Vidalia farmers turn to prison system for harvest help after immigration crackdown
July 9th, 2012
03:30 PM ET
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Relinda Walker still can't believe what she heard. Incredulity seeps into in her slow Southern drawl as she repeats the price – only 60 cents for a pound of organic Vidalia onions. Incredible.

Walker, an organic farmer in south Georgia has seen great change in her industry, but this price, about 40 cents cheaper than she could ever conceivably charge, really gives her pause. She wants to pay fair wages to her American workers, and she's unwilling to take on the compromise made by some other Georgia farmers, using inmates to process her crop.

This time of year, Vidalias are on the minds and in the mouths of many food fanatics in and around the Southeast. These golden orbs inspire the kind of passion normally reserved for fine wines and cheese. Devotees feature the sweet beauties in recipes handed down from grandmothers, and pricey restaurants put them front and center on their menus during the scant months they are in season. Like Champagne is to France, Vidalias are to parts of south Georgia.

The affection for this crop isn't lost on Walker. "It's a labor of love," she sighs. The onions take up a lot of land and labor, and are prone to disease. Since she grows organically, there's also the matter of hand weeding, rather than relying on chemicals.

In a good year, she says, the crop makes her some money. But despite the low margin for profit and the backbreaking labor every September, Walker plants the onion seeds. She just plain likes doing it, she says. "In the winter when there's not a lot going on, you've still got those green shoots."

This year, those green shoots produced a good crop but she still can't get over those low prices she's hearing about. Like many farmers, Walker has a lot on her mind in addition to weather, weeds and water. While it’s great to have beautiful onions lined up row after row, they’re useless if you can’t get them out of the ground. Unlike other farmers, Walker says she never finds herself short of labor. The hard part is finding the money to pay fair wages for the hands that pick her crop.

For the past few months, the issue of farm labor has been front and center in Georgia. That's because last year, the state passed HB 87 - a tough immigration law modeled after Arizona's HB 1070. As a result, many farmers complained they had issues finding the farm labor they needed after HB 87 passed. It seemed that migrant workers didn’t even bother looking for jobs in the Peach State, and farmers were already having a difficult time filling positions with laborers on guest worker visas because of their cost and paperwork.

The farmers commissioned a study from the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development to determine the extent of damage the shortage had done. The study examined seven staple Georgia crops, Vidalia onions included. The findings were shocking: 18 Vidalia-producing farms lost an estimated $16,312,345 and 835 jobs. In total, the seven crops studied lost almost $75 million and more than 5,200 jobs because of the labor shortage.

The state stepped in, with the suggestion of using probationers to do the work. The plan has helped. Farmers were able to save some of their crops, and a section of society that often struggles to find work was given the opportunity to play a small role in solving a statewide problem.

This season, one onion farmer has turned to the state again - only this time, current prisoners are being allowed to help with the harvest. The program is small: just one farm using nine transitional center prisoners to help harvest and pack onions. The farmer initially granted media access to his farm but later declined CNN's request.

Stephen Everett, one of the men participating in the program did speak with CNN by phone. Everett, who is serving a multiple year sentence for burglary, volunteered to work on the farm and said he enjoyed "being in a work environment with other people."

The 42-year-old Georgia native is no stranger to farm labor; his family runs a cattle farm and he plans on working there should he be granted parole later this year. Everett and eight other inmates will have a few more weeks working with the onions, pulling down a minimum wage paycheck. The farmers get a subsidy from the government to cover part of the cost. They harvest, sort and ship the onions. Once the harvest is done, prison officials say they have no plans to work out similar arrangements with other farms or crops. So in Georgia, it's a small and temporary patch for what many farmers say is a larger problem with labor supply.

Given the recent Supreme Court ruling over Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which Georgia’s law was modeled after; it’s clear that the issue will remain a prominent one. Relinda Walker is just happy there’s a cost-effective, albeit temporary solution. She regularly gets calls from local folks, American citizens, she says, looking for farm work. The problem is, she says, they’re too expensive to pay. She could hire laborers on a guest worker visa, but there are additional costs like transportation and housing that make that option an expensive one.

Then there’s the issue of verification. As of July 1, employers in Georgia with between 100 and 500 employees are required to use the E-Verify system for new hires. This system compares an employee’s information to Social Security and Immigration records and verifies citizenship. Though E-Verify is voluntary is some states, it is required for most employers in Georgia

While the politics of the matters are worked out hundreds of miles away in Washington, all Walker can do is look forward to next Vidalia onion season and hope she can afford the hands that harvest her labor of love.

Previously - Vidalia onions – accept no impostors and Peanut butter and Vidalia onions and other strange sandwich delights

Also - Chefs with Issues: Immigrants in the kitchen and Comments: the cost of immigrant kitchen labor and How the modern day tomato came to be

soundoff (694 Responses)
  1. Navyvet8192

    What I disagree with is paying prisoners minimum wage to do anything. Prisoners should have to work to cover their room and board while they are in prison. The harder the work, the more their account is credited. So if a prisoner is working hard and taking the hard jobs then yes, maybe they have a positive cash account when they leave. The state should bill out their labor at minimum wage to the farmers, and apply the income to their prison stay accounts. If a prisoner is lazy and gets themselves locked down to avoid performing work, you run a bill and when the sentence is completed you release the prisoner. When they get a job you garnish a portion of their wages until the prison balance is paid off. If a prisoner is taking technical, skilled trades, or college courses to gain a career skill you treat it like a credit if and only if they are taking approved courses that will make them contributing members to society after they are released, and are not violating prison rules. This would put enough money in the coffers of the states and federal prison systems that new facilities could be built, and more income could be generated.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • JustSouthOfPA

      So you say:"When they get a job you garnish a portion of their wages until the prison balance is paid off." You can't garnish the product of ill gotten gain :-). This would raise the incidence of recidivism if you could enforce it. Why pay back the state when you can steal from someone and not declare that income? Like all GOP rhetoric, it is empty or their heads are or you are just full of it.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  2. Jay

    This a prime example of Georgia GOP hypocrisy: Try to score political points by demonizing migrant workers who were already underpaid and exploited for hours of hard labor that no one else wanted to do. Then try to compensate farmers for their losses by getting prisoners who don't work as hard or as well, cost the state money to use, and there aren't enough of to keep crops from rotting in the field. But do you think the rural farmers worst affected will elect Democrats who support workers' rights? Of course not. They'd rather choke on their onions.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • JellyBean@Jay

      Spot on Jay. Repubs are masters at getting people to vote against their own best interests.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • POG

      You'd like for everyone to believe that nobody here wants to do that type of work but you are wrong. Nobody here wants to do that type of work for LESS THAN MINIMUM WAGE! That is the entire point.....a fair wage for a fair day's work. My first job as a teenager was picking beans in a neighbor's field. It was hard work but it was an income. In between seasons I would work at the local greenhouse planting flats. I had no problem doing that work then and if I had no income now would absolutely do that again. The difference was that I was paid minimum wage and not 2 bucks an hour. If you actually advertise jobs that pay at least minimum wage and you will find Americans willing to do those jobs. But if you pull a pickup truck into the local WalMart parking lot and expect to find hordes of American teens hanging out waiting to jump into your truck for a promise of $2/hr cash then probably aren't going to find very many.

      July 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  3. Seth

    The price of organic Vidalia onions is upwards of $3.49/lb. If the farmer gets 60 cents per pound, that means someone is making $2.89/lb. If "the store" says that transport, refrigeration, labelling, etc. costs $2.89/lb, how can anything in the produce aisle cost less than that? Someone is making a killing, and it's not the farm labor or the farmer.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  4. Where there is a will there is a way

    The farmers need to go to their local high schools and put it out there they need help. Where I live jobs are difficult to come by for teenagers. Yes it may take a bit more time to train them but hey you have a cheap work force.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • dan

      LOL! Just get teenagers to pick up the slack??????...are you FREEKING joking? DO YOU LIVE IN AMERICA?...Most not all but most teens I see these days will not get out in the sun working hard all day for minimum the sun not good for there smartphones screens cant see to txt...sure I am joking a bit but Teens WILL NOT make up this job market. Figure out a way imigrants can work here legally with dignity already!! This red vs blue stuff isnt getting America anywhere.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
      • Shannon

        Teenagers today are a useless drain on our society. Spoiled brats afraid of work of any kind, unless it involves Facebook or an iPhone. Parents are afraid to make their kids work because it will make them look poor or mean to their kids. I started babysitting at age twelve and got a job in a restaurant at age 15 – all by my own choice. Nobody made me. Kids today are lazy and have a sense of entitlement that will not benefit them or our country in the long run.

        July 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • crew leader

      The idea of using teenage workers in field shows the true lack of understanding of how difficult it is to hand pick produce in the south during the summer months.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  5. farmerjeani

    So for all of you immigrant hating 'they're taking our jobs' crowd-Why didn't any of you apply for these good old American jobs? You cost other people in the industry money AND jobs because you are so bigoted and ultra conservative. The biggest blow hasn't hit yet. All of those 'illegal' immigrants also paid taxes, social security, unemployment and disability taxes that they couldn't recoup, thus subsidizing YOUR payments. Now that they are gone, guess what? You'll be paying the unemployment for all of those 'legal' workers who are now unemployed because the crops won't be harvested, packed or shipped. Oh and by the way-expect your food costs to go up as well.

    July 10, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Esmerelda5

      Finally, an excellent labor source for "jobs Americans won't do" Instead of hanging out with their crew in the prison gym building bigger and better muscles or meditating with their therapist, actual work for the wasted tax dollars spent on them.

      When a country is successful like America once was, employers use impoverished labor to do unpleasant jobs. When good jobs are outsourced and the exploited labor returned to their OWN country, businesses will have to raise wages and improve conditions to stay in business. That's the way capitalism works. Destroying a successful American culture for a diversity agenda which allows employers to stop improving working conditions and pay if they want their crops harvested is destructive of America. If you aren't creative enough to find honest labor, too bad. In addition, the spoiled and entitled babies our education system are feeding fantasy propaganda to need to see the reality of what can happen and how hard survival can be when foreigners replace Americans on the Gov's list of priorities.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • RGP

      It isn't that Americans won't do the job, they just need to make a fair wage to pay their rent and feed their family. American citizens have costs that workers here illegally do not (such as filing that good old federal income tax return at the end of the year under the same ssn you worked under, not a stolen/falsified ssn for each). Also take into account that migrant workers are often paid in cash and a wage less than the state mandated minimums. How many employers are going to risk hiring an American citizen for a less than minimum wage and pay in cash when they know there is a higher risk of getting the whistle blown on them? Do you really think someone here illegally is going to complain that they are being paid less than minimum wage? And how many Americans do you know who can afford to pay for gas, car insurance, rent, groceries, etc on less than minimum wage? Some of those costs aren't applicable to those here illegally (after being the victim of 3 accidents caused by an illegal immigrant with no insurance each time I can vouch for that one). So it really isn't as simple as you are trying to make it out to be.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
      • Theresa

        So if we gave the immigrants work permits, and allowed them to work legally, so they coul pay taxes and social security, would you be okay with that? That woul still be cheaper than the state paying the inmates to work. It should be obvious to everyone now, that the immigrants are NOT taking jobs away from other people. They are taking the jobs that nobody else will do, because these jobs require very hard work.

        July 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
        • POG

          So you are saying before the illegal immigrant workers came here we had no people to harvest crops, no lawn service companies and no construction workers? You are dead wrong. My first job, AS A TEENAGER, was picking beans at a neighboring farm. It was hard but I got paid fairly. One of my uncles worked in construction and the other had a small lawn and landscaping service business. Now here we are 25 years later and people are now saying that Americans weren't willing to do these jobs??? Once again, dead wrong. My entire family did jobs of this nature until we were literally having to compete with people who were willing to take half of minimum wage for cash. Since most Americans can't make do on that amount we did what we had to do and adapted. I ended up joining the Army and my uncles went in together and opened an electronics repair shop. Maybe because YOU aren't willing to get your hands dirty and work hard doesn't mean the rest of America hasn't and isn't willing to.

          July 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  6. onestarman

    Picking COTTON for The MAN. Just Like The Good Olde Days. The Days when a Plantation OWNED its Work Force is Remembered Fondly by the KKK and the GOP Leadership.

    July 10, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • RP

      Interesting comment considering the time frame in which you refer. A time when Democrats controlled politics in the south. A time in which Republicans were needed by LBJ to pass the Civil Rights Act much to the consternation of Senator Byrd, Gore, etc!!! Ahhh the 1950's and 1960's when Democrats were such fine upstanding people, you know like George Wallace and Lester Maddox!!!

      July 10, 2012 at 10:46 am |
      • onestarman

        Bring Back the Party of Lincoln and that REAL Conservative Teddy Roosevelt who Created the National Park System to PRESERVE the Wealth of the Nation from robber Barons. The Current Neo-Conservative is More FASCIST Than Machine.

        July 10, 2012 at 11:36 am |
      • farmerjeani

        one of the things I like best about conservatives is how they stick to the fact and truth, although I admit I was a little surprised to learn that LBJ was in office during the days slavery. MY, my. The things one can learn on the internet.

        July 10, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Mike

      You think that is something, wait until we take away your food stamps and other social service benefits. You are going to have to either work for a living or starve to death. You and all 85 of your illegitimate children.

      One of the things I am sure you and your "cousins" never considered when you put Obammy in office. The repercussions of when he is no longer there.

      2012 The End of an Error. The biggest error in the history of this nation.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:02 am |
      • JellyBean@Mike

        Have you read "The Grapes of Wrath?" Death by starvation, sounds like you don't take that very seriously.

        July 10, 2012 at 11:15 am |
      • Esmerelda5

        The entitlement economy and diversity agenda started in the 1960's with fantasy ideas about human behavior. The entire trajectory is a failure just like Communist and Socialist economies. Most EU countries are pushing back on the multicultural agendas which create parallel cultures and will destroy a successful society. The Netherlands just passed a law rejecting the multicultural approach because of the destruction primitive cultural ideas have had on their successful society. This will include deportation for those who don't want to assimulate. Israel has already deported many Sudenese whom they find a source of crime and problems. America is being destroyed by foreigners who embrace values of the 19th century and our Gov has allowed it for 50 years. So, it's not JUST Obama and don't think Romney is going to do anything different in this area either.

        July 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      RP, please remember that those same Republicans who were needed to pass the Civil Rights legislation then turned to the Southern Democrats and said "See how your party has deserted your values? Come and join us and we will maintain the seniority of your Senators and Congressmen." That was how Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and their ilk became Republicans, and how States' Rights became the mantra of the Party that was founded to fight against the abuses of States' Rights.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Ex-Georgian

      Wow, okay, so you are obviously not from Georgia. A few years ago, say 14 or 15, Redneck Larry turned in his neighbor Redneck Sam for using illegal immigrants for onion picking, it kind of backfired when the INS showed up and took everybody's labor force away. Boy, were the farmers crying then, where they going to get people to pick onions before they rotted in the ground? I stopped at a convienence store outside of Glenville, Ga, near the first of the month and was accosted by people try to sell me food stamps for $.50 on the dollar or buy beer or wine to trade for food stamps, and not just by one or two people, but by about 15. I couldn't get in the store, it was like they were going to die if they didn't get something to drink, but they had food stamps. Want to guess what color they were? Who cares? What matters was there was a work force, BUT THEY DIDN"T WANT TO WORK. And why should they? They were getting food stamps, and finding enough people to trade them for alcohol that they were okay.

      So, put away your race card, if people are like that, then they don't deserve ANYTHING. but the dumbocrats will make sure that "everybody is treated fairly" won't they?

      July 10, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Joep

      Umm, hate to break this to you.. but um, the KKK was founded by democrats... probably the grandfathers of the Mormon/religion/successfull businessman/conservative hating democrats of today.. just saying

      July 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Taxed

      Well... they worked, right? It's better than what we have today. Decent, honest taxpayers are paying for everything for those who now feel "entitled" to sit around and do absolutely nothing – oh, wait... they find time to have babies that they cannot afford, how could I forget?

      July 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  7. mmi16

    Be careful of what you ask for – you may receive it!

    July 10, 2012 at 4:57 am |
  8. specter

    They didn't want foreign workers picking the crops. Hard working people just tyring to survive and willing to put in a hard days work for their pay. Now they'll have murders picking the food you give to your children. Georgia made their bed and now they'll sleep in it. You got to wonder though, prison workers work for free or dirt cheap. Slave labor, just like the old days! Georgians must be delighted.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:50 am |
    • kjw

      Did you actually read the article?

      July 10, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  9. John D Hater

    From cheap labor to slave labor. Why do I feel America is going backwards?

    July 10, 2012 at 4:43 am |
    • kjw

      Paid minimum wage. The law was designed so that ILLEGAL immigrants are not allowed to work; at slave labor wages without proper taxes.
      Please read the article & use your brain.

      July 10, 2012 at 8:45 am |
      • SlayFalseGod

        Its a Govt. subsidy.
        Right Wing Fail.

        July 10, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • The Witty One@Hater

      If you think about it, America was built on the back of slave labor. Free labor is what made us great and powerful and allowed us to become the world power we are today. Look at China now and you should see the similarities to what happened in our early days. I'm not agreeing with the practice by any means, just stating an observation.

      July 10, 2012 at 9:15 am |
      • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

        So according to you, it was a good thing that Slave Labor built the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court buildings and started construction on the Washington Monument? That slave labor built the buildings at the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia, and the Virginia House of Burgess and other government buildings there? Just makin' sure.

        July 10, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  10. Dennis

    I see no problem with convicts doing the work that would have been for the immigrants. After all, our taxes is keeping them up, and the have to do nothing. I even believe they would be less likely to commit the crimes again, since they realize that prison will no longer be a place for free loaders. Free loaders are serious scum of the Earth that purposely try to get in prison so they never have to work and have everything they need while some of us law abiding citizens are struggling to keep ourselves above water.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:35 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      I see no problem with convicts doing the work, too. The problem is only some of the farmers are able to get these laborers. If this is to benefit the entire state of Georgia, then every farmer should have this benefit.

      July 10, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • RGP

      I also see no problem with convicts doing this work instead of illegal immigrants. At least more of the money will stay in the US instead of being sent to the home country. It will also teach the incarcerated the value of work (for those who are willing to learn, anyway). At least they are providing a benefit to society at last instead of being a drain of tax dollars. And again, at least more of them will be spending their earnings within the US which goes back into the local economy.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm |

    This would be all fine and dandy if we didn't have a private prison industry locking people up for sneezing in the wrong direction.

    Seriously, this is another excuse for corporate america to imprison people for petty crimes and use the "hard labor" excuse as a way to have these so called hardened criminals "earn their way."

    I have no sympathy for these farmers or the consumers dying for cheap crops. Pay people a fair wage and raise the prices accordingly.

    Simple and fair.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:33 am |
    • cseib

      Then you'll be complaining about high food prices, if you want everyoen to get equal pay, expect your food prices to rise by atleast double.

      July 10, 2012 at 9:26 am |
      • Andrew

        Pay people decent wages and they will be able to afford a little higher price. We have a culture now that thinks everyone should be a CEO and we need to support every inept business owner until they run another business into the ground.

        July 10, 2012 at 10:42 am |
        • Ben

          Why stop there? I say raise minimum wage to 100k per year, then poverty will be eliminated right? It cant possibly backfire.

          July 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  12. Gail D

    Why not use the concept of offering customers "Pick your Own" and charge for the cost of the crop only, since the customer is the labor? It's not a total solution, but all things by the sum of their parts make something work out.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:28 am |
  13. Gail D

    Ever hear of offering customers "Pick your Own" and charge for the cost of the crop only, since the customer is the labor? It's not a total solution, but all things by the sum of their parts make something work out.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:27 am |
  14. pork&beans

    There's the GOP answer.
    Get rid of immigrant labor and use slave labor.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:16 am |
  15. ta

    Some may consider this slavery, but these are convicts we're talking about.

    If anything, it's community service.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:11 am |
    • Gail D

      This is such a great idea on so many levels. We don't need immigrants; the food gets harvested; the inmates earn part of the "keep" it costs the state (i.e. taxpayers like you and me) to support and house them.... and quite frankly, labor and gardens are a good way to get some introspect, a way to touch and get in touch with the real world. Kudos !

      July 10, 2012 at 4:20 am |
    • specter

      Public school sure failed you two. The government pays more money to the farmers to offset the cost of prison workers. So really, Georgians are paying more to allow the prisoners to work the farms. How is that better?

      July 10, 2012 at 5:17 am |
    • WHAT?

      There's big business in prison workers labor.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  16. zooni

    Get all those GOP voters who are anti immigration and on welfare to work those fields. No work, no food stamps.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:08 am |
  17. Whistler

    The prisoners are making minimum wage, while the GA state government helps to pay the wage. The prison system can charge the prisoners for transportation costs, costs to feed them while working, so in the end, the prisoner has little left in the way of person money made from working the farm. The solution some will make, will be to get rid of the minimum wage. Some farmers are able to provide a 'living wage', some farmers cannot and some farmers will not. Read into this, the GA tax payer is paying taxes to house the prisoners and paying taxes to pay the prisoners to work. Those taxes help the private run parts of the GA prison system, which by contract must be kept 90% full. The private prison corporations donates to those in political office. What does a person do? RUN FOR OFFICE and HOPE TO WIN! (or else do a crime, get housed in a facility where you have a bed, a shower, food, sex and time to work out in the GA sun, developing your tan. Inmates will enjoy those tan lines!)

    July 10, 2012 at 3:37 am |
  18. 0rangeW3dge

    Well that kind of work is too hard...only brown people can do that kind of doesn't pay enough for me to have a 10 bedroom house and 3 SUV's...somebody else should do it, we might get smells funny...I have a Master's degree in business..."Obama" made me do it...

    July 10, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • Gail D

      I hope your comment is a sick attempt as a joke... or you are the joke.

      July 10, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  19. Peter Knight

    "The farmers get a subsidy from the government " Fantastic. Republicans have got rid of the illegals and subsidizing the labor WITH YOUR TAX DOLLARS. Need I say more?

    July 10, 2012 at 2:38 am |
  20. clem kadiddle

    John McCain said Americans won't pick lettice in Yuma Arizona for $10.00 to 15.00 dollars an hour. I think he is full of it. Republican business people just like cheap, illegal labor. They don't have to deal with rules, regs, litigation, union etc. Republicans are 90% responsible for our run away illegal allien problem. Illegals have wised up and moved on to the other jobs that pay alot more. We don't need 15 to 20 million illegals to pick fruit and vegetables. Get rid of illegals and watch unemployment drop to 6%. Raise the price of produce at the grocery store so farmers can pay a fair wage, and watch Americans picling apples, onions, lettuce on americas farms.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • MomO


      SO, a farmer paying his workers decent wages, having healthcare plans, comply with labor laws and ETC... will require the farmer to hire HR personel, since the wages will be more complex and a farm need many people to function then he will need a payroll personell and ETC.....

      IF THE FARMER HAS TO PAY for all that and try to make profit selling his products, i dont think anyone will be able to affrod food.

      farming does not generate much profit for a reason.

      July 10, 2012 at 3:07 am |
      • Shane

        That's what I was going to say....stop selling your onions for .20 each and maybe you can pay to farm them?

        July 10, 2012 at 3:21 am |
        • cseib

          farmers don't set the prices. The market does.....

          July 10, 2012 at 10:14 am |
      • MomO


        right...I am sure everyone in the USA will be able to afford a $10 onion.

        July 10, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • farmerjeani

      So you're saying citizens would be willing to work in the fields, in the broiling sun, bent at the waist, to plant, weed, cultivate and harvest? Then where are they? Why did the industry lose 75 million dollars? There were plenty of jobs waiting. How many unemployed bankers, investors, factory workers, school teachers or even teenagers showed up? NONE. Face it; Republican day dreams of illegal immigrant bogeymen are just that. Day dreams. They use them to keep the ignorant and uninformed frightened and in the fold.The world will collapse because of National debt, health care, illegal immigrants and oh, by the way, there's no such thing as Global warming. We (the GOP) are the only ones who can save this country, but please disregard the fact that we put you in this financial mess in the first place!

      July 10, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  21. tigrr

    Increase the wages and hire the high school and college kids looking for work. Let the fat-cat middle-men store take a cut in their prices. Maybe its time Americans learn what it takes to grow food and pay a bit more it if gives American kids jobs... or subsidise their wages with all the Pork, Incentives, Kickbacks, etc Congress throws to Big Corporation.
    Change is coming.... former WH residents, Congres, Fed REserve (NOT a govn't agency), bankers, CEOs, world wide are about to be arrested for massive crimes you see being expose now.... for updates, search benjamin fulford, david wilcock, drake interviews.... Time the Bushs get jailed for their 9/11 murders. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      chill out, hombre

      July 10, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • alex

      Oh! High school and college kids doing this work! Damn they are too busy with ipads, iphones and video games and following what Justin Beiber is doing next and so on... We have already started to mess up the work ethic of our future generation. ..

      July 10, 2012 at 2:19 am |
      • Kea

        Alex that was great and you are 100% correct

        July 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • MomO


      some are busy studying biology, chemistry, physic, Nursing, Math, statistics AND LATER they create cure for diseases, new fuel for rockets, star their doctor residency and etc...

      you trying to imply that ALL college students are lazy and just lounge around is pretty damn ignorant.

      July 10, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  22. andrew

    Most of you don't get it. If labor intensive crop farmers raise wages and have to charge more money for their products consumers will simply buy a cheaper alternative farmed in another country. that is the way it works. consumers have alternatives, including onions grown in other countries. that is why high wages for labor intensive crops means that farmer would simply stop growing that crop.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • Epidi

      I buy produce directly from a local farm here in PA. I know it's fresh, I know the people who grew it, I know it sure tastes better than the genetically engineered or imported crap they sell in the grocery store. I'm willing to pay just a little extra for it and to support our local farm community rather than pay for the imported items I can get right here in my own state. If I want a pineapple I go to the store. If I want onions, tomatos, lettuce, peppers, etc, I either grow it in my garden or get it from the farm.

      July 10, 2012 at 3:37 am |
      • pork&beans

        That's the key.
        Where I live, except in Winter, I rarely have to step in a grocery store. What for?
        Eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables all grown locally. If it's packaged in a cardboard box, I don't want it anyway.

        July 10, 2012 at 4:20 am |
      • JustSouthOfPA

        Now I wonder if that farmer you give cash to will declare this income to the IRS or state revenue department? Trade an illegal immigrant workforce for an under the table economy. It does make sense in a way, at least to the Amish farmer...

        July 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
      • Kea


        I also go to my local farmers markets for certain produce rather than the store. It is a little more expensive but it taste so much better and I am helping the local farmer.

        July 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  23. Daniel Boland

    my god this country's stu p id.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  24. MomO

    LET US ARREST MORE BLACK PEOPLE on MARIJUANA charges and let them do farm work.

    we can bring back slavery all over again.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Phattee

      You must send your resume to the Republican national headquarters immediately.

      July 10, 2012 at 2:14 am |
      • Joep

        Democrats founded the KKK, hello! ..the slavery south was predominantly democrat. Evidently you're one of the educated democrats the party has so many of.... Pay people a decent wage and they will work.. if everyone plays by the rules (another hard concept for democrats, I know) evryone benifits..

        July 10, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  25. phoodphite

    It's a great idea! I think the mean, tortured onions that went into the Angry Whoppers would have been more zesty had they been tended to by inmates.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:52 am |
  26. FRATboy007


    slavery is back.............

    July 10, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • Kea

      Slavery is back huh? LMAO is right because now white inmates have to experience it now to see what it is like to be a SLAVE!!!! I GET A HARDY LAUGH OUT OF THAT ONE! AMAZINGLY FUNNY AS HELL!!!!

      July 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  27. chedar888

    We should get Jan Brewer the governor of Arizona to go get her onion picking hand in the field to go pick those onions.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:48 am |
  28. Steve

    And tragically, the reality of our dependence upon exploited foreign labor has now been made clear. We refuse to pay the modest increases in prices required to provide workers with a living wage and modest benefits and instead turn to prisons to find the labor needed in the fields. Shame.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:48 am |
  29. Steve

    What will it take for people to wake up. This is slavery, pure and simple. For profit prisons, right to work laws, destruction of the safety net. The country we once knew – for those of us old enough to remember – has nearly disappeared. It does not have to be this way and we do not have to lose what so many sacrificed so much to achieve in previous generations. A first step would be to make illegal prison labor and not permit it to compete with the private sector.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  30. Robert Iacomacci

    PLEASE HIRE ME. I live in South Carolina, and I WILL GLADLY pick onions for whatever it is your are paying. I am serious about to run out of all help. PLEASE HIRE ME. SOMEONE PLEASE .......

    July 10, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • andrew

      Like someone told Forrest Gump: Are you stupid boy? If you speak and write English and can only get a job picking onions you are welcome to go to Georgia, no one is stopping you. If you can work 8 hours in the sun in a backbreaking job for very low pay you are welcome to.

      July 10, 2012 at 1:34 am |




      AGAIN...I SAY BULL.......

      July 10, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  31. On my knees for God's pleasure

    We should arrest more people to work for cheap labor. Just imagine the possibilities of a new gulag system!

    July 10, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  32. pbernasc

    now if this isn't slavery ... arrest the illegals, cause they working i the fields without permission, send them fro the prison to work in the field for free ... to make them pay their debt to the society.

    Slavery, that's what this is about

    July 10, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Would you rather pay more for increased prison size or pay less with illegal immigrants doing jobs that many Americans would never accept?

      July 10, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  33. M.K.

    I dont hear nothing about the fact that in Georgia and a lot of other places the Republicans have turned the prisons over to the buddies of the politicians in power and they will reap the money paid to the prisoners. the tax payers will still pay for the bar bells, color t.v.s, food and clothing and medical care of the inmates just as they always have and the pols will get the kickbacks from thieir buddies Saturday at the Country Club. This is pure bull droppings.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  34. Kimc

    If they use prison labor, they should be required to pay minimum wage or union scale, whichever is more, and the prisoner should get the pay, not the prison company.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  35. M.K.

    All this fuss over an onion. If the damn onions are as good as they are cracked up to be sell them as as you would T-bone steak or caviar and the ones that cannot do without them will pay whatever the price. This is nothing but whining from the greedy farmers who want to get rich quick and sell out to some conglomerate and move to Atlanta and live in a penthouse on Peachtree Road. I remember seeing the farmers driving through Washington in brand new, air-conditioned, John Deere and Allis Chalmers tractors protesting something or another. The leader of the movement had to stay at home because his helicopter needed repair. Onions make your breath smell like a dead cat and gives you heartburn to boot.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  36. Amemor

    WHAT!? Americans don't want to do the work? Union you say?

    July 10, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  37. svann

    She cant afford to pay what the labor market defines as a fair wage because no one else is paying it. A vicious circle.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  38. nazhiker

    this seems to be absurd, the "story" for the last 20 years was not white americans wanted these jobs so we had to let the illegals come on in and do the work ... now with over 32 mil of them here none want to do this work? What happened to your argument? It was all a bunch of bs huh ... it has to do with the wages not the work – stupid.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • meeeeeee

      are you retarded? can you read? they cant work in georgia because the new labors laws...not because they dont want the work. And there are not 32 million illegals genius. Wow....go read a book. can you read?

      July 10, 2012 at 12:58 am |
    • FRATboy007


      slavery is back........

      July 10, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  39. dave

    I live in a smaller rural community and eight of the ten families that live on our street are unemployed. A couple factories laid off all the employees after being purchased by a major conglomerate, which in turn sent the jobs to China for $1 a day. We've been trying to grow most of our food and we've managed to drill hand-pump water wells. America cannot compete with $1 a day Chinese labor. And the executives and shareholders are all making a killing on the profits. There is only two mom and pop stores and they are nearly closing because they cannot compete against the big box stores. Most of the families here cannot even afford to go to walmart, much less shop at an all-American store. The American dream has been sold to China. All the tax cuts in the world isn't going to fix this.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  40. Patricio

    She can't afford to pay what american citizens want to get paid??? then stop farming!!! if the rest of the country pays minimum wage to keep a business she can too. The article says this is a "lack of labor"??? no it's a lack of good wages. If Apple decided to pay 10k for an engineer they will not find them either. America got used to paying $3 an hour for farning labor, let's get back to good wages.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • JackTaraz

      I agree. The Farmers have come to rely on Illegal Aliens. That wasn't always so. Years ago, LEGAL Americans did that work. If ALL the Farmers complied with E Verify, then the ALL would be in the same boat. And then, if prices need to rise, then so be it. But, I doubt that is the case. The United States takes in 1.25 MILLION LEGAL IMMIGRANTS each and every year. If you take away the Welfare, Food Stamps, Section 8 Housing from them, they will gladly do this work. OUR problem is NOT wages, it is the Entitlements that low wage earners, legal and not legal, have come to depend on and expect. You take away those freebies, which we cannot afford anyhow with a $16 TRILLION DOLLAR National Debt, and those people will have Maximum Motivation to work.

      And, what happened to the Chain Gangs that Georgia, Florida and other States had?? The ACLU and Bleeding Heart Liberals killed them off? Bring them back.

      We have plentiful labor sources here in the U.S. But, when you PAY people to sit on the sofa and eat government food, you don't have any takers for low, minumum wage jobs. Remove the entitlements and America can go back to being productive. Make the Politicians erect Trade Tariffs, to protect our jobs and they won't go to China. Vote the Politicians OUT who allow our jobs to go Offshore. Stop crying and whining. DO SOMETHING about your predicament. If all the LEGAL Citizens that are now unemployed voted out the Politicians that do NOT protect U.S. jobs from going Offshore, the new crop of Politicians would get the message. Instead, people whine and cry the blues and then either do not vote, or vote the SAME slob back into office that was the problem. Take back America with your vote!

      July 10, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Rassayana

      It's not that she doesn't want to pay them a fair wage, it's that American consumers will not or cannot pay the prices for products that are built/harvested by Americans. Compared to other Western countries, your average Americans aren't earning a living wage. Factor in the exorbitant cost of health care, what little income they have left barely pays for the bare necessities of living in most cases. American made items inherently cost more, and most refuse to pay that cost.

      July 10, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  41. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

    Slave labor. What a great idea! It works in China, it kept the munitions factories of the Third Reich running, and now American Agriculture gets back to slavery after that unfourtunate Civil War "Misunderstanding". The problem is that slaves are not as motivated as paid workers. Indeed, slaves are not motivated at all. You get a lot of rotting smashed produce with slaves. After a season of farm bankruptcies, perhaps we will be more grateful for Mexican farm laborers and will try to treat them like human beings, instead of slaves.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • JackTaraz

      Lots of initials after your name and you STILL don't get it.

      The basis for ALL business is the rule of "SUPPLY & DEMAND". IF the majority of a Farmers crop rots in the ground, then the portion that IS picked and packed will be worth more.

      All this talk about Slaves and the need for Illegal Aliens is hogwash. For over 250, the American economy was THE best in the world. Then, the WORST President that we ever had, Lyndon Baines Johnson, LBJ, and Congress passed his "Great Society" Program. Paying people to sit home and procreate. It ruined our economy and took the motivation away from people to work. Hungry people make motivated workers. Period. Fat people sitting on a sofa, watching Oprah Winfrey are NOT motivated.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  42. vet4life63

    This is utter BS. I am a farmer and I have at least 3 if not more American citizens with families to take care of ask me for a job every week. They are willing to do anything to put food on the table for their kids. They are law abiding, hard working, and do jobs any illegal would like to do, and are willing to do it for a legal wage, and a few benefits. One thing though, I do give those I hire a stake in it all. After harvest is complete, they get a bonus which is based on profitability. The less machinery is tore up, the more production they give me, and the more they are willing to work as if this was their farm, the bigger the bonus I pay. They have never been let down, and Americans are really hard workers, when feeding their Children. It is soooo untrue, that illegals are doing jobs no American will do. It's called work ethic and my employees are awesome.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Mark

      You may have missed an important point in the article. It wasn't that the farmers couldn't find Americans to do the job. They just couldn't afford to pay Americans a fare wage. The implication here is that the migrant labor was not making a fare wage. It sounds like you take good care of your workers and run an efficient operation. If a farm can't afford to pay a fare wage to it's workers, then they can't continue to operate in a free market. If these farms are important to us, and I think agriculture is very important to our national security, then we need to look at a way to subsidize them like other countries do.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:32 am |
      • JackTaraz

        Mark, No, YOU missed the point. This Farmer, vet4life63, pays a living wage and gets ALL the legal workers he needs. He runs his farm the way it SHOULD be run. Government subsidies and ILLEGAL ALIEN workers are a recent issue, only 50-60 years now. America ran like a clock for over 250 years.

        July 10, 2012 at 12:46 am |
        • Mark

          Jack, read what I wrote again. I said this farmer is obviously doing things the right way. What you fail to see is that obviously not all farmers are able to do it like that. A lot them, as the article indicates, are reliant on cheap migrant labor. When that labor gets scared away, they have a hard time staying afloat because they can't afford to pay a fare wage. What you don't seem to grasp is that without subsidies, you would be eating a lot more Mexican produce than you currently do.

          July 10, 2012 at 1:07 am |
        • Mark

          By the way, Jack, that clock ran on slave labor for about 100 years, and the equivalent of slave labor in the south for around 100 years after that.

          July 10, 2012 at 1:10 am |
        • andrew

          that was before international trade. America manufactured electronics years ago, what about today. Republicans said freetrade was good, that it would create jobs. Freetrade across nations makes goods cheap and creates wealth for companies and shareholders that ship jobs abroad. how can an american farmer pay 10 dollars an hour if a farmer somewhere else pays 1 dollar an hour or less. eventually the American farmer cannot compete and will shut down his farm. He can only compete in crops that are not labor intensive and require machinary instead such as wheat and corn. The US dominates world corn production.

          July 10, 2012 at 1:47 am |
        • Shofar

          Andrew got it right. Vet4life63 has 3 US Citizen working for him. It is obvious that his operation is not Labor Intensive.

          July 10, 2012 at 4:36 am |
    • JackTaraz

      Thank you, Sir, for setting the truth out there.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  43. Ba4hire

    SO it's not that Americans will not do the work. It's really about companies and their never ending goal to profit off of dirt cheap or slave labor.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  44. shawbrooke

    If inmates do jobs that no one else wants, which is obvious since the farmers were using illegals before, and the inmates are paid going wages, that's a very good thing. Then the inmate may leave prison with enough money to get a home right away, such as first and last months rent and damage deposit. Having a home should cut recidivism and make it easier to get a job. All good.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • thatbalddude

      Your state may be different, but most states don't pay inmates "going wages." Washington state pays $2 a day, Colorado $.60 a day, and other states are in similar situations. Atop that, they likely have to pay restitution out of whatever they earn, too, so while you're hopeful and optimistic about an inmate's future, it's sadly not going to happen.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:07 am |
      • JackTaraz

        Unions are the cause of that. Lobbyists and Unions are killing our country. If inmates are paid just enough money to take the job, then they will be motivated. If the Unions hammer the Politicians to only pay $0.60 per hour, then it is harder to get them motivated. I have never been in prison. But, if I WAS, I would rather work at bringing in the crops, then sitting in a cell, rotting away. ALSO, Felons have a hard time getting jobs because of their record. They SHOULD be grateful for farm work. Three hots and a cot are better than re-offending and going back in. Drugs might be part of that problem. Not enough disposable income to buy drugs when working for farm wages.

        July 10, 2012 at 12:53 am |
        • thatbalddude

          Good points. I used to be a prison guard and even at sixty cents a day and no chance at overtime, inmates would volunteer for all kinds of extra work just to stay out of their cells. One of the things I'd like to see is that a cons record in prison be used in his favor when looking for a job. If he was a good worker and gave nobody any problems, that should count toward his evaluation. (Not holding my breath, though.) Still, if it gives a con a chance to get out and keep from re-offending, bring it on, regardless of wages.

          July 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • janet

      so if inmates do the work, the taxpayers are paying for them?

      July 10, 2012 at 1:03 am |
      • Shofar

        That is kind of how it sounds. To hire Inmmates at fair wage farmers need either to raise prices or get subsidies from the goverment. Since raising prices is not an option in an open market (You have to compete with foreing produce), then the subsidy is the other option. If the Federal Goverment gives a subsidy, then you can conclude that your tax money is been used to paid immates to work on someones else farm.

        July 10, 2012 at 4:46 am |
      • WHAT?

        Either way, taxpayers pay – always have. We're either allowing illegals to quietly work (farmers pay a small fine per person) or we're paying convicts through tax breaks and other social programs.

        July 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  45. BigTXPapa

    People who call this slavery and prisoners should just be allowed to serve their time are a bunch of fools. Criminals work now on furniture, license plates, and other jobs already. They need to pay for the housing, food, education, and workout access they get while incarcerated. Most prisons have wonderful education programs and taxpayers are already fronting the bills for these criminals to gain college educations while serving their time now. So frankly making them pay for all the above is the least they should do! They committed a crime, not suck it up and do the time! I hope they take this nationwide immediately.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  46. Charlie

    dang does that mean I might have to mow my own lawn?

    July 9, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  47. kamarasune

    Funny, I manage a full time job and I grow, and can enough to feed a family of four and two elderly for the year without exploiting cheap/slave labor on no more than 2 1/2 acres...Maybe its just time for everyone to get back to community and basics, Maybe its the cities that are not sustainable.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • Baa Weet

      they are growing for 10's of thousands,not a family of four.The unemployed will not work for them.they believe the work is too hard for the wages,and below them.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
      • JackTaraz

        Take away their Entitlements, Welfare, Food Stamps, etc. and watch them get motivated. FAST.

        July 10, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • slatabartfaster


      July 9, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Shofar

      Is your crop Labor Intensive? Apparently not, because you said you have a full time job. Some crops are different than others. This article is about those crops that are labor intensive, not those that can be hadled with machinery.

      July 10, 2012 at 4:50 am |
    • Shannon

      That reminds me – my family had a garden in our backyard for five years when I was a little girl and the whole family worked in it pulling weeds and picking vegetables. It was wonderful. I miss those days!!

      July 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  48. Charlie

    Funny, I am reading a lot Liberals complain about slave labor, and a lot of conservatives saying how good it is to give prisoners a job and help them be productive. But why am I not hearing from the conservatives any comments about more TAXPAYER funds going to corporate welfare? Paragraph 12, starting with the 42 year old Georgia native also mentions the prisoner to work program has the farmers being subsidized for the cost (probably part of the cost) of using prison labor. Shawshank redemption anyone? SO not only do the taxpayers pay to lockup the prisoners, now we also pay to have them work at a corporate owned farm.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Lila

      They get a break for hiring illegals too, no taxes, etc...Businesses seem to ALWAYS come out on top and the taxpayers pay for it.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
      • ElmerGantry

        Yep, it is called socializing the risk and privatizing the profit. What a deal.

        July 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  49. There. Are. No. Gods!

    Oh you have to love private institutions. Capitalism isn't just left to the businesses, it can also be applied to human slave labor in the penal system! God bless criminals for making the ultimate sacrifice!

    July 9, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  50. blessedgeek

    If this practice continues as a success, this will prompt the state of GA (and especially TX too), to increase the rate of convictions on relatively small infractions. Yes racially profile certain people whom they would rather see picking crops at cheap rates.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Mandor

      Avoidable if they have to pay prisoners the same wage as anyone else. Which... they would probably choke on and refuse to have as a law... but it remove much of the incentive to just throw people in the slammer purely for this.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Lila

      I understand your concern, but they also face a jury of their peers. Our incarceration rate is so high in this country, what are we doing wrong in this country raising our kids? They obviously don't think the laws apply to them, they keep breaking them. They are too good to pick crops but they can rob homes, steal cars and grow pot instead of taking pride in putting in an honest days work. It's hard to see inmates as victims but we as a society are doing something seriously wrong. There are too many of them.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Good Idea!

      I think it takes a real cynic to believe that they would purposely incarcerate folks just for cheap farm labor. And if they are going to, then they can start with illegal immigrants – how about that?! But seriously, this is a long time coming – we spend all this money jailing folks, when instead of "paying a debt to society" we are paying to give them 3 squares and shelter. I say put em to work!

      July 9, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
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