Thursday, February 6, 2014

Letter From the Farmer

It may still be frigid on many days, but the days are longer, the light is stronger and the promise of spring is in the air.

At Killdeer Farm green life is stirring; the first Greenhouse Tomatoes have been  seeded and are large enough to be carefully grafted. Some early herbs and flowers are just popping up in our earliest green house. The rest of the greenhouses were thoroughly cleaned and sanitized late in the fall and are now ready for their new guests. Seeds are ordered and arriving, and plans for crops are coming together.

Jake, Liz, Scott, Addie and Chris have all been busy with various vegetable, plant and food meetings (something we do a lot of in the winter!), and still have a few to go. Jake and Liz were honored to be invited to a "Gathering of Agrarian Elders" at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur recently where we met for five intensive days with twenty other long time organic farmers from all over the country, all of whom were involved in the founding of the organic movement over forty years ago. It was a wonderful experience, reminded us of how far we have come in those forty years, how far we have yet to go, and how important it is for us to grow fresh, safe, nutritious, and delicious food for ourselves and our customers.

CSA memberships have been coming in steadily, giving us the welcome income for this early part of the season and reminding us of the mutually supportive relationship we have with our customers and especially our loyal CSA members. We are excited by the prospect of another productive year at the farm and the stand and look forward to working hard to provide our customers with the highest quality vegetables and plants as well as the many other great products at our stand.

Click here to read the New York Times article on the Gathering of Agrarian Elders.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fall Hours and Turkey Reservations

Our Fall Hours have started. We are now open Tuesday through Friday Noon-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm, Closed Mondays.

It's time to reserve your Turkey. Pies, and other goodies for your Thanksgiving table. You can reserve in poerson at the stand or online at

Thursday, March 21, 2013

An Open Letter To Senator Leahy's Office

By Jake Guest

My wife Liz and I have been operating an organic vegetable farm and greenhouse operation for over thirty years here in Norwich next to the Connecticut River. Over those years, our operation has grown to over fifty acres of primarily vegetable crops. Most of our produce is sold locally at our farm stand, CSA and some local wholesale. At the peak of the season we hire about twenty people, mostly full time, but seasonal. Our payroll is over $300,000 and we pay  many  thousands of dollars into Workers compensation  and unemployment insurance.

For the past eight years we have also hired two Jamaican workers through the federal H2A program. These same two men, Garnet Gorden and Jasper Lindsey, have returned each year and have become an integral  part of our farm operation. They fill a unique role on our farm. Unlike any of our other workers, they are professional farm workers having spent their entire adult lives (both are over fifty) performing a wide range of hard agricultural labor. They are accustomed to and very willing to work long hours often in conditions and at tasks that most American workers would find very difficult. And although they often work side by side with other farm crew members, there are times when their particular skills, patience, and understanding of the rhythms of work are clearly superior to our other workers. These are not skills that can be learned in a few days or even a whole season, but rather professional skills learned  over a lifetime. They have become very important to the success of our farm operation, and become more important every year as they become more familiar with our particular situation and the needs of this particular farm.

Garnet and Jasper usually work over ten hours a day and although they know they are entitled to a day off each week, have always rather worked. They are with us from mid May until usually mid October. They are able, in the months they are home in Jamaica with their families, to live a comfortable life and are by Jamaican standards quite well off. We and they both feel that this is a good arrangement for all of us and are mutually grateful that the H2A program is available. And on a more personal note, over the years my crew,  and Liz and I have developed a close and warm relationship with Garnet and Jasper.

Our situation is a good example of how helpful he H2A program has been for us and for other farms in Vermont. In principle it's an excellent program and  addresses a particular need for skilled, seasonal agricultural labor that simply is not being met by the available local or regional labor pool. The H2A program is not taking jobs away from American workers. On the contrary, by helping to make farms like ours more economically viable, the program actually encourages us to hire more local people as our business expands. The government and people of Vermont certainly favor successful farms in the state and the H2A program contributes directly to this success.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this whole situation. It appears that the US Department of Labor is determined to stop or cripple the H2A program. For reasons that are difficult for us to understand the Department of Labor especially in the last couple of years, has created a number of senseless and harmful impediments to our hiring of our H2A workers. Their clear intent is to try to deal with high national unemployment (admittedly a real problem) by trying to force H2A employers to hire American workers rather than foreign workers. The problem is that the way they do this is to mandate (among many other things) absurdly inappropriate, time consuming and difficult requirements for recruiting American workers. Alyson Eastman is there at your meeting with Senator Leahy, and I'm sure she has many of the specific details. However, I'll try to describe part of the process I have to go through each year just to get my two workers back:

Before I can even get approval from Department of Labor to request to bring back my two workers, I have to create a job description, have it listed in all state employment offices,  prove that I have done all I can to find and hire local workers, and  contact anyone who has worked for me in the past to see if they are interested in the job.Even though, as I have detailed above, these jobs are in fact very skilled, I cannot require that these potential workers have agricultural skills and I cannot require any skills in the job description. I have to document all these attempts to find local workers.

If I can show that I have been unsuccessful in these attempt to find local workers, I may finally submit an application for approval to bring in my H2A workers. This application must be sent in at an exact date and must contain a job description that is very precise, has no errors, and has no skill requirements. If the application is approved I can begin (through Alyson and at considerable expense) the process of bringing in my two workers.

However, this is only the beginning of the ordeal: Even after my workers are approved I must still make a concerted effort to find American workers for the jobs. And here it gets really absurd! I am required to place help wanted ads in not only my local newspaper, but also in a newspaper in New York, Massachusetts and Florida! And these are expensive, long ads that include the entire job description and contact information. It costs several hundred dollars. And I have to document that the ads were placed. At the same time the job description is posted in all employment offices and their website.

I am required to respond to any and all inquiries about the job and am required to immediately hire any "qualified" applicant. (Of course, "qualified" means nothing because I can't use agricultural experience as a requirement.) Furthermore, if an applicant lives somewhere else (say, Florida!) I am still required to provide transportation to our farm and free housing during the work contract period because that's what I supply the H2A workers.

Even after my workers arrive, I am required to hire basically anyone who walks in the door, and I must continue to hire every applicant unless and until I sent all my Jamaican workers home.

What is the sense of this? The whole process is difficult, unproductive,demeaning for all involved, and grossly unfair. I'm sure Alyson (who has been working heroically to help us all out) can give you lots more of the absurd details.

And to add injury to insult, the State of Vermont has been bending over backwards to make it easier for UNDOCUMENTED, ILLEGAL foreign workers to work on Vermont dairy farms. I happen to agree that what the state is doing for those workers is the right thing, but what about us? What about we farmers who have done everything by the book, have paid a huge amount of money, paid our workers a good wage (this year almost $11/hr), provided transportation and housing, and had to put up with this cascade of nonsense just to get the skilled workers we need?

And to add yet more injury to insult: Keep in mind that many of Vermont's vegetable and fruit growers are competing directly with farms as near as Massachusetts who can get lots of good agricultural labor by going down to a 7-ll at five in the morning and picking up illegal workers on the corner, paying them lousy wages, and providing no housing or transportation to their home country. And on top of that, they have absolutely nothing to do with the Department of Labor or any of this ridiculous system.

Monday, March 4, 2013

New Beginings

Another season has crept upon us. It seems like just days ago that Addie, Chris, Jake, Liz and I were sitting around Jake and Liz's dining room table discussing which crops to grow this season and preparing seed orders.

We have several sets of tomatoes started and, as seen above, many are already grafted and growing beautifully as they work their way towards the warm ground of a greenhouse.

The first flower plugs arrived today and we will begin transplanting them this week as we open another greenhouse and our faithful staff returns.

We are also raising the height of one of our tomato greenhouses (#12) so that we can better grow cherry tomatoes this year. It's a long and laborious project, but we think it will be well worth it once we start picking sweet pints of cherry tomatoes and bringing them to the farm stand!