Leelanau County Farmers Concerned About Migrant Workforce this Summer

Many Northern Michigan farmers are concerned about their migrant workforce this summer.

More than 150 people met Wednesday afternoon in Leelanau County to discuss the immigrant challenges local farms are facing.

Many growers rely on migrant workers during their summer season.

9&10’s Caroline Powers and photojournalist Jeremy Erickson have more details on how they plan to move forward despite their workforce worries. 

“We can’t do what we’re trying to do without them. We really appreciate them,” says Jim Bardenhagen, owner of Bardenhagen Farms.

At Bardenhagen Farms in Suttons Bay, the work never stops.

“Some trees it takes more pruning then other trees,” Bardenhagen says. “So the time that they spend on it is depending on how much pruning needs to be done.”

To be able to get the job done they need extra help, so they bring in 15-17 migrant workers every summer.

“Not only do we need to harvest them out of the field, but then we need to have people to help us pack them into containers and get them ready for shipment for the customers,” Bardenhagen says.

But right now, their summer workforce is up in the air.

“We’ve got a lot of unknowns right now with this special enforcement going in with the President’s executive order,” says Bardenhagen.

Bardenhagen Farms has more than 80 acres of crops, and with half being worked on by hand, if the workforce isn’t there the farm could take a major hit.

“It may take you a longer time to harvest with the people you may get and that can sometimes take you out of marketing windows, or the fruit may get too over ripe by the time you can pick it so you have to leave it,” Bardenhagen says.

Leelanau County Prosecutor Joe Hubbell says the system to get migrant workers here needs to be fixed.

“The process right now to go through and get an agricultural worker to come and work under the H2A visa program is very cumbersome and very expensive,” Hubbell says. “We really need to reform that so that people that want to come here and work can come here and work with proper legal status.”