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Award-winning series on farm labor now available in a book

By Howard B. Owens

Tom Rivers is a reporter of boundless energy. He's run in marathons and worked day-long shifts in local farm fields.

Now he's published a book.

The Batavia Daily News staff writer wrote an award-winning series 2008 about his laborious research into just want it takes to work at local farms in Western New York. Those articles are the basis of Farm Hands: Hard work and hard lessons from Western New York fields.

"Books have a little more permanence," Rivers said. "You can read about the titans of industry, such as Dean Richmond, in books, but there aren't a lot of books about the people doing the work. I just think the farmworkers make a great contribution to our community. They deserve the recognition (of being in a book)."

The stories of Tom's days and nights in the fields of Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans counties picking apples and chopping and throwing cabbage give the reader a great sense of just how hard farm work is.

Although he knew it would be challenging, Rivers said he was surprised by how taxing it really is. And it takes training, experience and dedication to ensure that the produce isn't damaged before it's delivered to market.

"There's this feeling that we can just throw anybody into farm work, but not just anybody can do this," Rivers said. "Buyers could reject 40 tons of cabbage if it's not just perfect, if the heads are bruised. There's more pressure on the workers than there is in my job or in most people's jobs. They have to aim for perfection."

The book contains additional material not included in the original newspaper series, Rivers said.

Rivers self-published the book and had it printed at Hodgkins Printing in the Harvester Center.

The full-color book came out looking great, Rivers said. Daily News Publisher Tom Turnbull didn't hesitate to give Rivers permission, without fee, to reprint his own articles as well as the color photos that ran with the series.

"I like that it says, 'Printed in Batavia,' but I don't feel like I was working with a second-rate company," Rivers said. "They were great over there."

The book is for sale locally at the Holland Land Office Museum and Present Tense Books on Washington Avenue.

Nadyne Karas

Tom, my family truly enjoyed your series of articles. We sent them to relatives across the US. It was gratifying to see someone actively participate in this difficult work and learn to appreciate it. Your articles illustrated the importance of the migrant farm workers and this industry. We are looking forward to buying a few copies of the book for ourselves and several relatives.

Mar 6, 2010, 3:03pm Permalink

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