HOLTVILLE — Farmers delighted farm workers Tuesday with a surprise visit and an appreciation for their service at a cabbage field north of Holtville.
Jack Vessey and his sister, Heather Vessey-Garcia, of Vessey & Co., Inc., brought breakfast burritos, salsa and water to his ranch, located about ten miles north of Holtville, just in time for the farm workers’ break time. Accompanying Vessey were Susan Sternitzke and Kristan Sheppeard, co-coordinators of Labor of Love, who brought baskets they named ‘feeling lucky baskets’ filled with a variety of items.
The farm workers were called to meet the mobile covered sheds, parked on a dirt service road between cabbage fields, where they were served breakfast burritos. Vessey used the time for Sternitzke and Sheppeard to tell his farm workers about the Labor of Love program. He later called out one of his employee to the front.
In the presence of about 70 crews, Vessey gave recognition to Ponciano Vallejo Gonzalez, 71, whom he called Tio Chano, an endearment meaning Uncle Chano.
“I’ve known Tio Chano since I was probably two or three years old. He’s been on the ranch for over 50 years. He worked for my father, my grandfather, and me. It means a lot to me and my family,” Vessey said.
Vallejo said he has worked with Vessey & Co., Inc. since 1963. Before joining Vessey’s farm, he worked in Salinas northern California. After that, he worked at various agricultural fields in Arizona and Imperial Valley, including Blythe. According to Vallejo, he no longer works in thinning, weeding or harvesting. For the past eight years, his concentration and area of responsibility has been food safety.
Speaking in Spanish, Vallejo said of his employer, “Excelente, Numero Uno in Imperial Valley.” (Excellent. Number one in Imperial Valley.)
Kristen Sheppeard, who works with Sternitzke at Limelight Creative Group which manages the program, said, “Labor of Love is a program designed by the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association to thank and celebrate farm workers.”
This year, Labor of Love has set its affection in Imperial Valley. “Thanks to a new partnership with the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association and our very first Imperial County sponsor, Vessey & Company, who both have a strong desire to celebrate and thank the farm workers in Imperial County.”
After an hour celebration, farm workers smiled carrying their ‘feeling lucky baskets’ to their automobiles parked along a stretch of dirt road and headed back to their work areas at the cabbage field. There was more work to do.
The harvest crews, according to Vessey, like to start at about 5:30 in the morning, working until mid-afternoon harvesting green and red cabbage. Depending on the variety of cabbage, harvesting is from November until April.
Farm workers harvest over 200,000 cabbage heads on a given day in about 800-900 acres each winter. Indeed, that is a lot of labor and fresh leafy vegetables to feed families and keep America healthy.
Each week, Sheppeard said, we go out to the field and surprise farm workers with some food, either breakfast or lunch, and we do a random act of kindness by bringing gifts and “feeling lucky” basket filled with fun goodies.
Labor of Love, a program started by Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association in Yuma, Arizona and managed by Sternitzke and Sheppeard of Limelight Creative Group, aims to give recognition to farm workers for their contribution to the agriculture industry. It initially started in Arizona and now has spread into California.
“I hope to do it again,” said Vessey. “I plan on doing this every year and I hope others will join in Imperial Valley as well to show how much we appreciate the farm worker.”