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Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture Curriculum

The lessons in this unit explore oral history narratives from the men, women, and children working in California’s fields who grow and harvest the food many Americans eat every day. After reading these stories of hardship, bravery, solidarity, and creativity, students will engage in critical discussions that touch on themes of migration, mapping, and economic injustice.  These lessons will help your students explore the following questions:

  • What responsibility do we have as citizens and consumers to ensure that our food is grown and harvested ethically?
  •  How can we use our economic leverage to prevent human rights abuses in the fields?

Grades: Middle and high school, with additional resources for higher ed. Also included are two lesson specifically crafted for English language learners.

Time Needed: Entire curriculum covers approximately 2 weeks of class time. However, each lesson can be taught separately.


  • Students will investigate where their food comes from, the conditions under which it’s grown, and the social and political power they have as consumers.
  • Students will  engage in civic action by contacting local representatives around fair labor laws.
  • Students will think critically about why people migrate, the purpose and function of maps, and  will create their own map based on the personal narratives in Chasing the Harvest.

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Chasing the Harvest is a deeply moving tribute to the lives of California farm workers, and their journey from Mexican villages into the cruel machinery of American agribusiness. Herein lie tales of poverty and reinvention, of exploitation and personal triumph. Thompson has given us a deeply empathic work of journalism and listening in the tradition of Studs Terkel and Alessandro Portelli.


About the Oral Histories

The Grapes of Wrath brought national attention to the lives of California’s migrant farmworkers in the 1930s. César Chávez and the United Farm Workers’ grape and lettuce boycotts captured the imagination of the United States in the 1960s and 70s. Yet today, the stories of the more than 800,000 men, women, and children working in California’s fields—one third of the nation’s agricultural workforce—are rarely heard, despite the persistence of wage theft, dangerous working conditions, and uncertain futures. This book of oral histories makes more visible these farmworkers’ stories of hardship, but also of bravery, solidarity, and creativity in making a life in California’s fields, and earning greater opportunity for future generations.


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