By Ian Lim-Bonner
Special to the Tribune
UNION TOWNSHIP —
When I signed up to work the summer crew at Ernst Conservation Seeds, I didn’t really expect to have a cultural experience.
I’m a junior at Allegheny College, I grew up in Akron, and working at Ernst was my summer job. I knew that agricultural work would be new for me. But the cultural experience I had at Ernst ended up being one of the best parts of my summer. Ernst has a handful of Mexicans working on its field crew. Yes, Mexican workers. They are the hardest working people I have ever seen. The regular American workers would jokingly give them a hard time if we saw them sitting in the truck or leaning on their hoe, though I think we all knew that they would work harder than any of us ever would.
For example, they always got to work earlier and left later, but did not get overtime. (This is legal under federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers guidelines to be described fully in Friday’s final installment of this series.) They worked six days a week instead of five. And on top of all that, they did this while being hundreds of miles away from home.
Not only were they a hard-working bunch, they were the friendliest folks on the farm. I always enjoyed their company in the fields. At Allegheny, I took a politics class on Mexico. This helped me to have a conversation with them about their home. They in turn were very interested in learning about my home and where I was from. I loved talking to them and learning about their home more than I liked talking about sports and movies with the other workers. I don’t care who you are, connecting with people from a different country is something special and uplifting.
Unfortunately, the workers with a Mexican heritage are not very connected at all to the Meadville community, and this has created a negative stigma. While I was working at Ernst, the American workers would tell me stories about the company receiving hateful messages toward the Mexican workers on the company’s mailbox. These inappropriate messages included racial slurs directed at the workers, claims that Ernst was housing illegal immigrants, and even accusations that the Mexican workers were sexual predators.
There is no way of knowing exactly why the Meadville community seems to not understand what these Mexican workers stand for. I think it is just hard not to stereotype. Honestly, everyone does it, even if it is just subconsciously. There are an estimated 11 million foreigners in America working illegally, so I don’t blame anyone for thinking that the Mexicans at Ernst could be illegal.
I think people in general are afraid of what they don’t know. I know I am. One of my high school teachers once told me, “people don’t know what they like, they like what they know.” This statement is so true it’s almost scary. I can literally apply this to every aspect of my life whether it be music, sports or job training. I will always like what I know more than anything else.
The other part of this proverb is that no one truly knows what they like, so you should never give up on things so easily. This applies directly to Ernst’s workers program. Do not disrespect something that you know little to nothing about. Because the truth is, Ernst treats its Mexican workers extremely well by giving them a house to live in and a safe environment to work in. My job is not to tell someone what to think or feel. My job is to simply tell the community the facts.
First of all, the workers are not illegal. They have all the necessary credentials and Ernst has a very good federal workers program that is completely legal. Not only are they not illegal, they are the nicest and hardworking bunch of men I have ever worked with. Furthermore, they are a special part of the Meadville community.
Working on the summer crew at Ernst was a great experience. It was nice to be in a place where I did actual work and was tired after every day. It really made me feel good about myself. I can honestly say that the work was satisfying. As an Ernst employee it is my sole right to complain about hoeing. However, after doing it for an entire summer, I miss it. I know if someone at Ernst reads this they will call me a damn fool for saying so, but it’s the truth.
I would have to say that most of the time the work was good. But it isn’t the work that makes Ernst great, it’s the people. Everyone is very friendly and understanding of the strenuous and grueling work that the summer crew does. Being from the City of Akron, I was never exposed to an agricultural atmosphere. It was very important to me that I get some experience and knowledge in the realm of farming.
After working in the fields all day for a summer, I think I have a good understanding and appreciation for agricultural work; mainly because it is hard work and inconsistent work, depending on what nature wants to throw at you.
Bonner is a junior environmental science major at Allegheny College who worked in the fields at Ernst last summer.
ERNST FIELD SERIES
Heavy lifting and fighting prickly plants under the scorching summer sun are big parts of serving as a summer field hand at Ernst Conservation Seeds, but the work comes with special rewards, as Allegheny College student Ian Lim Bonner learned last summer.
A cultural experience isn’t what Allegheny College student Ian Lim Bonner expected during his work as a field hand at Ernst Conservation Seeds but then he met the company’s seasonal Mexican workers and also learned of the negative reaction they’ve received from some in our community.
The seasonal Mexican workers at Ernst Conservation Seeds are here legally and the work they do meets key needs for the company and the men’s families, reports Allegheny College Associate Professor of Political Science Shannan Mattiace.