Harvesting Hope: Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers

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Harvesting Hope: Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers

High School United States History
Duration: 1-2 class periods
Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum (VSC):

United States History

5.5.4.d Describe the Latino quest for civil rights and the formation of the United Farm Workers Union

American Government

1.1.4.k Analyze various methods that individuals or groups may use to influence laws and governmental policies including petitioning, letter writing, and acts of civil disobedience

  • Students will be able to explain the rise of the United Farm Workers Union.

  • Students will be able to describe the purpose of strikes and boycotts.

  • Students will be able to identify the costs and benefits of union actions.


Boycott- A decision by consumers to stop buying a particular product, in order to achieve a political or economic goal.

Migrant- Someone who moves from one region to a different region within the same country

Strike- A decision of unionized workers to stop working for an employer and to prevent others from taking their places in order to gain improved benefits.

Union- An organization formed by workers to negotiate on their behalf with employers to obtain better wages, working conditions, benefits, and job security.



Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull (Scholastic, 2003. ISBN 0-439-69108-7)

Teacher Resource Sheet #1, “The Problem”

Teacher Resource Sheet #2, “Alternatives”

Teacher Resource Sheet #3, “Consequences of the UFW Decision”


Student Resource Sheet #1, “History Impression: Harvesting Hope”

Student Resource Sheet #2, “Solutions to the Farm Workers’ Plight”

Student Resource Sheet #3, “History of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers Movement”


This lesson is a modified version of “Why Would Grape Pickers Ask People Not to Buy Grapes?” from United States History: Focus on Economics., National Council on Economic Education, 1998.

Lesson Development:

  1. Motivation: Distribute Student Resource Sheet #1, “History Impression: Harvesting Hope.” Have students brainstorm the possible connections between the chain of clues on the worksheet. In the “text guess” section of the resource sheet, they should write a paragraph that represents what they think today’s lesson will be about. They should use all of the words in the chain and in the order that they are represented. Have students share their predication summaries with the class.

  1. Tell students that you are going to read Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull. As you read, they should jot down notes on Student Resource Sheet #1 about the significance of the key terms.

  1. After reading, ask students to share the information that they learned about the various key terms on their History Impression.

  1. Explain to students that this is the “storybook” version of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers Movement. They are going to be learning more facts about what happened in this lesson.

  1. Divide the class into five groups. Display Teacher Resource Sheet #1, “The Problem.” Distribute Student Resource Sheet #2, “Solutions to the Farm Workers’ Plight: and one alternative from Teacher Resource Sheet #2 to each group. Instruct students to read their alternative and answer the questions on Student Resource Sheet #2.

  1. Have each group share their findings with the class. Discuss. Have the class vote on the alternative that they think would have been the most successful.

  1. Distribute Student Resource Sheet #3, “History of Cesar Chavez and the Farmer Workers Movement.” Tell students to identify the alternative that Chavez and his colleagues chose. Discuss.

  1. Display the definitions of strike and boycott. Discuss with students. What is the difference between the two? Who must the union convince to cooperate in the case of a strike? (workers) Who must the union convince to cooperate in the case of a boycott? (consumers)

  1. Display Teacher Resource Sheet #3, “Consequences of the UFW Decision.” Discuss.

  1. Assessment: Use the following prompt to write an Extended Constructed Response (ECR).

The UFW strike and boycott was a failure from the beginning. The leaders know that the workers would bear costs during the strike and that the strike would create incentives for growers to mechanize the harvesting of food products.

Using information from this lesson, evaluate the accuracy of this statement. As you write, think about the following:

  • Purposes of strikes and boycotts

  • Costs & benefits of the UFW strike and boycott

  • Unintended consequences of the UFW strike and boycott

  1. Closure: Have students revisit the paragraph that they wrote from their History Impression (Student Resource Sheet #1). Direct them to rewrite their paragraphs based on the information that they have learned in this lesson. Discuss.

Teacher Resource Sheet #1

The Problem

In 1965, thousands of farm workers (many of whom were of Mexican-American ancestry) migrated from farm to farm to harvest vegetables and fruit. Although the work did not usually involve special skills (children and teens often worked as harvesters), it was physically demanding and involved long workdays and workweeks.

Farm workers wanted higher pay and better working conditions (such as 40 hour work weeks). Demands for higher wages were seldom honored. Fruit and vegetable growers (farm owners and corporations) could usually find workers willing to harvest crops for lower wages. Farm workers who refused to accept the low pay would be replaced.

Teacher Resource Sheet #2


Create a lower supply of farm workers by working to limit or end all immigration (legal and illegal) into the United States.

Create a higher demand for grapes by working to create a sustained, significant increase in the national purchase of grapes.

Encourage members to abandon farm working as a job and find jobs that pay more and are more stable.

Accept the low pay and working conditions and live with the poverty and physical discomfort.

Organize a grape workers’ strike to limit the supply of labor and ask American consumers not to buy grapes to reduce demand.

Teacher Resource Sheet #3

Consequences of the UFW Decision

Short Term (1965-1970)

The strike and boycott lasted for five years, although the grape growers were generally able to find workers during that time who would cross the UFW picket lines and harvest the crops. Recent immigrants to the United States, especially, were often willing to work for wages offered by the growers. The boycott did not shut off the demand for grapes entirely (and when the U.S. government decided to buy grapes to feed the military, this increased demand offset the reduced demand caused by the boycott.) Some violence accompanied the strike and grape growers were placed in the national spotlight by media attention to the boycott. In 1970, about two-dozen major grape growers signed a three-year contract with the UFW, granting higher wages to the workers.

Long Term (1970- 1990’s)

The UFW continued to call for strikes and boycotts after 1970. The contracts with grape growers expired, and other vegetable and fruit growers resisted the UFW demands for higher wages. Ongoing immigration brought new waves of potential farm workers into competition with UFW workers (causing the supply of labor to rise). Farm mechanization reduced the number of available jobs for farm workers (causing the demand for labor to drop). Media attention to Cesar Chavez and the UFW continued, and when farm workers argued in the 1970’s and 1980’s that exposure to pesticides caused illnesses and birth defects, many Americans were familiar with farm workers’ conditions from the earlier stories about the boycott. Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) became a nationally known figure that drew attention to many issues that involved low-income Latinos (or Chicanos, which was a more common term in the 1960’s and 1970’s).

Student Resource Sheet #1

History Impression: Harvesting Hope

Key Terms Text Guess




White Trade Only


La Causa

National Farm Workers



Student Resource Sheet #2

Solutions to the Farm Worker’s Plight


What would happen if your alternative were implemented? Consider costs, benefits, incentives, supply, and demand.

  1. How many people will it take to implement your alternative?

  1. Does your alternative require participation from others? If so, who are they? How likely are they to support your solution?

  1. What favorable consequences or benefits would result from your alternative?

  1. What will your alternative cost? (Remember that costs are not just financial, but can also be social, emotional, physical, etc.)

  1. Will your alternative create any new problems for others? If so, what might the reaction be from those people when they see those problems?

Student Resource Sheet #3

History of Cesar Chavez and the Farmer Workers Movement
The United Farm Workers Strike (1965) against California grape growers is an event with complex origins in American history. The story is interesting because of its relationship to Latin American immigration, the growth of the U.S. economy, and the use of strikes by labor unions as a tactic to increase union worker incomes.
Mexican immigrations have dominated the U.S. population of migrant farm workers since the early 1900’s. Some had ancestors who lived in the Southwest when that area belonged to Mexico, but most had moved north as result of the violence of the Mexican Revolution, the poor rates of economic growth in Mexico, and the growing economy in the United States during the 1920’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s.
During the same time period, union membership grew dramatically in the United States among factory workers. Workers in the coal, steel, railroad, and other industries often used strikes as tactics to bargain for higher wages. Some efforts were also made to organize farm workers, but these efforts met with limited success.
In 1965, Cesar Chavez, the leader of the United Farm Workers (UFW), brought the farm workers’ demands to a national audience. He led a strike against the California grape growers and fostered a boycott of table grapes by consumers. The strike/boycott came at a time when California had become the largest food-producing state in the country, when the national economy was growing strongly, and when most workers were experiencing increased incomes and purchasing power. In 1970, 26 California grape growers (responsible for producing about 50 percent of the grapes in the state) signed an agreement with the UFW.

Maryland Council on Economic Education

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