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The 2009 ASHS Annual Conference

Focus Groups Gain Insights From Spanish-Speaking Horticultural Workers In Iowa

Monday, July 27, 2009
Illinois/Missouri/Meramec (Millennium Hotel St. Louis)
Cynthia Haynes, PhD, Horticulture, Iowa State Unviersity, Ames, IA
Emilie Justen, Ames, IA
Ann Marie VanDerZanden, Iowa State University, Ames, IA
Labor-intensive tasks, seasonal positions, low wages, and a decreasing supply of domestic labor have contributed to horticultural firms in Iowa hiring foreign-born workers (Bitsch, 2004; Boucher et al., 2007; Waliczek et al., 2002). The majority of these workers are Spanish-speaking Latinos who came to the United States from Mexico and other parts of Latin America (United States Department of Labor, 2005). The objective of this study was to assess the educational, communication, and technical needs and skills of Latino workers in the horticultural industry in Iowa. Three focus groups were conducted with a total of 22 Latino workers recruited in cooperation with English-speaking managers. Participants worked primarily in nursery production, landscape installation, and golf course maintenance.  Spanish-speaking participants cited language barriers, gaps in communicating with supervisors, and limited horticultural knowledge as key job challenges. Most participants received on-the-job training from Spanish-speaking crew leaders.  Spanish-speaking participants were interested in taking classes in Spanish about horticultural practices, plant identification, and chemical application, and in taking English classes.