Wines & Vines Home
   
 
Welcome Guest
LOGIN |  CREATE ACCOUNT
 
ADVERTISEMENT
 
 
 
12.28.2012  
 

Vineyard Manager Enlists Amish Work Crew

Pennsylvania grower secured grant to train local Amish men for vineyard work

 
by Andrew Adams
 
 
pennsylvania amish vineyard workers
 
Mica Ridge Vineyard manager Brian Dickerson discusses vineyard practices with the four Amish workers he trained to tend the vineyard in 2012.
Coatesville, Pa.—Vineyard manager Brian Dickerson was running into a problem familiar to growers across the country: finding sufficient labor.

Heading into the 2012 season, Dickerson, who also has a career in real estate, was looking for a reliable crew he could train to his standards to help him manage the 9-acre Mica Ridge Vineyard from spring through harvest. Migrant labor wasn’t always reliable, and since the recession there were far fewer available workers. “We had a lot of challenges,” he told Wines & Vines. “I thought well, why don’t we reach out to the Amish community?”

Dickerson made some inquiries among the local Amish population and discovered there was strong interest. Because fast-growing Amish communities soon outpace the available work on their own farms, men must seek employment in the non-Amish world. Dickerson placed an ad in a local newspaper and quickly had a pool of applicants. “I was inundated with phone calls. I couldn’t believe the response I got,” he said.

While the Amish were willing to work, Dickerson wanted to make sure they could do the job well. He applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the local county economic development council to establish a training program. Mark Chien, a viticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension, helped organize viticulture classes.

Following a few sessions about the fundamentals of pruning and other vineyard work, Dickerson said his crew of four Amish—two men in their 20s and two older gentlemen—got to work.

When your workers can’t drive
It quickly became apparent that the biggest hurdle with an Amish work crew is transportation. Dickerson said he had to pick up the men, adding about three hours to his day. While several taxi companies catering to Amish serve the region, the added cost made that option unfeasible.

Dickerson ferried his workers to the job site until he found an out-of-work surveyor who was willing to help him with vineyard work and pick up the Amish as well. That worked out great, until the surveyor found work at another job site near the end of the season, and Dickerson had to finish harvest driving the Amish himself.

Once at the work site, however, Dickerson said the Amish crew performed admirably. He said they took to the work quickly and were inquisitive about all aspects of vineyard work from pruning to shoot pulling to harvest.

He said that as their manager he needed to understand the Amish calendar, which has its own distinct holidays, and keep in mind that weddings and funerals are sacrosanct and not to be missed no matter what day of the week or how much work there may be in the vineyard. “Sometimes you get surprised,” he said.

There wasn’t enough work on the single vineyard he manages, so Dickerson partnered with nearby Paradocx Vineyard to keep the Amish working, and occasionally the crew was sent to help out other vineyard managers. “Between the two, we kept the crew busy all year,” Dickerson said.

Compared to migrant workers, Dickerson said communication was much easier, and so was paperwork, as the Amish pay regular taxes and don’t mind receiving paychecks. Their communities also opt out of state-mandated workers’ compensation insurance, so Dickerson said there’s a bit of additional savings there as well. He said he paid them $10 per hour for their labor.

Excellent workers, but not the fastest
Dickerson just secured a lease on another 15 acres of vinifera vines, and he’s currently deciding how he wants to staff his vineyard operations for 2013.

The Amish do excellent work, but Dickerson concedes there are a couple of challenges. “They are much slower than many of the other crews out there,” he said.

Dickerson said he has certain benchmarks for how vines should be worked and how many rows he expects a worker to finish in a shift. The Amish, while they did an excellent job and did everything to Dickerson’s standards, just never met those benchmarks. And no matter how much more experience they gained, they just never managed to work quicker.

Eventually, Dickerson came to understand it was a cultural difference. “One will not outwork another,” he said. “They work only as fast as the slowest man.”

The other concern is transportation, because Dickerson said he can’t spend three hours a day shuttling his workers and can’t afford to hire a taxi. He said he ultimately needs someone who can drive and still be able to pull a shift. “I think the biggest hindrance for me is the transportation issue,” he said.

Dickerson grew up in rural Ohio, and so he said he’s long been familiar with the Amish. The past harvest, however, gave him new insights into their unique culture. He said he’s always been curious why outsiders are referred to as “English” when they could be Irish, Italian or some other ancestry. The Amish replied that’s just what they call outsiders, and they had no idea why.

Dickerson said it’s that unquestioning adherence to custom that made the experience interesting, and what made the Amish such good vineyard workers. They did question Dickerson’s methods to vine cultivation, but only to fully understand how to best care for the vines. He said some of them even mentioned that they had changed how they pruned their own juice grape vines back at home after working with winegrapes. “They were really able to grasp why we made these cuts when we were pruning,” Dickerson said.

SHARE »
Close
 
Currently no comments posted for this article.
 
CURRENT NEWS INDEX »


 
Wines & Vines Home
 
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
info@winesandvines.com
Wine Industry Metrics
 
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
March 2013 $546 million
5%
$6,988 million
7%
March 2014 $572 million $7,451 million
     
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
March 2013 $177 million
20%
$1,483 million
10%
March 2014 $213 million $1,634 million
     
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
March 2013 253
15%
166
27%
March 2014 292 210
     
 
MORE » Released on 04.14.2014
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wines & Vines
Packaging Conference
 
Learn More »
 
 

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
 
Search the PWV archive »
 
 

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
2014
 
Download full report »
 
 

CALENDAR
  • April 23-26
     
    CABs of Distinction in Paso Robles
     
  • April 26
     
    Siera Pelona Valley wine festival
     
  • April 27
     
    TAPAS Grand Tasting
     
  • April 29
     
    Rendez-Vous Laffort
     
  • MORE »
 

READER COMMENTS
 
Article: Starbucks Expands Wine Sales to More Cities »
 
Pretty amazing that the 1st wines chosen are from Argentina, Italy, and New Zealand! I...
Reader: Jacques Brix
 
Article: Starbucks Expands Wine Sales to More Cities »
 
Given Starbucks commitment to sustainability and global responsibility, I expect this move could be a...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: What to Do About Red Blotch »
 
There is NO correlation with planting density. Also FPS is working on the problem. New...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Premiere Wine Auction Nets $5.9 million »
 
Thanks for letting us know Janet, we've updated the story. Cheers
Reader: Andrew Adams
 
Article: Will Barrels Go the Way of Floppy Disks? »
 
Fun piece. Particularly enjoyed the three clearly superior attributes of standard barrels, including looking cool...
Reader: Tom Gable
 
 


Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
 
 
WINERY SEARCH
 
 
Advanced Search »
SUPPLIER SEARCH
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
 
Browse by Category »
2014 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
 
 
EXPANDED ONLINE SEARCH INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE
 
ORDER NOW »
 
LEARN MORE »
 
 
Wines & Vines Magazine
 
 
LEARN MORE »
 
SUBSCRIBE »
 
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
 
LEARN MORE »
 
ORDER NOW »
 
 
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
 
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
 
FREE LIVE DEMO »
 
VIEW VIDEO »
 
 
 
 
Latest Job Listings
 Coordinator, Vineyard ...
 Napa, CA
General Administration and
 Direct Sales Operation...
 Healdsburg, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Direct Shipping Clerk
 Napa, CA
General Administration and
 Lmr Estate Guide
 Saint Helena, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Tasting Room Associate...
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Tasting Room Associate...
 Napa, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Cellar Staff
 St. Helena, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Winemaker
 Napa Valley, CA
Winemaking and Production
 California State Sales...
 Healdsburg, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Sales & Marketing Admi...
 Wenatchee, WA
Sales and Marketing
 
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:
 
 





Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
 
 
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.