Labor Partnerships: Farming

Labor Partnerships

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An essential part of the state’s farming industry

Arizona agriculture exports vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, wheat, hay, cotton, eggs, beef and milk to 70 countries and across the U.S. Today, agriculture in Arizona contributes more than $23.3 billion to the state’s economy. ACI inmate workforces are part of the history of Arizona agriculture, learning skills from heavy equipment operators, tractor mechanics, welding, general maintenance, state of the art robotics packaging and sorting, warehouse/inventory analyst.

Case Study

Organization: Hickman’s Family Farms, Buckeye, AZ

Challenge: Hickman’s Family Farms began on Grandmother Nell Hickman’s porch in 1944 in Glendale, Arizona. Growing from an enterprise with an original flock of 50 chickens, Hickman’s Family Farms is now the largest egg company in the Southwest. A pivotal moment in this success story came in 1995 as brothers Glenn and Billy Hickman put together plans to dramatically expand their business. They knew that they would need a growing, reliable workforce to realize their vision. “But it was very difficult to keep folks around long enough to really learn the business,” Operations VP Billy Hickman explained, “it’s not fun work but everyone in the family and on staff has pitched in to do it when necessary. It’s dirty work; we’ve appeared on Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs series – twice!”

Solution: Since ACI did not have an inmate Labor Partnership program at the time, Hickman’s worked directly with ADCRR Director Sam Lewis to bring a a single work crew from ASPC-Perryville, where 10 men took a van to their farm each day. They were trained to repair and assemble chicken coops. Retired ACI Director John Spearman and former Perryville Warden Dale Copeland were instrumental in getting the program off the ground.

That first small work crew proved so competent that Hickman’s immediately began expanding the program, teaching inmate crews how to care for the hens, process and package the eggs.

These crews helped fill in the gaps in Hickman’s labor pool and allowed them to expand and modernize their operations. Prior to Covid inmate work crews came from three different complexes to work at three different Hickman locations, 186 male and 93 female inmates. To isolate an inmate work crew from the rest of the prison population during the pandemic, Hickman worked with ADCRR and ACI to build out a temporary housing unit on their property in Buckeye to house 114 female inmates. Currently 92 are learning new skills each day as they help to keep Hickman’s expanding business. More than 70 ex-offenders are now working full-time at Hickman’s Family Farms.

Case Study

Organization: Fiesta Canning, McNeal, AZ

Challenge: This small, food processing plant in southeastern Arizona needs to be able to increase and decrease the size of their work crews in relation to harvesting seasons. When the pepper crops come in they need to quickly get them packaged and sent to markets across Arizona.

Solution: One of the strengths of the Labor Partnership program is that the private business partner can change the size of their work crew to meet their weekly needs. This successful partnership began in 2014 employing inmate who were bused from ASPC Douglas to their facility in McNeal. Prior to Covid, 18 inmates worked there each day (on average). Currently 2 ex-offenders work at Fiesta Canning. Once the pandemic has passed, they hope to resume the program to help inmates learn real-world jobs skills as they prepare and can peppers for Arizona grocery stores.

Case Study

Organization: DuBrook Dairy, Casa Grande, AZ

Challenge: Like many family farms in Arizona, the DuBrooks have a difficult time retaining dependable work crews at their dairy outside Casa Grande.

Solution: When they approached the Labor Partnership team, there were no inmates available at any nearby (they need to be within 60 miles) to come to their dairy. But they liked the program and went ahead and signed a contract with the hopes that someday soon, their would be inmates available. About six months later in 2018, the Labor Partnership team identified 28 inmates from Central Arizona Correctional Facility (CACF) and they began making the trip to the dairy each day.

At first the dairy managers were simply training the inmates to do the simple tasks like cleaning the milking area and milking the cows. But as they learned more about the inmate’s prior work experience they began to rely on some of them to perform maintenance around the farm, like welding broken fences and repairing equipment (see pictures below).

During the Covid lockdown this successful program has been suspended, but they hope to resume – and expand it when things return to normal.

Du-Brook Dairy: milking cows
Milking cows at Du-Brook Dairy
Du-Brook Dairy: welding fence
Repairing (welding) fence
Du-Brook Dairy: repairing tractor
Repairing one of the dairy’s tractors