We are the founders of restaurants that are part of Maine’s – incredibly vibrant restaurant scene, a sector that enhances our city and state’s reputation as a destination for tourists and an attractive place to live and work. Restaurants also contribute enormously to Maine’s economy, generating $3.13 billion in sales revenue in 2021 alone, according to Hospitality Maine, and employing tens of thousands of people statewide.

But without farmers, restaurants can’t exist. Our restaurants take pride in bringing food directly from Maine farmers to our customers’ tables. Both of us know farmers we’ve long worked with who have gone out of business in the past few years or are currently hanging by a thread, simply because they can’t find enough workers.

The reality is that farm work is skilled and physically demanding labor, and precious few U.S. citizens want to do it. Immigrants are essential not just to get farm products to our grocery stores and tables, but to the very survival of Maine farms.

And when farms can’t plant all their acreage, or harvest all of their crops, or adequately tend to all their livestock, or go out of business altogether, prices go up in restaurants and in supermarkets and contribute to inflation. Already, the cost of food at home is 12% higher and eating out is 8.5% higher than last year.

As business owners offering good wages and benefits, we know that paying more doesn’t solve the problem when there just aren’t enough workers out there. The reality is that the United States, and the agricultural sector in particular, needs more immigrants if we are to have a stable and reliable workforce. And there’s already a bill in Congress that would go a long way towards getting us there.

In 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act with strong bipartisan support. The legislation would allow existing farmworkers to get properly documented to continue to contribute their skills in the agricultural sector long-term. It would also improve the current H-2A guest worker program, and expand it to include year-round, nonseasonal employees. This change is desperately needed, especially for Maine’s dairy sector, because cows need care and milking year-round.

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The research shows that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would go a long way toward solving the problem. A study by Texas A&M shows that more H-2A guest workers actually help lift wages of farmworkers overall, and are linked to lower food prices – including milk, eggs, meat, and produce – and reduced inflation.

But this isn’t only about saving money, as important as that is. It’s also about food security and national security. Next year, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that America will import more food than it exports. This is alarming. A nation that cannot feed itself is not secure.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act ball is in the Senate’s court, where Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mike Bennet (D-CO) have been working on the Senate version of the legislation and building bipartisan support.

We desperately need Sens. Collins and King to work directly with Sens. Crapo and Bennet to get the legislation passed before the end of this year.

Realistically, the bill’s chances in a divided Congress next session are zero. And that will mean continued inflation for all Mainers. It will also mean that more of our restaurants’ Maine farm family are likely to go belly-up, affecting their families, their communities, Maine’s grocery stores and consumers, and the economy overall.

Maine, including our restaurants, has fervently supported the farm to table movement – a movement that obviously can’t exist without our farms. Sena. Collins and King, we call on you to please make the most of December, and get the Farm Workforce Modernization Act over the finish line. Maine’s farms are running out of time.

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