"Picking Blueberries Isn’t What It Used to Be," by Alpha Unit

People from Washington County, Maine, which borders the Canadian province of New Brunswick, will readily tell you about the natural beauty of the area – and about how friendly and hardworking the people are. But some of them will also tell you not to move there unless you don’t need to work.

Maine’s six “Rim Counties,” the rural counties just south of the Canadian border, are among the poorest counties in New England. Washington County has more unemployment and poverty than the rest. Paul Constant, who hails from Maine, says that the popular conception of Maine as nothing but lighthouses and lobsters is far from the truth. Once you get away from the relatively affluent parts of southern Maine, you see how tough it can really be to live there.

But Washington County, the poorest part of Maine, is special. It is the wild blueberry capital of the world.

Maine has 44,000 acres of wild blueberries that bring in about $250 million in annual revenue. Cultivated blueberries from other states dwarf the production of wild blueberries that grow on Washington County’s “barrens,” says Philip Conkling. These areas got their name because only blueberries and a few other plants could grow on the sandy soils left by the receding glacier. A spokeswoman for the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission told him that Maine grows a very special product but most people don’t know the difference between a wild blueberry and a cultivated one.

Philip Conkling offers a hint: the fat watery ones with less flavor are the cultivated ones.

In the summer of 1974 Conkling jumped at the chance to make some money raking blueberries at the Deblois barrens in Washington County, as part of a crew assembled by some neighbors who also owned blueberry land. He says that the wild blueberry harvest was the one time of year when just about anyone between six and 60 could earn a small pile of cash “to spend like a grasshopper or save for the coming winter.”

One week later I was in the back of Ralph Jr.’s two-ton, stake-body truck with a motley crew of neighbors, lurching off Highway 193 onto dirt roads that curved around endless vistas of blueberry fields on the barrens. When we stopped, Ralph handed me a bucket and a blueberry rake. He explained that when I had filled my bucket, I was to bring it over to a hand-cranked winnowing machine to separate the leaves and stems from the berries and then pour the berries carefully into wooden boxes. For this, I would make $2.50 a box. Seemed simple enough.

It turned out to be back-breaking work.

For generations most of the laborers in the blueberry fields were Native Americans, from the local Passamaquoddy tribe and Mi’kmaq from Canada. But with the expansion of the industry, blueberry farmers started hiring migrant workers to increase their labor force. Since the 1960s the harvest has been picked mainly by migrants, most of whom are Mexican, Mexican-American, Filipino-American, Jamaican, Haitian, Honduran, and Guatemalan. They work alongside Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq families.

Still, there are fewer migrant laborers in the barrens than there used to be. Since the 1990s growers have been using mechanical harvesters. Some blueberry operations are almost completely mechanized, and others are planning to make the transition. These machines can harvest about 10 times what a typical person can harvest with a hand-held blueberry rake.
Some analysts say that mechanization is the consequence of uncertainty over immigration reform. Without any long-term clarity on what the law will be, growers can’t easily plan for even five years ahead.

What about hiring native Mainers to replace migrant workers? Not really an option, according to some growers.

“There are people who say if we just paid more, Americans would do the work. But that’s a joke,” said Ed Flanagan, president of Jasper Wyman & Son Inc., Maine’s second-largest blueberry grower. Flanagan says hard-working pickers make as much as $20 an hour here, almost three times Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50.

Even though Washington County has high unemployment, the seasonal jobs in the blueberry fields find few takers among local residents.

Another grower works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make sure its seasonal staff are in the US legally, but a spokesman says every year it’s a gamble. “You never know if enough people are going to show up to get the job done,” he says.

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19 thoughts on “"Picking Blueberries Isn’t What It Used to Be," by Alpha Unit”

  1. “There are people who say if we just paid more, Americans would do the work. But that’s a joke,” said Ed Flanagan, president of Jasper Wyman & Son Inc., Maine’s second-largest blueberry grower. Flanagan says hard-working pickers make as much as $20 an hour here, almost three times Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50.
    $20 per hour for picking berries? That’s my idea of heaven, I want to relocate to Maine.
    Can’t believe someone pays you $800 per week for the additional benefit of living in the lap of nature, why isn’t a place like this overflowing with Mexicans? Is it because of the cold weather?
    Or, could it be thee people? I have been told New Englanders aren’t always very eager and excited to welcome those of an ethnic persuasion other than Northern European white. The Boston accent does sound a bit sucky and pretentious.

    1. Sounds like a trick. Remember when McCain promised $50/hour for picking lettuce? A bunch of suckers–including myself–showed up only to be told McCain was just trolling us.
      I was not amused, but there was nothing any of us could do about it.
      BUT note they talk about “immigration reform”, which is usually code for AMNESTY! If they hired Americans, they wouldn’t have to worry about deportation or Amnesty.
      And actually Amnesty would be MORE damaging, the newly-minted pseudo-citizens would turn up their noses to that work as much as all the REAL citizens!
      Think about it: We’ve had 11 Amnesties, why do we keep “needing” more Amnesties–unless NEW illegals come in to replaced the Amnestied ones?

  2. This is something that we see on a regular basis in this country. Americans have shifted mentally towards jobs that don’t require physical labor (with the exception of construction and some other hands on jobs such as directing robots etc) whereas migrant workers are only too happy to do it. A friend of mine from grad school is like 4th generation Irish-American in upstate NY and his family has an apple farm. In the old days locals would do the work (we’re talking probably go back to the 50s and maybe early 60s), but things changed and his father contends that he has to use migrant labor because they do the work and don’t suddenly vanish like college kids. Now add to this mechanization and we’ll see the inevitable decline of migrant labor as well. The fact that so many on the right hate these people for doing work that few Americans want to do is indicative of their mindset. I’m talking about doing it consistently and not vanishing when you’re sick of it. Sure some people will do it, for a while. That’s not the point and I totally get why people hire migrants, even illegal ones. It’s better than going out of business.
    The fact of the matter is the US population can and does absorb millions of people because this is a huge country. These migrants who from the Western Hemisphere usually just want to send money back and/or go back themselves and lead better lives. A guest worker program and unionization would have been a great way to do all of this, but it’s been resisted by Nativists in this country for no good reason. Once again, we see how little the GOP/conservatives understand the complexities of an issue like this. At this point, it’s safe to say that there’s just a lot of shouting and complaining and very little actual thinking going on with the likes of the Donald etc.

    1. We have FIVE Guest Worker programs already. Democrats, not GOP, resist the Guest Worker programs, some even call it “slavery”. Unions are supposed to protect workers FROM these scum, and their wage-undercuts, right? Or are Unions only supposed to funnel money to the Democrat Party?
      In reality, the Democrats just want these losers as voters.
      As to the US population can and does absorb millions of people, WHERE DOES THAT END? Why do we HAVE to keep taking in more, especially when Liberals start bitching about the environment?
      Did you read the report about America being sustainable?
      http://clinton2.nara.gov/PCSD/Publications/TF_Reports/amer-chap6.html
      California and Texas are already having water shortages. But that’s OK because we’re a “huge country”, right? That’s not a good excuse.
      Why should we take in people who–by your own admission–want to STEAL money out of our economy?
      If we automate, we have workers that never complain, never try to push an inferior culture on their hosts, and cost pretty much zero after initial investment. Plus, those workers have to be BUILT and PROGRAMMED!
      That means more STEM jobs for AMERICANS–if we’re not undercut by H1B scabs…
      Did you actually research “the complexities of an issue like this”, or did you see an opportunity to skewer Conservatives and jumped in without researching the reasons NOT to let more scum in?
      If Mexico would give up the delusion of being an “independent” country, admit they don’t know how to run a country, and become those extra 7 States the Bum thought he campaigned in, THEN we’d have a reason to look after Mexicans’ interests. Otherwise, it’s their interests against American citizens’ interests and Americans should always win that kind of “contest”, right? Or is America supposed to look out for everyone BUT Americans?

      1. The problem is some groups view guest worker programs as an issue, but I’m not. And the GOP doesn’t seem very keen on them either: http://www.wnd.com/2016/01/gop-lawmaker-slams-ryans-guest-worker-program/
        I should clarify that I think guest worker programs should have some things the GOP wouldn’t want such as an easier path to citizenship (there’s a long wait usually). It would increase legal immigration (something some Republicans have even supported) in the short-term, and I think we can absorb them and it would be all legal and out in the open. Of course mechanization may make this a moot point anyway. The guest worker programs that currently exist do work pretty well on a small scale, just not in terms of scope obviously. This would cut the number of technically illegal people in this country, but the process is often too complicated for most people.
        You really believe Americans will do these jobs? Then why aren’t they? Tell me, even when the pay is higher why aren’t people doing it? This is problem with the conservative mind-set it refuses to acknowledge reality and seeks to somehow twist it. And you clearly blame them for coming here and not the employers. My friend’s father tried American labor and they failed him so he moved on.
        Of course unions are aligned with Democrats. The GOP is about big business, monopolies, crony capitalism, cutting wages, maintaining entitlements for trustfund babies like Trump and the Kochs (the so-called Death Tax) and so on. These people aren’t interested in paying people a fair wage. When Trump tells people to work hard and he claims he started with a mere $1 million when he moved to Manhattan thanks to daddy, I can’t help but think hypocrisy. We see a direct correlation between the rise in wealth amongst the richest Americans and a decline/stagnation in wages. You have to be blind not to see the correlation.
        Well, with birthrates dropping this is all a moot point, but you fail to understand that these people are already here. There are 11 million illegals in the US. The fact of the matter is nothing ever ends. People move around and they will continue to do so. What do you care? You’ll be long gone. If you’re a realist you accept change and make it work better as opposed to blindly flailing about and calling people rapists and murders despite evidence to the contrary.
        Yes, we’re having water shortages that link in part to global warming, the very problem the GOP denies. The science is conclusive and what’s more there’s a market for renewable energy. Guess who’s against it, people like the Kochs who stand to lose a lot of money if we go away from fossil fuels. This isn’t about too many people, this is about how the environment and climate are changing and we have a segment of the population ignoring it.
        By the way, that report is from the mid-90s. It also makes the case that we need to do something about climate change AND address the fact that Americans consume more per capital than any other country on Earth. China and India are problems, but proportional below us.
        I didn’t define anything of the sort. You seem to have a tendency to take conservative blog talking points and insert them in an attempt to make a point. People who work here are not stealing. They end up spending a lot of money here and they aren’t even the biggest problem with money going out of country. It’s the people with the most placing it offshore to avoid taxes. Wanna go after those “thieves?”
        Automation is inevitable so not sure why we’d even discuss this behind that point. And again the GOP fails here. This would require job training and cheaper education, which they continue to resist in favor of the status quo. Plus, the GOP is a joke when it comes to education anyway given their focus on the Teachers Union: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/education/254462-gop-education-reform-gets-trampled-by-trumpmania
        While giving the police union (usually) and firemen a pass. Inconsistent as hell, but purely political and ideological.
        I’ve studied this yes. You linked to a report from the mid-90s so how much more are you looking at this without trying to prove an ideological point. I agree with some GOP proposals such as with regards to guest worker program expansion (under Dubya). I’m not blindly following the party line. I just prefer the Democrats on most issues because they don’t just look to enrich the already super rich. Seems pointless.
        Mexico is nearing the point where it won’t be a problem and yet you’re on their case anyway. Their demographic changes are here now and so we’ll see fewer illegals coming anyway other than those fleeing violence as with Central America. We’re back to really talking about the real problem, Americans don’t want to do certain jobs on a consistent basis. That’s where you have to accept reality. Otherwise, you’re just not getting it.

        1. You still do not see any correlation between stagnation of wages and increased immigration/illegals?
          Yes, that report IS from the 90s, hence CLINTON’S name on it!
          But note it says we need less people here. The ones immigrating are not here to teach us to live simply (Well, not directly anyways, the scarcity they bring DOES that, but that isn’t their goal), they’re here to steal “their share” of our overconsumption!
          We do not need nor want more people in America. Not more citizens, not more guest workers, not more whatever the hell word you want to call it.
          You want to blame this “Global Warming” for the water shortages, NOT TENS OF MILLIONS more people in States that are already largely desert? Please tell me you’re just joking on that?
          The environment and climate are changing? It’s BECAUSE of too many people. In 1994, a small-time outfit called National Geographic blew the whistle on overpopulation–with 4.5 BILLION people. Seems quaint, doesn’t it? And now, YOU personally want to say we don’t have too many people–at 7.2 BILLION?
          Birthrates may be dropping, but there’s still a gap between white birthrates and nonwhite birthrates.
          http://www.unomaha.edu/news/2015/01/fertility.php
          That’s not even counting that terrorists outbreed their hosts over 2-1–and the Bum wants to let those in too!
          Mexico is NEARING the point where it won’t be a problem? Near only works for horseshoes and hand grenades. Who is expanding the population of California and Texas?
          ILLEGALS who work here ARE stealing. They’re stealing opportunity from Americans, AND allowing businesses to get away without hiring legal workers and paying the Obamacare taxes! “They spend a lot of money here”? That’s your excuse? SO DO AMERICAN WORKERS! OR EVEN LEGAL GUEST WORKERS! Saying criminals are OK because they spend a lot of money is exactly what you’re accusing Republicans of, isn’t it?
          Yes, Americans want better jobs. Our language has even changed to reflect it. Used to be a person working the same job for a decade or two was “loyal”–a good thing. Now that same person, same job, is “stuck”!
          But you pay a person enough, they’ll walk barefoot into Hell.

        2. As to Education Reform, we need to UN-reform education, go back to what works. And as I pointed out on another site, that means focusing on FACT, rather than FEELINGS. If students are disruptive, shunt them to tradeschools, so they can learn to do SOMETHING useful that doesn’t take too much brains–something an illegal would usually do.
          Won’t that hurt their FEELINGS? Sure it will! TOUGH SHIT!
          If they can behave, they can come back to the adult school.
          Teachers are the ones going for the FEELINGS, giving losers a passing grade just to get them to move on the next grade. Grab a Common Core book and headdesk a few times after reading through it. That’ll make our kids dumber yet. Hopefully none of THAT crop will be put in charge of a nuclear reactor!
          Police get a pass? Be sure to call Darrell Wilson and tell him that!
          Cops get fired for doing their job. Teachers get fired based on seniority, rather than effectiveness. The latter is because of Teacher Unions, isn’t it? The former is because Police Unions must not be as effective as Teacher Unions?
          It’s all backwards, really.
          But let’s go back to what WORKED!

        3. Please don’t get it twisted. I wouldn’t mind wage stagnation if the PRICES didn’t keep going up.
          We have more “guest” workers (Who have a nasty habit of “forgetting” to return home, don’t they?), more H1B Indentured Servants, more unpaid college interns and yes, more illegals than ever before, when is the “cheap” part of all this “cheap” labor going to reach the end-user?
          Your friend’s father sounds like he’s at least part of the wage-stagnation you’re complaining about, isn’t he? Did American labor fail him, or he fail the American worker? And if you’re willing to make that excuse for him, why not job creators you DON’T know?

        4. As to cheaper education, we just can’t. Colleges are “tuning” their prices to rich foreign exchange students, or even if they’re not rich, they’re backed by a whole COUNTRY to subsidize them! How are we going to beat Saudi Arabia for money?
          WE COULD get rid of tuition subsidies for illegals, and make them for Americans ONLY instead. Out-of-State tuition is 3-4X IN-State Tuition. Someone from out of THE States should have to pay the Out-of-State Tuition, right? Call it Education Nationalism!
          After all, illegals CLAIMED since the 80s to be only here to take the “Jobs Americans DON’T Want”–which don’t require a brain, much less college, right? So why should they go to college AT ALL, much less demand American taxpayers pay for it?
          Let’s pay for our own people to go to college, and kick the illegals out!

        5. As to Education Reform, we need to UN-reform education, go back to what works. And as I pointed out on another site, that means focusing on FACT, rather than FEELINGS. If students are disruptive, shunt them to tradeschools, so they can learn to do SOMETHING useful that doesn’t take too much brains–something an illegal would usually do.
          Won’t that hurt their FEELINGS? Sure it will! TOUGH SHIT!
          If they can behave, they can come back to the adult school.

          A lot of times the kids were acting up cause peer pressure was telling them it was cool, and smart kids were cheering on the fun.

        6. WE COULD get rid of tuition subsidies for illegals, and make them for Americans ONLY instead. Out-of-State tuition is 3-4X IN-State Tuition. Someone from out of THE States should have to pay the Out-of-State Tuition, right? Call it Education Nationalism!

          Why so hard on foreign exchange students? What are they doing wrong? Are they causing crime? No, I get it. Anything foreign is bad.

        7. High school kids are evil, including the smart ones. They cause a lot of the situations of so called “bad kids”. They won’t leave kids alone, instead bombard them with all kinds of peer pressure. So it’s no wonder they act up in class and whatnot. I mean we’re all human and want to be liked.
          What kind of pressure? How about mocking all the smart students saying they suck, a behavior which seems to continue into college and whatnot. Everything is a joke to these normal USA kids who think school exists for fun and not learning.

        8. Teachers are the ones going for the FEELINGS, giving losers a passing grade just to get them to move on the next grade. Grab a Common Core book and headdesk a few times after reading through it. That’ll make our kids dumber yet. Hopefully none of THAT crop will be put in charge of a nuclear reactor!

          They won’t punish bullies harshly, and even more the environment is geared toward the praise of fun rather than learning. In that hellish environment, of course, some kids are going to turn to clowning, do bad in school, whatnot.
          All of them dumb, smart, jocks, etc.. they’re all cheering on the bad behavior of class clowns, while ridiculing serious students as dicksuckers. Cause it’s all “Saturday Night Live” or “Up in Smoke” for these kids. Everything exists for their amusement.

        9. I’ll give you an example. I went for my Calculus III final. I was a little late, and this other student, seeing the spotlight was on me started making dick slurping sounds 😆 You believe that? See everything is comedy and for people’s amusement.
          Now I don’t want to be some uptight nerd, but really, a lot of these kids are full of massive disrespect and it’s just ridiculous.

  3. Good point brought up in this article, Again we see this is “Negro work” (well the other word is usually used) The local residents won’t do it, even though hardworkers make as much as 20 dollars an hour.
    So how does this translate as far as our interpretation of the standard white nationalist line that “Oh, if only they would pay us more, we’d gladly do it.”?

      1. Not gladly, I’ll warrant, but anyone who wasn’t rich enough to own slaves.
        And for that matter, the slaveowners had to pick their own until even THEY could afford to buy slaves!
        You never did show me a division of UNICEF that gave away free slaves, so I’m going to assume you haven’t found one, right? That means they had to do their own work until they got rich enough to buy their first slave.
        Or take out a loan, maybe?
        Hey, in the article, these robots. How are they going to afford robots?
        They can harvest 10X as much as a person, but they still have to be bought!

    1. Something tells me it’s similar to how I.T. Company’s manage to never hire whites even though highly qualified white programmers are plentiful in most areas.
      Even when the white programers are better at the job the bosses will claim they can’t find qualified white workers.
      This just sounds like another case of lying farmers telling lies.

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