Steve Scaroni is a owner of Valley Harvesting and Packing, a major harvester of strawberries and leafy green vegetables in California and Arizona. At a recent romaine lettuce harvest operation in Salinas, Scaroni talked about how much labor and equipment his production utilizes.
Scaroni said much of his labor comes from Mexico, as part of the federal H-program, which allows temporary visas for agricultural labor workers.
“The H-2A is so important. We absolutely could not produce at the levels of volume that we do without H-2A labor. There is not enough legal labor for us to do the amount of volume that we are asked to do by our customers.”
Scaroni explains that having the H-2A visa program is essential to his produce production and harvesting, even for company that is not seen by the consumer.
“Between the different brands that we probably serve, we probably touch 20 percent of every salad eaten in america everyday. But you don’t see our name anywhere, you don’t hear about us, we are a vendor behind the scenes for the major brands,” said Scaroni.
With the demand and need for guaranteed freshness in produce, a constant flow of workers is even more crucial to the harvesting and production process.
“But we are the ones putting up the harvester equipment and we are making sure we have enough labor. The whole process is now “just in time”. See that’s the other thing, now we have freshness, food safety, but you know we have to have a consistent workforce because we are on just in time deliveries because that’s what the grocery store requires. It comes all the way come back to us.”
Scaroni explains the process by which his company obtains out of state workers, legally and those with good work ethic.
“We’re fortunate that we have what have a farming operation in Mexico, so we vet a lot of our workers that we bring up here. we vet them first in our operation in Guanajuato Mexico. And then the good ones we give them the opportunity to come up here to work two to three to four to five to six months, making more in an hour than they can make in a day in Mexico.” said Scaroni.
Scaroni noted that there must be approvals from five different government agencies to get that worker out of Mexico and here working in California, legally with a H-2A visa.
“I have a great H-2A team, all they focus on is H-2A, the process, getting the workers up here, going to the consulate to do the intake process. Every worker is background checked, fingerprinted, and if they have any criminal history in the system, they’re excluded and cut off the border, and they can’t come.”
Scaroni said the job wouldn’t get done without them.
“In today’s labor reality I would not have a business at the volume that my customers bless us with. We would be at half of what we are, We’d be half the business we are now.” Scaroni added.