21 September 2011

Hoe to the end of the row!

In my job I am training an assistant who will take my place when I eventually retire. He is a very bright young engineer from the state of Veracruz. He is 25 years old and his name is Arturo. Among other things that I am teaching him I am helping him to improve his English. I made a pact with him that everyday I will teach him something but every day he must also teach me something. It is turning out to be a nice little game from which we both benefit. Today I made a comment in English about the necessity to complete projects to the last detail and I said that we must always "hoe to the end of the row". Then I needed to explain in Spanish what I meant by "hoe to the end of the row". There was only one problem. I couldn't remember the word for "hoe" in Spanish so I drew a picture of a hoe and Arturo said "Ahhh, un azadón". So once we established that the word for hoe is "azadón" (ah-zah-DOHN), I could get on with the explanation.

Naturally when talking about the hoe the subject of hoeing weeds came and that lead to a very interesting conversation. Arturo told me that labor for hoeing isn't paid for by the hour but by the "tarea". The equivalent English word for the Spanish "tarea" is generally "task" or "chore" and in the case of school children it means "homework". However when it is used in reference to farm labor it is a unit of measure used to denote area. Arturo told me that where he is from there are twenty tareas in one hectare and a hectare is a metric unit that is equal to about two and a half acres. He said that a man can hoe about four tareas in a normal day and five tareas if he works from sunup until early evening. That sounds just about right because I found some information from the University of California that states the average time to hoe an acre of a crop such as broccoli is twenty-two hours and four tareas is equal to about a half an acre so you can see that hoeing a half acre is a full day's work.

"Well", you might ask, What does all this hoeing pay?" The answer is like most othe things, "That depends". It is a negotiated price that depends on the type of crop, the availability of labor, the time of year, and other variables. Arturo did give me the current rate for cutting sugar cane and from that we might be able to make a good guess. He said that sugar cane harvesting is paid by the square meter but there are two rates. If the underbrush is burned off with a controlled fire before harvesting then the labor paid is forty centavos per square meter. If the underbrush isn't burned off first then the job pays a higher rate of fifty centavos per square meter. If we relate that to "tareas" we can calculate that since there are ten thousand square meters in a hectare and twenty tareas in a hectare then one tarea will equal five hundred square meters which at forty centavos per meter would yield twenty pesos per tarea and at fifty centavos would yield twenty-five pesos per tarea. There are about twelve two to three meter stalks stalks in each square meter and harvest entails cutting the stalks and removing the tops and leaves. If a man can cut four tareas of sugar cane in a day at the fifty centavo rate then he can make one hundred Mexican pesos or about seven dollars or so at the current exchange rate. That isn't much for a full day's work in the hot sun so please say a little prayer for the sugar cane workers the next time you sweeten up your cup of coffee.

Now, about hoeing to the end of the row, I hope that you enjoy this poem by Douglas Malloch published around 1926. The name of the poem is "Bill Brown".

Bill Brown

Bill Brown made a million, Bill Brown, think of that!
A boy, you remember, as poor as a rat.
Who hoed for the neighbors, did jobs by the day,
Well Bill's made a million, or near it, they say.
You can't understand it, well, neither could I.
But then I remembered, and now I know why.
The bell might be ringin', the dinner horn blow,
But Bill always hoed to the end of the row.

Bill worked for my father, you maybe recall.
He wasn't a wonder, not that, not at all.
He couldn't out-hoe me, nor cover more ground,
Or hoe any cleaner, or beat me around.
In fact I was better one way that I knew:
One toot from the kitchen, and home I would go,
But Bill always hoed to the end of the row.

We used to get hongry out there in the corn,
You talk about music, what equals a horn?
A horn yellin' dinner, tomatoes and beans,
And pork and potatoes, and gravy and greens.
I ain't blamin' no one, for quittin' on time,
To stop with the whistle, that ain't any crime.
But as for the million, well, this much I know:
That Bill always hoed to the end of the row!

1 comment:

Marc Olson said...

Bob, I have to say that your posts are among the most interesting and varied I have the pleasure to read.

Today's is not only interesting, it's informative and thought-provoking. While sipping my morning coffee and reading your blog this morning, I learned my new word for the day, had my social conscience aroused, did a little math, and enjoyed a little poetry. Quite the deal.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.