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San Joaquin County farmworkers pick cherries while battling high temps

Farmworkers near Stockton battle high heat to pick cherries ahead of summer
Farmworkers near Stockton battle high heat to pick cherries ahead of summer 02:35

STOCKTON — In San Joaquin County the heat is beaming down on everyone, including those who put food on our table.

Farmworkers are starting their days a lot earlier than most, trying to avoid the temperatures of the afternoon.

Cherries need to be picked before summer hits.

Farmworkers start their day at 5 a.m., and once the temperatures hit 85-90 degrees, they call it a day to avoid any potential heat-related illnesses.

"We put ourselves to work really hard," Jesus Nava said.

Nava made his way to San Joaquin County from Los Angeles. He was one of the dozens of farmworkers picking cherries Tuesday afternoon.

He's been picking fruit for more than seven years now, and on Tuesday was picking cherries for seven hours. He knows which cherries are ready to pick, and how to pick them.

"Where the stem is, you put it towards the back. If you pull it this way, the whole bushel comes this way," he said grabbing cherries with his hands.

His shirt was stained from all of the cherries he'd collected in his basket. One basket is about 25-30 pounds.

Oswaldo Villa Perez is the supervisor of these farmworkers working on Fairchild Avenue outside of Stockton. He makes sure they get paid and that they stay safe in the triple-digit heat.

"I think it's a good price because the people here, they need to win too right?" he said. "The work, the temperature, the ladders, they work."

Nava said he always wants to finish as many buckets of these cherries as possible because that's how he gets paid, but sometimes, the high heat impacts that.

"When we can work more, we work until one or even two in the afternoon, but today, we couldn't because of the heat," Perez said.

Water was being handed out to workers as well as shade being provided whenever possible for safety, which is something Perez stresses as supervisor.

Also, every farmworker was given a lunch and every two hours of work, a required rest break.

Perez said the work can wait, and if workers really need it, they can take a break and sit down in the shade right where they are.

"If someone is feeling the heat because it is hot, if they need to sit down and rest, that's no problem if that's how they feel," he said.

Stopping in the middle of the day is beneficial for the cherries as well. In the morning, they have stronger stems because of the moisture, which means they stick to the cherry itself longer which improves its shelf life.

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