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  • Tenerife produces 1/3 of the world's bananas. They grow and then harvest them in the traditional way because the terraced farms and the small nature of the holdings make it impossible to mechanize.

    On the day I watch them harvest the bananas, they have a crew of 4 men: one of them too tall to fit through the door carrying a pina, so he is part of a relay crew: a smaller man who brings the pina from the tree and out the door to the taller one waiting in the road to carry it to the collection point. They begin work at sunrise and continue until the heat of the day forces a siesta. Late afternoon, they begin again. On days when the coop doesn't need all the bananas they have harvested, they just leave them at the collection site and the laborers take them home or try to sell them to other locals.

    The tool they use, only one, is a regular very sharp knife laced onto a long stick. One man, Menolo (the crew chief volunteering his time so I could photograph the process), slices through the stem while the other, Juan, catches it and hoists it onto his padded shoulder. Juan totes it, in some cases, down the irrigation troughs through the doorways onto the street where the pinas wait for the coop truck to come and pick them up. They do this for hours a day, days at a time. When they are not picking bananas, they are bent over potato fields, harvesting them by hand as well.

    I wonder at the end of it all why bananas are so cheap in the states? This harvest is the culmination of a lot of hard work that begins on the day the plant sends out a new shoot and ends on the day the pina is cut. Each plant produces a gorgeous, enormous flower and only one pina of bananas. After the fruit is harvested from that plant, it is cut down and stomped into the ground for compost, leaving that new shoot to grow its own fruit. Each plant is trimmed by hand, each banana is nipped at its tip by hand, and all the watering and harvesting is labor intensive as well. You've got to admit that bananas are quite a bargain.
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