Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Fruit farm in Idaho discovers refugee laborers

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 14, 2012

Partnering with local refugee resettlement agencies, a fruit farm in Idaho has hired 135 refugees to work during its labor-intensive cherry picking season. Symms Fruit Ranch in Canyon County has faced persistent labor shortages and decided to tap into a new source of workers. Hopefully this will be a mutually beneficial arrangement for the refugees who need jobs and the farms that need workers. My only concern is the likely limited duration of these positions, and what will happen to the refugees when the jobs end. If economic self-sufficiency is the goal, its hard to understand how a temporary job would accomplish it. The State Department refugee contract requires resettlement agencies to report refugee employment outcomes at 90 and 180 days. An article at Capital Press has the details:

CALDWELL, Idaho — Knowing he faced a significant labor shortage during peak harvest season this year, Symms Fruit Ranch co-owner Jamie Mertz turned to the Idaho Office for Refugees for help.

The move worked, as 135 refugees from countries around the world helped pick the 2012 cherry harvest at Symms, a 5,000-acre diversified farm in southwest Idaho. About 49 are picking the plum and pear harvests, which require fewer workers.

Mertz contacted Tara Wolfson, regional employment specialist with IOR, which worked with the three main resettlement agencies in the Treasure Valley to provide the workers.

“He said, ‘We have a problem; we need workers,'” Wolfson said. “I said, ‘We have refugees who need jobs. Let’s figure out a solution.'”

The refugees come from a number of countries, including Somalia, Iraq, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mertz said the refugees adapted quickly to cultural and language differences.

“I don’t think some of them are quite used to the pace of the way we do things, but they catch on,” he said. “It’s turned out to be a good deal for us and, I hope, for both parties.”

Getting the refugees ready to work required more work on the front end, including paperwork, preparatory work, safety classes and biological training, Mertz said, but he definitely plans to use them again and would recommend them to other farmers.

While some refugees have worked at a few packing sheds in the Boise area, “this is their first experience working on a farm in Idaho,” Wolfson said…

“We’d be really interested in working with other farms in the area,” she said. “We’ll always have people who need an opportunity to work.”… Read more here

One Response to “Fruit farm in Idaho discovers refugee laborers”

  1. lousie9 said

    I’m not familiar with the work conditions in Idaho, but migrant workers/crop pickers where I live get a very small production unit pay and ruin their bodies in the process. I suspect the same is true in Idaho. It is particularly hard physically on workers who have little or no crop picking experience. For example, farmers in Alabama had a worker shortage, because of the undocumented Hispanic crop pickers being too scared to show up, that they tried using unemployed Anglos, who it turned out couldn’t do the work
    and/or keep up the brutal picking pace required. Some didn’t last a week, as I recall. While fruit picking in Idaho may be a wonderful short-term solution for all concerned, I certainly hope the refugee resettlement agencies involved will continue to try to find long-term paths for full employment at a competitive wage for the refugees they have placed picking fruit. If would be a shame for them to once again take the easy route and not do the training and education necessary for refugees to move into the mainstream workforce.

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