Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The Tuesday, October 3, 2000, edition of The New York Times carried a page one story by Anthony DePalma about undocumented workers, many from Mexico, in migrant farm labor. The article cites statistics illustrating American farmers’ dependence on an increasingly high percentage of workers who illegally enter and reside in the United States. DePalma interviewed Mark Rice, an employer of several dozen migrant farm workers, who owns nine hundred acres of fruit orchards in Pennsylvania’s fertile Adams County. Rice, the seventh generation of a family working the land, is one of thousands of growers from throughout the country who “say they are being squeezed by a system that makes them feel like criminals.” Rice claims that current immigration law has created “a tyrannical situation,” the title of the Times article.

Articles in the business sections of newspapers customarily devote coverage to the plight of business owners like Rice who, while trying to make a profit and develop their companies, often face difficult, and at times seemingly insurmountable, obstacles. Yet there are other dimensions to a story like Rice’s that are not as often reported – those of the migrant workers themselves, and of the particular form of labor history represented by the continued presence of migrant laborers in places such as rural Pennsylvania. Many probably associate migrant farm work and undocumented immigration with the West Coast, largely because of the media’s coverage of the United Farm Workers struggle in California and Texas during the 1960s and 1970s and subsequent nationwide boycotts of table grapes to protest the working and living conditions of the laborers. Migrant farm labor also has a long history in Pennsylvania. While the numbers of workers who pick crops in the Keystone State are far less than those who toil on the West Coast, they have been no less important to the Commonwealth’s agricultural economy, nor have they been any more sheltered from the inherent abuses of the migrant farm labor system.

For decades, migratory workers have labored on farms and in vineyards, orchards, and vegetable fields throughout the Commonwealth.

The grape industry in northwest Pennsylvania, specifically the Chautauqua-­Erie grape belt, a narrow strip bordering Lake Erie, garnered prominence beginning about 1865 (see “The Northwest’s Vintners” by Sabina Shields Freeman, Spring 1988). After enjoying a heyday of fifteen years, the belt suffered a period of decline after California entered the market. Between 1880 and 1890, California’s grape industry skyrocketed from 35,000 to 213,000 acres, totaling more than the combined acreage in all the eastern states, noted Stevenson Whitcomb Fletcher, author of Pennsylvania Agriculture and County Life, 1840-1940, published by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1955. By 1895, growers tended eleven thousand acres of grapes in Erie County.

The opening of the twentieth century ushered in another boom for Erie County’s grape culture. Between 1904 and 1916, Whitcomb discovered, the county “expanded its vineyards with as much abandon as Adams County its apple orchards. By 1910, it was shipping 12,000 to 16,000 cars a year.” A tumultuous market and the need for unified marketing initiatives, standardized grading, and economical packaging prompted the organization, in 1921, of the Keystone Cooperative Grape Growers’ Association. Nearly four-fifths of the five million grape vines in Pennsylvania were being cultivated in Erie County by 1940. In the following decade, nearly six hundred migrant workers, four hundred of them Puerto Ricans, worked in the county and stayed in twenty-two camps.

A vestige of Potter County’s twentieth-­century potato culture – which rose from the lowly spud of 1840, sown chiefly for feeding livestock, to one of Pennsylvania’s leading cash crops a century later – is Potato City at Coudersport. Built in 1949 by growers, packers, and shippers, Potato City was erected as a monument to the industry, an initiative spearheaded by Ernest L. Nixon – “the flaming evangelist of potato mentality” and Penn State faculty member for nearly forty years – who crossbred and developed new types of potatoes. For years the building was used for meetings, banquets, field days, and related activities of the potato industry.

It wasn’t until about 1920 that “modern” commercial potato growing evolved with. the advent of spraying, the planting of disease-free seeds, and related improved farming practices. Improved methods led to a boon for growers, and between 1920 and 1940 the growing of potatoes transformed from an almost casual phase of general farming to a highly specialized industry. Even though advances in equipment reduced manual labor – described by Fletcher as “the back­breaking task of digging potatoes by hand” – farmers relied on migratory workers to harvest their crops until after World War II. In the early to mid-1950s, forty-five camps in Potter County temporarily housed twenty-five hundred southern and one hundred Puerto Rican workers. By 1964, however, the seasonal workforce dropped to seven hundred laborers occupying six camps.

Mushroom cultivation in the United States began in Kennett Square, Chester County, in 1896, and the edible sporophores have emerged as the number one cash crop in Pennsylvania, accounting for nearly hall of the country’s production. Kennett Square has become known far and wide as the “Mushroom Capital of the World,” and migratory workers, most of whom are Mexican, harvest many of these mushroom farms.

Migrant farm laborers worked in the apple orchards which dominated the landscape of Lehigh and Berks Counties, in the stands of peach trees that punctuated many farms in York County, and in the tomato fields of Columbia County.

Mark Rice emphasizes that Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy relies heavily on the yearly influx of migrant farm labor to work in its meat packing houses, harvest its mushrooms, and pick its fruit crops. Over the past two decades, many of the people who have come to harvest each season have also stayed and settled, forming small Latino communities in several areas, notably Adams and Chester Counties. These communities are only a part of the diverse mosaic of people who have comprised the migrant farm population in Pennsylvania during the past six decades. Facing Labor shortages caused by World War II, apple growers in Adams County imported guest workers from the British West Indies. In addition, employers trucked children, both white and African American, from Carlisle, in adjacent Cumberland County, hired through a local employment office, into the county to pick crops. German prisoners of war held during World War II by the federal government at Pine Grove Furnace, in southern Cumberland County, were used in nearby fields, orchards, and canneries.

Even before the outbreak of World War II, Adams County farmers found use for migrant workers, usually single men, called “hobos,” from metropolitan areas, including New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. They would stay in rooming houses during the harvest season, and return to their cities after they harvested crops. The hiring of outside labor was part of a larger social change in places like Adams County where, up until the early sixties, many local families and teenagers were also a source of labor, working in the apple and peach orchards as an extra source of income. Over the course of the twentieth century, however, the increasingly industrialized and mechanized forms of agriculture narrowed profit margins for farmers, and put pressure on them to produce more at a lower cost.

In his landmark book, Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California, first published in 1939, journalist and historian Carey McWilliams (1905-1980) documented this phenomenon in the Golden State’s agricultural economy, and connected this to the first use of agricultural migrant £arm labor. From the time that the United States conquered California during the Mexican War of 1846-1848, the state had a land tenure system characterized by huge tracts occupied by single owners. By the late nineteenth century, with emerging factory methods of canning and processing, these farmers were able to grow, harvest and process crops in a factory model, often with packing houses located right in the middle of the fields. The development of refrigerated railroad freight cars allowed West Coast growers to deliver fresh crops to the east, opening up markets for California produce throughout the country.

Such advances encouraged farmers to abandon growing wheat and grain to cultivating more profitable produce and garden crops. The nature of this kind of agriculture depended upon a quick harvest and prompt delivery to markets, and it needed a labor supply that was able to quickly do this work, often in the hot sun under unbearable conditions. Because of the risks involved in such growing, farmers – which by the early twentieth century emerged as large corporations – sought workers who would be willing to pick by piece rate, wages barely sufficient for their existence. McWilliams contended this work did not promise lasting employment, for once the crops were picked, there was no more work, and the pickers would need to move on and find work elsewhere. And so began the migrant farm labor system.

Although migrant farm labor began as early as the 1870s in California, it was not long until farmers in many parts of the East would also begin to depend upon migrant farm workers. As in California, agriculture in the East had, until the late nineteenth century, been primarily characterized by the growing of grain crops, such as wheat and oats. The development of transcontinental rail lines – the same rail lines that allowed California growers to ship fresh produce to markets in the east – had attracted a number of speculators to invest heavily in grain production in the plains. The mechanization of grain planting and harvesting had made it possible to grow field upon field of wheat, corn, and other grains at a cost far below what had ever been possible. As western growers dumped grain on the eastern market, the prices fell below the rate with which eastern farmers could compete. As a result, farmers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, particularly in regions surrounding cities, began to turn toward what became known as truck farming, the growing of produce and dairy products for consumption in urban areas.

As early as 1900, farmers encountered trouble competing with nearby cities and mining operations for workers, cities that offered industrial work that, no matter how poorly it paid, and no matter how dangerous the working conditions, at least offered employment for longer periods than truck farmers could offer. The Seventh Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (1901) noted the problem and speculated, “If the present demand for labor in the manufacturing and other industries continues, land owners will be obliged to sub-divide their farms, reducing their size sufficiently, to make it possible for an ordinary family to perform necessary labor without hiring additional help, except for a short time and only upon special occasions.” What did occur was actually the opposite of what the report suggested. Rather than subdivide into smaller farms, larger farms with greater resources gobbled up smaller ones and farming became more consolidated. Eventually the labor shortage problem was solved, as in California, by the introduction of migrant farm labor.

Recent oral history interviews yield evidence that people had been migrating to Adams County to pick crops as early as the 1930s . If this was the first use of migrant farm labor in the county, it is relatively late in relation to other regions of the East Coast. Historian and author Cindy Hahamovitch has documented truck farmers using migrant farm labor in New Jersey as early as the late nineteenth century. The farmers drew mostly from Italian immigrants, induced to cross the Atlantic by padrones, individuals who find employment for people, mostly fellow Italians, and from African Americans leaving the dire economic situations they faced as southern sharecroppers.

Many Adams Countians remember that hard working residents used to pick crops during summer vacations to afford winter clothes and shoes before the era of migrant farm labor began emerging in the 1950s. Yet the economy of Adams County had begun to develop along a more mechanized, factory model by the teens and twenties. In 1905, Henry Gideon Baugher established the Adams County Nursery, a key component in the apple growing industry, and a group of businesspeople organized a cooperative, the Biglerville Canning Company, purchased in 1911 by C.H. Musselman. In 1915, a syndicate of investors and growers formed the Adams County Fruit Packing and Distributing Company, which built the first centralized packinghouse in Pennsylvania.

These businesses laid the foundation of an apple industry in Adams County that would eventually depend upon a migrant farm labor system. After World War II, African American and poor white migrant workers from the rural south; guest workers from Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the British West Indies; refugees from Haiti; and immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America would supply their labor, at a low cost, to the farmers of the mid­-state.

Migrant farm workers are almost by definition considered “outsiders” wherever they work. They are disproportionately non-white and survive in an underground economy that has been characterized by abuse and exploitation. For many years, the migrant farm labor system was governed by a “crew leader system.” Crew leaders would lead small groups of workers from camp to camp negotiating with growers to provide them with work crews; then later would withhold wages and threaten violence against any workers who tried to leave a crew early. Some workers, not knowing how to read, would sign contracts that essentially gave all of their wages away to a crew leader at the beginning of the season and they worked in a harsh system of peonage.

Among the first to come to the aid of migrant farm workers in Adams County were members of established African American church congregations, such as the Shiloh Baptist Church in Carlisle in neighboring Cumberland County. Under the leadership of the Reverend Joseph Haggler Jr., the church secured backing from the National Council of Churches (NCC) to provide day care services, education, entertainment, recreation, and counseling to workers in camps throughout the county. This began at Shiloh, according to the Reverend Haggler’s son, Joseph Haggler III, when a family came to their house looking for help. The Reverend Haggler quickly became aware that the workers who came to the county each year were living under harsh conditions and had few advocates. He drew from the resources of his congregation beginning in the early 1960s.

The National Council of Churches had long been concerned with migrant farm labor issues and supported Haggler’s work in Adams County. In September 1951, the General Board of the NCC issued a statement, “Concern of the Churches for Migratory Farm Laborers,” in which it affirmed clauses contained in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human rights pertaining to the rights of all people “to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment; to join trade unions and to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family.”

In Pennsylvania, activists were eventually able to affect change on behalf of migrant farm workers when, in 1970, voters elected Governor Milton J. Shapp (1912-1994) to his first of two consecutive terms. In Shapp they found a supportive administration that organized the Governor’s Interdepartmental Council on Seasonal Farm Labor. Shapp’s Secretary of Community Affairs William Wilcox helped organize a state panel that acknowledged that there were severe problems and abuses within the migrant farm labor system. Ardent activists such as Mary Ellen Beaver had revealed that housing was inadequate, often overcrowded, and unsanitary. The Governor’s Interdepartmental Council on Seasonal Labor uncovered these abuses, and crafted landmark legislation, the Seasonal Farm Labor Act, that passed through the legislature and signed into law by Governor Shapp on June 23, 1978. The law constituted one of the toughest sets of regulations ever designed to address abuses and exploitation of migrant workers. Among its many provisions, it allows for individuals receiving state money to inspect a migrant labor camp, and it made farmers, rather than crew leaders, responsible for the wages and working conditions of those under their employment.

Despite such advances, much has not changed with regard to the migrant farm labor system, one that still pays low wages, requires that people live in substandard conditions, and demands constant mobility from one farm to the next. Only 55 percent of farm worker children will graduate from high school, according to Human Rights Watch. The General Accounting Office estimates that the drop out rate for farm worker youth is 45 percent. Eighty percent of adult migrant farm workers possess a fifth grade literacy level. In Pennsylvania today, a majority of farm workers come from Latin America, mostly from Mexico, and many lack basic English language skills they need to function. Because many have entered the country illegally and live in constant fear of deportation, they hesitate seeking medical care they need or to advocate for their own rights in the workplace.

The voices are testimony to the ongoing struggles of migrant farmworkers through the words of activists, aid workers, political leaders, and the workers themselves.


Colleen Sease

Chambersburg, Franklin County; February 5, 2001

Colleen Sease grew up in the Adams County seat of Gettysburg and today works in Franklin County at Rural Opportunities Incorporated, a social service agency that serves migrant farm workers. Ironically, she discovered that her family history is connected to some of the earliest instances of migrant farm labor in Adams County. She remembers her grandmother housing “hobos” at her boarding house, the Elk Horn Hotel. The workers were among the first to travel to this region as temporary workers to pick crops in Adams County.

They set up the restaurant to feed people, and they had fourteen bedrooms upstairs, and those fourteen bedrooms, by then, half the children had gone. As was the need in those days, if you could rent a bed, all the kids bunked together in one bed so that you could rent the room out. It was of course rented out to travelers or anyone who came by. But from the stories that my mother and my Uncle Thurston told me, most of the rooms were rented out to migrants … I didn’t know enough to ask too many questions, but in later years I did ask, and they said migrants were not foreign people at that time They were not from Mexico, they were not from Puerto Rico or Haiti or anywhere else, they were local men, mostly single, that came out of the Philadelphia and Baltimore area. And they would come up from the Baltimore-Washington-Philadel­phia area, and pick apples, and pick cherries, and peaches, and whatever was available, and would also work in the canning factories.


John E Peters

Gardners, Adams County; March 8, 2001

John F. Peters, proprietor of The Peters Orchards, Gardners, Adams County, notes that farms in the region in the mid­-nineteenth century had small orchards of about an acre or less before the area became known as a fruit growing area. Their family business began as a nursery serving these small orchards. After the business went bankrupt in 1905, the business was handed down to Peters’ father. After difficult times during the 1930s, Peters’ father worked to establish cooperative farming operations, which eventually led to formation of the Mountain Orchard Cooperative and the Knouse Food Cooperative.

When you think of the people that worked, what I remember in 1935, I was five years old, and in ’36 started at the country school. But the workers that we had on our small farm were local family workers of, in many cases, the mother of the family that desperately needed income would work with the children, and they’d come on the farm to help to pick the apples or help to pick the peaches or help to pick the tomatoes … all the young children learned to pick cherries, and enjoyed getting the extra money, or picked raspberries or picked tomatoes, or one of those summertime crops, and also the mothers were with them, in many cases … the children were all up to teenage. They might have been ten, twelve, fourteen years old in that period. Before they were big enough to go and get a job on the railroad. At that time the railroad was developing, had developed all over the country, and was taking everybody away, or had been taking everybody away, just as the computer age is taking everybody now. But then when World War II came along, well that took all the people, all the young boys as soon as they got to be seventeen, why they went in the service, and the mothers all went to work in factories. Then there was very much of a shortage of labor, and the government did a variety of things to try to help the agricultural labor situation. One of them was to help Great Britain to keep the islands in the Caribbean, which they couldn’t keep anymore. They were on this side of the ocean, and Britain could desperately survive itself, so Churchill and Roosevelt entered into agreements where they got American destroyers and American naval equipment in trade for our protectorate of islands like Jamaica. And then the United States government started bringing Jamaicans in. And also we had people from Puerto Rico … and we had Bahamans in here in the forties that was part of the government recognition of this fact that all the agricultural workers had gone to make bullets.


Joseph Haggler III

Reston, Virginia; March 13, 2001

Joseph Haggler III, son of the Reverend Joseph Haggler, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Carlisle, worked in a program that his father set up through the National Council of Churches to aid migrant farm worker families, the majority of whom in Adams County at the time were African American. Haggler describes his father as an extremely charismatic individual able to motivate members of his church to volunteer their time to teach in day care centers, organize field trips, and make lunches for the children of migrant workers. The Reverend Haggler later worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry on migrant labor issues, helping to enforce regulations regarding wages and living and working conditions.

My earliest recollections are events that occurred probably 1959, 1960 possibly … a family, a black family from Florida had come to work in central Pennsylvania on the farms and ran into some sort of difficulty, some sort of problem. And somehow they were, because of my father’s reputation of helping people, helping people that were stranded, helping people that had difficulties, they were directed to him, and he became aware of the trials and tribulations that migrant farm worker families faced.

There were many problems, labor type related problems between migrant workers and the farmers. Some of these places were … to me they were unlivable, totally unlivable conditions. I know that one of the things that I remember in some of these shacks that they lived in and I’d really never seen it before, not that I was a privileged child or anything, but the big thing were these sticky strips that hang from the ceiling to catch flies, and you would go into these shacks, and these things would be almost … they were yellow, and they were almost covered in black with these flies. And that was one of the things that always bothered me, that kids would be sitting in a shack on a dirt floor, and Just flies all over them. You know health issues became a thing that my father became very concerned about. And he would try to, through the council of churches recruit medical personnel just to come out and have a day to go through the camp and look at the children and that kind of thing.


Parker Coble

Gettysburg, Adams County; February 13, 2001

Parker Coble retired several years ago as director of the Lincoln Intermediate Unit’s migrant programs in Gettysburg. He is a veteran of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, helping to create services and facilities, such as the Opportunities Center daycare in Adams County, still being used today. He successfully negotiated with growers to accept reforms and regulations to improve the lives of farm workers. When he first began his work, the migrant labor population was largely African American, poor white, Jamaican, and Puerto Rican. During his years working on migrant social services, he saw the eventual transformation of this workforce into a primarily Mexican one. He talks about this transition.

The first Mexican families came into Adams County in 1965, up on U.S. Route 30, going from Gettysburg towards “Tick-Tock:’ or the South Mountains. As you go up the hill it was on the right hand side. an old garage, and those folks, there were about eighty of them, lived there, didn’t have bathrooms. It was a bad health situation because there were no bathrooms and all. But those kids when they came to school, I can still picture very clearly that first Mexican boy who was about thirteen or fourteen years of age, and how he would sit on the tractor, a Ford tractor, that they would use to mow the lawn where they went to elemen­tary school, and he would sit in that tractor and pretend that he was driving. We’d let him do it. That was, that was a totally … the beginning of a different thing. I mean we were working with the Puerto Rican families, then we had the Mexican, the black, the Puerto Rican, the white, you know, still some Jamaicans, and so forth, so we kind of had a melting pot of the different ethnic groups – or a salad bowl as I like to refer to it. because you can’t blend all their ethnic things into one, and we shouldn’t. We should keep it a salad bowl. It gives us better flavor.


Victor Yarnell

Reading, Berks County; March 29, 2001

Victor Yarnell, former state representative and former mayor of Reading, Berks County, joined the administration of Governor Milton J. Shapp as a deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce in 1972 and later served as advisor to the secretary of the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA). In his advisory role at DCA, he led the Governor’s Interdepartmental Council on Seasonal Farm Labor. The council included a wide range of governmental and non-governmental bodies, including church organizations and activist groups. Yarnell dealt mostly with problems occurring in northeastern Pennsylvania among the tomato harvesters. He recalls some of the stories he heard when migrants testified before the commission.

The farmers always had an excuse for not dealing with some of the questions that the workers them­selves made by the fact that the system allowed the farmer to avoid direct contact with the worker by hiring a boss to bring a team along with him, and it was the boss very often who was the most corrupt of the bunch because he would get people who were, well, who were not only indigent, but in many cases were similar to the way they used to put people on the sailing vessels where they’d … Shanghai, bring them in, and that was not unknown for people to be Shanghaied into the migrant streams. So the farmer always was one step away from direct contact with his employee because he paid .. . the money went through … the crew leader, and the crew leader, depending on how bad he was, would make life pretty miserable. He would charge people for things, and provide him with stuff that was illegal, like drink during the weekends, and then charge him an arm and a leg for the price of bringing it into the camp. And they would end up at the end of the weekend and find that they had nothing.


Mary Ellen Beaver

March 6, 2001

Mary Ellen Beaver, founder of the Friends of Farmworkers, has been a farm labor activist for more than thirty years. She began in the tomato-growing region of Columbia County in northcentral Pennsylvania working to improve the lives of farm workers victimized by the crew leader system. She worked with Victor Yarnell on the Governor’s Interdepartmental Council on Seasonal Farm Labor, and helped to influence the reforms that became part of the landmark 1978 state farm labor regulations. She has since expanded her activism, working on behalf of harvesters in Florida. She recalls an incident in the early 1970s that led her to devote her energies to farm labor activism.

I remember this one Sunday in particular, this tall woman, she had to be six foot tall, very striking black woman. and she had on all white clothes. It was very unusual. I never saw anyone dressed like that. When they go to the field, they weren’t dressed like that, you know. She had on a turban, and she had a big cigar. And she came to the house. Well, and my husband’s parents were visiting. And they were, they’re wonderful people, but I didn’t dare ask her in the house. Isn’t that terrible? But I know my mother-in-law would have had a … she … she was a good person, but she … as you know, she wouldn’t have raised a fuss, but I talked to the woman on the porch, and she had four teenage children with her, and they wanted to go back to Florida, and go to school. This was the beginning of September. And she said the crew leader was threatening her, and would, and that they were picking ripe tomatoes for Chef Boyardee for fourteen cents a five-eighths basket. And for every basket that they picked, they held back two cents for your end of season bonus. This was in 1970. And she wanted her pennies, because they had picked hundreds of baskets, thousands maybe, with four children, four young children, they were getting a piece rate. And they wanted their money and he wouldn’t give it to them, and I said, I’ll go in and call up my friend. I went in and called Mon­signor Frangipani and he didn’t have a clue. We didn’t have … we didn’t know who to turn to, we didn’t know how to get help. And we just said, I don’t know what to do … She had brought somebody to drive her to my house. The camp that she was at was over on the [Catawissa] Mountain. And she got, went back to her camp and we just said try to keep from getting hurt.


Remigia Sandoval

Gettysburg, Adams County; February 13, 2001

Remigia Sandoval came to the United States from Mexico. She first worked in Florida, and later migrated north to Pennsylvania at the suggestion of a crew leader who was a friend of hers. After traveling north, she decided to stay after the harvest season had ended. When she settled in Gettysburg, she knew very few people in the area. Rural Opportunities Incorporated helped her pay her first month’s rent and deposit, and helped her to find a job. Still, Sandoval had a difficult time finding good work, and it took several years before she was able to get work as a counselor with a program that served victims of domestic violence. She is now a counselor with the Center for Human Services in Gettysburg, Adams County.

One day my friend Carlos invited me to Pennsylvania because he is coming, I think, more than twenty, twenty-five years, he 1s coming every season to pick apples and peaches. And then I was in Florida in his house, and he says, “Remi, you have to go up to Pennsylvania because it’s beautiful.” And then one day I decided to come with them one season and stay on the farm, and was helping there … and when they come back, I stayed here in this town. And still I am here. And still every season, he comes with a lot of people from Florida because he’s a contratista
[crew leader], he has a lot of people to pick oranges there. And when it is the season to pick apples here in Pennsylvania, he brings all the people, or part of the people and picks apples here … all his life. And still, every year, all these twelve years I’m living here, every year we see and we share in the farm together … When he went to Florida with all the people at the end of the season, and I started looking for a job here. It was very, very difficult to me.


Alejandrina Colon

Gettysburg, Adams County; February 20, 2001

Alejandrina Colon is the coordinator of the High School Equivalency Program for the Center for Human Services in Gettysburg, Adams County. She moved to central Pennsylvania from Puerto Rico after having lived and taught in New York and Puerto Rico for several years. The center, an important social service agency in the region for migrant workers who have settled in Adams County, provides a wide range of adult educational services, many through federal grants. The Center’s staff understands how their clients, who are both immigrants and migrant workers, often feel like outsiders.

Over here, we treat everyone as an equal. There are no degrees in education. There are no diplomas or awards on the walls. We treat them as equals to us, which they are. I mean, they are no different from us. We try to offer them a friendly and familiar atmosphere, a place where they feel comfortable, a place where they feel that they belong. We have decorations on the walls pertaining to them – their art, their photographs, everything. It’s about them because we want them to feel that when they come here, they are not only going to learn. but they also have a place where they can talk to us about any kind of problem … and it seems to be working so far.



About Apples

Scottish-Irish pioneers settled the Biglerville, Adams County area before 1740, followed by German families, which also farmed the fertile land. Railroads accelerated the shipping of fresh fruit by the 1880s and helped develop the fruit processing industry shortly after the opening of the twentieth century. Today, the region is one of the most productive fruit growing regions in the country, home to nationally known processors and a variety of supporting industries. More than five million apples are harvested in Adams County alone each year.

Opened in 1990 by the Biglerville Historical and Preservation Society, the National Apple Museum in Biglerville preserves and exhibits the history of the apple and tree fruit industry in Adams County. Exhibits explore early picking, grading, packing, and shipping of fruit, pest management, and commercial fruit processing. Vintage photographs document orchards and processing equipment. The museum also features a recreated late nineteenth-century farming family’s kitchen and a period general store. A collection of agricultural implements and tools, apple peelers, fruit crate labels, and related ephemera is also on display. The National Apple Museum is housed in a pre-Civil War barn.

The National Apple Museum is open during weekends from April through October; weekday and group tours are available by appointment.

To obtain additional information, including traveling directions and visiting hours, write: National Apple Museum, Biglerville Historical and Preservation Society, 154 West Hanover Street, Biglerville, PA 17307-9442; telephone (717) 677-4556; or visit www.nationalapplemuseum.com or the Web. Admission is charged.


For Further Reading

Chavez, Leo. Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in American Society. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998.

Fletcher, Stevenson Whitcomb. Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life, 1840-1940. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1955.

Haltamovitch, Cindy. The fruits of Their Labor: Atlantic Coast Farmworkers and the Making of Migrant Poverty, 1870-1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

McWilliams, Carey. Factories in the Field. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Peregrine Publishers, 1971.

Nagurny, Kyle. Pennsylvania Apples: History and Culture. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2002.

Rothenberg, Daniel. With These Hands: The Hidden World of Migrant Farmwork­ers Today. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.


John Bloom is a temporary assistant professor of history at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in Shippensburg, Cumberland County, He received his PhD in American studies from the University of Minnesota. An author of several books, he wrote To Show What an Indian Can Do: Sports at Native American Boarding Schools, an exploration of recreation at institutions such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He completed most of tire research for this article while serving as a scholar in residence with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 2001.