Aug 6, 2020
Harvard Press: Essential Jamaican workers keep local orchards humming

Every spring, both Carlson and Westward orchards welcome several Jamaican farm workers to town who provide invaluable help during the busy seasons in the orchards. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall months, they work hard doing everything from pruning trees to picking fruit.

According to a report in the Harvard Press in Harvard, Massachusetts, Carlson Orchards and Westward Orchards, along with many other growers in the area, are part of the New England Apple Council, a nonprofit marketing organization for the apple industry in this region. Through this organization, the orchards are able to hire farm workers from Jamaica, often hiring the same group of people each year.

In an interview with the Press, Frank Carlson, one of the owners of Carlson Orchards, explained the process of bringing migrant farm workers to the U.S. He said that agricultural workers come to the U.S. on H-2A visas, which the New England Apple Council helps to organize for the orchards. The council also has a contract with Florida East Coast Vegetables, which allows the workers to fly from Jamaica to Florida and stay overnight before flying or taking a bus up the coast.

Stephanie O’Keefe, the store manager at Westward Orchards, further explained the process, noting that 90 days before an orchard wants people to come work, they fill out applications and paperwork through the council, and then 30 days prior to arrival, the state inspects the buildings and dormitories to make sure everything is ready and up to standard.

Once here, farm workers often stay for as long as six months at a time, and many of them come back year after year. For instance, Audley Gentles, who works at Carlson’s, has been there for 33 years now, first coming in 1987. “It’s a good opportunity to work,” he said in an interview.

Also according to the Harvard Press,

Winston Taylor, who also works at Carlson Orchards, has been there for 12 years, but has been coming to the U.S. to do farm work for a total of 40 years, having been employed in a few different places before. Taylor explained that their jobs entail a wide variety of farm labor. “It’s work that you would do on any farm,” he said. “We try to do everything … we pick fruit, we pull weeds from the tree roots, we thin fruits from the trees when the trees are too heavy.”

Carlson praised the orchard’s group of six farm workers. He explained that they work extremely hard each day and always do a good job, particularly as many of them are farmers back home as well. “They’re good,” he said: “They’re here every day, they show up to work every morning, and we have to tell them ‘guys, the day is over, we’re going home’ … because they would work from dawn to dark every day. So, they’re very good workers.”

A win-win for orchards and workers

Carlson also touched upon what wages and hours look like for migrant farm workers in New England. Thanks to the adverse effect wage rate (the minimum wage rate for H2-A workers), they are paid more per hour than the state’s minimum wage, making $14.38 an hour for 60 hours of work each week. “They buy their own food, but they have no transportation costs to get back and forth, and no housing … we pay for that, so they do very well,” Carlson said. “If you go to Jamaica, the guys who come up here under the H2-A program live a class above their neighbor,” he added.

For the complete Harvard Press story, visit here.

Winston Taylor thins fruit on apple trees. Photos: Lisa Aciukewicz/Winston Press

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