Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tomatoe, Tomahtoe, Tomater

No matter how you choose to say tomate, the fact is they are withering on the vines.

CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa. (AP) — Saying the nation's immigration system is broken, Pennsylvania's largest grower of fresh-to-market tomatoes announced Monday he will no longer produce the crop because he can't find enough workers to harvest it.

Keith Eckel, 61, a fourth-generation farmer and the owner of Fred W. Eckel Sons Farms Inc., said he saw a dramatic decline last summer in the number of migrant workers who showed up to pick tomatoes at his 2,000-acre farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.

He said Congress' failure to approve comprehensive immigration reform had hindered his ability to hire enough workers to get his crop to the market. Most of Eckel's workers came from Mexico.

"There are a number of workers hesitant to travel, legal or illegal, because of the scrutiny they are now under," said Eckel, whose tomatoes have been shipped to supermarkets and restaurants throughout the eastern United States. "So there are less workers crossing state lines."

Eckel, who planted 2.2 million tomato plants last year, said he also will stop growing pumpkins and will plant half as much sweet corn as usual, resulting in a loss of nearly 175 jobs.


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