Our Voice: Law of the harvest -- you reap what you sow

May 8, 2013 

May 5, 2013 - Work continues on Broetje Orchards' $6.7 million expansion to its Vista Hermosa farmworker housing. The company is building six townhomes with 48 units each, which can be rented by up to 384 residents.

RICHARD DICKIN — Tri-City Herald

The Mid-Columbia is a great place to grow things, and our area depends on agriculture.

That means we also depend on water, sunshine and farm labor. Sunshine we have plenty of. Water has been good so far. The worker shortage, however, hurts us -- all of us.

Whether you grow the food or just consume it, you are a link that depends on the food chain. A chain that holds our region together.

A few months ago we asked readers for suggestions about how to solve the farmworker shortage. Many of our responses included using prisoners, welfare recipients and teenagers.

Well there's nothing wrong with putting a teen to work. It would be good for the kid and society.

We're not so sure if people who are on disability would be able to maneuver through the orchards very easily, let alone climb the ladders to prune or harvest.

There may be a few welfare recipients who could and would work, probably not enough to actually produce anything.

And Gov. Chris Gregoire already tried using prisoners to harvest apples; it turned into a pretty expensive venture.

We don't have any great suggestions. We do, however, see an innovative solution by the Broetje family.

All farmers invest in their land and equipment. The Broetjes also invest in their workers. And they do it in a big way.

Their latest housing project is coming in at the $6.7 million mark and will house up to 384 residents.

This is in addition to housing the family started providing in 1990.

And it's not just a house.

The Broetjes also provide recreational facilities, computer labs, English classes, a store and even an elementary school.

They charge a reasonable rent. In some cases, they allow families to buy their homes.

But there are rules, too.

Their approach is really just different from what we typically see.

It provides buy-in, loyalty and self-respect -- things we all crave.

Their payback is skilled, loyal employees.

The family is also generous to charities locally and worldwide.

Other farmers and agencies also provide housing for workers. But the way the Broetjes do it sets a high bar for the rest of us.

We have to think that when workers are at a premium, Broetjes are able to attract and retain help.

The immigration problem has been a subject of debate for a long time. It could go a long time more. In the meantime, orchards need to be cared for and apples need to be harvested.

It takes people who are willing to work, motivated and skilled.

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