Having been invited to meet my friend's family, they introduced me to the seasonal farm workers on their land. The family rents a portion of their land to an Orleans County farmer, after having been documenting upstate New York migrant and seasonal farm workers working on the farms for the past year, I was invited to celebrate the end of season with these hardworking Jamaican farm workers.
Farm to Table: The Migrant and Seasonal Worker
by Arleen Thaler
Farm to Table is a social documentary project aimed at raising an awareness of the enormous amount of labor that goes into bringing food to our tables. While leaving their families behind in their home countries of Haiti, Jamaica, and Mexico, these men and women travel for many months out of the year to farms in the upstate, New York area. Their harvests yield apples, pears, peaches, onions, raspberries, blueberries and much more, and their days are long and grueling, working in what can be extreme temperatures at times.
Though there are many farmers that are not providing proper housing, wages and basic care essential to all working peoples, I have had the pleasure of meeting farmers who do not take their workers for granted. These farms follow the government run H2-A program that allows them to legally bring in the workers. The stereotype is that they have a black cloud over their hiring practices but in reality, they follow all the guidelines to do it legally These farm owners know their workers value and show that in the way they treat them. Many of the farmer’s children have grown up alongside these workers and now call them family, going as far as taking their personal vacations to the worker’s homeland so they can visit their own families.
While not all of the seasonal and migrant farm workers receive the same benefits of New York state workers in regards to over-time pay and days off, the men and women I have met take great pride in their work. Ultimately change in their favor will come with immigration reform, not only will the workers benefit but the growers as well. Along with the workers, the farm owners face many challenges as well as they are beholden to the market price, which is often set by grocery chains. It is often a lose-lose situation with farmers at the mercy of the set market value for their produce and the strict laws that govern the seasonal and migrant worker.