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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Steve Harrigan

Miami, FL

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Puerto Rican Coffee Farms Need Workers

November 23, 2009 - 4:10 PM | by: Steve Harrigan

In a time of massive layoffs, there are some jobs that nobody in Puerto Rico wants.

Puerto Rico has the highest unemployment in the U.S., at 17 percent, and that number will go higher if the government carries out plans to lay off 30,000 employees. At the same time, coffee plantations are desperate for workers. When the governor recently suggested people pick coffee, many considered it an insult.

The coffee plantations are struggling to get enough workers, even after throwing in free transportation and meals. Plantation owners are now using convict labor, with buses taking the prisoners to the fields and back each day.

An entrepreneur who spoke to Fox News said Puerto Ricans have become too dependent on the state and look down on agriculture as something backward. He has plans for agri-tourism. He got his start selling fresh orange juice to hotels.

It’s not easy work. Coffee is grown on hillsides to allow the water to run off. Coffee beans are berries first, sweet. Coffee pickers here make about $75 on a good day, at about $8 an hour. They pick during rainy season, so in the dense leaves it is always wet, and with the mud on a hillside it is slippery. Mosquitos bite, leaving a small red circle as if you have been stuck by a pin.

We watch a coffee picker removing the red beans from a plant. His thumbs and forefingers move rapidly and gently at the same time, taking the red, leaving the green. It reminded me of someone typing on a Blackberry, but it was a real berry instead.

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