The Farmer's Daughter|
Our blog is written by Jennifer Shea, Dan and Cathy's oldest daughter. Jennifer is part of the 13th generation of Schoonmakers to work on Saunderskill Farm.
«Return to Main Blog Page
The Hands That Harvest
May 16, 2012
Could you imagine leaving your family for 7 months out of the year? The Puerto Ricans that live and work on our farm arrive here mid April and stay until Halloween. This is how they provide for their family and loved ones at home. Each week they send 90% of their income home to their wives and children. Currently there are 3 guys here working the fields, helping in the green houses and cutting asparagus. As more crops become available to harvest 3 more will arrive.
In 1946 the farm starting using migrant workers to help with the labor involved with running a farm. Originally there was a camp on Boice Mill Rd that in the peak of the season would house 350 Puerto Rican men looking for work. The farmers in the valley would drive to the camp every morning to pick up a crew of workers for the day. According to my Grandfather Saunderskill would employ 45 of these men for the summer, Davenports would employ 100. They were paid .40 an hour.
In the 60's some of the men that worked the farm every year were unhappy with the living conditions at the camp, they approached my Grandfather about renting a vacant house the farm owned on Tobacco Rd. He agreed and the boys lived there for quite some time. The men were happy to have a place of their own, although it was never inspected by the State or the Board of Health. My Grandfather recalls one night a man by the name of Jimmy fell down the stairs and broke his leg. After that the house was shut down which led to 3 trailers being placed on the farm in the 80's. There were 18 men living on premise. I remember hearing their Puerto Rican music playing when they got home from work, they were a lively group of guys. Once a summer they would have a pig roast, my cousins and I got a kick out this! They would roast a giant pig on a spicket all day, lay it out on a board on a picnic table and hack away at it with giant machetes. One of the older men always ate the tongue, the dogs would get the snout and 2 lucky guys would get to chew on the ears! ha ha ha we loved it! The men would lay out huge pans of rice and beans, salads and of course the pork. I still remember the smell of the pig and the crispness of the skin. They were a great group of guys, always laughing, singing and joking. Each after noon my Grandpa would take them to the Rondout Valley Grocers to get milk, beer, cigs, snacks etc. We would hop on the bus, usually in our bathing suites and take a ride. One of the men would always buy us an ice cream sandwich. They really enjoyed our company.
In the 90's Grandpa, Uncle David and Dad decided to put up some more permanent, more comfortable housing for the men. There are 3 houses with a large kitchen, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. They have laundry facility and directv. In the 90's is when the farm bought a corn picker, this brought the need for 18 men down to 9.
Today there are 6 men that work full time plus on the farm. They work everyday, with a paid day off every other week. They are picking corn at5 am and generally get done for the day around 5 pm. They are a wonderful group of guys. They are friends, relatives or neighbors of the men that came 50 years ago. They are the 4th generation of workers. The last few years with the stand opening I have had the chance to communicate with them more about their work. They take extreme pride in what they do. They are just as excited the 1st day of strawberry season as we are and equally disappointed when something spoils a crop.
This past year when Irene hit, our family was stranded at the farm (with the exception of Dad and Ryan who were stranded at Saunderskill). When the rain finally stopped and the sun started to shine we all ventured out of our homes to see the surrounding damage. The farm is surrounded on 3 sides by the Rondout Creek, we walked down by the water to see how high it was, we were not expecting to see pumpkins floating down the Rondout. We were so heart broken knowing there would be no pumpkins to harvest. Our paths crossed with the men who were also out walking around. They had seen the pumpkins and were just as upset maybe even more than we were. They were so concerned about the farm and what would happen. It was that day I realized that it is more than a job to them. They love the farm as if it was there own. They take such pride in their work and the outcome of the crops. The boys went home early, about 4 weeks early due to lack of work. I keep in touch with one of the boys, Pedro on Facebook, whenever I posted something on my personal account or Saunderskill's page about the upcoming growing season, he would always say "I am praying for a better year".