PLANT CITY, Fla. – The first day of March marks the first day of Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “providing healing, promoting help.”
According to the National Women’s History Alliance, this theme is a tribute to the work of caregivers and frontline workers, and recognizes the women of all cultures who have provided healing and hope.
This week also marks the beginning of the Florida Strawberry Festival.
Spectrum News spoke to a woman who is working to better the lives of migrant workers and also works in the fields herself. We followed Emig de la Cruz for a day to experience the farmworker’s day.
The fruits of her labor are not just the agricultural products you find inside supermarkets.
With a vote in the national organization, her voice helps influence policy to help migrant families.
And while she’s not shaping policy, she’s outside in the strawberry fields in the months leading up to one of Central Florida’s most popular and famous festivals.
In fact, if you’ve eaten strawberries from Plant City, there’s a good chance Emig has picked them.
She’s done this for a generation now, and she’s proud of it.
“Yes I am,” said Emig de la Cruz about going to work in the fields. “I’m excited when I start the job in the morning.”
Every morning, Emig and her husband Miguel rush to get to work. She met him while working the fields as well. For more than 20 years, they’ve been planting and picking the Plant City favorite.
At times, they are working side by side, but there’s not much water-cooler talk in the fields.
They’ll go up to four hours before they take their first break for a drink of water or refreshments.
Emig gestured to her hands and said this is what gets the job done. Miguel wished farmworkers were valued more.
They said there’s value in racing to pick strawberries until the sun comes out. They do this because they get paid by the box. The more they pick, the more money they make.
Emig explained that in Mexico it’s more difficult to earn money. Part of the money they earn here also gets shared with her parents back in Mexico.
Both of them are accustomed to working multiple farming sites a day.
Once again, they are racing from one picking site to another while they eat along the way.
Emig has made a life of it in the United States as a migrant farmworker who also advocates for her colleagues. With a worker’s visa in hand and strawberries to pick, what she’s most proud of is her family.
She has six children. Her oldest at 20 is the first in the family to go to college at the University of South Florida.
“I’m so proud because she’s the first generation,” Emig said when asked about her daughter’s accomplishments.
She knows the fruits of her mother’s labor and how hard she works.
On this day, a Spectrum News followed Emig in the fields. She said she finished picking 69 boxes of strawberries.
For Emig, she feels she’s planting the seeds for a better future.
The de la Cruz family works year-round.
After strawberries, they pick other Plant City fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers.
In the summer, the family travels up to Michigan to join other migrant workers for apple picking season there.