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April 16, 2013

$180K OK'd for Brooksby migrant housing

PEABODY — There were pointed questions at the City Council about building new housing for the migrants who work at Brooksby Farm.

But in the end, the council unanimously approved spending $180,000 to get started on a new home for the up to eight workers who help produce the fruit crop each year.

Councilor Jim Liacos was outspoken in questioning the new housing, noting that he lives nearby and has concerns about who these workers are. Why hire outside people, he asked city officials during a meeting of the finance subcommittee on Wednesday. Are they given criminal background checks and drug tests?

“Why not put them up in the apartments down the street?” he asked, noting later, “Every night, they walk down to the Northshore Mall.” They could just as easily walk to apartments, he suggested. “I’m not necessarily against the program. I just don’t see why we have to permanently house them at the farm.”

Brooksby Farm manager Pat Kriksceonaitis, along with Jennifer Davis of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, outlined a brief history of the migrants, whose previous bunkhouse, located behind the farm store and barn, was declared inadequate by a state Department of Labor inspector last year.

As a result, according to Davis, the migrants are already missing out on work, which ordinarily begins about this time of year, as they wait for their new facility to be built. It will also be located behind the main building but at the opposite end. City officials previously set the completion date as June 15.

“I would love to get some local people to work in the fields,” Kriksceonaitis said. Citizens or “anyone with a green card has priority.”

Yet, some don’t want to do the work, he explained, and others lack experience. “It’s skilled work.” Picking fruit while avoiding bruising, for example, is not easy.

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