'You’re not here to pick cotton today': Tour guide accused of making racist comment toward students on field trip to pumpkin patch

A farm worker’s “extremely poor choice of words” was branded racism by representatives at a North Carolina elementary school. (Photo: Getty Images)
A farm worker’s “extremely poor choice of words” was branded racism by representatives at a North Carolina elementary school. (Photo: Getty Images)

Representatives from an elementary school in Charlotte, N.C., are incensed over what they interpreted as a racist comment toward students — many of whom are minorities — visiting a pumpkin patch on Oct. 3. Kathy Capps, a field trip volunteer on the Thomasboro Academy field trip, told the Charlotte, N.C., news station WSOC-TV, “Once the children were brought to the tour guide, she said, ‘You’re not here to pick cotton today. You’re not here to pick fruit. You were here to pick pumpkins.'”

Capps, who’s been a school volunteer for 15 years, told WSOC that a few teachers later confided in her that they took offense to the remark, so Capps took the issue to Thomasboro Academy’s principal and assistant principal, who contacted Hall Family Farm in Charlotte, where the incident took place. When they weren’t satisfied with the response, Capps paid another visit to the farm.

She told owner Kevin Hall how upset the school was, and that the comment “hurt” and was “not appropriate.” After meeting with Capps, Hall told WSOC that he personally called school administrators to apologize and offered to come to the school to discuss the situation in person.

“It was an extremely poor choice of words, stupid, but there was no malice,” Hall told WSOC, adding that nothing like that had ever happened at the farm in its 11-year history and that during that time, at least 15 tour guides have led children on tours without incident. He addressed the matter on Monday in a lengthy post on Hall Family Farm’s Facebook describing the events that took place that day.

In it, Hall tells another version of the questionable comment, which he said was repeated to him verbatim by the tour guide. “Most of the guides begin their presentation with some humorous back and forth to get the students’ attention. A typical start to the presentation would be as follows: Guide, ‘Students! Are you here to pick squash?’ Students, ‘No!’ Guide, ‘Are you here to pick cucumbers?’ Students, ‘No!’ Guide, ‘Are you here to pick strawberries?’ Students, ‘Yes!’ … In this incident, the guide started with: Guide, ‘Today I’m happy that you aren’t cotton pickers or nose pickers. You are pumpkin pickers!’ This is the basis of the allegation of racism.”

He goes on to say that he was not made aware of any issues until the day after the field trip, when his wife fielded a call from the school. This led to Hall’s apology, as well as a voluntary phone call to the school from the tour guide herself. He wrote, “She apologized profusely and explained the situation. She was in tears by the end of the conversation.”

Hall describes the tour guide as “a dear friend of my family since 1992. She and many members of her family have been faithful employees from the very first day that we opened in 2008. She treats every human being with respect and kindness. For the past two years, in the off season she and her husband have spent the winter months caring for orphans and teaching English in the Philippines and Thailand at their own personal expense. Yes, she made an extremely poor choice of words, but she made every effort to apologize and dispel the misunderstanding directly to the persons that were offended.”

Hall claims that a refund to the school was suggested, but he didn’t want any of his actions to be interpreted as an admission of guilt. He notes that some have called for the firing of the employee, but he said his kinship with her runs so deep that he would rather discontinue operations at Hall Family Farm than “punish her for a stupid choice of words, a comment made with absolutely no innuendo or ill will.”

In a comment on the farm’s Facebook page, Capps wrote, “Sir, at no point did I ever ask for the employee to be fired nor did I tell you that a refund would make this ‘go away.’ I told you that perhaps a refund would show your sincere remorse that these comments were made to this school group. The teachers did not feel it was appropriate to address it while the children were present.” Capps says she had hoped the matter would have been resolved privately.

Hall concluded his note with a comment on the diversity he feels his farm represents. “Our employees are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, Caucasian and African American and Asian American, I am Asian American, and we all work together to provide a wholesome, family-centric farm experience for all customers.”

Despite the farm owner’s Facebook message, Capps told Yahoo Lifestyle that she’s saddened by the negative comments about race and how the situation stands at the moment.

“This is a teaching moment for everyone. I hope that’s what we come away with,” she said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) gave the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle on the incident:

“CMS takes matters like this seriously and we are still looking into it. We can confirm that a school trip took place and that concerns about events during the trip have been communicated. Again, we are looking into this matter for follow up and will respond based on findings.”

Yahoo Lifestyle has reached to Hall for further comment on the incident and will update the post when he responds.

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