Chelan Fresh Sales Partner Gebbers Farms Uses H-2A Visa Program to Grow and Give Back
BREWSTER, WA – Finding a committed workforce to harvest labor-intensive apple and cherry crops can be a serious challenge. But Gebbers Farms has found a way to do so while improving lives in the U.S. and abroad. By hiring contract workers through the H-2A visa program, the company is able to meet its labor needs and improve the lives of its workers and their families abroad.
The H-2A program provides visas for qualified temporary agricultural workers looking for work in the states; through the program, skilled workers from around the world can come to the U.S. and work.
“The reason why I came here is to better myself and my family,” notes Douglass Cohall, a Jamaican contract worker at Gebbers Farms. “In Jamaica, jobs are really hard to find, so this opportunity for me to come here is to better, not only me and my family—but Jamaica as a whole.”
“The Jamaican program has been around since 1943,” explains Sheldon Brown, a Liason Officer with the Jamaican Embassy. “Back then, we started sending workers to the United States to work in various farms. Then in 2010, we got an opportunity to come to Brewster and to Gebbers Farms.”
Gebbers Farms, a family farm with one of the largest contiguous apple and cherry orchards in the country, began contracting with Jamaican workers about seven years ago, to meet the demands of a labor-intensive harvest. With fewer and fewer resident farmworkers in Washington to cultivate and harvest the company’s expansive orchards, Gebbers turned to H-2A workers as a means of meeting rising demand, while providing much needed jobs for Jamaican workers.
“Our fulltime workers, the people that are residents here, have been declining over the years, and we’re required to bring in more and more contract workers,” explains Travis Schoenwald, Orchard Management, Gebbers Farms. “It’s a very labor intensive process, so we need a lot of people—and we need good people.”
Contract workers from Jamaica work from six to nine months and are responsible for a variety of tasks, from thinning apples to harvesting cherries and apples—and everything in between—everything that needs to happen in orchards to produce high-quality fruit.
The program’s mutually-helpful benefits have been observed “very far and wide” noted Jamaican worker Eyon Gale, describing Gebbers Farms’ reputation with Jamaican workers: “they just want to be here at Gebbers.”
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