While most of us have been fretting about the election (or just avoiding it altogether), Old Mission Peninsula farmers have been laser-focused on getting their apples off the trees and shipped off to the processors.
That’s true of my family’s farm, Johnson Farms, run by my brothers, Dean Johnson and Ward Johnson, and my niece, Dean’s daughter Heatherlyn Johnson.
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After the apples are picked at various orchards around the Old Mission Peninsula – both on Johnson Farms and other smaller contract farms – they’re hauled to Johnson Farms’ cooling pad on Center Road about a half-mile north of Mapleton, where they’re loaded onto big semitrucks headed to Peterson Farms. They are a family-owned farm in Shelby, Michigan, and they’ve been taking Johnson Farms cherries and apples for several years.
I happened to swing into the cooling pad yesterday on my way to the Lighthouse open house (photos forthcoming), and both brothers were loading up the last truck of the season. After a long and rainy apple season, they were happy to see that last truck head off to Peterson Farms.
I’m often driving past the cooling pad around 7 or 8 p.m., heading home after hiking a few miles on the north end trails. Most nights, I’ll see my brothers out there loading and unloading boxes of apples after the sun has gone down, sometimes in the rain and dark – especially after we set the clocks back last week and it gets dark early.
Here’s a photo I took of Ward unloading a truck last week. I’m standing next to their farm stand (which is now closed for the season).
It’s not unusual for it to snow during apple season, and that happened this past Sunday. Below is a picture I took that day at the cooling pad.
For the record, Dean said they picked, loaded and sent off some 4200 boxes of apples this year, each weighing about 800 pounds. If my math is correct, that’s 3,360,000 pounds of apples. Yes, over three million pounds of apples.
I’m thankful to have a few bags of those delicious honeycrisp apples in my front hallway. I’ve been eating at least one or two every day, and boy are they good.
Snow during apple season has been going on as long as I can remember, dating back to when I got off the bus by Peninsula Fruit Exchange after school to help out in our apple orchard there, a parcel of land we’ve always called “The Forty.”
Here’s my mom, Mary Johnson, my grandma, Stella Johnson, and Dean’s dog Duke on The Forty sometime in the 1970s.
Another reason my brothers are glad to get through apple season is because they only have their pickers for a limited amount of time. There are a lot of moving pieces on any farm, and one of those is the H-2A workers that come up from Mexico to help during cherry and apple season. They’re scheduled to return to Mexico this Friday.
The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. It’s a highly-regulated process in which the farmers must apply for and receive a temporary labor certification for H-2A workers from the Department of Labor and file a “Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.”
Meanwhile, prospective workers outside the U.S. must apply for an H-2A visa with the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. embassy or Consulate abroad, and then seek admission to the U.S. with U.S. Customs and Border Protection at a U.S. port of entry.
Heatherlyn said that the H2-A logistics and government contracts are handled through Great Lakes Ag Labor Services, which is part of Michigan Farm Bureau.
“They do the heavy lifting,” she said. “I have binder upon binder of regulations, contracts with various government agencies and documents that are required to get the guys here from Mexico.”
As the workers return to Mexico, she will close out the binders for this year, “but come January, I’ll be starting to fill the ones for the 2021 H2A worker contracts. A farmer’s work is never done.”
Meanwhile, the TC Latino Grocery store on South Airport Road in Traverse City supplies the bus that transports the pickers back to Mexico. “We’re thankful to have a direct route for our workers getting back to Mexico,” said Heatherlyn.