“I spend a lot of time trying to explain why immigration reform is tied to agriculture’s labor needs—many people just don’t get it,” says Mark Amato. The manager of a century-old family farm in Concord, Massachusetts, Amato believes more Americans would support immigration reform if they understood the central role immigrants play in producing the food they eat.
It’s expensive to train folks—and a waste of money when they don’t return the next season.
He also roundly rejects the idea that immigrants are displacing American workers in the agriculture industry. “We’ve seen time and time again that domestic workers aren’t interested in agriculture jobs anymore,” he says. “They want steady work in an office, not long, hard hours working in fields, exposed to the elements.” Amato adds that most native-born workers who do apply for jobs on his farm have little to no experience with farming. “It’s expensive to train folks—and a waste of money when they don’t return the next season,” he says.
Given the difficulties finding a local workforce, Verrill Farm has turned to immigrant workers. The farm employs 12 workers through the H-2A visa program, which provides authorization for seasonal agriculture workers. “The H-2A workers come with experience—that’s a requirement of the farm—and they know how to plant, tend, and harvest the crops,” Amato says. “They’re really outstanding employees.” Plus, Amato says, these 12 foreign workers support the employment of roughly 60 Americans on the farm.
Verrill Farm is forced to rely on the H-2A program despite its bureaucracy and expense. “The process is really involved, with lots of paperwork and deadlines starting two to three months before we actually need the workers,” Amato explains. “Luckily, I’ve been at this a long time now and have figured out how to navigate most of the obstacles.”
Despite Amato’s expertise navigating the bureaucracy, this year, two groups of farm workers arrived two weeks late because of delays in the visa approval process. “These delays are detrimental for our operation. When the weather is ready, we need the workers here to get the job done,” he says. “The current immigration system is making this increasingly difficult.”