MANATEE -- A local farm will offer the public a saucy deal on its tomatoes beginning 8 a.m. today.
For those willing to bring their own sacks, pillow cases, buckets and boxes and strong backs for picking, Hunsader Farms on County Road 675 will sell ripe tomatoes right out of its fields at $1 for 25 pounds.
The farm offered the same deal last spring, but this year the reason for the near giveaway price is different, said farm co-owner David Hunsader.
“Last year we did this because the price for a 25-pound bucket of tomatoes on the wholesale market was only three or four dollars so it didn’t make economic sense to pick,” Hunsader said. “This year the price is good, about $14 for a bucket, but we can’t find enough labor to pick them.”
Other local farms are experiencing the same labor shortage, Hunsader said.
David Hunsader said he does not know what is causing the farm labor shortage. Some, however, think the shortage is related to a pair of immigration bills being considered in the Florida Legislature.
House Bill 7089, the more stringent of the proposed pair of new laws, would make it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Florida. The Senate bill is less harsh.
Undocumented workers may be hearing about these bills and worried about being deported from Florida, said Marvin Mills, president of the Sarasota-Manatee Farmworker Supporters, an organization which advocates a national comprehensive work plan for farm laborers who are in the country illegally.
“I would say many could be leaving just because they are worried about being picked up,” Mills said.
Mills’ group advocates a work plan for farm laborers that involves a fair wage and safe working conditions.
He said the political climate in America is not conducive to such a plan now, perhaps as evidenced by the bills working their way through the state capitol.
“We need some rational way to get workers in here,” Mills said. “This is what everyone needs and wants but some anti-immigration groups are making political hay out of it. We think it would be a win-win situation for the growers, workers and the consumers.”
“Everyone is having the same problem,” Hunsader said. “We aren’t sure if the workers are going into construction or going back to Mexico. All we know is that crews that used to number 60 people are now numbering 20.”
Palmetto’s West Coast Tomato is harvesting its tomato fields in Immokalee right now and not experiencing labor problems there, but the company is concerned about the situation in Manatee, said Bob Spencer of West Coast Tomato.
“From all the reports we are getting, we hear that labor is tight this year,” Spencer said.
The public doesn’t have to rush out to Hunsader Farms the first day to get some tomatoes because, the farm has, literally, millions of light pink or orange tomatoes waiting to be picked, Hunsader said.
“It will take awhile to pick all of these,” said Hunsader who estimated his farm’s revenue loss at nearly $500,000 due to a lack of farm labor.
The fields will be open for the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday until all the tomatoes are gone, which the Hunsaders believe will take until June 1.
Tomato buyers without a sack or bucket can buy a box from the farm for 50 cents.
To reach the farm from Interstate-75 or Bradenton, U-pickers can go east on State Road 64 to C.R. 675 and go south 2.7 miles or go east on S.R. 70 to C.R. 675 and go north 3.5 miles.