Will Trump’s Policy on Immigration Strangle the Local Food Movement?

To underscore Rick Karlin’s article “Pre-Trump, Schneiderman offers advice on dealing with fed immigration officials” published January 19, 2017, I would add that the conversation about immigration policy should include its impact on Hudson Valley agriculture, particularly small farms, which are driving our local food movement.

As the founder of Field Goods, a company that is built around small, local farmers, I’d like to present a few facts I have gleaned over the past five years:

  1. Labor is the biggest issue. When we ask farmers to grow more or grow certain crops, the number one reason they can’t is the lack of qualified labor.
  2. Field workers are not gardeners. Farming is a skilled job requiring extensive knowledge and physical stamina. In a few hours, an unskilled worker can destroy thousands of dollars of produce by simply picking under-ripe items or the wrong items. Pulling a person out of the unemployment line and putting him/her in field is not all that different from telling them your job is to run a 10K and bend over and touch your toes every 5 steps.
  3. Not all farm workers are not exploited or predominately illegal — at least not in the Hudson Valley. Many farm employees have been coming back to the same farms for years under the H-2A visa program.
  4. The H-2A program process is a serious problem. It is unpredictable, lengthy, expensive, and often ignores some of the realities of farming in the northeast.
  5. To the extent that there is an increase in wages, small farmers will get hit harder than industrial farms because labor costs are a much larger component of small-scale farming than industrial farming.

To conclude, lets not allow the new administration to put all our farmers’ eggs in one basket.