When America’s poultry industry becomes dependent on migrant and refugee laborers, their hiring can change the face of a community, leaving one Appalachian town caught between economics and politics.
In West Virginia’s eastern Potomac Highlands, the poultry industry has held a strong foothold for decades. Located close to larger markets in Virginia and Washington D.C. and rich in natural resources, like water and pasture land, the region has offered fertile ground for poultry to grow and thrive. Today, it makes up 52 percent of the total agriculture produced annually in West Virginia. Combine all the other agricultural arms together – like cattle, pigs and corn – and they still don’t beat poultry’s reach.
Located at the center of West Virginia’s leading agricultural sector sits Moorefield, West Virginia. Population: 2,433. Moorefield is home to seven poultry companies today, but Pilgrim’s Pride, with three plants located in the town of about 2 square miles, mammoths over them all as the county’s largest employer, drawing in more 1,700 people to work every day.
Moorefield has played a welcoming host to an industry that’s grown and shifted dramatically in the age of farming’s mechanization and industrialization to meet America’s rising demand for affordable white meat. And over the last 10 to 15 years, the small, West Virginia town has also played host to a new, more modern corollary of poultry’s reign: a fastly growing immigrant and refugee population.
Always Hiring explores how Moorefield became one of the most diverse places in West Virginia and how its people, both new neighbors and old, are getting along.
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