Thanksgiving this year is darken by a cloud of uncertainty related to a farm labor shortage that is affecting the harvest of the food that comes to our table. We are afflicted by a condition that challenges the effectiveness of our state farm industry.
In his last appearance as a Congressman at a Chamber of the Americas luncheon, the now Aurora Mayor-elect Mike Coffman spoke about an annual farmers’ harvest gathering in Adams County that had to be canceled that year. The harvest was so poor that there was very little to celebrate.
Several years ago, Robert Sakata, the owner of one of the largest farm complexes in Colorado and a leader in the farmers association took the drastic step of discontinuing the planting and harvesting of sweet corn. What led to the decision should concern all of us.
It appears that at harvest time, there was such a farm labor shortage that Sakata had to make a special and somewhat emergency effort to recruit farmworkers in Florida, transport them to Colorado, provide for their housing and get them back to Florida after the harvest at a cost prohibitive to profit. Alarmed by the farm labor shortage in Colorado, relevant state agencies and non-profit advocates came together for regional meetings facilitated by MAFO, a farmworker association.
The planners of these meetings soon realized that both farmers and farmworker advocates had a common theme to address. The shortage of farm labor in Colorado is of great concern to the industry both on the farmer and farmworker side.
A summit on this matter was held in 2018 that began with a special meeting held by the leadership of farmer associations and farmworker organizations. An important opening for dialogue ensued and continues as an issue held in common.
Planning has led to the scheduling of another gathering on December 10-12. The Summit is designed to continue to seek solutions to restore the health of the farm industry in the state.
The country has a shortage of almost 1.5 million farmworkers. Also, many of those working in the fields are undocumented and thus inhibited in their movement to migrate to the crops.
At the same time, the country has increased the importation of contracted farm laborers under an initiative called H2A. It is a baked over Bracero program from the middle of the 20th Century with many of its exploitation characteristics.
Also, the irony is that increasingly, the imported laborers are coming from Central America because Mexico has less people to send. These are the same type of people seeking asylum and being denied by the U.S. immigration service.
Because the demand for fruits and vegetables continues to increase, the percentage of imported foodstuff is on a drastically upward trend. We have gone from the importation of less than half of our produce to almost two thirds in a very short time.
Consider the fact that Americans increasingly want organic fruits and vegetables for their table due to lifestyle notions of taste and health. The question is then: do we want organic food grown in another country that may not have the same strict health requirements we are used to?
While technology catches up, we need to maintain our ability to grow our food in this country to the extent possible. The bounty should come from our fields.
As you enjoy the turkey and all of its trimmings this Thanksgiving, do not take for granted the ability of the industry to serve with such efficiency. Happy Thanksgiving.