Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg fined $10,000 by feds

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One of Maine’s biggest potato farmers got hit with a $10,000 fine for failing to offer packing jobs to American workers before hiring temporary foreign workers.

Green Thumb Farms, which operates a 2,400 acre potato, corn, bean and turfgrass farm in Fryeburg, hired temporary foreign workers to pack potatoes without first trying to recruit American workers to fill the jobs, or contacting those U.S. citizens that had worked as a potato packers for them in the past, according to to the U.S. Department of Labor. The farm also didn’t offer the same transportation and housing benefits to American workers as it did to temporary foreign workers.

Also, the farm job application said workers would be expected to work a 40-hour week, when workers regularly worked more than 50 hours a week, according to DOL.

“This case is important because it highlights the department’s commitment to enforcing the requirement for employers to recruit and hire qualified, available people in the U.S. before requesting permission to hire foreign workers,” said Merle Hyman, a lawyer who represents the department’s wage and hour programs. “The (temporary visa for foreign worker) program safeguards American employees against displacement and also protects vulnerable foreign workers from being paid less.”

Under the agreement, Green Thumb Farms agreed to pay the reduced fine of $10,164 and comply with the law letting U.S. companies to hire temporary foreign workers.

Green Thumb Farms has been in the Thibodeau family for five generations. In 1977, Don Thibodeau and his wife moved from Presque Isle to Fryeburg to take over the family farm, which was growing about 75 acres of potatoes at the time. Since then, Green Thumb has grown to more than 2,400 acres, and expanded into growing grain corn, heirloom beans and turfgrass. Thibodeau also uses the potatoes to make vodka and gin for Maine Distilleries Inc., which he co-founded 14 years ago.

Thibodeau has served on the Maine Potato Board and the state Governor’s Business Advisory Committee.

Green Thumb is one of eight family-owned farms to make up Fresh Solutions Networks, which are known for creating “Steamables,” or prewashed potatoes that come in a 1.5-pound portion pouch that can be microwaved in eight minutes under the Side Delights brand and can be found in chain stores like Walmart and Hannaford. In the past, Thibodeau has characterized Green Thumb as one of the top 10 potato producers in Maine.

Thibodeau could not be reached for comment Friday.

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