AUGUSTA, Maine — As the low-bush blueberry harvest begins, Maine Department of Labor staff members are partnering with governmental and community service organizations to host the Rakers’ Center in Washington County for the migrant farmworkers who harvest the state’s wild blueberry crop.
“The blueberry harvest plays a huge role in the economies of Washington and Hancock counties,” said Gov. Paul R. LePage in a labor department press release. “Because of its perishable nature, the growers must ensure that the berries are picked and processed as efficiently as possible, and the farm workers provide a reliable source of labor to make this happen.”
The rakers’ center opens annually during the peak of the blueberry-picking season to serve the 1,000 migrant and seasonal farm workers who are employed in the blueberry harvest. This year, the center will open on Aug. 1. The rakers’ center has been used nationwide as a model program due to the centralized services offered, according to the labor department press release.
The facility provides migrant farm workers and their families with access to a variety of resources including legal and employment advice, access to medical care, information on educational resources for children of migrant workers and guidance in applying for other services. A food pantry is also located on site.
Maine is the United States’s leading producer of wild blueberries. In 2012, Maine’s wild blueberry crop totaled 91.1 million pounds, the second-highest level on record, the first being 2000 with 111 million pounds. At 75 cents a pound for production, the total value of production was $68 million.
This year’s rakers’ center is located on the Epping Road in Columbia, next to Columbia Town Hall. For more information, workers are encouraged to call 483-6587. Both English- and Spanish-speaking individuals may call the Hotline for Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers, 1-888-307-9800, operated by the Maine Department of Labor. The hotline is answered by bilingual staff.
Migrant workers can contact the hotline to find out about farm work or nonagricultural employment. Workers who do not speak English can request assistance obtaining appointments with health care providers and other agencies.
For more information about migrant workers issues, contact the Maine Department of Labor at 623-7900 or visit the Maine Monitor Advocate page on the department’s website at http://www.maine.gov/labor/