To the editor:
When hundreds of immigrant workers signed up to work in tomato fields on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, they were promised plenty of work.
However, soon after they arrived, they were confronted with a different scenario: a paycheck that barely covers food costs for themselves, let alone being able to provide for their families.
This is happening year after year for agricultural workers who work for Lipman Family Farms, the largest outdoor tomato grower in North America.
Every season Lipman employs up to 1,200 workers from Mexico under the H-2A visa program, along with workers from Florida, who come to work for the company on the Eastern Shore when domestic workers are unavailable or will not do the arduous and sometimes dangerous work involved in the tomato growing and harvesting. H-2A workers can’t do side jobs as part of federal regulations.
“If we don’t work (due to weather or low harvest), we don’t get paid, and if we don’t get paid, we can’t buy food,” said one worker who declined to give his name.
Last season, 120 Eastern Shore workers had little work for up to six weeks, and thus received little pay. Despite Lipman being made aware of the crisis, the company’s only response was that work was forthcoming, and churches and food banks were available to workers for this need.
“Eastern Shore churches and food banks are overwhelmed by the financial and logistical resources needed to supply food on such a large scale,” said Betty Mariner, coordinator of Dos Santos Food Pantry.
Dos Santos serves the immigrant and farmworker communities in Accomack and Northampton counties.
Even so, volunteers and groups such as the Agricultural Workers Advocacy Coalition sprang into action to purchase food to feed the workers.
The coalition is a group of organizations and individuals, including workers, whose mission is to serve as advocates for agricultural workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Lipman management was urged to make a matching contribution to offset the unsustainable cost of providing food for the workers. Despite a recent policy change, whereas Lipman would provide a loan of $75 to workers when the crew average is less than 10 hours, advocates are still waiting for a response from Lipman.
As the 2023 season is at its peak, workers are facing the same issue. “It’s an irony that the people who provide food for our tables are the ones who are going hungry,” said Mariner.
Lipman workers want to work rather than receive charity. In the interim, they want Lipman to be more humane with them.
Advocates from the coalition urge Lipman to meet with them and to match annual funds raised to provide food to workers.