Last year, Front Range grocery store customers ate plenty of sweet corn grown at Sakata Farms. But the Brighton producer’s other major summer vegetable, cabbage, didn’t make it to kitchen tables, left unharvested in the field. And forget about broccoli, another labor-intensive crop. The farm has supplied most of the metro-area’s locally grown broccoli in recent years, but its owners didn’t bother planting last spring, because they couldn’t count on having enough workers to get it to market.
“Overall, we have about a fourth of the workers we need,” said Robert Sakata, Jr., president of Sakata Farms and the founding president of the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. “That’s the main concern around the state. It doesn’t matter if the farms or orchards are large or small. There is a grower in Boulder who was only able to find 1/3 of his workforce,” he added. “He needed three, but could only find one. That’s a devastating effect on us. It’s all across the state, all across the country.”
Sakata’s father, Robert Sakata, Sr., started the farm with 40 acres in 1945 after his release from a Japanese-American internment camp in Utah, and has grown operations to 2,400 acres, spread over some 50 plots in Adams and Weld counties. He still comes in to work most days. The farm also grows pinto beans and bulb onions in the fall, but in recent years, they’ve turned over about a third of their acreage to winter wheat, because they can plant and harvest that by themselves, without relying on the seasonal labor force that all farms need.