MIRC | Michigan Radio
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MIRC

Twelve hour shifts, six days a week. A persistent, chemical smell that caused eyes to water, throats to itch and heads to ache. Two hundred workers and only two bathrooms.

These were the conditions inside an asparagus processing facility in Oceana County in 2019, according to two workers who’ve filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages from the owner, Todd Greiner Farms.

He says he arrived in Michigan in March. He came from Mexico with a temporary farmworker visa. He spent his days working with plants in a greenhouse. At night, he lived in worker housing, sharing a room and sleeping in bunk beds.

The state is now requiring farmworker camp operators to space out beds and provide quarantine areas for sick workers.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order last week that required the changes. Under the order, beds must be kept at least six feet apart in farmworker camps. Thousands of workers each year stay in farmworker housing. The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development says last year, the state averaged about six workers per housing unit.

Lisa Hauch grew up on her parent’s farm in Southwest Michigan. Now, she runs it, along with her brother and her husband. At Russell Costanza Farms, they grow and pack cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes — all of it picked by hand.

It takes a lot of workers. And Hauch says every year, about 150 of them live in housing right on the farm.

“Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another business that provides housing for its employees,” she says. “We’re in a unique situation.”