|Rafa with Iceberg|
The H2A is a special agricultural visa that allows Mexican farmers to journey to our farm for the growing season and return home for the winter. We are fortunate to have many referrals of friends and family from our longtime seasonal H2A workers and this is how we met the Morales Peralta family. We are fortunate to have such a smart, energetic and friendly family working with us!
|Jenny, Ramon, Vicente, Manuel|
We first met Manuel Morales Peralta in the spring of 2009, when he arrived to work at our farm with his first H2A visa. The third child in a family of 4 boys and 4 girls, Manuel kicked ass his first year! He came to us with tractor skills, a twinkle in his eye, and a beautiful singing voice. We trained him in on irrigation and he helped Vicente keep all the fields well watered. Since then, he’s become an integral part of the harvest crew and our primary salad planter. You have him to thank for the contents of your bagged mixed greens! Just by watching and assisting our previous salad planter, he has learned quickly how to operate the machine at the proper pace and settings, and the plantings improved once he took over. Because of his experience on the harvest crew, planting accuracy has increased. For instance, from his years bunching cilantro, he knows that we plant it in five rows and that is how he does it. If you plant it in 15 rows, your plants can’t thrive and you get a poor stand, meaning no cilantro! He is rightly & justifiably proud of the most recent salad plantings – the fields are brightly colored, vibrant and with extremely straight rows!
Manuel’s little brother Rafael is so pretty. Andrea and I wish we had his skin and sculpted eyebrows. Last year he was going for the Mexican Amish look, but this year he’s gone 1985 preppy! He can pull off either look, let me tell you. His first season with us (2010), his housemates convinced him to be their cook every night of the week – that is how good he is! Chef Katie worked side by side with him at last year’s farm parties, learning his techniques for salsas (sauces) and goat/pig preparation. Along with Angel, he built our new underground oven for pig & goat roasts.
Rafa really likes learning new skills and is not afraid to ask for new, different and more work. Like his brothers, he is mechanically inclined and quite clever. After a frustrating season of crop losses due to bugs, pests and uncontrolled disease, Rafa took over our spraying program. We use organically approved products to protect plants from disease and attempt to control flea beetles during vulnerable parts of the season, and Richard has been able to rely on Rafa to defend the fields with the sprayer. Rafa maintains the equipment, fixes it as needed and figures out the formulas for mixing the sprayer solutions. Again, because of his experience on the harvest crew, he has an intimate knowledge of the plants and fields. While he is out in the field, he does “scouting” for Richard, looking for worms and bugs and fields that need his attention. Then Richard can hand him a map with the acreage of that crop and Rafa can figure out how many gallons of solution to make for that job. Just like his brothers, he takes pride in finishing the job, doing it well and then moving on to the next task. There is very little wasted time with these guys!
|Manuel, aka Caleman|
Alvaro is the latest addition to our family, from theirs. One year older than Rafa & several younger than Manuel, he had worked previously in Mexico and the U.S. with horses and other animals. He is a skilled horse trainer and wise guy. Even though this is only his first year here at our farm, because of his excellent English language skills, great attitude and mechanical aptitude, Richard has been able to train Alvaro in on a number of new jobs and make him crew leader.
The three brothers work well together and have done a great job taking over the FMC harvest duties. The FMC is a root harvesting machine that takes 3 skilled operators: Two tractor drivers that have to stay in sync, driving alongside the harvest bin on a trailer, keeping it under the harvest elevator, operated by the third man. Besides watching the steering cylinder and making other adjustments, you have to watch your speed and turn the elevator on and off appropriately. Richard has seen people struggle to learn all the techniques and learn the subtleties of this machine, but Rafa learned fast. With confidence, he can grease and maintain the machine and fix it in the field if it breaks down. With finesse and skill, he can get those first 4-5 feet of harvest rather than driving over it as he gets properly lined up.
|Rafael, selecting discs|
As with our other H2A employees, these guys have a desire to do things right and to please us, their employers. They want to learn everything about working at the farm and they say they want to work here the rest of their lives. Besides a great work ethic, they have proven to be consistent and more than willing and able to do hard physical work. Once when the FMC was broken down, the harvest crew challenged themselves to do the job faster than a machine would – and they did!
The Morales brothers are family men. We had expected to see Alvaro in 2010, but he decided to stay home and help his family from Mexico while one of their sisters was seriously ill. They each have a wife at home, raising the children and keeping the home fires burning, until Papa gets back home from work – in 6-7 months! It takes a lot of motivation to leave your family for half the year, but they do it to build better lives for themselves and their extended families. But they have certainly enriched our lives while they are here in the U.S., and we all certainly would not be eating as well without their efforts in the fields.