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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Florida Mainly Spared From Freeze

Looks like most of the Florida industry dodged a bullet:

“Mother Nature cut us a break this time and now we can continue to produce the quality citrus crop Florida is known for,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of grower advocacy group Florida Citrus Mutual.

Temperatures were not below freezing for long enough to cause widespread damage to Florida’s citrus trees, the group said. In fact, the cold could benefit some growers because it slows down growth and hardens up citrus trees…

The early looks indicated that damage to most crops would be isolated and “not as bad as it could have been,” said Terry McElroy, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

McElroy said most of the crops growing in north Florida can withstand cold snaps and were probably not damaged in the freeze. But it may be days before some farmers know for sure how much they have lost.

And other areas look OK as well:

In Louisiana, strawberry farmers covered their crops with material in an attempt to protect them. Peach farmers, however, welcomed the cold, which they say benefits their fruit trees during their period of dormancy.

”The more cold weather we have, the better,” said Joe Mitchum, a peach grower outside Ruston, Louisiana.

You can read the whole story and see a nice collection of photos here.




The Dallas Morning News
Illegal-Immigrant Article
Sparks Further Debate On Issue

A hat tip to John McClung, President and CEO of the Texas Produce Association. He sent along this thoughtful editorial from The Dallas Morning News. The newspaper has named “The Illegal Immigrant” as The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

As John accurately characterized it, the piece is “worth reading, wherever you are on the issue of illegal immigration.”

2007 DMN Texan of the Year:
The Illegal Immigrant

He is at the heart of a great culture war in Texas — and the nation, credited with bringing us prosperity and blamed for abusing our resources. How should we deal with this stranger among us?

He breaks the law by his very presence. He hustles to do hard work many Americans won’t, at least not at the low wages he accepts. The American consumer economy depends on him. America as we have known it for generations may not survive him.

We can’t seem to live with him and his family, and if we can live without him, nobody’s figured out how. He’s the Illegal Immigrant, and he’s the 2007 The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year — for better or for worse.

Given the public mood, there seems to be little middle ground in debate over illegal immigrants. Spectacular fights over their presence broke out across Texas this year, adding to the national pressure cooker as only Texas can.

To their champions, illegal immigrants are decent, hardworking people who, like generations of European immigrants before them, just want to do better for their families and who contribute to America’s prosperity. They must endure hatred and abuse by those of us who want the benefits of cheap labor but not the presence of illegal immigrants.

Especially here in Texas, his strong back and willing heart help form the cornerstone of our daily lives, in ways that many of us do not, or will not, see. The illegal immigrant is the waiter serving margaritas at our restaurant table, the cook preparing our enchiladas. He works grueling hours at a meatpacking plant, carving up carcasses of cattle for our barbecue (he also picks the lettuce for our burgers). He builds our houses and cuts our grass. She cleans our homes and takes care of our children.

Yet to those who want them sent home, illegal immigrants are essentially lawbreakers who violate the nation’s borders. They use public resources — schools, hospitals — to which they aren’t entitled and expect to be served in a foreign language. They’re rapidly changing Texas neighborhoods, cities and culture, and not always for the better. Those who object get tagged as racists.

Whatever and whoever else the illegal immigrant is, everybody has felt the tidal wave of his presence. According to an analysis of government data by the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, Texas’ immigrant population has jumped a whopping 32.7 percent since 2000, a period in which immigration to the United States has exceeded, in sheer numbers, all previous historical eras. Half the immigrants in the state — 7 percent of all Texans — are estimated to be here illegally.

Though many would agree that the status quo cannot be sustained — more illegal immigrants arrive each year than legal ones, a sure sign that the system is a joke — neither Texas nor the nation seemed nearer in 2007 to resolving this complex crisis. We can’t deport 12 million people who already live here, but we can’t leave our back door open indefinitely. Compromise comes hard because the issue is tangled up with the most basic aspects of everyday life, down to the core of what it means to be American.

This essay cannot put a name or a face to an illegal immigrant, because that would subject him to possible deportation. Because he lives underground, the illegal immigrant becomes, in our rancorous debate, less a complex human being and more a blank screen upon which both sides can project their hopes and fears.

If illegal immigration were an easy problem to fix, the nation wouldn’t be at an impasse. In the current atmosphere, it seems, reason doesn’t stand a chance of digging us out. Ask Irving Mayor Herb Gears, a man once denounced by anti-immigration activists for running what they called a “sanctuary city.” He then found himself targeted by Hispanics because of the city’s participation in a federal deportation program.

“One week I’m a traitor, the next week I’m a patriot,” laments Mr. Gears.

The mayor says he just wants to respect both people, and the law. His exasperated manner seems to ask, Why can’t you do both? Good question.

The economy

If there are jobs in America, Latino immigrants will come, no matter the risk. And why not? They may be at the bottom of the economic ladder here, but they’re making about four times, on average, what they could back home.

Antonio, a waiter at a North Texas restaurant, was an accountant in Mexico. He and his wife thought they could make more money in Texas, so they came illegally.

“In the time I’ve been here, this country has been very good to me. I am a responsible person. I pay my taxes. I pay my bills on time — utilities, mortgage. I pay federal taxes, too,” he says.

Antonio resented any suggestion that he should consider returning home or that illegal immigrants don’t belong here. He seemed to regard his presence here as exercising a right.

Workers like him find support among business owners — especially in Texas industries dependent on unskilled immigrants, like agriculture and construction. They say that without those workers, they couldn’t survive.

Marty owns a North Texas construction company. He has come to view American workers as undependable, lazy and arrogant, while he finds illegal immigrants motivated and reliable.

“I’d rather employ them than Americans,” he confides. “In my line of work, I need the Mexicans, and I am for them being here. I need them because I can’t find anybody else to do the work.”(Both Antonio and Marty asked that their last names not be disclosed to prevent repercussions.)

The importance of immigrant labor to Texas was underscored this year with formation of a new political alliance — big business and the Legislature’s Mexican-American caucus. They threatened to cripple the lawmaking machinery if legislative leaders allowed a slate of “anti-immigrant” bills to advance. The tactic worked.

It’s unclear from the data whether illegal immigration is a plus or minus for the nation’s economy overall. Harvard economist George Borjas reports that it’s more or less a wash. On close inspection, Dr. Borjas, a leading expert in the field, found that immigration’s financial benefits accrue to those at the upper end of the economic scale, who can buy labor and its fruits at a lower cost, at the expense of those Americans at the lower end, whose wages go down.

“There is no such thing as a job that natives won’t do,” Dr. Borjas, an immigrant from Cuba, wrote last year. “Instead, there are jobs that natives aren’t willing to do at the going wage.”

The state comptroller’s office had a different take on Texas, reporting in 2005 that illegal immigrants provided a net economic boost of nearly $18 billion that year. While state government took in more taxes from illegal immigrants than it paid out in services for them, the comptroller said, the opposite was true for Texas’ local governments.

Nationally, a Congressional Budget Office report released this month said illegal immigrants cost more in tax dollars than they provide, especially in the areas of education, law enforcement and health. Indeed, 70 percent of babies born in Dallas’ Parkland Hospital in the first three months of 2006 were to illegal immigrant mothers. Taxpayers spend tens of millions of dollars annually subsidizing births in that one hospital.

Texas schools are filling up with students classified as of limited-English proficiency, many of whose parents came here illegally. The number has reached more than 30 percent of Dallas students, 36 percent in Irving and 16 percent statewide.

Hispanic immigrants are more likely to be poor, but they don’t stay that way. The Hispanic poverty rate has dropped 30 percent since 1994, census data show. At 20.6 percent, that’s significantly above the national average of 12.8 percent. But Latinos are undeniably upwardly mobile. Besides, if you want to see what happens when Latinos leave, look at the business losses in Irving since the city’s role in the federal deportation program sent a chill through the Hispanic community.

Politics

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, when asked what his constituents were talking about, said, “Immigration, immigration, immigration.” GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee, born again as an immigration hard-liner, told The New Yorker this month that wherever he campaigns, immigration is the first thing voters ask about. “It’s just red hot,” he says, “and I don’t fully understand it.”

John McCain does. Voters are worried, he told the magazine, that illegal immigrants make a mockery of law and the idea of sovereign borders, as well as upset social norms.

“They see this as an assault on their culture, what they view as an impact on what have been their traditions,” Mr. McCain says. “It’s become larger than just the fact that we need to enforce our borders.”

Once the GOP favorite to win the nomination, the Arizona senator set back his campaign this summer by supporting President Bush’s call for comprehensive immigration reform.

A revolt at the grassroots scuttled that plan in Congress.

Democrats have felt the political whiplash, too. Hillary Clinton, for one, abandoned her support of a New York proposal to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Most other Democratic presidential candidates fell in line with her.

The political tap dance is trickier in Texas, owing to the 1,300-mile border with Mexico and community ties across the divide. Many local officials bitterly objected to Congress’ plan to fence off long stretches of the Rio Grande. Gov. Rick Perry ultimately said “boots on the ground” and not a hard barrier was the answer to keeping out illegal immigrants. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn put forth a measure to ease up on mandatory double fencing if locals have better options.

At the local level, Farmers Branch voters this year approved a local ban on renting to illegal aliens, a move later blocked in court. Despite accusations of racism (“They are so prejudiced, but they don’t want to face it,” local business owner Elizabeth Villafranca says), and despite the judge’s order, City Council member Tim O’Hare was defiant at year’s end. Says Mr. O’Hare, “I only wish we had done this earlier.”

Culture

It’s easy to say, as many immigrant advocates do, that opposition to illegal immigration derives from racist sentiment, because that’s undeniably part of the mix. But the culture clash is a lot more complicated.

Illegal Hispanic immigrants are usually Third World peasants who have moved to the First World. They go from a country with sharp class divisions to a middle-class society.

In earlier waves of immigrants, millions of new arrivals left processing at New York’s Ellis Island with the expectation that they would adapt fully and deliberately to American norms — the melting pot, rather than the salad bowl. The post-1960s movement toward multiculturalism has made the nation more tolerant of ethnic and cultural differences, but it has also lessened the impetus for immigrants to conform.

“Mexico is radically, substantively, ferociously different from the United States,” Jorge Castañeda, formerly Mexico’s foreign minister, observed in 1995. It was a period of turmoil, with NAFTA newly inaugurated, a rural uprising in Chiapas and a growing gulf between social classes.

He described Mexicans trying to embrace an American-style work ethic, while others remained glued to a “mañana” view of life, reinforced by low pay, low self-esteem and an inability to penetrate Mexico’s rigid class system. Many Mexicans lost hope and sought a better life in America.

Rural Mexicans have dominated the migrant wave, bringing a country-style sense of time and priorities. For Americans, a transfer of Mexican rural culture to our neighborhoods leaves many feeling overwhelmed. The fear of cultural overload is manifested in sights like Spanish-language billboards or large quinceañera parties in public parks. Schoolteachers find it incomprehensible that, for some reason, immigrant students often disappear for days and suddenly return with the expectation that the teacher should catch them up.

“Certain Mexicans can subscribe to a series of rules, from traffic regulations to work discipline and punctuality; others can decide, consciously or otherwise, that they prefer not to,” Dr. Castañeda wrote.

Illegal immigration exacerbates the natural tension in American society by injecting more change than can be absorbed — and by defying laws designed to control the rate of change. When immigration restrictionists protest defiance of “law and order,” they reveal anger at the cultural revolution Latino immigrants bring — a revolution many U.S. citizens feel powerless to stop.

Identity

Harvard’s Samuel Huntington, one of America’s most eminent political scientists — and a liberal one — has argued that the immigration wave stands as “the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America’s traditional identity.”

In his 2004 book Who Are We?, Dr. Huntington identified several factors that set current Hispanic immigration apart from previous episodes in U.S. history.

Most immigrants are Latino and come over a border, not an ocean. Roughly half of these are illegal. Assimilation is slower, writes Dr. Huntington, because the immigrants “remain in intimate contact with their families, friends and home localities in Mexico as no other immigrants have been able to do.”

The scale is unmatched, he argues. Since 2000, more immigrants (10.3 million) have arrived in America than in any other seven-year period, according to the Center for Immigration Studies’ recent analysis of census data. And in contrast to previous waves of immigration, this one shows no signs of letting up, according to Dr. Huntington.

Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Some of Dr. Huntington’s critics point out that the rate of immigration (as distinct from sheer numbers) is not as high now as in previous eras, which ended with successful assimilation of foreign-born populations. Besides, though the current immigration flow shows no signs of abating, the Mexican GDP is growing and the national fertility rate has plummeted by almost two-thirds since 1970. That birth rate is nearing the level at which Mexico would need to retain workers for its own economy, thereby shutting off the spigot of immigration into the U.S.

As for assimilation, Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, points to social-science data indicating that Hispanic immigrants are, in fact, assimilating as fast as immigrants of previous generations. They learn English quickly, and, once they acquire proficiency, they adopt American cultural attitudes.

One other observation of Dr. Huntington’s has particular resonance in Texas: The current wave of immigrants has had disproportionate impact on the Southwest. And as the majority of them are from Mexico, they are now settled in areas that used to belong to their ancestors.

Attempts to draw a sharp line between mainstream “Anglo” (for lack of a better term) culture and Hispanic culture is a distortion of the reality we live with in much of Texas, and always have. The border between the two Texan cultures is as porous as the border between Texas and Mexico, which is one reason why our experience with immigration differs from much of America’s.

Texas culture reflects the long list of towns with Spanish names. What’s more, in a great swath along the border, most cities are run by those with Spanish surnames, too. Today’s immigration wave has carried a different version of Hispanic culture to Dallas and other major population centers. And in this increasingly urbanized state, the dominant Anglo culture has felt a rub like never before.

Though towns and cities nationwide have felt the rub, too, it hasn’t been on the Texas scale. Leaders in Farmers Branch and Irving were reacting to complaints of runaway community transformation brought on by illegal arrivals.

As 2007 began, the isolated Texas Panhandle town of Cactus was still reeling from the arrests of nearly 300 people at the local Swift & Co. meat-processing plant, the community’s economic lifeblood. Dozens of Mexicans and Guatemalans were prosecuted this year for using stolen Social Security numbers to work at the plant.

The town had come to resemble a kind of renegade outpost of illegal immigrants that wouldn’t exist in non-border states.

The future

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and history and geography guarantee that the immigration problem is no different. And many issues are flaring sooner here. What Cactus, Irving and Farmers Branch are dealing with today, the rest of America may be dealing with tomorrow. Texas, which will be majority Hispanic by 2020, and the nation face an unprecedented challenge that we can’t dismiss with gauzy platitudes, nor defer meeting indefinitely.

How Texas — and, by extension, the rest of America — reacts will be unlike how previous generations handled immigration, given how the nation has changed since the 1960s. Fair or not, core American culture and values have become a popular punching bag. Some have cheered that as refining the American character by embracing diversity, inclusiveness and empowerment of ethnic and other minorities. Others worry that America risks losing itself in the process, especially if it gives up on securing the borders.

Historians say that the distinctly American democratic and middle-class ideals grew out of a specific cultural tradition — the Anglo-Protestant. Changed slowly over time by immigrants from the world over, it’s now challenged by a strong competing culture.

If critics are correct, we could be seeing the advent of the kind of fractiousness that bedevils public life in Canada and other nations where peoples who speak different languages, and come from different cultural backgrounds, live together only with mutual suspicion and unease.

On the other hand, perhaps the alarmists are wrong. Maybe these ambitious, hard-working immigrants, whatever their documentation, will write the next great chapter of a story that’s still deeply American, though with a different accent. If the optimists are right, much work remains to be done to incorporate all immigrants fully into new cultural traditions.

We end 2007 no closer to compromise on the issue than when the year began. People waging a culture war — and that’s what the struggle over illegal immigration is — don’t give up easily. What you think of the illegal immigrant says a lot about what you think of America, and what vision of her you are willing to defend. How we deal with the stranger among us says not only who we Americans are today but determines who we will become tomorrow.

As we begin 2008 this is a particularly important piece because immigration is one of the great unsettled issues for the industry and the country.

Although the industry has been well represented as our associations have battled to pass AgJOBS, the bill has not passed. The reason is that trade associations typically lobby by pointing out to the powers that be the importance of a given proposal to an industry.

This is normally quite effective, and points to how our democracy often operates. If Wisconsin becomes a battleground state, you can expect to see Presidential candidates standing in front of barns on dairy farms promising to raise milk price supports. You might think that it would not be smart of politicians to be seen as looking to raise the price of milk for everyone just before an election — but you would be wrong.

The 300 million people who will pay higher prices will pay only a pittance each. Not enough to bother following the issue. They will neither know, nor care, who raised their milk cost by a nickel a day.

The dairy farmers, few in number, will receive an enormous benefit — billions of dollars over the course of the year divided by America’s dairy farmers. They will track the issue and support on the issue can bring an important constituency in line — bring votes, money and organizational heft to a candidate.

This recipe of highly diffused costs and highly concentrated benefits is really what most special interest legislation is about.

In order for the method to work, though, you typically need an issue that doesn’t interest most people — such as milk price supports. Immigration, though, is a high saliency issue and politicians can’t really act solely to win support of an interest group.

So, the produce industry lobbying effort — remarkably successful in that they got most of their points into the “great compromise” bill that was almost passed — is simply not able to address the points being made by the forces that defeated the great compromise.

The Dallas Morning News piece raises many of these issues:

Yet to those who want them sent home, illegal immigrants are essentially lawbreakers who violate the nation’s borders.

This strikes at a crucial point. For many Americans illegal means, well, illegal. Issues such as whether we should give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens strike many Americans as odd. They assume that if an “illegal” walks into a government-run license bureau and the government employee at the counter realizes that the person is “illegal” — they should hit a button and State Troopers or Federal Marshalls should burst out and arrest the person. Giving a person a driver’s license seems like a subversion of democracy. What is the point of having an immigration law if a known violator is not punished?

This also strikes at the real reason no compromise has been reached on this issue. We have an immigration law now, it is not enforced — what possible reason is there to believe that some other immigration law will be enforced? And if it won’t be enforced, how can the differing sides make a deal?

Marty owns a North Texas construction company. He has come to view American workers as undependable, lazy and arrogant, while he finds illegal immigrants motivated and reliable.

“I’d rather employ them than Americans,” he confides. “In my line of work, I need the Mexicans, and I am for them being here. I need them because I can’t find anybody else to do the work.”

The business interests on immigration often sound like Marty. They come across as self-serving. That is a shame because the issue is really quite different. What Marty means is that if he hired Americans to do the work, in order to avoid hiring the lowest of the low, the “undependable, lazy and arrogant,” he would need to guarantee 52-week employment, offer health insurance and a pension plan, give paid vacation, etc. The cost of building a home would increase by, perhaps, 30%. And, of course, he couldn’t do it at all unless we forced all his competitors to do it. Otherwise he would just be uncompetitive and go out of business.

“There is no such thing as a job that natives won’t do,” Dr. Borjas, an immigrant from Cuba, wrote last year. “Instead, there are jobs that natives aren’t willing to do at the going wage.”

Some of our strategies seem to avoid facing this issue. When we trot out farmers with those dramatic photos of unpicked crops, and hear farmers complain of no labor — we should always accompany those presentations with books showing the steps the farmers took to solicit labor. Otherwise it comes across as if we are just unwilling to pay a wage that will entice people to do this work.

70 percent of babies born in Dallas’ Parkland Hospital in the first three months of 2006 were to illegal immigrant mothers. Taxpayers spend tens of millions of dollars annually subsidizing births in that one hospital.

There have been many studies attempting to determine if immigrants are contributors or detractors from the nation’s economy. Yet statistics such as this explain a lot of the anger against illegal immigrants. Even if it all works out in the end, these are specific expenditures imposed involuntarily on a community. It is bound to bring about anger. One of the weaknesses of the industry’s immigration proposals is that we have never offered a structure that guarantees that the public will not wind up footing the bill for our employees.

Texas schools are filling up with students classified as of limited-English proficiency, many of whose parents came here illegally. The number has reached more than 30 percent of Dallas students, 36 percent in Irving and 16 percent statewide.

Forget for a moment about the resources these non-English proficient children require. Think about how this reality is going to change the experience of an average child who happens to be an English speaking American citizen. Probably the schools have some special gifted or magnet programs for those sharp enough — or connected enough — to get in. And the school has to have a major effort to get these non-English speakers to graduate.

The poor or lower-middle class Anglo child is going to get lost, left to fend for himself in a school with other priorities. Although he will be going to school in his own country, he will experience a significant foreign cultural environment.

What is the solution business is offering to this situation?

In earlier waves of immigrants, millions of new arrivals left processing at New York’s Ellis Island with the expectation that they would adapt fully and deliberately to American norms — the melting pot, rather than the salad bowl. The post-1960s movement toward multiculturalism has made the nation more tolerant of ethnic and cultural differences, but it has also lessened the impetus for immigrants to conform.

It is one thing to accept immigrants if the immigrants are coming to your country and will become part of your culture. It is another thing to accept immigrants if they will be a country within a country.

The riots in France among Muslim youth point to the dilemma clearly. If people emigrate from North Africa, become Catholic or Protestant, speak French, drink wine and eat brie and the tip of the hat to the old country is an occasional indulgence in a North African delicacy — well only a racist would condemn immigration.

But if a hundred years from now the dominant language of France is Arabic, the dominant religion Islam and the dominant cuisine Algerian — in what sense is it still France? Wouldn’t we be correct to say that the French had committed cultural suicide by allowing such a high level of immigration and refusing to insist on acculturation?

Many who seem to oppose immigration really oppose the cultural situation in the United States in which insisting on people speaking English and defending the superiority of our culture is considered racist.

In this sense the big change between the turn of the 20th century and the turn of the 21st is not the immigrants — but the Americans. The Pundit’s great grandfather arrived in the US and his children were thrown into an English speaking school — no English as a second language — and given a civics and citizenship course in school.

Yet we, as a culture, no longer believe enough in the superiority of our ways or even in the importance of a common language and cultural references to demand any of this. So to many, the choice on immigration is not one of careful calibration of economic costs and benefits but a stark one: Do we want to change America? Do we want to risk a Spanish/English bifurcation as they have in Canada?

Illegal immigration exacerbates the natural tension in American society by injecting more change than can be absorbed — and by defying laws designed to control the rate of change.

Laws, including immigration limits, are designed to deal with the “absorptive capacity” of a nation — this can be economic but also cultural. Laws on immigration are set up specifically to reflect the judgment of a polity as to the absorptive capacity of the polity. Tolerance of illegal immigration is a way to contravene the judgment of the people expressed through their representatives.

Most immigrants are Latino and come over a border, not an ocean. Roughly half of these are illegal. Assimilation is slower, writes Dr. Huntington, because the immigrants “remain in intimate contact with their families, friends and home localities in Mexico as no other immigrants have been able to do.”

Whatever the historical lessons of immigration, the American people are understandably cautious because of the different nature of this round of immigration. When the Pundit’s great grandfather came over, whatever his intent, the simple fact that Russia was far away and there were no airplanes, no telephones, no e-mail, no Internet, meant that there was no significant likelihood of maintaining strong links with the country of his birth. Today, we don’t know what immigration will mean when one can be friends via e-mail, cheap phone calls and convenient and inexpensive jet travel.

In the case of Mexican immigrants, especially those living in the states along the border, the ease of continual contact with Mexico holds out the possibility that one day a strip along the border could develop as a separate political entity — one with close feelings toward neighboring Mexico. Is the experience of, say, Belgium, with its division between French and Flemish speakers, really something we want to encourage in the U.S.?

Some have cheered that as refining the American character by embracing diversity, inclusiveness and empowerment of ethnic and other minorities. Others worry that America risks losing itself in the process, especially if it gives up on securing the borders.

It strikes us that the approach of all business to the immigration debate is in this sense tone deaf — Americans see it as a choice as to the character of the country, not a question of economic growth.

Historians say that the distinctly American democratic and middle-class ideals grew out of a specific cultural tradition — the Anglo-Protestant. Changed slowly over time by immigrants from the world over, it’s now challenged by a strong competing culture.

If critics are correct, we could be seeing the advent of the kind of fractiousness that bedevils public life in Canada and other nations where peoples who speak different languages, and come from different cultural backgrounds, live together only with mutual suspicion and unease.

It strikes us as reasonable and not at all racist for Americans to argue that some cultural traditions are worth preserving. It is one thing to recognize that many traditions have value and another entirely to say that it doesn’t matter whose tradition defines the culture.

**

The industry finds itself at somewhat of a dead end on immigration. We can keep pounding on our business needs and sort of hope for a break in terms of some kind of vehicle to get AgJOBS or similar legislation passed.

The alternative is to bite the bullet and try to draft a new proposal that would answer the objections such as we outline above.

If we tried to do what the Germans call “gedankenexperiment” — or “thought experiment” — as to what kind of ag labor program might win support from quarters that have opposed industry efforts so fare might come out with something like this:

  1. Temporary
    Americans are not looking to hurt growers, and if there is sunken investment in orchards and what not, it behooves us all to harvest the produce. Yet this doesn’t mean that new orchards should be planted in areas unable to attract labor. If we asked for a guest worker program and promised to be working on automation and other labor-saving efforts and so promised to phase back the program by say, 2.5% a year, we could probably arrange for a 40-year phase out period. The simple act of making the program temporary and providing an immediately commencing phase out would make it much more acceptable to many who have opposed the trade’s efforts.
  2. Responsibility
    We need to reassure that no public resources will be used on our labor. So we have to provide medical and dental insurance while they are in the United States. We also have to only bring workers, not families, both to reinforce the temporary nature of the program and to ensure that public funds are not spent schooling the children of these workers.
  3. Work only
    These are workers being brought in for a specific task — we have to hire them outside the country, fly or bus them in, house them and then bring them home. Financial incentives must be set up to strongly encourage the workers to return home. Perhaps they will work for the season for just room and board and then get their wages back in their home country when the season is over. A trust account could be set up so that workers are sure they will get paid. Obviously most farmers couldn’t handle this themselves so either independent companies or groups such as Western Growers would have to provide hiring and organizational services.
  4. Short term
    They work for a season, then get returned home. They can come backafter an interval, but the program is not about severing their ties with their own country.
  5. Enforcement
    We pay a fee per worker to support a special task force of immigration agents who monitor daily departure records. If anyone doesn’t leave when expected, an immediate APB is out on them. This will reassure skeptics that the restrictions will be taken seriously.

Many growers won’t like this. They don’t want to pay for health insurance or get in the housing business and one can certainly understand that. But this kind of proposal would at least provide some response to the issues being raised.

Maybe we can get lucky and AgJOBS will pass — but if that doesn’t happen and the need for labor is truly desperate, then the industry needs a Plan B.




What’s In A Meal?

A hat tip to Rick Eastes, Director Special Projects for the Ballantine Produce Co., Inc., Reedley, California, for passing along an e-mail that shows photos of different families around the world with a picture of what foods they eat in a week as well as the cost for the foods.

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07


United States: The Revis family of North Carolina (Sure hope most American families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.) Food expenditure for one week $341.98


Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11


Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09


Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27


Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53


Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55


Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03


Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

The e-mail is being sent all over the world and is derived from a Time feature that gives portraits of 15 families. You can read the full Time piece here.

The photos are by Peter Menzel, and Time derived its piece by excerpting from the book Hungry Planet. Here is how the publisher summarizes the book:

On the banks of Mali’s Niger River, Soumana Natomo and his family gather for a communal dinner of millet porridge with tamarind juice. In the USA, the Ronayne-Caven family enjoys corndogs-on-a-stick with a tossed green salad. This age-old practice of sitting down to a family meal is undergoing unprecedented change as rising world affluence and trade, along with the spread of global food conglomerates, transform diets worldwide.

In HUNGRY PLANET, the creative team behind the best-selling Material World, Women in the Material World, and MAN EATING BUGS presents a photographic study of families from around the world, revealing what people eat during the course of one week. Each family’s profile includes a detailed description.

A glance at the photos leads those in affluent countries to count their blessings. It also seems that there is a decided lack of fresh produce in the American diet. Since the American population came from these other places, we really need to think what it is about our society that leads us to so deemphasize fresh produce.

Great book; you can buy it here.




Barneys Baby Bibs
Send Wrong Message

Sarah Jessica Parker once told Vanity Fair that “if you’re a nice person and you work hard, you get to go shopping at Barneys. It’s the decadent reward.”

But Barneys is selling a Wry Baby line playing off the upcoming election that includes a bib urging parents to Veto Veggies. Surely both the manufacturer and Barneys have fallen victim to an alliterative slogan and should actually be encouraging families to enjoy fruits and vegetables — even if they may be in baby food form.

How about a bib that reminds parents to “Push Produce”? You can let the manufacturer know your thoughts here and let Barneys know what you think here.




Cornell, March 9-14, 2008… An Exceptional Experience Awaits

Winston Churchill advised us of the following when it came to language education:

“Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English; and then I would let the clever learn Latin as an honour and Greek as a treat.”

When it comes to produce industry education, the Pundit advises that anyone who has the opportunity to attend the United Fresh Produce Executive Development Program — Developed in Partnership With Cornell University is receiving an honor and a treat… plus a leg up on the competition.

The Pundit knows this program from the inside out as he was honored with an opportunity to serve as a member of the Founding Faculty of the program — a rather intimidating assignment as the teaching is mostly done by an ace team of PhD’s and tenured Cornell University faculty members.

The program was developed under the supervision of the esteemed Ed McLaughlin, who has a lot of titles — including the Robert G. Tobin Professor of Marketing, Director of Undergraduate Business Programs, and Director of the Food Industry Management Program at Cornell — but during this program attendees feel like he has nothing else in the world to do than help 40 select produce industry executives to better themselves and the organizations for which they work.

There are many good programs out there, but there is something special about living on an Ivy League campus for almost a week, learning from a top notch faculty and bonding with other industry professionals. If you give it your all, you leave transformed.

It requires commitment; there is no question about it. To get the most out of the program, you have to separate from your day-to-day business and focus on things that are very important, even if they are not urgent.

What better investment though can an individual make than in himself and what better investment can an organization make than in the people it is relying on for leadership now and in the future?

This year’s program is March 9-14, 2008, and it will be held on campus at Cornell in Ithaca, New York. The Pundit is, once again, part of the faculty.

If you can possibly make it to Ithaca for this program, do so. If you can’t then have a team member who you are counting on for great things complete this program. We’ll look forward to seeing you there.

You can read a brochure on the program here.

Download a registration form here.

Act fast if you can. Today — January 4th — is the last day for discounted “early bird” registrations.




New Year Of
Challenges And Opportunities

Having returned from an extended family trip to Maui, we want to kick off the New Year by wishing all of our Pundit readers a happy, health and prosperous 2008.

We also want to welcome the Vidalia Onion Committee as our newest sponsor. Pomposity being an occupational hazard of punditry, we are pleased to have a laugh at ourselves with our new cartoon version. Watch the Pundit eat a Vidalia onion at the upper left corner of the page.

Many issues both old and new will challenge the industry in 2008, and general economic conditions are uncertain. Yet we are dedicated to more than perishables; here at the Pundit we are also dedicated to the proposition that in each challenge is an opportunity, and in thinking hard about our world we can find new and better ways to conduct ourselves and our businesses, ways that can lead to great success.

It is quite an honor to have so many great minds working with us every day to help move the industry to a better place. We appreciate everyone in the trade who works with us — both on and off the record — to build a better industry.

We look forward to getting there, together, in the year to come.

Happy New Year to all!




Pundit’s Mailbag — Follow-up On PMAEF Student Follow-up

Our pieces, PMA Education Foundation Looks To Attract And Retain New Industry Talent, Pundit’s Mailbag — Protocol Lesson For PMA Education Foundation Students and PMA Education Foundation Serious About Growing The Industry have all dealt with PMA’s recently formed Education Foundation, the experience of individuals who have interacted with students brought to industry events through the Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Fund or the Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation and, more broadly, with the general issue of how students interact with the trade.

Now Cindy Seel, the Executive Director of the PMA Education Foundation, writes to us to share the perspective of the Foundation on these issues:

I have been following the Pundit and the articles related to the PMA Education Foundation.I wanted to chime in with a few facts to clarify things…

I want to assure your readers that networking follow-up training is included as part of the Pack Family/Career Pathways program. Just this past October, we added a session for the students entitled “Branding You”.This session was put together collaboratively by the faculty of the participating schools and taught by Larry Zink from Michigan State University.The session focused on how to create and maintain your own personal brand and how everything you say, wear, post to social networking sites, do or don’t do becomes part of your brand.Dan’l Almy of DMA Solutions also presented part of this session and focused on how to work your brand on the trade show floor.

Both Larry and Dan’l talked about follow-up at great lengths, and I know that all the faculty at the participating schools have urged students to follow up by phone or in writing.I appreciate the constructive feedback from your earlier articles, and we will work to make the branding/follow-up section of our program even stronger.I also wanted to mention that many of our industry advisors have told me about the follow-up with their students, and I know that both Jay Pack and I have had wonderful emails and handwritten letters from students.

As to why students don’t follow up, I think you hit on many of the reasons — geography, interest, generational differences are all common ones.You also mentioned that today’s students have choices — and today there are plenty of them.That is one of the reasons the Foundation was formed.I was just reading a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) on the 2008 Job Outlook, and it stated that we are in one of the most competitive recruiting markets ever.Gone are the days when businesses can sit back and wait for the many applicants to come begging for jobs.Recruiting is now a two-way relationship where both companies and students need to do the “courting”.

The PMA Board of Directors formed this Foundation because our industry as a whole is not in a position to compete. There has not been a unified “voice of the industry” touting the rewards and opportunities of careers in produce.That is now the job of the Foundation, along with offering scholarship programs such as Pack and Nucci and developing mentoring and internship programs.

Our job is to gain exposure for and interest in the produce industry and engage students in the real world of produce so we can entice them with the passion, excitement and integrity of the business. In the immortal words of Justin Timberlake, “We’re bringing sexy back.”

The current contributors to the Foundation, a mix of large, medium and small companies, are visionaries and know what we need to do if we are going to ensure a strong talent pool and continued leadership for our industry.We don’t look at our contributors as merely investors; we look at them as partners who are active in providing vision, strategic direction, and yes financial support.

Lorri Koster of Mann Packing is one such supporter, and I believe she expressed those views in a previous letter.I also received a supportive e-mail from another contributor… Amy Gates of Frontera Produce in Texas wrote…”Frontera Produce is a proud supporter of the Education Foundation and I can clearly attest that the decision to invest our resources in the Foundation was a planned investment in our (and the produce industry’s) future.We are very strategic with the funds we have, and we apply them where we feel we will get the most return”.

The companies (big and small) that are choosing to invest in the Foundation aren’t doing so because they have buckets of money laying around. They see the need for change in how the industry attracts and retains its people and are willing to make that investment.

The fact of the matter is the world around us has changed.Our industry is not the same as our grandfathers and fathers once knew.Technology, food safety, and regulations have changed the landscape forever.The need for quality recruits is higher than ever.

Technology has also changed things for the newer generation.Students rarely write personal hand-written thank-you notes like we used to do.They text and instant message.Their expectations are high and they want to be in the driver’s seat when making their career choices.Whether we think this is right or wrong, it is reality. But these students also have a lot to offer our industry and we need to be able to compete for their talent.

There are lessons to be learned on all sides of this story.Yes, students need to follow up, be respectful and appreciate the opportunities they are given.Yes, the Foundation can always improve on the programs we offer.And yes, the industry needs to think and act differently to attract this new generation and our future workforce.It’s not about one generation being better than another — it’s about using the strengths of each generation to grow and advance the industry.

Thank you for the opportunity to share the views of the Foundation.

— Cindy Seel
Executive Director
PMA Education Foundation
Newark, DE

We appreciate Cindy taking the time to write. Each generation has its own ways, and there is thus an ongoing tango as the business community tries to impose its norms on the upcoming employees while the values and customs of those employees alter the corporate culture. Casual Fridays and a general relaxing of dress requirements, for example, didn’t come about because a bunch of old guys who wore suits their whole lives woke up one day and said they want to shed their ties. It was a new generation infusing its values into the work place.

This process has accelerated in recent years because our society has become so entrepreneurial that young people are running substantial organizations — especially in the high-tech area — earlier than ever before. These organizations then compete for talent and other organizations feel the need to respond. Thus, everything from pet-friendly offices to visiting massage therapists spread through industries.

In fact, it is easy to criticize others and so to point to the failings of young people is easy. How much harder to reassess our own organizations and their failures. How many companies don’t send a “thank you for applying” note to anyone who sends in a resume as a result of running an ad? How many companies have no mechanism for making sure that every contact at a convention or inquiry from an ad is actually professionally followed up?

The real issue is about resource allocation. Is the industry better off spending money to retain and professionally develop people already working in the industry or are we better off spending money to attract new talent?

To what extent do students gravitate toward an industry — produce, for example, as opposed to responding to specific job offers? Some careers offer some particularly appealing aspect — so college students sometimes know they want to get into investment banking — but one suspects that is just a synonym for wanting to make big bucks.

Our sense is actually that those without a specific tie to a place or industry tend to look for the best program. So students will want to work for P&G not because they love anything about consumer packaged goods but because they understand that P&G is considered a great training ground and that after two years they can get into great MBA programs or will be desired by other employers.

Think of the United/DuPont program and imagine an expanded version not offered to a select few but offered as part of accepting a career in produce — much as the P&G training program is an integral part of working at an executive level for P&G. This may be the “missing link” — Pack and Nucci programs introduce students to the trade. Then the produce employers will need something they can offer that will tempt an ambitious young graduate to prefer the produce industry over another alternative.

We may have to reach out to younger students if we want people to focus on produce careers. At what stage of a student’s career is it most effective to get them thinking about produce? If we reach them as seniors in college, their course work has been pretty much set. Won’t that course work, to some extent, determine the kinds of jobs they are look for? At a university such as Cornell, high school students at 17 years of age are applying to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration — thus expressing a pretty strong desire to be in the hospitality industry.

Certainly the Foundation needs to be spending some money collecting data. Obviously we need to track students in the Pack and Nucci programs, but we should also try to track a control group of applicants that don’t get accepted. Since the acceptance is not random, it is not a perfect control group, but the industry will want to see some evidence that the programs are succeeding at attracting a disproportionate percentage of the students who attend the programs. In keeping statistics, the Foundation should be careful to note which students had pre-existing ties to the produce industry, which came from hometowns rich in produce jobs and which were completely “new conquests” to the industry.

Tracking may also reveal other problems. If the programs attract new recruits to the industry, but those recruits leave quickly, we may need to focus more efforts on retention.

The PMA Education Foundation doesn’t have an easy job. Almost by definition, its job of getting students to look at an industry where they wouldn’t have otherwise is going to be difficult and expensive — otherwise private companies would do it themselves. Many produce companies can send a recruiter to recruit the children or friends of produce industry members at Cal Poly or UC Davis. If the Foundation does that it may produce impressive ROI, but it is not that much of a service to the trade.

If we can turn kids at Texas A&M or, for that matter, Wharton, to look at the produce industry for career prospects, we will have really done something. Inevitably, though, these are difficult tasks, they won’t “pay off” in a way that is sufficient for private enterprise to bother trying — how many produce companies recruited at Wharton last year? — but that is precisely why we need a non-profit foundation.

Abraham Lincoln said this about government. "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities."So too, we need a non-profit foundation to do precisely the things that don’t make sense for private enterprises to do.

Many thanks to Cindy for her note and best of luck to the Foundation in 2008.

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