Heat, Smoke and Covid Are Battering the Workers Who Feed America – By Somini Sengupta – The New York Times

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“STOCKTON, Calif — Work began in the dark. At 4 a.m., Briseida Flores could make out a fire burning in the distance. Floodlights illuminated the fields. And shoulder to shoulder with dozens of others, Ms. Flores pushed into the rows of corn. Swiftly, they plucked. One after the other. First under the lights, then by the first rays of daylight.

By 10:30 a.m., it was unbearably hot. Hundreds of wildfires were burning to the north, and so much smoke was settling into the San Joaquin Valley that the local air pollution agency issued a health alert. Ms. Flores, 19, who had joined her mother in the fields after her father lost his job in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, found it hard to breathe in between the tightly planted rows. Her jeans were soaked with sweat.

“It felt like a hundred degrees in there,” Ms. Flores said. “We said we don’t want to go in anymore.”

She went home, exhausted, and slept for an hour.

All this to harvest dried, ocher-colored ears of corn meant to decorate the autumn table.

Like the gossamer layer of ash and dust that is settling on the trees in Central California, climate change is adding on to the hazards already faced by some of the country’s poorest, most neglected laborers. So far this year, more than 7,000 fires have scorched 1.4 million acres, and there is no reprieve in sight, officials warned.”

“. . . .  The valley is abnormally dry in parts, and in drought in others. Dust swirls up from the fields like a genie. Many creek beds are parched. The rivers have been twisted and bent every which way to bring water from the north for the fields. Since mid-August, for over two weeks, daily high temperatures have ranged from 97 degrees Fahrenheit to 108″

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