As I tour the village of Bheria in India’s north, I am struck by the diversity of this farming community.
Within the small greenhouses are farmworkers of several different ethnicities, who toil together in a united effort to grow bountiful harvests. This sends shivers down my spine.
While farm laborers from India have moved to the U.S. to make a life, and are now a significant part of the U.S. farming community, both countries are faced with the same struggles and challenges.
At the heart of the complexity is a simple, yet completely underrecognized fact: There’s a real shortage of these farm workers in the U.S.
This is where the American Farmworker Alliances chapter in Bheria (of which I’m a board member) comes in. Founded in 2017 to address the shortage of highly skilled farm labor in the U.S., our mission is to assist U.S. farmers interested in finding qualified farm workers by providing agri-viter-workers a work schedule of sustainable employment with the dedicated support of AAPA and the Farmworker Alliances affiliates.
These farm workers are frequently called upon to be the first out of their villages and countryside for harvest, an often exhausting situation and a huge economic burden on families. Once they reach U.S. farm communities, they are often faced with the challenge of ensuring their families have enough food and food for household consumption. This presents a dilemma of the working parents to make sure their children eat so that they can begin school the next day. This often can be a source of great conflict in the family.
It isn’t uncommon to see some of these employees selling their crops to buy provisions for their families or friends. This amount can reach up to thousands of dollars from entire crops. By facing this reality of supporting themselves, children and other family members, these workers earn money that is reinvested into the community.
We saw this firsthand with our own close friend and respected leader of the Indian migrant community in Aurora, Colorado, James Fazenas. Having worked in the U.S. for eight years, Fazenas is one of the leading agricultural communicators who is able to move from large political events to local marketing conversations and back again.
On the last Friday of my year in India, James’ father was diagnosed with cancer. After his first treatment, his son James came to visit him for a couple weeks. On his second visit, James noticed that his father hadn’t received his medicine. The disease then progressed so much that his father passed away three weeks later. James worked to reunite with his mother and travel back to the United States to help care for his family.
It was a difficult battle for James. His first child was born at the same time he had to travel back and forth to India and be with his family to care for his sick father. Despite his courage and dedication, I fear he’s our next face of the Migrant worker community.
India’s working agricultural community in the U.S. is rich with talented farm workers. Many years ago I had the opportunity to connect with growers in central California, and I met many immigrant workers — most of them men — from India who were extremely knowledgeable, hardworking and as committed to their families as our American farmers are.
There is a real shortage of these farm workers in the U.S. While Indian agricultural workers are a significant part of the U.S. agricultural workforce, they often have to give up their income while working in the U.S. They often end up working harder to pay for the expenses incurred while spending time with their families. Often, this leads to an inability to get settled in the country and remain there.
Along with a lack of immigrant labor rights, the farmworkers’ mobility also allows they are unable to improve their skills over time as many U.S. farms begin recruiting fresh farm laborers, and not veterans, in cities like Chicago. This restriction to veteran’s has hurt the agricultural job market and the agriculture industry in the U.S. The ability to market farmers as professionals and to develop future workers is among the core of the agriculture industry in both the U.S. and India.
India’s agriculture industry, which has a strong outreach to India, shows the world how working farmers, especially Indian farmers, are completely integrated into their communities, learning English, using their skills and