Lancaster farming. (Lancaster, Pa., etc.) 1955-current, September 18, 1993, Image 58

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    BIS-lancMtcr Farming, Saturday, Saptambar 18, 1993
Mexican Pickers Dominate Pa. Mushroom Industry
National Geographic News
Co.) At the end of a long work
day, Martin Sabala, 24, relaxes for
the first time since S a.m. and talks
about his 11-year career as a
mushroom-picker in rural south
eastern Pennsylvania.
‘The hours are long and there is
nothing to do at night, but eco
nomically for me, this is the No. 1
place to make money for my fami
ly,” says Sabala, whose stonew
ashed jeans and long hair make
him look more like a high-school
student than a husband and father.
With tales of good wages, abun
dant work and “tranquilidad”
spinning in his head, at age 13
Sabala followed his own father
here from Moroleon, Mexico. His
brothers, a cousin and an uncle
soon followed him.
More than 80 percent of the
Chester County, mushroom indus
try’s 10,000 workers are Mexican;
many come from Moroleon, a
town of fewer than 50,000 people
in the mountains of central
Since the early 19705, Moro-
Icon men have left their wives and
Hector Bedolia, 31, cuts the stems off mushrooms in Ken
nett Square. Like many other mushroom workers In Chester
County, Bedolia Is from Mexico. Along with many of his co
workers, he commutes from nearby Delaware, where hous
ing is less expensive. His family remains in Mexico City.
DD Wood
Hot Air and Hot Water.
Domestic Hot Water
Woodchuck Sales
and Service
•on Ra
710 Flvopointville Rd. • Denver, PA 17517
General Excavating Site Preparation
(215) 445-4667
We Have A Backhoe, Loader & Pan
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Excavating Needs
children behind to work almost
non-stop for six or seven months
at a time in the mushroom camps
of Pennsylvania.
Recently, however, the
2,000-mile commutes have begun
to ebb. Motivated by loneliness
and a 1986 change in U.S. immig
ration laws, thousands of laborers
are bringing their kin north
Many favor the farms of Pen
nsylvania, because mushrooms
are grown indoors and offer year
round employment. The state pro
duces almost half the nation’s
Migrant workers are nothing
unusual in Chester County. At the
turn of the century, Quaker
mushroom-growers employed Ita
lians, who then began to buy their
own farms and hire black laborers,
who in turn were followed by
white Tennesseans and later Puer-
to Ricans.
In the 19705, as Puerto Rican
workers moved on to other areas
and higher-paying jobs, the young
men of central Mexico began to
replace them.
But the recent settling-in of
these Mexican immigrants has
created some unexpected prob
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Atonia Sepulveda reads English with a Spanish speaking kindergartner In Kennett
Square. Sepulveda, who moved to the state from Puerto Rico in 1968, is a former
mushroom-picker who has moved on to teach in Chester County’s “Even Start” prog
ram for youngsters who don’t speak English.
lems in this small community 30
miles southwest of Philadelphia.
La Comunidad Hispana, a local
service organization, estimates
that more than 200 Mexican fami
lies have moved to Chester Coun
ty in the past year.
In one school district last Sep
tember, about 40 Hispanic child
ren, few of whom spoke English,
showed up unexpectedly for clas
ses. And workers at Project Salud,
a health clinic, are seeing an aver
age of two to three new families
every week.
Lack of affordable housing in
Chester County has caused some
Mexican workers to commute
from neighboring Delaware. Fam
ilies double up in trailers and
apartments to save money on rent.
Single men live in one-story dor
mitories on the mushroom farms
or cram into apartments with as
many as a dozen other workers.
“It’s a type of homelessness,”
Sheila Druley, executive director
of La Comunidad Hispana, tells
National Geographic.
• Agricultural • Commercial • Residential
• Retaining Walls • Bunker Silos • Manure Storage, Etc.
Sizes And Layouts
To Your Specifications
We Work Hard
For Customer
Most of the mushroom-pickers
earn the minimum wage $4.25
an hour or about $l.lO a
basket Bonus pay for every pound
picked and 60-liour work weeks
help pickers afford cars for them
selves and clothing and other
goods for relatives in Mexico,
The growing presence of the
low-income immigrants has
erected an invisible wall between
them and many natives of predo
minantly white Chester County.
‘This tends to be a conservative
area,” says Druley. “There is some
discomfort at guys standing
around on a comer, seeming to do
nothing. Some locals don’t under
stand that many of the workers
come from small villages, where
they have a kind of plaza to go to
congregate and socialize.”
But, in a county whose eco
nomy depends on mushrooms,
everyone agrees that sensitivity
toward the Hispanics has grown in
the past year.
Two bilingual police officers
and a Spanish-speaking dispatcher
Commodity Bins And Trench Silos
Authorized Dealer For
• Hog & • Trench
Cattle Silo
Slats Walls
• H-Bunks • J-Bunks
have been added to the state police
force in nearby Avondale. Several
local churches have migrant
ministry programs. A task force of
mushroom-growers and commun
ity leaders is exploring possibili
ties for more low-income housing.
Kennett Square, population
5.210, at first glance seems like
any other small town in rural Pen
nsylvania, except that the Hispan
ic influence is evident: rows of
tortillas, jalapeno peppers, and
sliced mango at the local super
market, “leche” and “cafe” on the
McDonald’s menu.
At Kennett Middle School,
teacher Palmira Matos helps new
ly arrived Mexican students make
the transition to American class
rooms. Matos herself is a picker’s
daughter who came to Chester
County from Puerto Rico when
she was 13.
“I know what my students are
going through,” she says. “They
are battling two evils: not know-
(Turn to Page B 19)