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Washington orchards desperate for apple pickers

Dave Miller


Joined: Jun 08, 2009
Posts: 398
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
    
  10
This article illustrates some of the unsustainability with our current apple production system.

However I don't think (large-scale) permaculture would solve the harvest labor issue, would it?

http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/nov/09/washington-orchards-desperate-apple-pickers/

Washington orchards desperate for apple pickers

By SHANNON DININNY, Associated Press
As of Wednesday, November 9, 2011

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Apple growers say they could have had one of their best years ever if a shortage of workers hadn't forced them to leave some fruit on trees.

Growers in Washington state, which produces about half of the nation's apples, say the labor shortage was made worse by a late start to their harvest. The growing season got off to a slow start because of a cold, wet spring, and some migrant workers didn't stick around to wait for it.

But farmers say an immigration crackdown by the federal government and states such as Arizona and Alabama scared off many more workers. They have tried to replace them with domestic workers with little success and inmates at a much greater cost. Many growers have resorted to posting "pickers wanted" signs outside their orchards and asking neighbors to send prospective workers their way.

Jeff Pheasant and his sister Darla Grubb are the fourth generation in their family to grow apples near Soap Lake, about 120 miles east of Seattle. They said their harvest was a week behind because the fruit wasn't ripe, then another week behind because they had no workers to pick it.

Pheasant Orchards usually has 65 workers at the peak of harvest. Only 50 pickers arrived this year, and many were inexperienced, Pheasant said.

"You have to have people," Grubb said. "They're the reason we have fruits and vegetables. We couldn't do this without our workers."

About 15 billion apples are picked in Washington each year, all by hand. Orchards line the hillsides and valleys east of the Cascade Range from the Canadian border in the north to the Columbia River in the south.

Growers have struggled for years with labor shortages, but they say this harvest season is one of the toughest yet. Typically, about 70 percent of the state's farmworkers are in the country illegally. But many Mexican and other migrant workers stayed away this year after some states passed tougher immigration laws and the federal government cracked down.

"We've been dealing with this for a number of years now, and until something changes at the federal level, growers are going to struggle having enough workers," said Mike Gempler, a farm labor contractor for Washington growers.

Gov. Chris Gregoire assembled a delegation of 15 farmers last month for a trip to Washington, D.C., where they urged Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. At the time, Gregoire estimated the state still needed 4,000 workers to complete the harvest, which could have been the third-largest in state history.

"Our problem now is: How do we get it off the trees?" Gregoire said. "We don't have a work force, and that is at the doorstop of the federal government."

Farmers in other states also are struggling with a labor shortage. A Georgia pilot program matching probationers with farmers needing harvesters had mixed results. Some Alabama farmers tried hiring American citizens after the state's new immigration law chased away migrant workers, but they said the new employees were often ready to call it a day by mid-afternoon. Many quit after a day or two.

In Washington, a state office that matches workers with available jobs posted hundreds of openings at orchards with few takers, and many farmers complained that those who did apply were too inexperienced.

Some critics say growers would have enough workers if they paid more. Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country at $8.67 per hour. Apple pickers are often paid based on how much they pick, but they're guaranteed at least minimum wage.

Erik Nicholson, Pacific Northwest director for the United Farmworkers of America labor union, said that's not enough to attract a steady labor supply.

A growing number of farmers have turned to a federal guest-worker program to bring in foreign workers, despite longstanding complaints that it's too cumbersome and expensive to be of any real help. Growers in the program generally must pay a higher wage, plus provide housing and transportation in and out of the country.

The Labor Department approved about 4,200 guest-workers for Washington this year — up from nearly 2,100 three years ago — but that's far fewer than the thousands needed to work each year.

McDougall & Sons orchard, which has been family-owned for five generations, brought in 240 foreign workers under the program. A one-week extension to their contract kept them here until the end of October, but their exodus left the orchard short pickers when the harvest still wasn't done.

That's when Scott McDougall became the only grower to accept the governor's offer of inmate labor.

More than 100 inmates arrived, with security officers in tow, to pick Jazz apples, which are in limited production and have a higher value. Each inmate cost $22 per hour, which McDougall pays the state to cover transportation, food, housing and security.

"I'd say they're probably picking about half what an experienced picker would pick," he said. "The value of the fruit obviously — vs. having it frozen on the tree — warrants the higher rate."



There are some decent comment after the article.  I liked this one:

I'm having a hard time understanding the goal of this article. What is presented is that the apple industry has built itself on the backs of illegal labor (and so, by extension the American Taxpayer) and now that there has been some measure of law enforcement, that labor is no longer available. Does the author intend that I feel bad about that? To be a legal and legitimate business costs money. Further, would the author have me to conceive that only illegals from accross the border can adequately pick fruit because $22 an hour inmate labor (certainly not the cream of society's crop) does less than stellar work? Or that Georgia and Alabama workers are "less than" because they are not interested in dying an early death in the orchard for minimum wage? Apples will simply have to cost more. When we can afford them, we'll buy them. When we can't we won't. That's the way the system should work.


There are some hot-button issues involved here (illegal workers, unsustainable pay, lazy Americans, etc.) but I would like this thread to focus on this question:

How does (or how can) permaculture solve the harvesting issues described in this article?


If I understand permaculture correctly, harvesting costs are considerably higher in a permaculture than they are in a mono/industrial agriculture.  I think that is a major mental hurdle for many people, so it does need to be addressed.
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4833
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
181
I should thing that in a conventional orchard, all the harvesting happens over a very short period of time, so lots of people need to be employed for just a couple of weeks.

In permaculture, the harvesting is staggered over as long a period as possible, providing near year-round employment for a much smaller number of people. 


What is a Mother Tree ?
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I agree with Burra, in permaculture there's much more of a possibility of an actual career or year-round job in food-growing, versus seasonal labor in monocultures.

In permaculture the people harvesting would permanently live on the land and ideally even be owners or co-owners of the operation.


Idle dreamer

John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6593
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
135
It is not just the WA apple orchards that rely on temp immigrant labor.  CA's Central Valley has depended on that work force since the Great Depression ended.

An experienced apple picker can earn over $150 per day, yet none of the state's 10% unemployed bothered to apply for those jobs.

This is yet another disadvantage to monocropping.  When your entire year's income is dependent on a 2-3 week window of picking, you're going to lose if you don't have a reliable source of labor.

The orchards also suffer this same problem at pruning time.  Growing more than you can maintain is certainly not permaculture.
dave brenneman


Joined: Jan 14, 2011
Posts: 38
Location: london, england
    
    1
John Polk wrote:
An experienced apple picker can earn over $150 per day, yet none of the state's 10% unemployed bothered to apply for those jobs.


It's possible that the unemployed

A: didn't know it was apple-picking time - if you're used to getting fruit whenever you want from the store, the idea that some things are in season and some aren't actually does surprise people.

So perhaps the permaculture solution to that possibility is: it's useful for people to learn what things are in season and what's required to harvest them.

B: have never picked apples, and so, like the inmates, weren't experienced/qualified. So the permaculture solution to that would be for people to have a passing familiarity with a wider range of skills, which might open up opportunities for harvesting food.

C: Live within the state, but don't have a way to easily get to and from the orchards. So the permaculture solution to that would be decentralized growing, with lots of smaller orchards located nearer to population centres.

Zone 9, southern UK
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 4107
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  58
  A decent apple picker can harvest 8000 pounds per day. So it currently costs less than two cents per pound for harvesting labor. At five cents per pound a worker could be paid $400 per day.

  I understand that there are other costs throughout the year but once the crop is sitting there it makes no sense to let it rot. Obviously people would be willing to harvest if wages were raised. I believe that the growers don't want to set a precedent by paying more.

  The failure of monoculture works in our favor so if this isn't something to worry about.


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Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
More people might be willing to pick if the wages were comparable with other similarly-skilled jobs and the orchards weren't an inconveniently long commute.  Most folks aren't willing to pack up their families and go live in a tent somewhere like the classic migrant farm workers. 
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
H Ludi Tyler wrote:
More people might be willing to pick if the wages were comparable with other similarly-skilled jobs and the orchards weren't an inconveniently long commute.  Most folks aren't willing to pack up their families and go live in a tent somewhere like the classic migrant farm workers. 


You know, most of my life I would have been thrilled to live in a tent, my family, not so much. 

A person can't go from inactive, never having done field work to productive in a day, or even a week, but by week 3, if they make it, they will be rolling along pretty well. In industry, you often have to deal with months of someone not being effective, not just a couple of weeks. It would make sense for them to pay a bit more during training, and then reduce it, in order to have better workers. Of course, those with the early harvest are going to bear the brunt of this, seems to me that if the growers in the area were to put their heads together, they could share the load of getting people trained.

Great job for teenagers, and young people who can't yet find a job, but aren't tied down. Teach them to be thankful for any easy job afterwards. I know I spent time working on farms, and restaurants when I was young, when I became a programmer, I was ecstatic how much I was paid, for doing something I loved to do anyway.

Well, the price will adjust, this year will be a year where apples are scarce in the stores, which will result in higher prices for next year, and eventually, things will level out. And those orchards who were in debt will be sold to someone else. Sad but true. But you don't build a business on illegal labor, if you want to survive for the long haul.


Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6593
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
135
That labor force has not always been illegal. "They" were allowed to migrate seasonally to work the crops, then go home with a fortune of cash in their pockets.

Times changed.  Most had no reason to go back home...there was nothing for them there.  Laws also changed.  The business model was built on a legal source of labor, that through changing laws vanished.

The entire monoculture business model in this country needs an entire overhaul if we are going to be able to feed ourselves economically.
Brice Moss


Joined: Jul 28, 2010
Posts: 700
Location: rainier OR
    
    2
bringing it back to how permaculture forests would not have the same issues

if you have a wide variety of fruit planted then you are harvesting over a period of several months instead of needing 500 workers for one weekend in November, and being able to do all the work for the rest of the year with one set of hands and a tractor. even if it were just multiple varieties of apples one could arrange a continuous picking season of some length.

next question why are apples so under priced that leaving them on a tree is better than paying $40 an hour I guarantee if the farmers could call up temp agencies offering the sort of premium pay one should get for hard sweaty long hours of work requiring a product be treated with care they would get as many as they wanted
Guy De Pompignac


Joined: Nov 16, 2010
Posts: 188
Location: SW of France
The permaculture way, you let the pigs eat fruits and sell pigs

If the question is how to retrofit an high-density industrial apple orchad, i think it's impossible


Follow our design (in french) on our 3 acres property in SW France.
dave brenneman


Joined: Jan 14, 2011
Posts: 38
Location: london, england
    
    1
permaguy wrote:
The permaculture way, you let the pigs eat fruits and sell pigs


I like this answer.
Kay Bee


Joined: Oct 10, 2009
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
I wonder how much fuel (ethanol) could be produced from the "wasted" apples?


"Limitation is the mother of good management", Michael Evanari

Location: Southwestern Oregon (Jackson County), Zone 7
S. G. Botsford


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 62
    
    1
My uncle grows apples a half an hour north of Yakima.

1.  Seasonality:  He has 1100 works that work year round for him.  Another thousand or so that work from spring through harvest, and another 1200 or so that just work the harvest.

2.  Legal workers.  He gives preference to legal workers -- they don't disappear as often.  The wages are the same whether they are legal or not.  Kids are allowed to work with their parents if school is out.  (Most of this industry is piece work.  So a kid who does 20% of a parent's work while skylarking increases his parent's wages.  It's outdoors, it's physical.

3.  Multiple fields:  He has orchards on both the Wenachee heights, and on the plains by the Columbia River.  A single weather incident is unlikely to take out his entire crop.

4.  Multiple crops:  He grows MANY different kinds of apples.  Picking starts in mid August and goes through to the end of October.  He also grows cherries and apricots.

5.  Two additional income streams -- he stores and packs apples for smaller growers around him.

6. He has no long term debt.

At one point he rented out grazing rights to some orchards -- Geese.  They eliminated the need to mow the grass, and provided fertilzier.  Don't know why this stopped.

Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
sgbotsford wrote:

2.  Legal workers.  He gives preference to legal workers -- they don't disappear as often.  The wages are the same whether they are legal or not. 


Does it not bother him that hiring illegal workers is illegal?  I'm not super-law-abiding woman, or anything, but, still....
Lori Crouch


Joined: Sep 26, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Amarillo, TX.
    
    1
I come from a farming community where many of the local high school kids would work on local farms bailing hay and such during seasons to earn money.  I would like to think that if we have enough permaculture farms in enough communities that local school kids or those out of work could help out in their communities. 

I think it's ridiculous the lifestyle forced on migrant workers to pull kids out of school, travel across the country every so many months. If permaculture played a more integral part in more towns across America or any country, then each community could provide enough people for harvest without having to pack up and leave town.  This would then cut down costs on shipping, educational programs/schools for specifically migrant workers, and the Medicaid-food stamp costs these families need to supplement.

The main thing is that food production has become so "out of sight, out of mind".  People see it as someone else's problem.  Localizing brings it home with a chicken little effect of "if you don't pick it, you don't eat it".  Just one idea of a thousand in which permaculture can solve large problems.
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134

    I picked fruit as a student, olives in Israel, they have established a tradidtion of Europeans taking a working holiday on a kibbutz. They house and feed you but hardly pay you anything. I washed a traditional Palestines womans, long purple dress that i had brought for myself and dyed the floor of the room i stayed in purple,  which i feel guilty about to this day.
      I also picked strawberries in England and i would like to say not all jobs on a farm are terribly tough, I found picking olives agreable, you stand up to pick olives, we only picked till midday, we started at five or six in the morning but picking strawberries in England and i only did two or three hours strawberry picking, was hell, I have never been so exhausted in all my life as i was picking strawberries, I suppose you  have to develop the right muscles for spending hours squating at floor level before it becomes less absolutely terrible. I am the slowest of fruit pickers and I try, I wanted to get as fast as the others I felt competative about it, it wasm't just too laid back to try to pick fast.
the first day in israel we were sent to dig a dip out around some grapfruit trees, i am as fast digging as anyone esle nearly, the girl i had gone to Isreal with dug so hard and fast that i thought she was crazy to go at digging like that and it turned out i was right, back in our rooms she collapsed and burst into tears and accused the kibbutz of making her work to hard which was not very reasonable as no one had made her digg that fast. These are some of the things that can happen to amateur workers.
In the kibbutz i ended up washing pans in the kitchens of course, I  have always had to do a lot in the kitchen at home i was good at washing pans. agri rose macaskie.
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame


Joined: May 23, 2010
Posts: 488
Location: Foothills north of L.A., zone 9ish mediterranean
    
    3
Very good documentary, Broken Limbs on the "apple bust" in PNW:

http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/1087/Broken-Limbs

Guy towards the end running a permie-style orchard has come up with some interesting approaches to some of the problems, including labor & price pressures. 
Lori Crouch


Joined: Sep 26, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Amarillo, TX.
    
    1
Great documentary. Thanks so much for posting that link!
Roxanne Sterling-Falkenstein


Joined: Dec 17, 2011
Posts: 80
Location: Cave Junction, Oregon
Huge fields of fruit trees are hard to harvest that is why balance is important..by transitioning to mixed crops/variety's, harvest burden is lessened and sustained all season instead of all at once. Also Hugelkultur used between rows as a renewable food source for the trees..by recycling pruned limbs and removed trees. It takes time to fix these problems. Good Luck.


AKA Wilde Hilde S.Oregon High Mountain Valley
"Ensnar'd in flowers, I fall in the grass."-Marvell
Mark Allen


Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 14
Location: North of Atlanta
John Polk wrote:That labor force has not always been illegal. "They" were allowed to migrate seasonally to work the crops, then go home with a fortune of cash in their pockets.

Times changed.  Most had no reason to go back home...there was nothing for them there.  Laws also changed.  The business model was built on a legal source of labor, that through changing laws vanished.

The entire monoculture business model in this country needs an entire overhaul if we are going to be able to feed ourselves economically.


There are so many facets to the argument here it really makes my head spin:

As the quote above says the labor force picking apples hasn't always been considered an illegal force. Sure there was a law that says one should go through the proper channels to work in the United States but no one ever paid attention to those laws until the mid 90's. Now migrant seasonal workers are considered "illegal", end of discussion, based on what? A border line drawn on paper? Where was the stop gap measure that allowed the workers to become legal? Wouldn't an initiative to create legal workers be the next logical step? Why are so many willing to cut off the flow of seasonal workers because of unenforced laws? Our American enforcement agencies are the ones who did nothing to enforce the laws for 40 years! When do we accept our own responsibility in the problem

In the past it was obvious, some might say moronic to point out, when you need a seasonal work force one employees the people who are reliable, well trained and willing to do the work for the pay. Why is this concept not obvious anymore? Because the workers are a drain on our local schools and medical system? Why can't the same migrant seasonal workers become reasonably ascertained legal seasonal workers and ushered home when the work is done? Legal workers pay taxes! Legal workers can have a voice and have a right to demand higher wages from orchard owners! Illegal migrant workers have no voice! Does anyone here see what I am saying?

The right for groups to have a voice are Constitutional Rights because they WORK as leverage. Give seasonal workers a voice and the orchard owners will stop showing up on congress' door step asking for help. The Orchard owners will have no choice but to pay higher wages! In turn American workers can and are economically encouraged to compete in the work place. Legal Seasonal Workers will pay taxes and medical insurance premiums! Which in turn will improve our system as a whole. (See Side Note)

The Constitution of the United States was built on Permaculture Principles!!(Whether we as Americans know it or not) When one group makes another subservient then the controlling group takes on the responsibility of performing the maintenance of the subservient group. The same holds true in permaculture. Just like in our gardens when we use highly volatile and quick release fertilizer in our gardens we make the garden dependent on our input. But when we meet our garden as an equal and treat in a way that it has been treated for longer than a millennia our problem becomes our solution. We reap the benefits of having an equal relationship by many times more than we could produce on our own.

I am not suggesting we impart citizenship to migrant workers, but I am suggesting we have the power observe and interact with the solution, realizing our dependent nature on other beings. The line drawn on a map creates an opportunity for functional interconnectedness but we have to work for it, or our fear of loss will drive us to bitter alternatives such as resentment and ultimately shooting ourselves in the foot. Our mono culture system is what we have to work with now so making the system work for us is imperative as we build food sovereignty. A multiple element food system will not pop up overnight!!! However, as the general public begins to get sick from mono culture production the idea of healing foods will drive permaculture development and make migrant worker arguments a footnote in history.

Side Note:
I am not pro-Union! I think Unions of longevity (forced membership unions) are another group that misuses our law and does not follow the Constitution. If there is work place safety issues, then sure Unions are a useful tool. But like all tools Unions should have well articulated goals and once the goals are met then the organization should be abolished. Forced Membership Unionizing is Unconstitutional and a detriment to us all!!! Unions for arbitration purposes are of no value to the greater community.

 
 
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