Migrant Workers Keep Orchards Afloat

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By Sam Jones
By Benjy Jeffords

UNION COUNTY-- Immigration reform is a hot topic across the country right now. In our region, some local farms say they couldn't stay afloat without help from outside the U.S.

The orchards find help from migrant workers through a federal labor program. Flamm Orchards' owner has even travelled to Mexico to recruit workers, and it's paid off. They now have second and third generation migrant workers at the orchard..

“[I’m] Grateful. Thanks to them, thanks to my grandparents, we are here,” Marcos Martinez said.

“If they woulda stayed in Mexico and been there, I wouldn't have the education I have right now,” said Jessica Martinez.

The Martinez siblings are third-generation workers. Their grandparents came from Mexico 40 years ago, before getting green cards and making Southern Illinois home.

“It's better here than over there in Mexico. There’s no jobs there. They gave us an opportunity to live here in the United States,” explained Marcos.

The duo can't imagine life without the Flamm orchard. It's a second home where Marcos's become a computer whiz and Jessica helps label produce for quality control.

“You just feel safe here,” Jessica added.

Most of the new migrant workers are from Oaxaca. Co-owner Jeff Flamm's traveled there to find help.

“There's not enough local help available that’s willing to do the kind of work we do. It’s hard, dirty, long hours,” Flamm admitted.

The recruiting now runs itself, since workers return season after season.

“The guys that are here on the visas have been here three or four years,” said Flamm.

Migrant workers make up the majority of his employees.They make $11.63 an hour this year and much of it goes back into the local economy.

“The 62 guys that are here on visas, they create two local jobs. They get paid. They go to town, they do their shopping,” Flamm explained.

 

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