After I Pick the Fruit is a feature-length documentary (running time 93 minutes) that follows the lives of five immigrant farmworker women – three of them undocumented – over a ten-year period as they struggle to fulfill their roles as workers, wives, mothers, and members of an isolated community that’s almost invisible to the outside world. It’s an intensely personal film, born of friendships forged by filmmaker Nancy Ghertner with each of the five women, who asked to be identified simply as Soledad, Vierge, Maria, Elisa, and Lorena.

After I Pick the Fruit begins and ends in the apple orchards around Sodus, NY, but includes footage on location in Chilapa de Diaz, Mexico, the US-Mexican border in Texas, the orange groves of Florida, the Capitol Building in Albany, and most importantly, in the women’s homes when the work day is done.

The Bush Administration’s post-9/11 crackdown on illegal immigration is pivotal to the film. Ghertner shows how a series of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in 2006 affects the women, their families, farmers, and residents in and around Sodus. When one woman learns that her husband has been detained in an early morning raid in front of the local grocery store, she invites Ghertner into her home to talk about what happened. The film also documents the stunned reaction of the farmer whose employee is picked up in front of his eyes at a corner coffee shop. Later the film follows a group of area residents who have volunteered to stand watch outside a Catholic church on Sunday mornings—on the lookout for ICE agents—while undocumented immigrants attend Mass inside.

“I was inspired to make the film after seeing women working in the fields and orchards near my hometown of Sodus,” Ghertner says. “ I wanted to meet them, to understand how they lived and what happened—after they picked the fruit.”

Once she got to know the women, Ghertner was driven “to make the invisible visible,” and raise consciousness among American consumers about the human price of getting fresh food to the supermarket.

The women in After I Pick the Fruit:

For the first 18 years of her life, Soledad lived in Puebla, Mexico. Because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her in school, Soledad dropped out at age 12, and went to work cleaning and cooking “in the homes of ladies” until age 17, when she met and married her husband. Not long after they were married, Soledad’s husband left to find work in the United States, and Soledad supported herself by selling crackers in the street until he could send for her. Soledad and her husband eventually found work on a fruit farm near Sodus.  In 2008, after working nine years for the same farmer, they have to decide whether to return to Mexico, or face the continued anxiety caused by the ICE raids. Will their family be separated?

Vierge is one of thousands of boat people who fled Haiti after the 1991 coup that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Under President Bill Clinton’s Haitian immigration policy, only those who were likely to suffer political persecution were given documents to live and work in the U.S. and Vierge is one of the very few who qualified. Vierge settled in Florida and soon began her annual migration to New York State to pick apples. She met her husband, also a farmworker, with whom she had two children. Vierge, only one of nine children to escape Haiti, to Haiti regularly sends remittances to support her mother and siblings who are unable to find work in Haiti’s bleak economy.

Because Maria’s husband was given amnesty under the 1986 Reagan immigration plan, she was able to legally cross the border with him. The two of them migrate seasonally between New York and Florida, even after their children were born. When they first arrived in Sodus with their children, Maria says, they had no place to live, and no padrone (labor contractor) to hire them. After eight days of homelessness, they ran into a friend from Mexico who put them in touch with a contractor, and moved into the only housing available: a trailer with four single men. “They were drunks,” she says. “Every night there would be a fight.”

Elisa hasn’t seen her parents, siblings, or cousins since September 11, 2001, except in the videos that Nancy took on her visit to Elisa’s home in Mexico. Before 9/11, Elisa and other Mexican agricultural workers would cross the US-Mexican border after the harvest season to visit their families.  But tightened border security after 9/11 makes crossing too risky now. Elisa feels she has no choice but to stay in the United States, “The economy is broken in our country. We cannot survive there. My children are born here, in the USA and they love this country,” she says.

Lorena is working in the field crops of western New York alongside her husband when the filmmaker is introduced to her. She and her husband met as teenagers in Mexico City and crossed the border into the US together.  Lorena and her husband long for community and become involved with the Hispanic Catholic Community and the Farmworker Women’s Institute.  They join the volunteer board for AgriBusiness Day Care, where their son is enrolled for daycare.  In the fall of 2006, Lorena’s husband is selected to represent the parents of the ABCD at a conference in Philadelphia, but when he boards a bus to attend the conference, his family’s life is forever changed.