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For poor farmworkers, there is no escape from heat, high prices of California

Priscella Vega, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Oregon was a big change compared with the valley. Douglas firs were everywhere. It seemed as if it never stopped raining.

The first year in Boring was challenging. At the time, the Villegas family didn't have enough money to purchase raincoats or rain boots. They donned a cap, dressed in layers and cut holes in giant black plastic bags to keep their bodies somewhat dry.

Villegas trudged through the mud, lugging two tin buckets strapped around his waist. His numb fingers clumsily plucked berries off twigs. Rain thudded against his body as he made his way down rows of blackberry bushes.

"It used to get so cold here, the fruit froze," he said.

Ventura remembers those days as well. She first arrived in Oregon as a 13-year-old, after living in Fresno for a week. Ventura's older brother lived and worked in Oregon for years and showed her the sights before the strawberry harvest.

"It was very difficult," Ventura, 32, said as she watched her daughter play in the living room back in Fresno. "In that time, there was so much rain. Day and night, rain. Day and night, more rain. It rained and we just had to keep working and we would get so dirty."

 

The work presented new challenges when she became a mother. She woke up earlier, preparing breakfast at 4 a.m. and getting her children ready for school before dawn. Then, she was off to work with Jaime.

But Oregon's greenery and weather were a reminder of her hometown in San Miguel Cuevas — a mountainous place with dirt roads, lush greenery and fog blanketing the area. She returned every summer to Oregon after her first visit, where she met Jaime.

Ventura spoke fondly of the pine trees and chilly weather — a stark contrast to her Fresno home. "I also like it because I see nature more than I do here," she explained. "It's city life here, but out there I see so many trees and pines and I feel like the air is different."

How Oregon has changed since she fell in love with its charm.

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