Book explores migrant community in Hartville

Michelle Bender

Gary Harwood, Kent State photographer, discusses migrant worker community with students in White Hall

Migrant workers move crates from the trucks to the fields. They will then be packed with fresh lettuce and placed back on the truck for delivery. Because lettuce can wilt in the summer sun, the filled crates are quickly delivered to the washhouse where th

Credit: Jason Hall

Maria, a migrant farm worker from Texas, started working in the fields when she was 16. Her parents advised her against it, but she wanted to make her own money to save up for a convertible. Once a year, she traveled to Hartville to work at the K.W. Zellers’ family farm.

That’s where Maria first met Gary Harwood, Kent State’s coordinator of photography, who was taking photos for his book, Growing Season: The Life of a Migrant Community.

“I’m real proud to be part of the project because it’s part of who I am,” Maria said.

Harwood and David Hassler, program and outreach director for the Wick Poetry Center, spoke in White Hall yesterday to an audience of community leaders, students, migrant workers and Kent State faculty about their experiences putting Growing Season together.

Harwood discovered the migrant workers’ community through a conversation with a member of the College of Nursing.

Kent State nursing students often volunteer at the workers’ medical facility, so Harwood went out to the fields to photograph the families.

“Basically it was a five-year project, and it was a discovery and a journey,” Harwood said. “An amazing journey.”

Harwood’s book has been chosen for Stark County’s community-wide reading program, “One Book, One Community,” and as a project for Kent State education majors.

Anne Morrison, associate professor of education foundations and special services, said Harwood’s book has become a class project for active student learning. Education majors will be making lesson plans tied to the book, and the Ohio Department of Education will be able to use the plans.

“This is making our assignments more meaningful and getting us out into the world,” Morrison said.

Members of the audience yesterday were invited to comment about their reactions to Growing Season in a discussion group.

Pat Moore, neighbor to the Zellers’ farm, said, “Gary, with his charm and his smile, just wormed his way in. I cried the first time I saw the book,” she said.

Moore said she didn’t think Harwood would have the fortitude it takes to be accepted into the migrant’s community, but he showed the farm workers he was sincere and wanted to be there.

“The pictures were extremely intimate,” said Gina DeMart, higher education graduate student. “He did a great job of capturing the essence of the families and what they’re about.”

Harwood said he tried to do more than just capture the essence of the families. He integrated himself into their lives.

For example, every year Harwood went to Georgina Soto’s birthday parties.

Soto, 15, really enjoyed having Harwood around, but when she first met him she said she couldn’t figure him out.

“What is he trying to do?” Soto said. “Take pictures of me to do what?”

The discussion group ended with an appearance by Pat Book, vice president of regional development. Book gave away Kent State T-shirts and lanyards to the migrants, and they signed their pictures in Harwood’s book for her.

Contact undergraduate offices and graduate affairs reporter Michelle Bender at [email protected].