Contracted Labor on Family Farms

young apple treesarial view of the farm
Nestled in the hills of Gambier, Glen Hill Orchard is the only registered migrant labor camp in Knox County. Maureen Buchwald owns the labor camp and co-farms the 100 acre apple farm. According to the most recent migrant census, there are 8,023 migrant workers, and 147 licensed labor camps across Ohio. Most of the camps are located in the northern and western portion of the state.

Maureen Buchwald feels that the need for contract labor arose as the nature of the family farm changed.

"In the past . . . farms were smaller and . . .more people were involved. . . . There are very few people working on farms today. . . . When it comes time to do the crop we need somewhere around twenty to help. When this farm was planted, corn farmers used to help harvest this farm, but now that isn't possible because now a thousand acre corn farm maybe has one or two people operating it. There's no way they can go pick apples for their next door neighbor."

the farmers market The Buchwald's solution for the shortage of available labor was to contract a family from Bowling Green, Florida to come harvest the crop. Every August tenth or so workers arrive at the farm. The family arrives in late August and stays for six weeks, picking the 50 thousand bushels of apples which are shipped out every harvest. While in Ohio, the workers stay near the orchard, in mobile homes which are licensed as a government approved labor camp. The workers receive about $600 dollars a week and work from about 8am till dark. While in Gambier the children of the family attend Wiggin Street School.

apple cratesAlthough she originally tried to find locally based labor, Mrs.Buchwald has to come to enjoy the family that works for her every fall. "We have a really great working relationship with them. They are nice people and good at what they do." She remembers with fondness watching the children grow up: "I'll never forget the first time it snowed . . . the children were so excited . . . they ran outside . . . and were horrified to find out that it was cold." The workers also enjoy their stay on the farm. "When they're out there in the trees they sing, which is nice".

After harvest time the family travels back to their home in Florida, and Maureen Buchwald prepares her apple trees for winter. For this apple farmer, contracted labor is just part of the seasonal cycle which characterizes life on an apple farm.

photo credits: Beth Belanger

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