Three Essays on the Pine Straw Industry in a Georgia Community
Type of DegreeDissertation
Forestry and Wildlife Sciences
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This dissertation examines the pine straw industry and its interaction with labor, local communities and land in a community in Georgia. As a relatively new industry within the forest products sector, the pine straw industry provides local forest landowners with additional income from their forests and Latino immigrants with year-round employment. The first study is entitled, “A Political Ecology of Pine Straw Harvesting.” With a political ecology framework, I examine the interaction between government policies and programs, which precipitated the commodification of pine straw and how they contribute to a dependence on an immigrant workforce, the majority of whom are undocumented. “Raking it In: The Commodification of Pine Straw in the Southeast” is the second study. In it, pine straw is examined as a non-timber forest product and comparisons are made between the harvesting of this particular non-timber forest product on private land as opposed to publicly owned and Forest Service land. I use the concepts of access to, and commercialization and conservation of the resource as a point of comparison. Finally, I examine the role of forest labor contractors and social networks in procuring labor for this particular industry in the last study entitled, “In a Class of Their Own: Forest Labor Contractors in the Pine Straw Industry.” Forty-two pine straw harvesters, four forest labor contractors, eight landowners and four pine straw dealers were interviewed for this study. Interviews were semi-structured face-to-face interviews or telephone interviews. Data collected focused on the length of time each actor had been involved in the industry and precipitating factors to their involvement. For harvesters, the focus was on how they obtained work, how they were paid, harvesters’ basic ecological knowledge and information related to social networks. These interviews closely paralleled interviews with pine straw dealers who were their indirect employers. Landowner interviews involved questions related to the amount of forest land owned, how their land was used prior to planting it in timber and their experience with the industry and the Latino labor force. This research provides a look at a specific industry within the Southeast that has grown out of land use changes and immigration policy. It is one centered on a once marginal forest by-product, which now contributes more than $60 million annually to Georgia’s economy. Although it has a largely regional market, it benefits from a globalized labor force.