June 10, 2007


Fewer peaches, fewer workers in Georgia: Frost killed nearly 80% of the state's crop. One town faces a summer without its annual influx of Latino laborers. (Jenny Jarvie, June 10, 2007, LA Times)

[I]n Fort Valley, the county seat of Peach County, few of the 8,000 residents got to know these Latino workers. Many came here every summer for the last nine years but made few connections: They lived on government-approved camps, did not own cars and spoke little English.

Still, their absence is felt.

"I used to look forward to Friday nights" when school buses brought hundreds of farm workers to Food Depot, said manager Allen Buchanan. After jostling in a produce aisle, they lined up to hand their hard-earned dollar bills to a row of cashiers.

A few buses still come, but the store is making about $25,000 a week less than it expected.

"Take away 500 workers and it has a huge impact on a town of 8,000 people," said James Khoury, 58, owner of Khoury's Fine Clothing and chairman of the Peach County Board of Commissioners. "People say they send all their money back home, but they have to eat and they have to buy clothes."

The tiny taco stands, bakeries and ice cream stores that cater mostly to Latinos — 4% of the town's year-round population — are especially feeling the pinch.

Perhaps no one is more disheartened than Eudoxia Garcia, 40, who two months ago fulfilled her longtime dream of opening Panaderia, a bakery in a tiny brick building on Main Street.

Garcia figured her sweet concoctions would be something everyone would enjoy, but with the drastic drop in the number of temporary Mexican workers, she has not sold many pineapple empanadas or strawberry yoyos. Already, she has cut the price of a bag of 11 pastries from $8 to $6 and plans to introduce American-style products such as cheesecake and cupcakes.

"People keep telling me not to close," she said with a wan smile. "I'm trying to stay positive."

Emma Barragan, who runs a taco stand at Lane Packing Co., has seen her weekly earnings plummet from about $400 to $90. At 12:15 on a recent weekday, just two men waited for lunch outside her bright-orange concrete shack festooned with Budweiser and Miller Lite signs.

The freeze caused $258 million in damage to Georgia crops, with a $28.1-million loss of peaches. It was not the most damaging freeze — Georgia farms lost almost all their peaches in 1955 — but it is the first involving H-2 guest workers.

Georgia's peach industry took off after the Civil War, when the emancipation of slaves caused farmers to diversify and rely less on cotton. For much of the last century, young African Americans picked peaches while young whites worked in the packing sheds.

But now the region's economy has diversified, and workers from Mexico are counted on to do those jobs.

It's the sort of dying economy the nativists prefer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2007 10:21 AM

No we don't. But if something isn't done about global cooling, we won't have to deport as many Mexicans as we thought

Posted by: JimBobElrod at June 10, 2007 10:35 AM

It's Bush's fault.

Posted by: erp at June 10, 2007 12:25 PM

A guest worker is like a guest burglar.

If either one shows up in my living room at 03:00, I'll ask "...habla Smith & Wesson ? "

Posted by: John J. Coupal at June 10, 2007 6:11 PM

The notion that they're coming to get you in your bedroom is delusional, but par for the course.

Posted by: oj at June 10, 2007 6:23 PM

While I understand their travails, I'm not sure what the difference would be if they had relied on American workers rather than Mexican workers. Because of the frost, there would be the same economic problems if the workers came from Mars - they'd be sent back home, tears streaming from their eyestalks, and the town wouldn't sell as much tasty polystyrene pellets this year.

And if there had not been a frost, but for some reason fewer Mexicans came to work there, would the jobs just remain empty, or would the people recall what they did "for much of the last century" and just hire more Americans to fill out the roster?

Posted by: Just John at June 11, 2007 3:13 AM

Empty, as the towns would be, and we'd import more peaches. You guys want to destroy the village to save it.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 6:17 AM

why do we need to import workers into the USA to work when we have citizens living here that are paid by the federal government to stay home and do nothing... i pray for more frost !

Posted by: jerry at June 22, 2007 6:21 PM

Because the natives are shiftless.

Posted by: oj at June 22, 2007 7:03 PM