August 30, 2013

Backyard Farms plans to rehire workers in October

Furloughs set to begin next week in wake of third failed crop; company aims to bring tomatoes to market in January

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MADISON — Tomato grower Backyard Farms says it plans to rehire all of its employees and will return some of them to work by October, following furloughs that are scheduled to begin after Labor Day, a spokesman said today.

click image to enlarge

Mat Gross, of North New Portland, an employee with Backyard Farms, climbs the ladder to apply a fresh coat of paint on the Margaret Chase Smith Hall at Lake George Regional Park on the Canaan and Skowhegan town line today. The crew from Backyard Farms has been volunteering time at Lake George Regional Park helping with maintenance and general upkeep of the facility.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Matt Cowan, on the ladder at left, and Mat Gross, on the ladder at right, put a fresh coat of paint on the Margaret Chase Smith Hall at Lake George Regional Park on the Canaan and Skowhegan town line today as Backyard Farms coworker Matt Abbott, foreground, watches. The crew from Backyard Farms has been volunteering time at Lake George Regional Park, helping with maintenance and general upkeep of the facility.

Staff photo / Michael G. Seamans

Problems with crops at the commercial greenhouse, including a white fly infestation that required the company to destroy nearly half-a-million plants, has disrupted operations and shut down production. The company plans to have tomatoes ready for distribution in January, said spokesman Perry Chlan.

Backyard Farms, which employs about 200 people, won't say how many workers will be furloughed, but in the weeks leading up to the changes they have offered an unusual alternative to the regular greenhouse work as operations are slowing, Chlan said.

Today, employees from the greenhouse concluded three weeks of community service projects at Lake George Regional Park, where about a dozen of them painted cabins and cleared and marked trails.

They spent six days at the L.C. Bates Museum in Fairfield, painting and puttying windows and assembling thousands of kits for students to learn about the natural sciences in the museum's school visit program.

"The work they have done has been incredible. We've never had this much help in the museum," said museum director Deborah Staber. "They cleaned the classrooms in the museum, went through and cleaned all the glass and gave the place the best vacuum it's ever had."

She said that some of the volunteers also said they plan to come back next week to volunteer while on furlough.

"I think they had fun and really enjoyed it. They were just wonderful, hardworking people," Staber said.

Workers said company policy wouldn't let them discuss the furloughs or their volunteer work.

Chlan said the employees also spent time at the Madison Recreation Center, where they painted, cleared brush and maintained the athletic fields, all while on Backyard Farms' payroll.

He said about 50 employees participated in the community service projects, spending a total of about 1,200 hours on the projects, which were intended for the month of August as a way to offset the lack of work at the greenhouse.

"We were managing the replanting operations at the greenhouse and not all employees were needed to do that work, so we made these projects available and they very willingly signed up to do them," he said.

According to the town office, Backyard Farms is the second-largest employer in the town and an important part of the local economy.

Town Manager Dana Berry said earlier this month that he wasn't sure what effect the furloughs might have on the town.

"It matters a great deal. Those wages come back to our local economy," he said. "They are used for mortgages, car payments and all sorts of things."

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at OnlineSentinel.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)