When you're eating pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, give thanks to the unsung laborers of Morton, Illinois | Bleader

Thursday, November 12, 2015

When you're eating pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, give thanks to the unsung laborers of Morton, Illinois

Posted By on 11.12.15 at 04:42 PM

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Pumpkin pie became Illinois's state pie this summer when, in acknowledgment of the Land of Lincoln's status as the country's top pumpkin producer, Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill giving the dessert that official designation. It now shares equal billing with the state's official fruit (the Goldrush apple) and snack food (popcorn).

The gourd's ground zero is downstate Morton, a town about ten miles southeast of Peoria. Morton—proclaimed "pumpkin capital of the world" in 1978 by a previous Republican governor—produces more than 80 percent of the world's canned pumpkin. That's a source of tremendous pride for Morton's roughly 16,000 residents, who host a four-day pumpkin festival every year. This year's fest, themed "Pumpkins of the Caribbean," ran September 16 through 19 and featured a pumpkin pageant, pumpkin weigh-off, "Pumpkin Idol," and a couple of pirate-themed events for good measure.

Farmers from a 50-mile radius around Morton grow pumpkins, but as detailed in a Reader cover story from November 16, 2006, all this mushy orange flesh has historically been canned by seasonal workers. At the time of the article more than half the employees at the city's now-90-year-old factory were from the tiny Mexican town of La Soledad, Michoacan.

Linda Lutton and Catrin Einhorn's story is fascinating because it tells a small tale about Morton and La Soledad ("two towns separated by 2,000 miles and an increasingly tense border that are dependent on each other, though one of them barely knows the other exists") and a larger one about the sobering reality of blue-collar and agricultural labor in America. 

Read it and then remember it the next time you buy those orange cans of Libby's for your pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.

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