A Foot in Both Worlds

May 8, 2023

People speaking Spanish as they milk cows may not fit our traditional image of a Vermont farm. But workers from Mexico and Central America are crucial to the state’s economy. And such migrant labor has a long history in Vermont.

This Episode’s Featured Object:

Farm Journal from the 1800s

Marjorie Strong: One of the more interesting features is that he lists his farmhands and farm laborers, and the payments to them. In one of the accounts he lists names—no last names—and he lists “other Frenchman,” which he does several times. This poor fellow never got a name. So clearly there were some immigrants, French-Canadian immigrants, who ended up working on his farm.

Old farm journal written on lined paper in fountain pen
Cartoon of a Mexican man in rubber boots beside black-and-white cows going into a Vermont barn

Cartoon from “A Heart Split in Two (The Story of Juana),” illustrated by Michael Tonn, from The Most Costly Journey (El viaje más caro), a collection of cartoons created from the oral histories of Latin American farm workers in Vermont.

The poet Robert Frost in the 1910s. Frost wrote his poem, “The Death of the Hired Man” in 1905, while he was living on a farm in Derry, New Hampshire.


The poet Robert Frost in the 1910s

Episode Transcript

[speaking in Spanish for 1-2 seconds before translator begins]

Rubinay: So I come from the beautiful state of Chiapas, Mexico. That’s where my family and community are.

Ryan: This is Rubinay. Will Lambek from Migrant Justice is the translator.

Rubinay: I work on a dairy farm. I’ve been on farms since I got here in 2017 and I do a bit of everything. I milk cows, I feed the calves, really a bit of everything.

Ryan: Rubinay is one of about 1500 migrant workers from southern Mexico and Central America who work on Vermont farms, mostly dairies.

Rubinay: When you come here, you’re searching for a better life, but there are things you leave behind.

Every year Vermont Humanities chooses a book for communities across the state to read and discuss. The current Vermont Reads book is The Most Costly Journey (El viaje más caro). It’s a collection of cartoons that were created from the stories of migrant farm workers like Rubinay.

Read the full transcript.

Episode Credits

Before Your Time is presented by Vermont Humanities and the Vermont Historical Society. This episode was produced by Noel Clark and Ryan Newswanger, with help from Teresa Greene and Amanda Kay Gustin.

Music is by Michael Chapman and the Woodpiles, Jacob Taylor Armerding, Ben McElroy, and Tiny Houses.