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Monday, September 22, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 8/11/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

APPRECIATION DAY

Farmworkers get respite, but not from worry

Crop woes, scant work weigh heavy at annual Fremont event

BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Eugenio Mollo, left, chats with Francisco Espinoza during the event. Mr. Mollo is vice chairman and Mr. Espinoza is chairman of the Farmworker Agencies Liaison Communication and Outreach Network, which sponsored the appreciation day. Eugenio Mollo, left, chats with Francisco Espinoza during the event. Mr. Mollo is vice chairman and Mr. Espinoza is chairman of the Farmworker Agencies Liaison Communication and Outreach Network, which sponsored the appreciation day.
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FREMONT — From a distance, Cresciano Antonio watched his wife and children gathered at picnic tables eating and laughing, enjoying a rare Saturday break from picking crops in northwest Ohio.

He was glad they were enjoying themselves, but there was sadness in his eyes and concern in his voice. Mr. Antonio’s family members are farmworkers and they depend on picking crops for a living, but heavy rains in Ohio this growing season have devastated some crops, such as cucumbers and pickles.

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“It’s very low, very little this year,” said Mr. Antonio, 40, who normally lives in Florida. “The weather is very cold too, so crops aren’t growing. If we can’t work, we can’t make any money. I’m very worried. I don’t know if we can make enough money to live on this year.”

That concern was echoed by many of the hundreds of farmworkers who attended Farmworker Appreciation Day on Saturday at Walsh Park in Fremont. The event featured free food, live music performances, children’s games, prizes, and theater performance skits that included audience participation. The 23rd annual event was sponsored by the Toledo-based Farmworker Agencies Liaison Communication and Outreach Network.

Francisco Espinoza, program coordinator for the outreach network, said the annual event usually attracts more than 500 farmworkers. More than 300 attended this year’s event, but the lower number was expected because many migrants have left Ohio because of a lack of work this summer, he said.

Mr. Antonio and his family — his wife and their six children — have been in northwest Ohio since June 30. To keep his family fed, he has scrambled to find other ways to make money. “I try to do mechanic work on the side,”he said. “I try to find any work, really.”

In a couple more weeks, chili pepper harvesting begins, followed by pumpkins, and Mr. Antonio hopes to make up lost financial ground. After that the family will return to Florida, where it will pick strawberries until March. The family cannot afford any more financial setbacks, he admits.

Robert Torres, left, watches as Gavin Mejia, 2, of Fremont, tries his hand at golf. The game was one of many activities offered. Live music by local bands and theater performances also were part of the mix. Robert Torres, left, watches as Gavin Mejia, 2, of Fremont, tries his hand at golf. The game was one of many activities offered. Live music by local bands and theater performances also were part of the mix.
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The danger is that many farmworkers might decide not to return to Ohio because they might figure other states offer better work opportunities, Mr. Espinoza said. It’s important that farmers and migrant advocates encourage them to return, he said.

Fremont Mayor Jim Ellis did just that. At the event, Mayor Ellis not only thanked farmworkers, he emphasized their importance to the northwest Ohio economy. Prior to his speech, Mayor Ellis said he also was concerned about crop conditions this summer, but expressed optimism Ohio’s agriculture would rebound.

The focus of the event was celebration and optimism. Local bands Alianza Latina and Los Superiores prompted many in the audience to start dancing, with men issuing “gritos” (shouts of excitement) under the park pavilion. Mariachi singer Carlos Ochoa had many women swooning at their tables.

A group of farmworker advocates entertained by re-enacting “El Teatro Campesino,” a theatrical troupe founded in 1965 that traveled throughout the country and used skits to educate farmworkers about their rights and often included Mexican folk humor.

Many women farmworkers and young children arrived for the event at noon. But many of the men worked all morning and arrived about 2 p.m.

Teachers Malinda Meadows, left, and Euler Hernandez, both of Fremont, dance to the music of Alianza Latina during the farmworker appreciation event. Teachers Malinda Meadows, left, and Euler Hernandez, both of Fremont, dance to the music of Alianza Latina during the farmworker appreciation event.
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Fernando Antonio, 18, arrived late with his father, Mr. Antonio, because they had been picking pickles since 6:30 a.m. On normal days, they would work until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Fernando Antonio was glad to be at the park — he hates harvesting pickles, one of the hardest crops to pick. “Your back hurts because you’re bending over all day,” he said. “You have to wear long-sleeved shirts and thick gloves or the thorns will cut you; it gets very hot. Carrying the buckets around your neck all day gets heavy."

The younger Mr. Antonio is set to graduate from high school next spring. He dreams of going to college and becoming a professional soccer player, but admits he has no idea how to apply for college.

His cousin Erika Antonio, 17, faces a similar dilemma. She’ll be graduating soon, but isn’t sure what will happen then. She seems stunned when asked what she’d like to be doing 10 years from now. After several long seconds of silence, she admits she’s never thought about it because being a farmworker is all she has known.

And then she says: “Ten years from now? I don’t know. I just don’t want to be in the fields anymore.”

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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