A Special Bond: Producers, Seasonal Workers Grow Vermont Together

WATCH: https://youtu.be/oX0v7544g6M

When Walter Hamilton’s not enforcing the law back home in Jamaica, he’s playing an important role at role at Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall.

“I’m a policeman when I’m there,” said Hamilton.

For 31 years, Hamilton has spent his summers harvesting the Vermont apple crop. Hamilton has been able to pass on his acquired knowledge of the apple crop to next generation of workers.

“I teach them how to pick apples and communicate with them as family, you know, because all of us are coming from one place… in Jamaica.”

In 2017, more than 450 seasonal workers called Vermont “home away from home.”

The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to fill temporary jobs.

Many Vermont producers rely on experience and skilled workers, like Hamilton. Without them, there might not be a harvest or even farms.

“We really couldn’t do with the H-2A program. There are very few options to get that number of people willing to work, 6-7 days a week, necessary time, to get the crop in,” said Barney Hodges, Sunrise Orchards.

Without the H-2A program, local year-round and seasonal workers could lose their jobs.

“They create the other 40 jobs for the Americans, because you need people to truck drive the produce, you need people working in the stands and you need people processing. So, without the Jamaicans, you wouldn’t need all these people,” said Paul Mazza, Paul Mazza’s Fruit and Vegetables.

For Lascielle Palmer, working on Paul Mazza’s farm is key to supporting his family.

“Because it puts food on my table, pay my bills, send my child to school, it does a lot,” said Palmer.

Guest workers at Southern Vermont Orchards feel the same way.

“I really appreciate and respect this place, because it helps me to send my daughter to high school, I have a daughter in New York that goes to college and she’s a nurse right now. So, I very much respect this and I respect my job and I do it the best I can,” said Mr. Grant, Southern Vermont Orchards.

Many workers also spend dollars right here in Vermont.

“The money they make here, I’d say one-third to half is spent here, and they bring a lot of stuff home. I’m glad to be able to do it, because they’re giving me a service… they’re helping me and I’m helping them, It’s a win-win,” said Paul Mazza.

Lia Diamond runs the show at Southern Vermont Orchards and the Apple Barn Country Bake Shop.

“She would sometimes go over to our house, we cooking and she would eat some,” Said Mr. Grant.

Knowns as “Ma” by her Jamaican workforce, she’s developed quite the family atmosphere.

“Sometimes she even brings our lunch. She’s a very nice lady, we’re just like a family here," said Mr. Grant.

So how do farmers bring back help they can count on, year after year?

“In order to make sure my workers want to come back here, we invest in infrastructure on the farm that makes their life better,” said Hodges.

“They’re like brothers to me, a lot of them are. We’re friends, we keep in touch and they’re just good people,” said Paul Mazza.

New bunk houses, washing machines and kitchens are just some of the improvements.

“Our primary value with our Jamaican workforce is respect,” said Hodges.

A level of respect working to build bonds that last a lifetime.

“My relationship is very close, you know, we are like a family, you know,” said Hamilton “It’s good, that’s why I’ve been here for so many years.”

Non-agricultural workers can also obtain visas to work at farms during peak season.

“Oh, my name is Herman Gilroy, everyone calls me Gilroy and I’m the baker at the Apple Barn.”

The H-2B visa allows Gilroy to bake his famous apple pies in Vermont.

When asked about his secret ingredient?

“Anything I do, I do it with straight from the heart, with pure love,” said Gilroy.

It’s Vermonters and Jamaicans working together…

“They say, ‘oh where are you from Gilroy?’ I said, ‘Jamaican, Vermont.’ They say, ‘no you don’t have a Jamaica, Vermont.’ I said, ‘yes we do.’

To help feed the world.

“To me it’s not a job, I love it, it’s a passion for me, it’s a beautiful passion.”