Emily Simpson, Special to The News-Press, July 23, 2020. Read the full story on News-Press.
An alarm clock buzzes around 4 a.m. reminding them it’s time to start their day. Once up, Jeanne and Jean Astreide travel to the potato packing house, where they spend the next 10 hours working. The couple returns home around 9 p.m. to a house full of children and find their work is not over.
Yvelande Astreide and her siblings witnessed their parents’ lifestyle as farmworkers. After working long shifts, Astreide’s mom and dad came home to a list of routine duties: prepare food, check homework, and wash clothes.
“It was horrible to see my mom and dad come home after work,” Astreide said. “It’s not a pretty picture at all. They get hurt. They get tired.”
Astreide’s parents have been working in agriculture for more than 10 years.
“I’ve seen my parents come home late with sore feet and they’re just so exhausted and go through so much,” Astreide said. “I’ve always wanted to break that cycle, do something different and be something different so that I, afterwards, can help them.”
Astreide developed this mindset after being involved in Taste of Immokalee, a program designed to empower students to create positive change in the community and rise from poverty. Immokalee has a poverty rate of 43.9 percent, which is three times more than the official U.S. level, according to data from the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2017, Astreide was a student in the program. Now, she works as the office manager of Taste of Immokalee and serves as a mentor for others.
“I see the company invested so much into me,” Astreide said. “I wanted to help the kids in the community as well and give them the same opportunity or more.”
Ninety-nine percent of the students involved in the program who live in Immokalee come from farmworker backgrounds, according to Maria Capita, executive director of Taste of Immokalee.
Using agriculture from Immokalee, the company makes and sells a variety of salsas and sauces.
“The produce that our parents are touching and working on is the same ones used in our products,” Astreide said.
Profits made from Taste of Immokalee products are used to fuel the youth entrepreneurial program. Taste of Immokalee provides high school students in Collier County with hands-on business experience and professional development skills.
“We try to teach the kids that you don’t have to follow that same pathway that your parents followed,” Astreide said. “This is a different time where we can make something of ourselves. Yeah, our parents may be working in the fields, but it’s not because they want to.”
Students spend the first year of the program learning basic principles of entrepreneurship and learning about the business. Then, students can apply for paid internship positions in all different departments, like accounting, marketing, sales and HR.
“When I first heard about the program, I thought it was such a great idea,” said Abigail Metayer. “I have the opportunity to help a community I’m so close to.”
Taste of Immokalee was created in 2014.
“You often hear that when you come from a town like Immokalee, a very impoverished agricultural town, you need to graduate, get out of here and come back to make a difference,” Astreide said. “We’re trying to teach the kids that you don’t have to wait that long to give back to your community. You can do it right here, right now while in high school.”