Mar 27, 2017
Program shows appreciation for farmworkers

Harvesting vegetables and fruit is a difficult profession, requiring commitment and a unique set of skills. When farm employers find the right workers, they need to let them know their work is appreciated, said Steve Alameda, president of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association (YFVA).

To show the proper appreciation, YFVA has sponsored a program called Labor of Love. During Yuma, Arizona’s, busy harvest season, when more than 40,000 farm laborers are in the field, their efforts are rewarded by surprise breakfasts and other acts of kindness. Labor of Love follows farm workers to Salinas, California, in summer, then back to Yuma in October, to coincide with the leafy greens harvest. There are plans to expand the program to California’s Imperial Valley, according to YFVA.

“The Labor of Love program is an opportunity to thank those for their service to the agriculture industry,” Alameda said. “When we find the right workers, we want to make sure we take care of them, respect them and celebrate their invaluable contribution to the industry. This program showcases our work force and thanks them for their hard work.”

Begun in Yuma in November 2015, the idea for Labor of Love came out of a YFVA board meeting, where a “bunch of old farmers” were trying to figure out a way to show the workers they are appreciated, Alameda said.

“We want people across the country to recognize the importance of what these workers – all documented, taxpaying members of our community – do,” he said. “Last year, thanks to sponsorships, we were able to donate some Thanksgiving turkeys. This year (2016), we handed out some hams and gift certificates.”

In February 2017, Labor of Love surprised the JV Smith Companies tractor team with tacos from Chile Pepper, as well as gift bags. JV Smith added $50 gift cards to Fry’s Shopping Center. The workers immediately hopped on the bus and headed to Fry’s for a shopping spree – where they were greeted with water and cookies, according to Limelight Creative Group, the marketing firm that helped develop Labor of Love.

“Our mission was to find a way to recognize workers in the field, their talents and skills, and publicize those successes,” said Susan Sternitzke, co- owner of Limelight. “Labor of Love offers an opportunity to share the stories of those involved with growing, harvesting and shipping fresh greens across the country. Since we started, we’ve made over 50 Labor of Love surprise visits to over 4,000 farm workers in the field, as well as thanking thousands through social media.”

“Field work tends to involve long, hard hours, and this program to show appreciation for that labor has value and worth,” said Cecil Pratt, Yuma coordinator for Arizona Farm Bureau. “It fits comfortably with my own personal philosophy of showing respect for those involved, and I don’t see how anybody could object to that.”

Tanimura & Antle (T&A), with headquarters in both Yuma and Salinas, was one of the first supporters of the program.

“We were already bringing pizzas and tacos to field crews working long days at high demand time, so this was a natural fit for us,” said Caitlin Antle, T&A’s sales and marketing director.

With a labor force of more than 2,000, “our people are the ones that make what we do happen – bringing product to consumers daily – and they do it without skipping a beat,” Antle said. “We do a lot of special things for our harvest crews to let them know how much they are valued.”

Yuma merchants have also climbed aboard the bandwagon, with contributions from Fruit Grower’s Supply and Dole and Shamrock Foods, as well as family restaurants Chile Pepper and Mr. G’s.

“We have great respect for the value these workers bring to our community and the agriculture industry,” said Mary Lou Huff of Mr. G’s. “We’re humbled to be a part of a program that celebrates workers and shines a light on their stories.”

Labor of Love field visits are captured via video and made available on a Facebook page, with postings that share workers’ stories – posts that frequently log hundreds of thousands of viewers across the country. To date, the Facebook effort has brought these messages to more than 1 million people.

“Part of our mission includes outreach to the rest of the country, and the many Facebook hits show we’re accomplishing that goal,” Alameda said. “(We) show our appreciation to the workers who accomplish the job and to let the rest of the country know how hard they work to make things happen.”

— Lee Allen and Matt Milkovich

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