mitchell. And no one has written a more thorough, passionate, and critical history of the landscape’s “morphology” during the bracero era than Mitchell in his new book.

—David Igler, Western Historical Quarterly

Anyone interested in the bracero program, agricultural history in the United States, and the history of California will find this important and often fascinating book well worth the time.

—Cindy Hahamovitch, American Historical Review

Mitchell has made an important contribution to both our understanding of landscape as well as California agricultural history.

—Laura Pulido, Cultural Geographies

Mitchell achieves more than enough in They Saved The Crops to distinguish this book as the history of record for the Bracero program. As with his previous work, he focuses on our societal tendencies to conceal exploitation in our food system, and how these exploitative acts bleed into the relationship between labor and capital throughout the US economy.

—Matt Garcia, Journal of Historical Geography

Ernesto Galarza, Karl Marx, and Carey McWilliams come together in the industrial agricultural establishments of California in Don Mitchell's extraordinary exploration of the bracero program. In a book that both illuminates and infuriates, Mitchell deftly draws on the insights of geography and political economy to bring to life a rich archival record of exploitation, abuse, class struggle, and the ugly pursuit of profit at any cost. In doing so, Mitchell powerfully shows how the multifaceted violence of the bracero program lives on in the land and bodies that make up California's contemporary agricultural landscape.

—Joseph Nevins, author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid

About the Author/Editor

DON MITCHELL is Distinguished Professor of Geography Emeritus at Syracuse University and professor of cultural geography at Uppsala University in Sweden. He is the author of several books, including They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (Georgia). He was a MacArthur Fellow in 1998.