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Bad Deal Affects So Very Many

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Posted: Friday, February 1, 2019 3:00 am

Whether you call it NAFTA or USMCA, the trade deal between US and Mexico harms not only South Dade farmers but field hands, truck drivers, warehouse workers; cities, regions, families and communities. Economic impact reaches far and wide.

South Dade is in jeopardy of losing one of, if not the most important of its industries, Agriculture. Federal Legislation like NAFTA/USMCA, has made it almost impossible for South Florida farmers to compete with foreign markets. The rules and regulations give those markets an advantage, therefore hurting American farmers like Sal Finocchiaro. He owns S & L Bean, a local farm here in South Dade. NAFTA/USMCA has hurt the industry worse than he could ever imagine. So, when he is thinking of the future of S & L Bean, he is worried.

Finocchiaro's father came to America as a migrant worker from Italy in 1949 to work for his partners grandfather, who sponsored him. He was 15 at the time. He and his sisters worked seasonally until Sal's grandparents came four years later.

The farm started with Sal's dad and his partners dad in 1967. It began with 20 acres of squash. As time went on the farm would grow and when Sal and his partner graduated high school in 1988, they continued to work on the farm and made it grow even more.

At their peak, S & L Beans would grow to 7,000 acres.

NAFTA, unfortunately, would have an incredible effect on their tomato farms. NAFTA came into effect in late 1992. Their farm employed 1,200 people at one time but now they are down to 400.

Farms like S & L Bean have a unique importance to the American Agriculture community. In the winter time, without South Florida Produce, which is considered Lake Okeechobee south, you wouldn't be able to get vegetables anywhere else. The only option would be to get foreign products.

Some of the reasons that the foreign products are so cheap are because of the difference in regulations that American companies have compared to their foreign counterparts. for example, Mexico has no EPA and no state regulations. American farmers, on the other hand are regulated by the State and Federal Government. There is a stringent food safety audit every year to make sure the products are clean for consumption. Foreign competitors like Mexico are subsidized by their government. They even get funding to put in greenhouses. 

It has been really tough for farmers like Sal to stay competitive. "When you have to compete with countries that pays their workers $5.00 to $8.00 dollars a day, compared to the minimum wage here, $8.42 an hour." Most workers on Sal's farm make more than minimum wage. When they are paid by the piece or bucket, even though they are guaranteed a minimum wage, they end up making more.

S & L Bean has an operation similar to other farms in the area. The day starts at sunrise with 5 crews that go out. One goes to the yellow squash, one goes to the zucchini, three go to the grape tomatoes. There are also a couple of crews that go to the bean fields. Once the product is picked, it is loaded into the trucks. The products are then brought to a packing line where there is a crew and supervisor. Once the products make it through the packing lines, they are packaged and sent to a cooler.

There is a loading dock for shipping and some of the products go straight to local retailers like Winn Dixie and Publix. Then of course, it makes it to our dinner tables.

SLB has lot of families that work for them. Some of them worked for Finocchiaro's dad and now their kids work for Sal as well.

Mostly migrant and seasonal farmworkers, these employees don't just work on the farm to "have a job", Farm work is their "career of choice". Some of the workers have been doing this type of work since they were pre-teens. It is the main income for their household as many would consider there "family business". So, if the farm work ends, so does the ability for the family to sustain itself.

Caterina Sanchez is a mother who works on the farm in the packing house. She says, "If the farming industry continues to suffer, and we lose more jobs, it will affect everyone because we workers depend on each other, we are a team on and off the farm. Caterina has a family of five with two school aged children living in a single-family home.

Most farmers don't see much future for the farming industry. The markets and the chain stores are buying products from foreign places like Mexico. They can buy their products so cheap that they see mp reason to buy from farms like S & L Beans.

Farmers like Finocchiaro could of course sell their farms and live off the money, but as he puts it, “That's not what I want to do. I love working. I love getting up in the morning. Growing up with my dad, this was all we did, even as a little kid, i used to get up with my dad in my pajamas and my little lunch box saying, ‘We gotta go to work Dad." He goes on to say, “I've been doing this since I was little, I don't want to do nothing different.”

Arturo Martinez, a Field Labor Supervisor who was born and raised in Homestead, had this to say about the industries decline. " If the industry suffers anymore, it would put a large strain on the vegetable industry. Homestead Farmers have always been crucial to the United States because in January and February, when everywhere is cold, Homestead is still growing."

"If I could talk to Congress, I would suggest that they put the farmers on some sort of contract so that they don't suffer with the market.

Finocchiaro and other farmers have continuously lobbied elected officials about their concerns here in South Dade. In October, then Congressman Carlos Curbelo and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio came down to South Dade. Rubio will continue to do this as he has not lost all hope. He still thinks there is a chance for the federal government to step up and fix this. As he states, " The farmers just want a level playing field, but right now, the system is rigged for the other guys.

Finocchiaro has a 22-year-old son. He also wants to continue the family legacy as a farmer, like his dad. There are times when he asks his father, "Dad, what kind of future do we have on the farm." This often saddens him, as he can't honestly give his son a good answer.

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