Appalling conditions exposed at farmworker camps

South of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota farm workers harvest fruits and vegetables for some of the largest processors in the U.S., including Seneca Foods and Lakeside Foods. The food shows up in supermarkets under Green Giant, Birds Eye, and other labels.

In Montgomery, many workers live in the labor camp next to the Seneca Foods plant. Eight years ago, Centro Campesino, Minnesota’s center for farm workers, helped Seneca workers force the company to provide better housing, and a kitchen where they could cook food. Before that, workers had to use the county park. In Faribault, Lakeside Foods has another big labor camp. There, Centro Campesino helped workers win a child-care center. Nevertheless, in both camps, privacy is at a premium, especially in bathrooms.

Other farm workers in the area live in trailer parks. Some in Montgomery say the rent on the trailers in one park doubles when the picking season begins and the workers arrive. In Faribault, immigration agents have held the workers prisoner in another trailer park, while they pounded on doors demanding papers.

It’s hard to make ends meet for many trailer residents, many of whom come from Veracruz. Francisco Romero digs in his garden during his time off, and then puts in long hours in a local meatpacking plant. Patricia Vasquez has a hard time getting enough hours in the small factory where she works, and worries about whether her daughter Karen will be able to go on to college when she graduates from high school.

Centro Campesino organizes the workers in the trailer parks, according to its director Ernesto Velez, a native of Morelos. He says they’ve protested discrimination in towns like Owatonna, Montgomery, and Faribault. The center also administers a college access program designed to help the children of farm workers and immigrants get into college.

Photo: David Bacon/PW



David Bacon
David Bacon

David Bacon is a California-based photojournalist. See his website for more of his work.