Kathy Brown: Helping to Keep Food Production Safe and Legal

Kathy Brown: Helping to Keep Food Production Safe and Legal

By Joan Doggrell

Kathy met our former governor, Sonny Perdue, at an expo in Savannah

Have you ever wondered how those beautiful fresh vegetables and fruits get from the farms to your grocery store? Well, it’s a multi-stage journey. St. Paul’s Kathy Brown is familiar with the early stages of that journey. She plays a role in bringing documented workers into the United States to harvest crops. She is an H2A consultant who works for farm labor contractors and farmers throughout the United States. An H2A visa allows a farmer or a farm labor contractor (FLC) to bring workers into the US legally for a limited period ranging from two months to a maximum of 10 months.

Her focus is vegetable and fruit farms. She is quick to state that she does not work with livestock farmers. Her job takes her as far north as Michigan, as far west as Texas, and south into Florida.

Kathy helps farmers and farm labor contractors ensure that they are in compliance with the US Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. She also assists them with Workers Compensation, general liability, insurance, and housing. In addition, her job includes follow-up visits to the farms to make sure the workers are being treated with compassion and that the workers themselves are meeting their obligations to the farmer.

“It’s a two-way street,” said Kathy. “I make sure the workers are doing what they promised to do and that the farmer or the farm labor contractor (FLC) is fulfilling his promise to the worker.”

“I’m there when they get off the bus,” she adds. “Somebody has to sign the paperwork that makes them employees of the farmer.”

Celery farm workers in southwest Florida

The H2A program

The US government started the H2A program during World War II when a lot of the men who worked on the farms or owned the farms signed up for the war. There was a shortage of pickers to harvest the fruit and vegetables, so the government started bringing foreign workers into the US to help with the harvest. This was called the bracero program. That’s where migration began generations ago. Then after the war, the government started the H2A-B visa program for migrant workers. H2A visas are agricultural, H2Bs are non-agricultural, and then there are student visas. All carry different conditions for the employer.

“My maternal grandmother’s family owned a blueberry farm in Michigan. This was her with the fruit harvesters.” Kathy

A contract is signed between the worker and whoever is offering the job, the farmer or the FLC. The contract specifies what is going to be harvested and how much the worker is going to be paid. Every state has a different hourly rate. Florida’s is $11.24 an hour. North Carolina’s is $12.25 an hour. Workers must supply the government with the address of every farm where they are going to pick, what type of produce, and what they are willing to minimal pay the worker, sometimes it is a piece rate that makes it more profitable for the farmer and the worker. They will have to be paid the minimal H2A hourly rate, which changes from state to state.

“I would estimate that around 15% of the agriculture workers are here with H2A visas,” said Kathy. “The rest of the workers are undocumented or unemployable in other business sectors. However, the H2A program is growing, especially in Georgia right now, which is the top state for H2A applications. Ten years ago, the program brought in over 95,000. I think last year it brought in more than 170,000 people.”

Many of these people have been college educated in Mexico and are paying off student loans. Most are young, usually under 25. They are here to work.

To bring somebody here legally in the H2A program costs $1500.00, which is paid by either the contractor or the farmer. “A lot of the contractors don’t like bringing the same persons after three or four years,” said Kathy. “They get so Americanized that their productivity does not keep up. They don’t make money either if the men or the women don’t pick enough. Everyone has to work together.”

Farmers’ obligations to workers

The workers’ housing is regularly inspected by the Federal Housing Authority. Farmers who don’t own homes for the workers rent hotels. The rules are very nitty-gritty. Trash cans must have lids, there must be sufficient rolls of toilet paper for every worker, etc. Farmers are fined if any of these areas is deficient.

Furthermore, the Department of Labor (DOL) can show up at any time of the day for an inspection. So if a worker didn’t put the lid on a trash can, that means a fine for the farmer of $250.00.

“The workers come from a third world country,” said Kathy.  “Many of them don’t like certain living conditions such as the screens on the windows. They will take them off. So when the DOL comes in and inspects the housing, the farmer gets in trouble”

“But I like the program,” Kathy added. “I think it benefits everybody, although It’s very expensive. The farmer has to have a serious labor shortage to want to do this.”

How Kathy became an independent contractor

Kathy first got into the migrant worker business when she lived in central Florida, the citrus capital of the world. She started out working for a company that verified paperwork for domestic workers. As the company grew, she added more skills, including unemployment processing, accounts payable, and finally Workers Compensation.

“My dad had a Workers Comp claim when I was growing up, so I felt I was doing something good this time. I understood what a family should receive,” said Kathy.

Kathy worked with Workers Compensation for fourteen years.

“During that time, I learned about compliance, risk management, and OSHA,” said Kathy.

Then 9/11 hit, and everything changed.

“Before 9/11, my boss worked with H2B workers. He had maids in hotels and people in manufacturing. In the wake of 9/II he had to send all these people home. Several apartments for them were rented in his name, and he couldn’t break the leases. He had to keep paying. It was bad, but we struggled on.”

Then in 2004, four hurricanes went through central Florida. The crop was almost wiped out.

“We struggled. We all cut back on our hours. But the company never recovered. My boss lasted another eight years,” said Kathy. “But In 2012 he closed up shop. I really thought I was done with agriculture; maybe it was my time to do something different.”

But within three or four months, she had clients coming to her asking for help.

That was when Kathy first became an independent consultant. Within six months, she had fifteen clients. But then Harbor America offered her a job doing what she loved: Workers Compensation. That job lasted until disaster struck again; the company was bought by venture capitalists. They structured things differently in the company, and the clients missed the service that they had come accustomed to. So Kathy decided it was her time to move on.

“I had run the agricultural segment of the business for five years,” said Kathy. “I’d doubled it. Our Workers Compensation claims, which were at a 130% loss ratio, went down to 30%. But after the venture capitalists took over, I’d be on the phone from Thursday night until Sunday trying to correct mistakes they had made. The workers live check to check. If they earn $500, $400 goes home to their families. That money has to be there. Also, part of the DOL regulations state that workers are always paid on the same day of the week. If they don’t get paid on time, the farmer is not in compliance, and I have just cost him a fine.”

“I no longer loved my job. So I told my boss I quit.”

But she wasn’t idle for long. She soon had clients again, calling her and requesting her services. There was plenty to do.

“The hardest thing for the FLCs and the farmers to obtain is Workers Compensation,” said Kathy. “Nobody wants to insure these workers because every day they’re in a school bus with forty-five people or a van carrying fifteen, and that’s a huge liability.”

When they harvest, they get up at 6:00 am. They can be driven up to fifty miles a day without being paid an hourly rate for their travel time.

“When we bring a group of workers onto the program, we inspect the buses, making sure the tires are good. They don’t have to have seatbelts because school buses don’t have them. But the tires are a big thing. A lot of times, the buses are driven so much that their tires will be showing metal. And they’re transporting lives every day. So we’ll go in and make sure the school buses are up to standard. The good thing with the H2A program is that before the FLCs bring people over, they have to get their vehicles inspected. That’s what I like about the program. There are so many safety standards that the farmer and the FLC have to meet.”

But undocumented workers are not so fortunate.

“There’s a whole other side to the business which we try to avoid,” said Kathy. “Sometimes people actually pay to get these jobs. They will go borrow money from family – they have this idea of the American Dream, and they want to come here. It’s illegal, and a horrible scam where these people are taken advantage of, but the practice goes on all the time.”

“On a farm in South Georgia that was next to one of the farms I was working with, they had fifty women working out in the heat and living in a two-bedroom trailer. These women were sleeping on the floor. That was in 2018. It still goes on.”

She also sees the consequences of illegal transportation practices.

“You don’t see it so much where we live because there’s no farming here – we’re in a metropolitan area. But in Florida there are orange trees everywhere. In South Georgia you see the school buses where they are harvesting watermelons. They overload the buses because if they can put four or five extra workers in the bus, they don’t have to pay for another driver or fuel.”

“In the mid-2000s, a fifteen-passenger van with twenty-three illegal domestic people flipped on a major interstate. All of them either died or became wheelchair-bound.”

Kathy is in a position to observe first-hand what the rest of us only hear about through the news media.

“We’re going on a third generation of Hispanic people born in the United States,” she said. “They are not picking anymore. They are doing landscaping or construction, where they can make more money and work in a safer environment. A lot of the women are employed in the fast food industry. Although these jobs usually pay only minimum wages, the workers are not out in the heat, and they have benefits such as health insurance.”

“False documentation is easy for undocumented workers to come by. They will get a fake Social Security card and a driver’s license. The scary thing is, you can go into these mom and pop gas stations in rural areas and buy IDs for ten dollars. They’ll get their ID and take a job just harvesting. When they fill out their W2 and W4, they will put in ‘married, 8 children’ to minimize the amount held back by the employer. But they are still taxed for Social Security, and they don’t get to claim it. They never get their contribution back. It’s a side of the taxes most people do not talk about.”

Do migrant workers take jobs away from Americans?

This is Kathy’s answer to that question.

“People ask, why do we bring these people here to work when Americans need jobs? It’s not true that they’re taking Americans’ jobs. These are hard-working people who do jobs that Americans won’t take, such as butchering animals. That is an emotionally draining thing to do. The H2A workers are no different from you and me. But they take these jobs because they need to earn money for their families back home.”

“Oranges are picked in huge sacks. Full, they can weigh up to 90 pounds. Carrying a 90-pound sack around your neck and up a 20-foot ladder is hard labor. I don’t know anyone that wants to do that or to sit in the sun and pick fruit or vegetables.

“Alabama passed a law about ten years ago that enforced the use of E-Verify. Crops were left out in the field. Of course, it was illegals that were picking the product. Because the state made the farmers use E-Verify, I don’t know how many hundreds of acres of crops were lost.

“If you had American workers picking fruit, there would be Workers Compensation claims, unemployment claims. And you’d probably be paying eight dollars for those two tomatoes you paid three dollars for.”

Those Pesky Food Safety Regulations

We hear a lot of complaints about regulations that hamper business. Kathy has first-hand experience to share on that subject as well.

“The food standards of safety in the US are ten times better than those of any other country. I’ve never been to the farms of Mexico and South America, but I’ve seen pictures. Believe me, you don’t want to think about that stuff.

“Through my position on the agricultural side, I got invited to one of Publix’s food safety class. Publix periodically goes into farms in the US, and they swab everything. They look for listeria, e-coli, just as an extra safety concern. That is why the shelf life for their products isn’t as long because they take that extra step. We should be grateful for the US food safety standards, because for the amount of food that is picked and harvested here in the States, there should be a lot more illness. But our government has almost perfected keeping us safe”

So the next time you buy fresh produce, remember Kathy. She works in an imperfect system, but she does her best to protect the people who harvest our food – and indirectly, she is protecting you.

 

Nola Daniel’s Distinguished Ancestry

By Joan Doggrell

St. Paul’s very own Nola Daniel, member of the Parish Choir, a Daughter of the King, holistic healer, folk singer, and mother of seven children, comes from a family that played a central role in the preservation of the folk songs and stories of Appalachia. In 1916, when Cecil Sharp and Maude Karpeles were collecting ballads and tales in Hot Springs, North Carolina, Sharp went to Nola’s great-grandmother, Jane Gentry.

“Cecil Sharp collected more songs from my great-grandmother than from anyone else, more than 70 songs. Everybody said you should go see Jane Gentry and one other person – people said they were the ones who really knew how to sing these songs,” said Nola.

On August 24, 2019, more than 100 people came to Hot Springs for the Centennial of Cecil Sharp and Maude Karpeles. And you’ll never guess who was there.

This is her picture taken from the website Cecil Sharp in Appalachia. https://cecilsharpinappalachia.org/janegentry.html

When she was a child, Nola and her family made frequent trips to Hot Springs for the Dorland-Bell Girls’ School reunion. (More about this school later.)

“We would go up there in the summer on vacation, though not every year. Mom would pile us all in the station wagon. My dad would usually stay home and work. He held two or three jobs. There are seven of us. The first time I remember much about it, I was in the fifth grade, I think.

“We stayed with Aunt Maud in the big house called Sunnybank. It was built as a boarding house. Aunt Maud taught all people in that area how to play the piano and organ. She knew all the words to all the songs in the Presbyterian hymnal.”

Hot Springs is on the French River, and Main Street is part of the Appalachian trail. Sunnybank is still a boarding house today. The present owner gives trail hikers special price breaks.

Nola’s Heritage

Why were so ancient many folk songs found in Appalachia and nowhere else in the USA? According to the above website, “Settlers established themselves in the Appalachian region of several states, including North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. In these isolated areas, the old songs of love, loss, murder, ghosts, and earlier times were passed down by oral tradition, expressing timeless themes and ties to the past.”

“Back then, people couldn’t just run up to Appalachia,” said Nola. “It was hard to travel there – it was up in the high mountains.” Because of their isolation, the people sang the same songs and told the same stories generation after generation.

Nola explains how the songs were discovered and made known to the world.

“Cecil Sharp was an Englishman and a music historian. He was visiting one of the rich landowners when he heard this beautiful singing, songs he had never heard before. He asked his host what it was. The host said, ‘Oh, it’s just the gardener. He sings while he’s working.’ Cecil was mesmerized by the music, so he listened and studied the matter and found out that the people of the region were singing these old songs the way they had been sung 200 years earlier. And so he came to hear and then capture the songs because it was the way they had been sung so long ago in the British Isles.”

Nola knows these songs, and she sings them beautifully. She can tell stories, too.

“My great grandmother was a singer of old English ballads. She was also a teller of the Jack, Will and Tom tales and also the Grandfather tales, which have been passed down via the oral tradition. My great aunt, one of my grandmother’s sisters, Aunt Maud, recorded the songs and stories for the Library of Congress. My sister Zola and her husband got a copy of the record and made us all cassette tapes of the songs and stories. My children and I learned them by listening to the tape in the car.”

Maud Gentry Long lived in Sunnybank in downtown Hot Springs. However, she and her siblings were all born out at Meadow Fork, about 10 miles north of Hot Springs downtown. The family kept sheep and used their wool to make their own clothing.

“On the Library of Congress record, Maud talks about how, in the evening, the family would all be busy. Father would be working on harness or other things he needed for the horses, and Mother would be cleaning, picking and carding the wool to get it ready to be spun the next day. The kids all had chores to do as well.”

And that’s when they would sing together and tell stories.

“I can almost quote Aunt Maud line and verse,” said Nola. “She said the songs and stories were ‘to keep our hearts merry and our eyes bright.’ Mother would tell the wonderful Jack, Will and Tom tales and sing the songs. I learned her way of singing through the tape I have. Joan Baez learned The Cherry Tree Carol from my Aunt Maud.”

Maud’s mother is Nola’s great grandmother, Jane Gentry.

“When I first came to St. Paul’s, William Fred Scott was there. He played The Cherry Tree Carol and Wondrous Love, two of my favorite songs of all time, and I told him how much I enjoyed his playing them.”

Nola sings The Cherry Tree Carol from her book, Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer Among Singers, written by Betty Smith. “She is a cousin of my Mom’s,” said Nola.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jb50

“My grandmother was born in 1898,” said Nola. “She was the second or third child of thirteen children. There is a story in this book about her when she was a baby. The family, including her mother, were working on a hill side clearing trees. She nursed her baby and then put her to sleep in a piece of bark. When it dried, the bark curled up and rolled down the mountain, baby and all. Suddenly the family noticed she wasn’t there anymore. After a frantic search, they found her down the hill, still sound asleep, rolled up in the bark.”

As well as singing together, the family would listen to stories, many of them known as the Jack Tales. One of those tales, Jack in the Beanstalk, comes to us from the British tradition.  But there are a lot of other tales about Jack, as well as his two brothers, Will and Tom, that hadn’t made it into popular culture, either British or American. However, they survived in Appalachia, passed down orally, and today are published in books and told at storytelling festivals.

“There is a whole collection of these stories,” said Nola. “They are about a family of three brothers who get into all kinds of trouble. There are a number of stories on my cassette tape. ‘Jack and the Bull’ is a really funny story. The stories they told children then were about real life. They were pretty macabre. The phrase ‘Haggy old witch of a woman’ appears frequently. There was always one in the story.”

Below is one of several publications of the stories collected by Richard Chase.

The following information comes from Folkstreams http://www.folkstreams.net/film-context.php?id=258

“In the last fifty years, Jack Tales have come to occupy a privileged position for scholarly analysts of folklore, for popular purveyors of folklore, and even for folk themselves. … As far back as English-language folktales can be traced, there are stories about Jack. From the fifteenth century, when ‘Jack and His Step-Dame’ was set down in rhyme in England, to the present, when Ray Hick’s rendition of ‘Jack and the Three Steers’ dominates the National Storytelling Festival, one name above all others has been associated with magic tales in the British-American tradition. Yet the relation between the earlier Jacks and the most recent is difficult to trace, since no oral Jack Tales have survived from distant centuries.”

These are the stories Nola’s ancestors told as they did their evening chores.

Another piece of history that includes Nola’s family was the Dorland-Bell School in Hot Springs.

According to Wikipedia, “The Dorland-Bell School was a mission school in Hot SpringsNorth Carolina, USA. It was founded in 1886, when Luke and Juliette Dorland, Presbyterian missionaries and educators, retired to Hot Springs. At the request of area residents, they established a school in Hot Springs and soon were teaching 25 students in their home.

By 1894, the school, now known as the Dorland Institute, had grown to include a girls’ dormitory, an expanded schoolhouse, and additional teachers. In 1918, the Dorland Institute merged with the Bell Institute, a large day school for girls, to form the Dorland-Bell School . . . When Dorland-Bell School closed in 1942, it merged with the Asheville Farm School to form what is now Warren Wilson College.”

According to Nola, “Before the school was started, there was no schooling available for girls. The boys were given some education, but it was not considered necessary to educate girls except in the skills needed to run a household. My grandmother, born in 1898, attended that school.”

Nola’s family is also connected to the John C Campbell Folk School. Her mother’s cousin Betty Smith taught there.

According to Wikipedia, “The John C. Campbell Folk School . . . was founded to nurture and preserve the folk arts of the Appalachian Mountains. It is a non-profit adult educational organization based on non-competitive learning. Founded in 1925, the Folk School’s motto is “I sing behind the plow.”

The school continues today, offering “week-long and weekend classes year-round in traditional and contemporary arts, including blacksmithing, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography, storytelling and writing.”

If you’ve ever thought there was something special about Nola Daniel, well, you were right. She is the embodiment of a unique chapter in American history and culture.

Anne Graner’s Story

By Joan Doggrell

I’d heard that the Launch Pad Library at Ruth Hill Elementary School is an awesome place, and when I visited it, I wanted to be a kid again. The large, colorfully decorated room is organized so that books, STEAM activities, and community connections are grouped together by common themes. They are organized in six learning portals: Travel the World & Beyond; Learn from the Past; Stay Fit & Healthy; Investigate Nature; Express Yourself; and Discover a Solution. And it all looks attractive and inviting.

Kids can experiment with a sewing machine, a 3-D printer, and musical instruments. They can also make movies and audio recordings in the recording studio.  They are involved with career exploration, are taught soft skills focused on professionalism, and are encouraged to create projects that impact others.

The learning portals are sponsored by community partners who supply materials and expertise. If students have a project calling for outside help, the partners are ready to supply it. For example, the Newnan Times Herald carried a story on June 9 about students making weighted lap pads that are used to help autistic children focus on learning.  The Coweta Community Foundation stepped in to help them purchase useful, quality products.

Obviously, the Launch Pad Library is a far cry from traditional school libraries. Its conception and creation are the work of St. Paul’s own Anne Graner. Anne is on a mission to empower the Ruth Hill students, 85% of which are on free and reduced lunch.  She believes that every child has the potential to succeed. With the collaboration of other teachers and community partners, the Launch Pad Library constantly strives to improve its offerings to close the opportunity gap so many of the students have.

“We don’t stop when the school year ends,” said Anne.  “For three summers, we’ve had a weekly bookmobile that reaches some of our neediest students so they can have free books over the summer.”

I met Anne at a St. Paul’s women’s retreat at Banning Mills a few years back. She took us on a “prayer hike” where we stopped and prayed at inspiring natural sights, and then she led a free-form dance that encouraged us to worship with our bodies. I knew then that this woman had a creative gift, one that could inspire others.

My own involvement with the Launch Pad Library occurred every Tuesday afternoon while students Christian and De’ Angelo filmed and interviewed me about my prosthesis. This video project ended up winning first place at the Coweta County Technology Competition.

I usually arrived just before dismissal. I watched Mrs. Graner bring her busy fifth graders, who were working on various projects throughout the library, to a halt with very few words – spoken softly. They all stopped in their tracks. They sat down together to debrief about their activities, and then were quietly dismissed. I was speechless in admiration.

How does a person become an Anne Graner? Where does that creative leadership come from?

I had a chance to ask her on June 13, when she and husband Lou Graner (more about Lou in another post) agreed to be interviewed. We began with a question:

Joan: What is in your background, or what inspired you, to develop that wonderful Launch Pad Library at Ruth Hill?

Anne: I have to go back to my parents. They were creative educators and missionaries. My mom started out teaching kindergarten and later became an elementary school principal. My dad was an Episcopal priest. Soon after they married, they went to Liberia, West Africa, as missionaries for the Episcopal Church. Mom co-founded a school there. Along with leading worship services, Dad taught courses at Cuttington College –the oldest private and coeducation university in Africa — and also served as its interim president.  I was born into this way of being: following a call, serving God and others with the gifts you’ve been given, finding creative ways to solve problems, and making the most out of being alive.

Later in life, I became a classroom teacher and noticed how much my parents’ philosophy of education and living fully influenced the type of teacher I became. That early childhood influence was a key foundation to leading me to create the Launch Pad Library.  I have found that when you observe kids and listen to them, you can get a better sense of what excites them, what they are curious about. Then you build a space and bring in resources to help them explore and become.

Mom and Dad passed away before the creation of the Launch Pad Library, but their essence permeates so much of what occurs there. I am also blessed to have the support of my husband Lou who has scrubbed floors, worked the book fair, moved bookcases and has been a sounding board for ideas and an extra hand when needed.  Our two daughters, Jessica and Lindsay, have witnessed the birth and development of the Launch Pad Library, and are excited to see how the legacy of their grandparents lives on.

Joan: Anne, any other passions that drive you?

Anne:  Yes!  I have a passion for story- for discovering other people’s stories, for documenting others’ stories with video, and for expressing my story through free-form dancing.  And I’ve always had this desire for deeper spirituality. I’ve been to the Kripalu Holistic Health Center in Massachusetts where I’ve taken workshops and trained as a yoga dance teacher. All of it was about how to access and bring alive deeper, sacred parts of me, and to learn how to invite and lead others in spiritual experiences.  It’s been a blessing to lead workshops, sacred dance experiences, and now currently, to be a healing intercessor at our church.

My passion for story led me to explore documentary filmmaking.  The training I received was very hands-on and entrenched me in the life of another. What an experience!  For someone to allow you to film them in their ordinariness and in their self-discovery was so sacred.

After the training, I was able to film other videos and created a website for these videos: http://snowpicnicfilms.com/  One of the videos features church member Billy Newman and his creative photography.  The website’s name, Snow Picnic Films, is in honor of my dad because he used to take us on picnics in the snow when we were living in New York state.

What it all boils down to is I just want to be true to my callings, to use the gifts I’ve been given, to embrace different kinds of people, and to live life fully.  Life has not always been easy.  I’ve experienced a lot of heartache.  But I continue to try to navigate all of this alongside taking time to listen, to pray, to be in nature, to create, and to just be.