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Produce Growers Meet with Farmworker Advocates

For Immediate Release: Oct. 15, 2017

Contacts:            Marilyn Bay Drake 303-594-3827 or admin@coloradoproduce.org

Growers representing the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (CFVGA) met Oct. 10 in Colorado Springs, Colo. with farmworker service providers and other advocates on opening day of the first-ever Colorado Agriculture and Farm Labor Summit.  A roundtable discussion organized by summit organizer Heladio Zavala, CEO of MAFO and CFVGA Founding Board Member Adrian Card brought together growers and farmworker service provider advocates to discuss ways they might work together.

CFVGA member growers included Carmen Hirakata, Hirakata Farms, Rocky Ford, Colo.; Bruce Talbott, Talbott Mountain Gold, Palisade, Colo.; Joe Petrocco, Petrocco Farms, Brighton, Colo.; and Robert Sakata, Sakata Farms, Brighton, Colo. Also participating was CFVGA Executive Director Marilyn Bay Drake. Farmworker service providers and advocates included representatives from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium, Colorado Department of Education, Equal Opportunity Commission, Headstart and others.

Growers expressed they are facing a dire shortage of qualified and willing agricultural workers, stating it is one of the most troubling challenges facing the produce industry today. They explained the cost in increased paperwork and time of complying with the H2A temporary worker program, which includes stringent and inconsistent requirements for housing and other services for temporary workers, as well as requirements that growers hire U.S. citizens for any openings before they look to foreign Visa holders.

“The reality is that domestic workers don’t want these jobs,” said Talbott. “Picking fruits and vegetables in the middle of the summer is physically demanding and requires skill and willingness that few domestic workers have. Besides, there is little incentive for them to acquire seasonal work when they can get regular, full-time jobs.”

Drake noted that educational and other services provided by farmworker advocates is good for workers but cautioned against making workers feel harassed, as some growers have reported.

“We are grateful to Mr. Zavala and the other summit organizers who welcomed us to discuss issues on which farmworker advocates and growers traditionally lack candid discussion,” said Card. “The roundtable was a good first step to see if we can find areas in which we can work together to solve the labor shortage for growers, provide fair employment opportunities for farmworkers, and work collaboratively with the services and regulatory agencies represented at this meeting.”

The CFVGA is comprised of more than 250 members, including growers of all sizes and types of production throughout the state, as well as representatives of allied industries. The CFVGA focuses on issues affecting the entire industry, including labor, water, food safety, nutrition, and business development.

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