Farmworker Gardens and Food Sovereignty in the Northern Borderlands

By Teresa Mares

The following is an excerpt of a March 2018 article published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.  

For Maria, the small kitchen garden that she tends behind her house brings a sense of balance to her family and a sense of agency over the food that sustains them.

As she explained to me, “The garden balances us. What we harvest from the garden is healthier for me and my kids and my family because it is fresher. My kids also help in the garden with preparing the soil, learning how to plant. And maybe in the future, they will continue doing it.”

farmworker gardens
UVM Associate Professor Teresa Mares

A mother of five from the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, Maria has lived in the United States for the past 13 years, supporting her husband who has worked on industrial dairy farms, first in New York and now in Vermont.

While she raises her children and tends to her garden and free-range chickens, she acts as the primary caretaker and cook for their household during the long hours that her husband spends in the milking barn. Maria has some serious skills in the kitchen, and she loves to share dishes that remind her of Mexico with her children, whose only memories are of rural Vermont. And yet, despite having a relatively stable household income, Maria’s family still struggles with severe food insecurity.

The vegetables and eggs that Maria harvests from her garden and chicken coop, along with support in the form of WIC benefits and free school meals, have been essential in keeping her children fed. Maria’s husband is one of the estimated 1,000 to 1,200 farmworkers from Latin America who help to sustain Vermont’s dairy economy.

Download a PDF of Dr. Mares’ entire article

-Dr. Teresa Mares is associate professor of anthropology at UVM. Her research focuses on the intersection of food and migration studies, and particularly how diets and foodways of Latino/a immigrants change as a result of migration. She is currently examining border politics and food access issues among Latino/a dairy workers in Vermont and is writing a book on this topic, titled The Other Border: Sustaining Farmworkers in the Dairy Industry, under contract with University of California Press.

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