The Truth About Most Farmworkers [Opinion]

david eddy 2015 Web Featured ImageIf growers don’t have the workers to tend and harvest a crop, all other concerns pale in comparison.

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So we decided to highlight an operation on the cover, McManis Family Vineyards of Ripon, CA, that truly respects their employees and rewards them financially. I’ve toured a lot of farms and interviewed countless growers, but on virtually every visit a grower will tell me something I didn’t know or hadn’t considered before. On this occasion, as you probably guessed, it had to with the workers.

Sure, I was impressed by the more unusual things they did, like giving all their full-time workers a $50 Visa card for every quarter with no safety violations, or that they buy pigs from FFA kids and package the meat for their employees.

But what really struck me while I was driving around one of their ranches with Vineyard Manager Dirk Heuvel was when he talked about government regulations. He finds them a pain, just like every other grower I’ve met.

However, it wasn’t the way the farm was regulated that bothered Dirk most, it was that he found the regulations offensive to his employees.

“Our workers are very intelligent, but the state regulations imply they are uninformed and treated unfairly,” he told me. “That’s absolutely not the case; we make sure it’s safe and the benefits are rewarding.”

Talk about piercing a common myth that farmworkers are often mistreated — and its companion, that the government protects them and ensures they are respected.

Another story in this issue drives the point home that not only are farmworkers generally respected for their work ethic and ability, many go on to become growers themselves.

The story, “New Report Highlights Farmworker Opportunities In California Strawberry Fields,” notes that according to a new report from the California Strawberry Commission, more than one-quarter of the state’s strawberry growers got their start as field workers.

I bet you that figure would come as a shock to many Americans, particularly those who are so vehemently opposed to immigration. Incidentally, they can say all they want that they’re not opposed to immigration, just illegal immigration, but for many it’s just a cover for racism. (And say it they will: I get more hate email from people on this issue than any other, with the possible exception of people who oppose GMOs.)

Which brings me to yet another labor piece in this issue, a column on the issue of immigration and feeding America by Brad Hollabaugh, a former recipient of our Apple Grower of the Year award. (Speaking of the award, the deadline for nominations for this year’s winner, who I will introduce at the USApple Conference in August, is May 16.)

Brad’s thoughtful essay stands on its own, but I would just like to hammer home one point he makes: This country’s mostly Hispanic farmworkers are not taking jobs away from unemployed Americans; those “upstanding citizens” either can’t or aren’t willing to work that hard. Period.

Brad’s opinion piece, which we call “One Grower’s Take,” is hopefully the first of many from growers all over this great country. We’d love to hear from growers on the issues you care about. Please send me an email or give me a call. ●