Embarking on the journey of farming is no picnic to get started. As a first-generation farmer, I wanted to be unique. I made a crazy vow that I would only hire local labor; I could not comprehend why most farmers only hired foreign labor. As my knowledge expanded, I began to see local labor in a very different light.
Before I became a business owner, I was just an employee. Over the years, I had several different jobs, which varied from unskilled laborer to professional employee. With many different supervisors, I quickly learned how I like or do not like to be treated. I think we can all recall at least one job where the boss was a total jerk. And I didn’t want to be that kind of boss. I knew that if I treated my employees well, then things usually ran smoother. I treat my employees as part of my team. Sometimes I am the leader, and sometimes my team teaches me new ideas and such; I never would have imagined or dreamed of.
My 1st local employee was a millennial. Not to be stereotypical, but this individual fit all the negative characteristics of the millennial generation. This employee would show up to work,but forget that in order to work you had to get out of your truck. Oftentimes, this employee would bring their girlfriend with them to work for encouragement during the work day. After a few weeks, we came to an understanding that maybe farm work just wasn’t a good fit.
However, I was not ready to give up that vow yet; I was ready to try local labor again.
If you can believe it, my 2nd attempt at local employees was even more amusing than the first. I decided that I would hire Trustees from the local prison. I mean what could possibly go wrong here? Lol! I contacted the prison and spoke to management. I made sure to ask for Trustees who liked to work outside. It was all set. The Trustees, four of them, were coming out to the farm on a Monday. The van dropped them off and off to work to they went. I gave them assignments on what to pick and showed them how to do so. About 3 hours of farm labor was enough for them. They begged for me to call the work release van to come pick them back up. They were fully aware of the consequences of returning to prison without completing the assignment; they would no longer be in the Trustee program and would be switched to a different facility. They didn’t think twice about sprinting to the van.
I am not a quitter so stuck to the vow.
The final attempt at local labor, was a middle age guy who found us. He told a sob story. Recovering from this and that and down on his luck. He was looking for a job to better his life. I was skeptical, but I needed help (strawberries were rotting in the fields), and I am often a sucker for sad stories. He lasted the longest by far. We provided a place to live, he drove the farm truck back and forth to work, and was treated like a team player. Until one day when customers were pulling into the farm looking for our employee, apparently he had a side business going. He was selling our produce and pocketing the money. It’s heartbreaking to feel that kind of betrayal, especially when you are trying to help someone out.
I broke the vow and I never thought twice about it again.
Now we have H2A labor. H2A labor is temporary (agricultural) employment of Foreign labor.
The system to get H2A labor is unimaginable. We fill out far-fetched amount of paperwork and pay thousands of dollars to get each worker here. The process can take several months for approval, and not every farmer is guaranteed workers. The wages we pay are higher than minimum wage, and the farmer must provide approved housing. The housing must be inspected and up to codes and guidelines. Once you are approved, your workers come to the U.S. on a work visa for up to 10 months out of the year. This is no easy process but it is a necessity.
Not to bore you with all the details, but there are so many farm jobs available and NO quality American workforce willing to fill it. Farmers need to have dependable, hardworking, and trustworthy team members to get the job done. Without them, our crop would be rotting in the fields.
Our H2A guys have been with us for a few seasons now. They are like part of our family. These guys are amazing men. Often times just working to feed their parents, wives, and children back home. Very gracious and thankful for the opportunities to work and earn a decent living to send home. They are dependable, hardworking, and trustworthy. I am so thankful for them; they are the key players on my team.
We have found some great local team members for a few farm related jobs. A few are even millennials. However, good local farm team members are few and far between, but we have had an amazing experience with H2A labor.