Onions | Las Cruces, NM, July 2015

Onions are harvested from late May until late July at a farm outside of Las Cruces in Southern New Mexico, where the Lopez crew works for Barker Produce.  The area averages only 9 inches of rain a year and has steady sunny day temperatures averaging in the 90s during onion growing season.  The rows of onion plants are about 2 feet wide, with 2 feet between each row.  The onions are tilled by a tractor so the crop is already at the surface of the soil.  The harvesters’ task is to knock the dirt off the onions, and then trim the onions from their green sprouts at the top and their hair-like roots from the bottom using 14 inch scissors. The harvesters move down the rows on their knees and place the dressed onions into 5 gallon plastic buckets.  Large burlap sacks are lined up all the way down the rows for the harvester to place their trimmed onions into.  The sacks can hold up to 100 pounds of produce, but the workers only fill them with two buckets, making the weight of the burlap sacks between 60 and 70 pounds.  Harvesters get paid between $.85 and $1.00 per sack they fill, and can fill between 150 and 200 sacks on a good day, which could mean that a single harvester can pick and trim 14,000 pounds of onions in a day.  The long scissors that they use get dull and need to be sharpened regularly using a sharpening stone while in the field.  Harvesters wear long sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats to protect their skin from the desert sun.  Some also attach handkerchiefs to the back of their hats to protect their necks.  Many take off their shoes in the field and work in their socks because the soil gets into their shoes or boots and makes harvesting all day uncomfortable.  The soil is relatively sandy and devoid of rocks so working without shoes is not unpleasant.