The Farmworkers Behind the Greens

By Stephanie Metzinger C arefully hauling ladders from tree to tree, ninja-like workers skillfully scale up and down the tallest of palm trees to cut down bagged bundles with a machete-sized curved knife. These laddermen, called Palmeros, are the magic behind the harvest of the illustrious honey-flavored Medjool and Deglet Noor dates. “A lot of people think of agriculture as an unskilled, low-wage job. That’s not the case here,” said Albert Keck, President of Hadley Date Gardens, in a recent social media video on date harvesting. “Being a Palmero requires a lot of strength and skill and also awareness of safety. On top of that, they have to do a quality job to bring in a quality crop. It takes a unique individual who is very strong with a strong work ethic, and I consider that all very skilled.” He continued: “These workers are all very skilled and they earn very good wages.” Palmeros are representative of the type of knowledge, precision and skill farmworkers possess across all crop types. For example, in Orange Cove, farmworkers use clippers as a second pair of hands to quickly harvest easy-peel mandarins. They move from tree to tree, oftentimes harvesting so quickly that you will only see a glimmer of the orange-colored fruit fall through the leaves. In Salinas, crews of workers move together as one traversing the

fields, swiftly cutting heads of romaine faster than one can count. By providing entry-level and skilled jobs for immigrants seeking to take the first step on the “American Economic Ladder,” the agriculture industry plays a positive role in the lives of migrant families and immigrant communities. Immigrants travel from Mexico and other countries looking for higher-paying opportunities that will allow them to utilize their skills while building a secure future for their families; agriculture provides that pathway for success. In addition to jobs, agricultural employers also offer a range of employee benefits to their farmworkers, including health coverage, paid time off (PTO) and company-paid retirement plans. The gateway to success for these loyal, dedicated farmworker food heroes does not just stop at fringe benefits and job possibilities. Farmers are dedicated to advancing the professional and personal development of their workers and prioritize growth opportunities among their workforce. Stories of career progression for field workers are commonplace among Western Growers membership. Below are just a few examples of real advancements made by real farmworkers. (Editor’s Note: Some quotes were translated from Spanish to English. )

Anibal Escobar | Talley Farms Working in the field allowed Anibal Escobar to pay for his education and graduate from college. Now he serves as Director of Compliance and Ground Operation Manager for Talley Farms, overseeing the farm’s food safety and employee safety programs. “I immigrated to the United States in 1997 when I was 14 years old. I started working in agriculture because all of my family worked in agriculture,” Escobar said. “Working in the fields gave me the opportunity to finish my school because I paid for my education by working in the fields. I worked for the Napa crew for five years while I was in college. I am very grateful to Talley Farms who gave me the opportunity to start my career here. Now I oversee food safety, employee safety and other aspects for the company.”



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