Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Rural Migration News

contact us

July 1997, Volume 3, Number 3

The Changing Face of Delmarva

The fourth Changing Face of Rural America conference will be held
September 11-13, 1997 at the University of Delaware campus in Newark,
Delaware. The purpose of this Changing Face conference is to assess
the prospects for integrating the immigrants who have arrived in
rural areas of the mid-Atlantic and southeastern states since 1985 to
fill agricultural and farm-related jobs.

Agriculture is a traditional port of entry for Mexican immigrants,
but economic and social mobility for immigrant farm workers has in
the past usually required geographic mobility--to get ahead, many
rural residents moved to cities. Participants in the seminar will
explore the prospects for and impacts of recent immigrants in the
rural towns to which they are moving.

This report provides background information for the conference.
More detailed analyses will be included in the papers presented at
the conference.


The 1990 Census reported that there were 7,000 Latinos in
Maryland's Eastern Shore counties and Delaware's Kent and Sussex
counties. Estimates are that their number rose to 9,000 in 1994,
although a Spanish-speaking Catholic priest in Georgetown, Delaware,
Steve Giuliano, estimated in fall 1996 that there were 20,000
Hispanics in southern Delaware and 7,000 on the Maryland Shore,
including 1,200 to 1,500 Latinos in Georgetown, population 4,400.

Most reports conclude that the first Latino residents were migrant
farm workers who settled out after harvesting vegetables such as
tomatoes and melons for Delmarva growers. Some 3,000 to 5,000 farm
workers continue to migrate to Delmarva every year and 400 migrant
farm worker children were enrolled in federal education programs in
summer 1996. There were estimated to be 15,000 migrants in the 1950s.

In July, 1997, it was reported that the number of migrant farm
workers in Delmarva would be only 2,500 to 3,000 in 1997 because of
weather that delayed the crops. Several major growers, including
Gargiulo and Farmex, ceased growing tomatoes and vegetables,
eliminating 400 and 1,000 jobs. Taylor & Fulton announced a
100-acre reduction in tomato plantings, which will reduce its farm
worker employment from 700 to 500 workers. Byrd Foods Inc. in
Parksley filed for bankruptcy protection and reduced plantings; in
1996, yields were reduced by half or more because of wet weather.

Many farmers in the Delmarva area are switching from fruits and
vegetables to grains; tomato acreage is expected to drop from 3,500
acres in 1996 to 2500 in 1997, while soybean acreage is expected to
increase by 3,600 acres.

Migrants are more often apprehended en route to Delmarva than in
Delmarva. In July 1997, 35 of 42 Guatemalan and Mexican workers
traveling from Valdosta, Georgia to harvest tomatoes for L&E
Farms in Eastville in Northampton County, Virginia were apprehended
by the INS when a state trooper stopped their converted bus for a
broken tail light. When the workers said they were unauthorized, the
bus owned by a contractor based in Immokalee, Florida, was


Many Latinos are drawn to year-round food processing jobs,
especially poultry processing. Poultry is a $1.6 billion industry on
the Delmarva peninsula, which anchors the top of a U-shaped poultry
belt that runs from Delmarva south to the Shenandoah Valley through
North Carolina and Georgia and north to Arkansas and Missouri.

The poultry processing industry initially employed women who were
looking for supplementary earnings, including many African-Americans.

The Delmarva Poultry Industry said in fall 1996 that 3,200 Latino
immigrants were employed by six area poultry processors-- Allen
Family Foods, Delmarva Poultry Industry, Townsends Inc., Perdue Farms
Inc. and Mountaire Farms--including one-third, or 1,138, Hispanics
employed by Perdue, where Latinos are 40 percent of the work force.
Townsends reported in summer 1996 that one-third of the 2,000 workers
at its Millsboro, Delaware plant were non-citizens.

Most Delmarva poultry processors participate in the INS's
Employment Verification Pilot, in which immigrant A-numbers are sent
to the INS via modem and checked against the Alien Status
Verification Index, a data base with 50 million immigration records
that is maintained for the INS by Lockheed Martin Information

Within seconds, the employer gets one of two responses from the
INS - -"employment authorized" or "institute secondary verification,"
which means that the employer sends the INS additional information
from the I-9 form. The INS responds to the secondary verification
information within three days. If the employee's right to work cannot
be verified after secondary verification, the employee has 30 days to
contact the INS and verify his right to work. After 30 days, if the
employee has not received work authorization, he is not eligible to
work in the US.

Georgetown, Delaware has been transformed by immigration, largely
from Guatemala. It had a relatively large supply of low-cost housing,
and thus became the preferred residence for immigrant poultry
workers, who often pay $500 per month to share a house with four to
six others. There is a Spanish-language cable television station, a
Spanish-language newspaper, and a Spanish-language radio station, as
well as Latino-oriented stores and restaurants.

According to the Georgetown mayor, local workers shunned poultry
processing jobs, while "[Guatemalan] people will work 80
hours a week if the plant will let them." A local priest says that
the poultry plants turned to Latinos after they "pretty much
exhausted" the local African-American work force.

The mayor estimates that $300,000 per month is sent via the local
post office to the families of the workers in Guatemala.

In response to the changing face of Georgetown, a Spanish-speaking
police officer was hired in 1996 and a Hispanic state trooper patrols
area highways. Perdue has been conducting English as a Second
Language courses at its Georgetown, Delaware plant since 1990. Perdue
in early 1997 said that 20 Latinos work in Perdue's 600 person
Salisbury plant, and 69 of the 500 workers employed at the Showell
facility are Latino. Townsends and Allen Foods also offer ESL. In
1997, Maryland Senators Richard Colburn (R-Wicomico) and J. Lowell
Stoltzfus (R-Worcester) introduced SB 35, which would give businesses
up to $10,000 per year in a tax credit for providing ESL training to
their non-English speaking employees.

In August 1996, the INS raided Allen Family Foods processing
plants in Delmarva and removed 124 workers. The INS got involved
after a truck transporting 40 illegal aliens from Guatemala and
Mexico crashed into a toll both on the bridge over the Chesapeake Bay
on February 7, 1996.

The unauthorized workers were being transported to a Marydel,
Maryland trailer park; each two- or three-bedroom unit holds 10 to 15
people, mostly Guatemalan immigrants, who work at the Allen Family
Foods plant about 20 miles away in Cordova, Maryland, where wages in
summer 1996 were about $6.60 per hour. The privately owned trailer
park charges $100 per person, or $400 per month in rent, whichever is

Many of the Guatemalans in Georgetown are applicants for asylum
under the ABC case, in which the INS promised to review the
applications of all asylum applicants from Central America.

Nearby Lancaster county, Pennsylvania has 200 poultry farmers
producing chickens for a Tyson Foods plant in New Holland,
Pennsylvania and for Pennfield, Farmer's Pri de and College Hill


The seafood industry in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North
Carolina increasingly relies on temporary foreign workers. Most of
the seafood processors said that, when local African-American women
retired from the seasonal seafood industry, they could not "compete
against the welfare programs of the United States government" for
local workers.

Most of the foreign workers in the crab industry are Mexicans
admitted under the H-2B program. Unlike farm workers hired under the
H-2A program, H-2B workers do not receive written contracts that
guarantee them a certain amount of work at a government-set wage.
Most H-2B crab workers are paid piece-rate wages of $1.35 to $1.89
per pound of crab meat extracted, and can extract 18 to 40 pounds of
crab meat per day, for daily earnings of $25 to $67.

Seafood processors sell crab meat for $6 to $13 per pound, making
the labor cost of extracting crab meat one-sixth to one-third of the
wholesale price.

All workers must earn at least the federal minimum wage, $4.75 per
hour and scheduled to increase to $5.15 per hour on September 1,
1997, which generally means that workers must clean at least 750
crabs over eight hours to obtain 25 pounds of crab meat and earn the
minimum wage at $1.60 per pound. Workers are entitled to 1.5 times
their base wages for hours worked in excess of 40 weekly, a
requirement that some employers violate. Most seafood processors
provide housing for workers, at a cost of $15 to $25 per week for
beds in mobile homes or ex-motels. The mostly Mexican workers must
repay the $100 their employers pay for bus tickets to Virginia and
North Carolina.

Most analyses suggest that the influx of H-2B crab workers has not
led to work force segregation-- most of the crab processing work
places continue to include both local and Mexican nonimmigrant
workers--but has reduced the number of crabs available to be cleaned
per worker, which lowers earnings. Younger local workers tend to
avoid crab cleaning, and some of them have improved their economic
position by entering the travel and tourism or health sectors.

Pennsylvania Mushrooms

There are only 160 US mushroom growers and they produce 500,000
pounds of white mushrooms each year and are included in a federal
marketing order that supports research and advertising. According to
the American Mushroom Institute, there were over 500 US mushroom
growers as recently as 1985.

There were 789 million pounds of mushrooms produced in 1994-95 by
371 US producers. Growers received an average $0.96 per pound.

Mushroom production capacity is measured in square feet; most
farmers can produce about six pounds of mushrooms in each square foot
of growing space, double the three pounds per square foot of the
mid-1970s. There is typically an 11-week growing cycle. The 160
growers covered by the marketing order intend to plant 108 million
square feet of mushrooms, including about 22 million square feet in

Pennsylvania's Chester County--the Mushroom Capital of the World--
is the center and birthplace of the nation's mushroom industry and
the county continues to produce almost half of the 790 million pounds
produced in the US in 1995.

Chester County is in suburban Philadelphia, and its population
increased 35 percent between 1970 and 1990, producing rural-urban
conflicts over odor, etc. The 1990 Census reported that Chester
County had 8,565 Hispanic residents in a population of 376,000.

In 1995, 28 growers accounted for 107 million pounds, or
two-thirds, of the Chester county's mushroom production. According to
one survey (BioCycle July 1996), the average Chester County mushroom
farm produced 4.2 million pounds of mushrooms annually, with 2.1
million square feet of compost beds and 50 full-time and six part
time workers. Pennsylvania's secretary of agriculture in the
mid-1990s was Charles Brosius, operator of a 450-acre mushroom farm
in Kennett Square.

Mushrooms are grown in windowless rooms that may have both heating
and cooling systems, so that the temperature of the compost in which
mushrooms grow can be regulated. The production cycle is 70 to 100
days, beginning with the preparation of mushroom compost and ending
with the harvest 11 to 15 weeks later.

Mushrooms are grown in compost, which consists of horse and
chicken manure, hay or straw (or yard trimmings) and minerals.
Chester County is close to Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City,
and the draft horses in these cities provided a cheap and abundant
source of manure for Chester county. Many of the mushroom operations
were begun by Italian immigrants.

Mushroom spawn is mixed into the compost and then the compost is
placed in tiered beds inside light, temperature and humidity
controlled buildings. Mushrooms are harvested daily. Production
occurs year-round and the number of workers is fairly constant.
Trichoderma harzianum or green mold that prevents mushrooms from
growing once it gets into mushroom compost has reduced yields in
since 1995.

Many of the mushroom workers live in five towns that each have
less than 7,500 residents, including Oxford, Toughkenamon, and
Kennett Square. In these generally slow-growing small communities
that are still majority non-Hispanic whites, Mexican-born workers
replaced Puerto Ricans, which may have obscured the increased
presence of immigrants.

An estimated 90 percent of the industry's labor force were Mexican
born in 1996. Some trace the upsurge in Mexican-born workers to the
SAW program--1,600 workers applied for SAW status in Chester county.

Several organizations, including the Chester County Legal Aid
Society, Friends of the Farm Workers, and CATA--the Committee to
Assist Agricultural Workers, assist mushroom workers.

Pamela Stallsmith, "Migrant crews plummeting," Richmond Times
Dispatch, July 7, 1997. Leslie M. Clouden, "Chester County's Migrant
Workers Are Strangers in Strange Legal Land," Legal Intelligencer,
January 29, 1997. James Bock and Dail Willis, "Changing face of the
Shore; Latinos: Lured by abundant jobs and good wages, Hispanic
immigrants have become a sizable community on the Delmarva
Peninsula," Baltimore Sun, October 13, 1996. Anna Borgman, "Latinos
Celebrate Life in Delaware Town; Recent Immigration Arrests on
Eastern Shore Add Somber Note to Cultural Festival," Washington Post,
September 2, 1996. Anna Borgman, "Trailer Park a Bleak Home for
Immigrants," Washington Post, March 4, 1996. Pfeffer, Max. 1994. Low
wage employment and ghetto poverty: a comparison of African-American
and Cambodian day-haul farm workers in Philadelphia. Social Problems.
Vol 41, No 1. February. 9-29. A series of articles on migrants in
Virginia published in November 1996 is available at:

Subscribe via Email

Click here to subscribe to Rural Migration News via email.