If you think hiring local is the answer to all our unemployment woes, you're not alone. Farmers across the nation are looking to hire. Not cheap immigrant workers, mind you, but local people who are unemployed and hoping to make ends meet. The problem is, nobody wants to do the manual labor even if they are out of work.
For years, we've lost valuable farm land to overdevelopment. Now, we have the opportunity to return to the land. But unfortunately, we're not.
See the excerpt below from The New York Times.
Hiring Locally for Farm Work Is No Cure-All
By KIRK JOHNSON
Published: October 5, 2011
OLATHE, Colo. — How can there be a labor shortage when nearly one out of every 11 people in the nation are unemployed?
That’s the question John Harold asked himself last winter when he was trying to figure out how much help he would need to harvest the corn and onions on his 1,000-acre farm here in western Colorado.
The simple-sounding plan that resulted — hire more local people and fewer foreign workers — left Mr. Harold and others who took a similar path adrift in a predicament worthy of Kafka...
This year, though, with tough times lingering and a big jump in the minimum wage under the program, to nearly $10.50 hour, Mr. Harold brought in only two-thirds of his usual contingent. The other positions, he figured, would be snapped up by jobless local residents wanting some extra summer cash.
“It didn’t take me six hours to realize I’d made a heck of a mistake,” Mr. Harold said, standing in his onion field on a recent afternoon as a crew of workers from Mexico cut the tops off yellow onions and bagged them.
Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason. Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard. On the Harold farm, pickers walk the rows alongside a huge harvest vehicle called a mule train, plucking ears of corn and handing them up to workers on the mule who box them and lift the crates, each weighing 45 to 50 pounds.
“It is not an easy job,” said Kerry Mattics, 49, another H-2A farmer here in Olathe, who brought in only a third of his usual Mexican crew of 12 workers for his 50-acre fruit and vegetable farm, then struggled to make it through the season. “It’s outside, so if it’s wet, you’re wet, and if it’s hot you’re hot,” he said.
Still, Mr. Mattics said, he can’t help feeling that people have gotten soft.
“They wanted that $10.50 an hour without doing very much,” he said. “I know people with college degrees, working for the school system and only making 11 bucks.”
A mismatch between employers’ requirements and the skills and needs of the jobless — repeated across industries — has been a constant theme of this recessionary era. But here on the farm, mismatch can mean high anxiety.
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Image courtesy of Jones Family Farm in Shelton.