Hands on the Green Leaf

JENNIFER BOWLES, U-M Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies



My dissertation, Hands on the Green Leaf, is about the lives of the harvesters and farmers who produce yerba mate, the naturally bitter green tea that is the most widely consumed beverage in Argentina. Based on fieldwork conducted over five years in the hinterlands of Northeast Argentina, I analyze labor rights, morality, and sentiment in everyday culture in teh fields where mate is hand-harvested each year by multiethnic crews of wage workers called tareferos. In focusing on the production site rather than the consumption, I capture views of the first temporal, material, corporal, and affective spaces of the commodity chain in which 21st century agrarian alienation is born. I argue that the interests of producers and wage workers must be considered together in order to counter agrarian crisis and rural exodus. I also discuss community empowerment initiatives that work to assuage ongoing social stigma toward wage workers.