by Avery Davidson, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation
The white plastic bag filled with plantains and purple skinned sweet potatoes is torn, but holding together. It’s a lot like the 60-year-old man clutching that bag as he runs toward a short American wearing a white hat, plaid shirt and deep love for agriculture.
The 60-year-old is Raul Perez, a tall, lighter skinned Cuban who frequents the farmers’ market where I met him. The man he wants to speak with is Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr. Mike Strain. Perez does not know Strain is an elected official. He does not know that Strain is the equivalent of the “Agricultura Jefé.” He just knows he’s an American who was just talking to me about farming.
Perez tells Dr. Strain that in his youth, he studied agronomy at the University of Havana and earned a degree as an agronomic engineer. For 17 years, Perez worked in the sugar business. He oversaw operations at a nearby sugar mill. He made Cubans’ lives sweeter, but his finances were sour. The salary equal to about $20/month just was not enough for him to live on.
So, what does this wise agronomic engineer do with all of this knowledge, experience and love for agriculture? He’s a security guard at a hotel. He makes more money that way.
With tears welling up in his eyes, he thanks Dr. Strain for his time. We give him 10 CUC, equal to about half a month’s pay at his old job. Perez saunters down the road back to his home still holding his bag of produce. Like the bag, he’s torn, but holding together.