The political web of using migrant workers


Beautiful Willard, Ohio, located in the southwestern part of Huron County, is some of the richest farmland in the state. Although Mercer and Darke counties would have something to say about that economically speaking, but what started as muck is the most fertile, black, rich, organic soil I’ve ever seen.

Dutch immigrants purchase 5 acres in the muck lands near Willard back in 1896. At that time, the muck consisted of swampy and poorly drained land, but Henry Wiers along with others, used draining techniques from Netherlands to make the land farmable. The area came to be known as Celeryville. Celery was grown and shipped to local markets using horse and wagon and transported to further locations using the railroad.

Today, over 30 different products emerge from bosom of this sod home of the Wiers Family Farm/Dutch Made and Buurma Farm. Both continue to grow and service many of the largest retailers in the state. And the immigrant influence is still present in the form of migrate workers, mostly Hispanic helping to harvest the vast majority of produce.

When I last visited the farms it was during harvest season for sweet corn. Their process for corn harvest is both quick and efficient — yet requires hands-on to make it work. The working conditions were tough, but I’ve seen stamping plants, machine shops, forging operations and others that were more difficult. Hard work is hard work — but what makes this work different is that very few want to do it — and without the use of migrant workers it may very well sit and die in that Willard muck.

Chad Wiers reminded me that right now (this time in June) they are …”not even at 30 percent capacity and have just the right numbers of workers for the crops currently being harvested, which is about five or six commodities. However, at the end of next month we’ll have over 30 commodities that need harvested and last year at that time we were 50-75 workers short and if that happens again this year it will negatively impact the company.”

Joseph Mas, a lawyer from Columbus and chairman of the Ohio Hispanic Coalition, believes Ohio businesses like Wiers and Buurma are doing it right in how they treat and take care of those workers. But his concern comes with what Ohio is doing about undocumented or undocumentable Hispanic workers. In a new report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Ohio ranks last among the 50 states for having policies and laws that support the health and well-being of undocumented immigrants.

And hence the political gridlock. “All farm owners in Ohio that use our type of labor, are asking for is to allow those workers to come — earn their living — take their money home with them — and be allowed to return,” said Chad.

“Ohio isn’t a state that stands out as being anti-immigrant … mainly because of its immigrant farm workers,” said Joseph. “However, their is a need for public health and welfare, higher education, and labor and employment, as well as access to driver’s licenses and government IDs.”

So, policymakers face the issues of helping businesses who provide work for immigrants who work here, go home, and come back vs. undocumented immigrants — those who are already here looking for benefits that could lead to integration into our system.

More to come.

Here’s seeing you, in Ohio country!