Tomato Operation Closed on Labor Shortage


Northwest Ohio's largest fresh-market tomato producer is shutting operations this summer, a move that will cost him millions of dollars, because he can't attract enough migrant workers to pick his crops.

Charles Jones, 70, owner of Charles Jones Produce LLC in Oak Harbor, recently informed the Toledo-founded Farm Labor Organizing Committee of his decision, union president Baldemar Velasquez said.

The farm labor organization represents 500 farm workers who are usually employed by the tomato grower.

The grower's dilemma is not unique. Other fruit and vegetable growers across America have also decided to shut down their operations this summer, said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. These crop losses could cost farmers and the American public hundreds of millions of dollars and force the United States to import more food and vegetables, he said.

"Seventy percent of the agricultural work force, including the milk industry, is performed by an undocumented work force," Conner said. "It's a problem. Our work force is at risk."

Velasquez, who worked with Conner on the agricultural portion of the proposal, said immigration reform could alleviate a lot of problems for farmers and immigrants. "Immigration reform is having an immediate impact on northwest Ohio now," Velasquez said. "Our immigration system has been broken for a long time."

"The significance of what's happened in Oak Harbor needs to be understood; it's affecting more than just the Latino population."

Those 500 migrant farm workers usually employed by Jones earn a combined annual payroll of about $2.6 million, Velasquez said. A significant portion of that income is spent locally on food, clothing, gas, and big ticket items like new vehicles. Restaurants, grocery stores, laundry facilities and gas stations will all lose business, he said.

"This will be a significant hit to the local economy, particularly Oak Harbor, Fremont and Woodville," Velasquez said. "It's not just the grower and farm workers who feel the repercussions."