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Published August 06, 2010, 08:16 AM

Family returns to region as vegetable season kicks off

Silvina Tamez has been coming to New Richmond each summer for 12 years, but not for vacation.

By: By Anna Holmquist, New Richmond News

Silvina Tamez has been coming to New Richmond each summer for 12 years, but not for vacation.

She is one of many migrants workers who is employed at Lakeside Foods in New Richmond.

Silvina doesn’t speak much English, despite more than a decade of Wisconsin summers.

Her three grown sons, Felix, Alfonso and Arnie, do speak English. They all work with Lakeside Foods in some capacity.

Felix works in the canning factory along with his mother. They typically work 10-hours shifts.

Alfonso’s trucking business contracts with the local canning company to haul the raw vegetables from the farm fields to the plant. Arnie also contracts with Lakeside to haul product.

“I tried working in the plant one year, but I didn’t care for it,” Alfonso said. “I don’t like working indoors.”

Alfonso and Arnie run six semi-trucks throughout the season, picking up vegetables mostly within a 60-mile radius of New Richmond and bringing them to Lakeside. They also make several trips to beet farms in Minnesota, about three hours away, later in the growing season.

Arnie and Alfonso are married and their wives and children come north with them each summer.

Arnie’s wife Alma works in the canning factory as an inspector. She checks to ensure that the cans of vegetables weigh close to what the outside label indicates.

Alfonso’s wife Criselda used to work at Lakeside as well, but currently stays home with her kids and does paperwork for her husband’s trucking company.

“Yeah, I hate paperwork,” Alfonso said with a laugh.

The Tamez family travels north in July to begin their work.

They eventually return to their other home in southern Texas when the harvest is done, usually around the end of November.

“We live in a one-horse town in the Rio Grande Valley,” Alfonso said.

Arnie mentioned that it’s challenging to switch the kids back and forth between schools, but other than that he enjoys the migrant lifestyle.

The Tamezes are accustomed to moving around. Silvina and her husband Julian traveled to work in California and Minnesota when their children were younger. Arnie said he and his siblings are used to the lifestyle of migrant workers, since that’s how they grew up.

Plus, there are some perks, like escaping the Texas summer heat.

“When it’s 110 degrees back home, that ain’t too hard to leave behind,” said Alfonso. “We leave here before it gets cold. I love the weather up here in the summer.”

The family said they like New Richmond.

“We take this as a second home,” Alfonso said.

When they’re not busy working, they enjoy having family barbecues and going to the Twin Cities to shop at the malls.

While in New Richmond, Alfonso’s and Arnie’s families rent a house that is owned by Fritz Friday, whose father Carlton began the original canning factory in New Richmond back in 1925. Lakeside Foods continues to farm the land around the house.

“We have always used that farm for part of our operation,” said Jim Brockpahler, a manager at Lakeside Foods.

The Fridays allow Alfonso to use the workshop near the house to work on his trucks. Brockpahler said that as long as Alfonso trucks for them, which he hopes will be for many more years, he’ll be welcome to rent the house and use the shop.

Lakeside Food has employed 172 migrant workers this year. Of that total, 111 are returnees. Lakeside first started hiring migrant workers to meet their seasonal employment needs in 1999. Lakeside Foods has additional local employees as well.

Every March, Erica Kunze, human resource manager for Lakeside, travels to Texas to recruit workers, primarily from towns along the south border of Texas, such as Laredo and Eagle Pass. It is required under Wisconsin state law that the company have workers sign migrant labor contracts before they journey north. That way, the employees know a job will be available for them at Lakeside.