For almost a decade, Mitchell Baalman, a farmer in the northwest Kansas community of Hoxie, has been welcoming H2A workers from South Africa to his farm, FDK Partnership. What started with a goal of bringing in help for more basic tasks has evovled into a full-year rotation of several key staff that fulfill more "technical and high-level roles," according to Baalman.
When I asked Mitchell about the value of his foreign helpers, he was quick to point out the following:
- Their experience and abilities with equipment and technology: They come to the US with some experience and are quick to learn new systems and jobs on the farm, transitioning into some of the most trusted positions.
- Their work ethic: They want to work hard and do well.
- Their cultural integration: They participate in building the team, they join in birthday parties and other social and family functions, and they hang out with the group.
As a testament to their importance, Baalman has even hired some family members of long-time workers from South Africa. "They're now part of our family," he told me.
In his article, Bill menitons the Biblical notion of sharing the fruit of the harvest. While there is a definate economic and charitable component to that directive, there is also be a cultural one. "Sharing" implies a togetherness, a membership between the foreigner and native, a bonding of people to one another through contribution. After our basic needs are met, all of us want to be part of something bigger than ourselves and to feel fulfilled. Mitchell's approach, like many of those we know in agriculture, takes the notion of "sharing" to just such a level. In this case, the person from overseas becomes part of our team, our family.