Where Maine’s seasonal workers come from, and where they go next

A survey conducted last summer gives deeper insight into seasonal work in Maine, an area of the state’s economy that is hard to track, for obvious reasons.

Through 44 questions, the survey of about 52 seasonal workers gives a deeper look into the lives of workers who traveled to Maine’s blueberry barrens and broccoli fields in Washington and Aroostook counties for the 2015 harvest.

That includes personal looks into the lives of those individual workers and the stories behind those surveys, which Bureau of Labor Services intern Treva deMaynadier published in December.

The survey also captured a lot of data about a key feature of life for seasonal workers: travel. More than 70 percent of the survey respondents reported that their primary work is agricultural, while 30 percent reported primary work in other industries.

The survey reflects those travel patterns compared with the respondents’ permanent homes, showing that most of those surveyed arrived from New Jersey, though few of those workers live there permanently. Blueberries are the Garden State’s largest crop, with about a six-week harvest.

Most call either Florida or Mexico (not near Rumford) home.

The survey — done between June and mid-August — also breaks down the types of work survey respondents reported doing, including harvests on which they would work after blueberry raking.

The report also includes stories related from cooks at seasonal labor camps, individual workers and families who have traveled together for years to find seasonal work.

About one quarter of the survey respondents said they travel with their immediate family. Most, 38 percent, were traveling with friends and about 10 percent traveled with a contractor.

One couple, deMaynadier wrote, said “they have been traveling to find migrant farm work since about 1988, and when I ask how long they will continue coming to Maine to work the broccoli, they laugh and reply jokingly that they will come until their bodies are no longer capable of doing the work.”

Read more deMaynadier’s full report and findings at the Maine Department of Labor website.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.