No Farmers, No Food. No Immigrants, No Farmers.

A farmer friend of mine has a bumper sticker on her truck that says, “No Farmers, No Food.” This came to mind last night when I saw the first episode of a new min-series on MSNBC entitled “What’s Eating America” with Chef and activist Andrew Zimmem. Episode 1 is titled “Who’s Feeding America” Watching this made me understand better than ever that whether we are talking about row crop workers, winery workers, dairy farmworkers, meat and seafood processing, restaurants and even food trucks which are now the rage, we would not have the food we enjoy without immigrants (documented and undocumented).

Among the statistics that Chef Zimmem provided in this show are the following:

91% of California crop workers are immigrants
62.8 % of Butchers and Fish processing workers are foreign-born

A woman who runs a family business catching and processing Maryland Crabs was interviewed. She has been fortunate to be able to obtain H-2B seasonal visas this year for the workers she needs. She explained that her small community has a total population of only 165 (including children and elderly) and she needs to hire 105 workers each year. She said that she knew lots of family businesses that were lost because they could not get the visas for their businesses. Some years ago, a large grower told me that he was going to make sure that every person hired by his business was “legal”. A few months later he called and said that he would have to close his business if he did not resume hiring undocumented persons.

For those immigrants with farming experience and legal residence, they have been able to contribute to feeding the American consumers as entrepreneurs as well as workers. There was an article in the Washington Post on Jan 22 by Rebecca Tan who wrote “New to the country, veterans of the land “The article pointed out that U.S. farmers have been – and are- predominately white and male. A third of them are over 65 and many struggle to find successors, contributing to a crisis within the industry that has seen rises in bankruptcies, loan delinquencies and suicides. Given that most new immigrants are working age and many of them come with agricultural experience, skills and the willingness to do hard work, they have much to offer in revitalizing our farms. Across the country are pubic and private organizations trying to connect immigrants with resources needed to get started on their own. It is expected that they will infuse the industry with new energy and new traditions. The Washington Post article discussed the book “The New American Farmer” in which Syracuse University Professor Minkoff-Zern says that immigrant farmers often introduce new crops and their own, more sustainable farming practices – complementing a growing U.S. “food movement’ that urges consumers to take back control of what they eat. The article talks about immigrant farmers in Maryland who have become their neighborhood’s local producers, reviving fading relationships among buyers, farmers and landowners. It also quoted one Mexican farmer that just naturally limited use of chemicals. The farmer said that “We were organic in Mexico; we just didn’t know we were.”

Neither the TV show nor the Washington post article highlighted South Florida but those who live here certainly are aware of the enormous contributions of immigrants in the farming industry here. We are also fortunate to have immigrants introduce us to new foods. Whether it is immigrants buying the farms of elderly citizens or those working for them in the field, they are feeding us, and they are a vital part of our community.

Linda M Kaplan
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