Tales from Big Sugar

A blue sky showcases the C&H logo on the top of their huge sugar distribution facility in Crockett, CA. A colorful train on the tracks moving by in the foreground of the image.

California & Hawaiian Sugar Company on an October day, 2013. In the 1920s the company employed 99% of Crockett’s population now less than 1% work there. It is a forbidding place with broken windows and dirty grounds. The company has been cited for 144 water-permit violations and 72 instances of records falsification since 1995.

Looking up from the C&H Sugar Factory arcs of the bridge

View under the bridge at C&H Sugar Factory

Industrial shapes and metal worn with wear decorate the landscape.

Shapes abound at the C&H Sugar Factory. Industrial metal colored by wear and weather.

I found myself at the C&H (California and Hawaiian) Sugar Company as a CR England driver, another adventure with Laura. We wove down a steep hill in the 18 wheeler searching for an entrance to the facility. When we did find an unmarked path into a dirt parking lot, the disgruntled guard directed us to drive through a maze before telling us we had to back up half the length of a football field. The shabby grounds were filled with other trucks who had been waiting hours to be loaded. Menus from take out joints in the area were posted nearby, a testament that we would be there for hours, hungry and waiting. It was a full moon and as the night closed in the broken glass windows and victorian looking factory took on a solemn and haunting feeling and one could imagine the ghosts of many souls having traveled through the place.

Consider that sugar was the oil of the 19th Century perpetrating slavery, war and colonialism. We all know the sweet stuff which is extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets. The C&H Factory makes their sugar only from the cane. It is situated along the waters of the Carquinez Strait a narrow tidal strait in northern California, part of the tidal estuary of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin rivers as they drain into the San Francisco Bay. The C&H sugar distribution factory manufactures 6 million pounds of sugar a day.

Sugar is recognized as an addictive substance and a major factor in causing obesity and chronic disease. Now many Americans are slaves to sugar based diets and this insidious manipulation of the food supply is spreading around the globe.

According to Wikipedia, “In 2005, the common stock shares were acquired by American Sugar Refining (ASR, better known as Domino Sugar), a company owned by Florida Crystals and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. Florida Crystals is a privately held company that is part of FLO-SUN, a sugar empire of the Fanjul family whose origins trace to Spanish-Cuban sugar plantations of the early 19th century.” The Fanjul family is famous for their pollution of the Everglades. They were parodied in Carl Hiaasen’s 1993 novel Strip Tease, which features a pair of Cuban brothers who own a large sugar conglomerate, that receives enormous profits from the exploitation of immigrant labor and the subsidies regularly voted to them by the United States Congress.

Now their spin is that they are the model of “environmental stewardship” for the cleanup of the Everglades but those of us from Florida know different. I recognized their name sitting in that truck searching on my iPhone for information about C&H. Beware Big Sugar in all it’s forms. It’s staggering to think after making billions of dollars from sugar causing war, pain, pollution and now human suffering. The C&H grounds are shabby and distressing. Still, as a photographer I was fascinated by the industrial landscape and as a human humbled by the contrast I find in this great wide world.

6 thoughts on “Tales from Big Sugar

  1. Nice piece, look forward to being able
    To rideride shotgun with you, even if it is only through your eyes and words.

  2. Thanks Zard I can’t wait to tell you my idea about my next book. Your inspiration always leading my thoughts in the direction of right thinking and working for the good of all.

  3. Hope the Arts Festival was a great experience this year. Not sure if you created a new mural. As always miss you and thanks for all the support!

  4. Loved your article. You’re such a fantastic writer. I particularly liked the historical aspect as well as the photographic images that you saw in such a behemoth.

  5. As David would say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Glad you found the blog so you can see my photos.

Comments are closed.