It’s been two years since a hail storm took out the Village Farms greenhouses just north of Marfa. That storm ended up costing Presidio County $100,000 in lost tax revenue. But the company’s just finished rebuilding one of the damaged greenhouses and it’s harvesting time.
It’s payday and there are cars at just about all the parking spaces at Marfa National Bank. Workers have just gotten their paychecks from the tomato plant. Jose Castillo packs crates of tomatoes there.
“It’s the best day of the week,” said Castillo. “That’s why everybody is happy. Yeah, the pay is good; every two weeks get paid about a $1000. It’s alright, I ain’t complaining about it. Puts gas in my truck, food in my mouth so I’m pretty happy.”
Castillo has been working at Village Farms for 3 months. Like many of his co-workers, all of whom have work visas, the 18 year-old wakes at 4:30 a.m. to catch a shuttle from Ojinaga. He spends up to 16 hours on a shift, before heading home. He doesn’t get back until midnight.
“It was pretty tough; the long hours, waking up early, getting home late, waking up in a couple hours and coming back to work,” said Castillo. “Other than that it’s an alright paying job.”
And the harvest is around the corner. Now that it’s been rebuilt, the greenhouse is expected to produce up to 10 million pounds of tomatoes, in a year. So he won’t be seeing an end to those long days anytime soon.
Steve Ruffini, the Chief Financial Officer of Village Farms, says with the rebuilt greenhouses, he needs more staff.
“Bring on roughly 70 people,” said Ruffini. “That is somewhat seasonal depending on the planning cycle. When we’re planning and bringing new plants we bring on incremental people. But 70 full time positions year round.”
Castillo sees the need for more workers at the new plant.
“Yeah, like they hired some new people,” said Castillo. “They have some new people working in there and they took some people from the other plant because they don’t have enough ladies to pack the tomatoes. So they’re hiring more people. They’re needing more people.”
So most of the greenhouses are repaired, but damage from the hail storm remains. Marfa Independent School District gets $5000 from the state for every student enrolled. Twenty-two students left because of the hail storm in 2012. Superintendent Andrew Peters said that hurt.
“So twenty kids is $100,000 that we lost,” said Peters. “You know, $100,000 is a lot of money for a $3 million-4 million budget.”
The closing also hurt Presidio County.the tax base shrunk by tens of thousands of dollars.Of course, with the new facilities, tax dollars will flow back into county offers. But as for a return of students, the outlook is not as good.
“I just do not believe we are going to see a huge influx of kids coming anytime soon,” said Peters.
And that’s the reality that Superintendent Peters is planning for when the school year starts in over a month.
– Jefferson Yen