“Amish Farm Chicken” Plant Raided, Two Dozen Children Found Working Illegally

This story broke over the weekend. It concerns a poultry plant in the area of the large Holmes/Wayne County Amish settlement in Ohio. From NBC News:

Federal agents found more than two dozen minors illegally working inside a poultry plant in Kidron, Ohio, earlier this month, according to local immigration advocates who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity.

The children, mainly from Guatemala, according to the advocates, were working in meat processing and sanitation in a plant run by Gerber’s Poultry, which produces Amish Farm Chicken, advertised with the slogan “Better feed, better taste.”

Gerber’s Amish Farm website screenshot

The raid occurred nearly three weeks ago:

Local immigration advocates say agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI surrounded the plant in the early evening of Oct. 4 and shut down traffic into and out of the plant.

NBC News spoke to a current employee — who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media — who was at the plant the night of the raid and spoke with the FBI agents who were there. The worker said agents arrived around 9:00 p.m. and asked employees for identification, asked about plant sanitation and stayed in the plant most of the night.

What is Gerber’s Amish Farm Chicken?

To my knowledge, I’ve never eaten or really even noticed Gerber’s “Amish Farm Chicken”. So I first thought this may have been another case of “Amish” being attached to a non-Amish product, as is fairly common (either directly called “Amish”, or a more gray-area variant like “Amish Country“).

But no, it turns out this company (at least, according to their website) uses chicken raised in Amish environments:

  • Raising chickens natural, antibiotic free, on local Amish farms following the most humane standards.

And also: “The chickens are raised on Amish family farms with plenty of room to roam.” Furthermore, they have this to say about their workers:

  • We not only treat our chickens with the highest degree of care but also our workers. Without their kind hearts, hard-work, and integrity we would not be where we are today.

Gerber’s Amish Farm additionally claims to be “100% Faith Based“. I see that term a lot, but I’m not always sure what it means. It looks like the site provides an explanation:

  • The faith based verses on the back of our products serve as a constant reminder to do the right thing, same as our parents/grandparents (Melva and Dwight) taught us to do.
  • By this faith, we become a company of significance: We matter to our team members, our customers and our suppliers. We become a place where our team members want to work, from whom our customers want to buy product and with whom our suppliers want to do business.

It sounds good, but I’m not sure how these professed values square with employing underage workers. Processing plants have a reputation for being dangerous. I’m not saying the minors in this case were definitely placed in dangerous situations, but it is possible. They’re described as working in both meat processing, and sanitation, at the plant.

On that point, there is this from the NBC report:

Under U.S. labor law, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to work in meatpacking facilities because of the increased risk of injury from dangerous machines and chemicals. A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy was recently killed working in a poultry plant in Mississippi.

NBC News has previously reported on the 69% rise in child labor in the United States since 2018, particularly among Guatemalan youth who have recently migrated and find themselves working in the meatpacking and sanitation of meatpacking plants.

According to immigration advocates involved with the story, some of these minors might have been forced to work by nonrelated adults who were basically exploiting them. Others simply went to work voluntarily to earn for themselves.

“Minors” and “children” at work

People need to earn for themselves, and it is certainly generally OK and good if teenagers work. Teaching the young the importance of work is a core value in Amish culture, for that matter. I myself was happy to get a first paying part-time job at around age 14-15, to earn some spending money. But, fortunately for me, it was yard work, not in a poultry plant.

One note on language. The report uses both the terms “minors” and “children”. There isn’t any information about their precise ages. The word “child” technically can apply to any person under the age of 18, but obviously there is a lot of leeway in who qualifies as a “child”. There is also this detail:

Local resident Dany Ceto, who has relatives who work at the plant, told NBC News he saw the FBI agents surround the plant and at first assumed it was an immigration raid. He said children work at the plant’s second shift because it works with their school schedule.

There is of course a difference between a 17-year-old and an 11-year-old. But it seems to be clear that whatever their exact ages, these young, school-age people were not legally supposed to be working at the plant.

Also, second shift typically ends anywhere from around 11pm to even 1am, which is not exactly optimal for a young person attending school. I guess we’ll get further details.

Gerbers.com website screenshot

“Values”-Based Marketing

If I sound cynical, it’s because on matters like this, I am. “Amish” sells, and so do thing like “faith-based” and “family values” attached to a product.

Lots of things are now sold under those banners – even things you wouldn’t immediately think to be associated with those ideas. Just like with other products, they’re marketed using those terms because they appeal to a particular target audience.

Maybe the company has a lot to recommend it. It sounds like they produce good chicken. But this discovery certainly calls into question at least some of what’s professed on its website.

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    1. J.O.B.

      Some important points.
      Some businesses do claim to be religious or play up that angle to attract a certain group of customers.

      Some businesses are not Amish but use Amish products and make it appear that the business is Amish owned or operated. When it’s not.

      More info is needed about what is going on in this factory and the possible human trafficking by bringing these people across the border with the promise of money. Only to be exploited as cheap labor. ‘Possibly.’

      Also, Eric, did you see the story awhile back about the Amish Grey water case being won by the Amish? A few months ago, I believe.

      1. Erik Wesner

        Good points. The suggestion in the report is that some of the minors are being made to work against their will by third parties. But is that just speculation by the advocate groups, or is there some basis to it? It may be that it is assumed to be the case for some of them, simply based on the frequency of such things happening. I assume that’s being or been looked into.

        On the grey water case, I did see that story, though I didn’t post on it at the time. It sounds like this might be the end of a 17-year-long dispute? https://apnews.com/article/minnesota-court-amish-environment-septic-tanks-6c091f043d8825ecbad0657e7daa0b56

    2. Interesting!

      I have to wonder if by purchasing chickens raised by Amish, this perhaps non Amish company was taking advantage of the Amish name to sell their products? Of course Amish children, while these weren’t the children working there, are subjected to work as a minor (and so was I actually). I feel like some English companies capitalize on the Amish name if they have any association with them at all whatsoever. You can’t tell from their website if they are Amish owned or not, but I suspect they are not. With the influx of people, children specifically coming into the country across the border, we are going to see a lot more of this, especially in the Ag industry. It’s sad.

      1. Erik Wesner

        Glad you found the story interesting Stacy. You’re definitely right that people capitalize on it, but I should also say Amish people often (though not always) benefit from that too, because the non-Amish companies are re-selling products purchased wholesale from the Amish, which benefits Amish families.

        In this case Gerber’s has a direct tie to Amish with the chickens being raised on Amish farms (that connection is much more than some selling Amish-branded products have).

        Minors can work in different jobs, just not in meat processing plants according to what was reported here – though apparently that might be eroding in some places? https://ambrook.com/research/labor/child-labor-Iowa-Arkansas-meatpacking-agriculture

    3. David Grenis



      1. Erik Wesner

        Correct, Gerber’s is not an Amish-owned company. According to their website, the chickens they use are raised on Amish farms.

    4. Robert E Strock

      Gerber's Checken

      From your opening: Hi, I’m Erik. Since 2004, I’ve visited 70+ Amish communities in 17 states. I love spending time with Amish friends & sharing what I’ve learned with you here. Welcome! |
      Come on now, how can you say that you have been in Holmes and Wayne Counties of Ohio and NOT have heard of Gerber’s chicken? Some of the highest-priced chicken you will find in stores.
      It would be best if you got the full story which has not been in the local press.

      1. Erik Wesner

        It’s easy, I don’t ever buy chicken for cooking when I’m visiting there. In fact, when traveling like many I don’t do any cooking. I may have heard of them at some point, but not something I regularly encounter like Troyer’s or Walnut Creek or Mrs. Miller’s branded products. Feel free to share the full story?

      2. Ann of Ohio

        I love Gerber chicken

        Good quality.

    5. Michael


      So how did these Guatemalan minors end up at a chicken factory? Who bussed them over to Kidron, Ohio, of all places?
      Plenty of other meat processing plants have been raided in the past for using illegals as workers, and this has been going on for decades. The businesses pay a fine, the Government gets a ‘trophy’ article in the news for ‘enforcing’ the law, and everything goes back to ‘business as usual’.
      Maybe I’m crass, but until just as corruption and gimmicky crap happened during prohibition, children from foreign lands will continue to work at these jobs, and the government will enable and unofficially encourage it, by not doing their job in the first place.

    6. Ann of Ohio

      They are all over here

      There are aliens of all kinds throughout the US, especially where there are jobs which Americans don’t want to do any more.

    7. Jodi Click


      Gerber is a last name extremely common in the Apostolic Christian community, another very conservative anabaptist faith, so that may explain the “faith-based” part of their advertising without it being directly related to the Amish. In Indiana, Apostolic Christian communities are based in many of the same areas as Amish, Swiss Amish, German Baptists, and Mennonites. Most people lump them all together with Amish because of their clothing and wearing a head covering. I’m assuming the same happens in Ohio.

    8. Guy in Ohio

      I think it’s important that you mentioned the 69% rise in child labor Erik. I think the real problem with the situation is that the “punishment” for these labor practices is hardly punishment at all. This company will probably get away with a small fine, maybe a little extra scrutiny from the government for a little bit, but then everything will go back to the way it was. I recently read where a distribution center in Kentucky was fined $30, 276 for employing an 11 and a 13 year old. Another article from May said that 62 McDonald’s locations were found in violation of child labor laws, their “punishment” according to the article was “fines of over $200,000”. This behavior will not stop unless it is actually punished, real fines that get the companies attention, criminal charges or at least fines for individuals if they are found negligent for hiring/continuing employment that violates the law.

      1. Erik Wesner

        I suppose this is also a reflection of a shortage in the labor market which is its own problem that companies are dealing with in different ways.

        And yes if punishments are not significant deterrents, then companies will simply incorporate into their decision-making the small fines and PR hits as a cost of doing business.

        1. Guy in Ohio

          You are probably correct Erik, it more than likely is a reflection of the labor shortage. With birth rates declining around the world this problem will probably just get worse before it gets better.

    9. ARIA Quill

      Your article


    10. Walter Boomsma

      Just to add a bit...

      I did a significant amount of consulting work in the poultry industry more than a few decades ago. Even then, workforces typically consisted of Hispanic workers, and plants were occasionally raided by the INS, often with the cooperation of the company itself. I wouldn’t be too quick to judge the company based on this news report. There’s an entire industry devoted to providing workers that includes providing fake IDs and transportation. It wouldn’t be too difficult for an underaged worker (Hispanic or otherwise) to be hired by a company.

      The other aspect of this worthy of note is that it’s a story produced by the media. I would be more critical (or at least suspicious) of the media than Gerber. It’s no secret that they are all about ratings and produce stories that capture attention. I highly doubt there will be a follow-up story filling in the details, such as how old the “children” actually were. And you can probably bet that the FBI/Homeland Security won’t report the results of their investigation into how it actually happened–if there is one.

      Lastly, it’s interesting that the primary source for the story was “local immigration advocates.” I’d like to know exactly who they are so I can think more about why the story made National News.

      We need to get better at asking “why.”

      1. Stacy

        Asking why...

        Indeed, we do need to be asking questions beyond what we are spoon fed by the media. They often have nefarious intentions for what and how they report and just how much truth there is in what they tell us. I don’t have much trust in the news media anymore. I just downgraded my satellite programming to omit all the news channels, I’m so tired of being fed only what I feel they want usto know.

    11. Stacy

      Asking why...

      Indeed, we do need to be asking questions beyond what we are spoon fed by the media. They often have nefarious intentions for what and how they report and just how much truth there is in what they tell us. I don’t have much trust in the news media anymore. I just downgraded my satellite programming to omit all the news channels, I’m so tired of being fed only what I feel they want usto know.

    12. Erik Wesner

      Spin, facts, marketing choices

      As far as media spin, I would agree it happens, and is a problem. But there are also the reported details. Unless the sources were outright lying to NBC News, and none of this happened, or, say, it was just two individuals, and not over two dozen. However, the existence of the investigation is confirmed in the story by the company themselves, describing themselves as “surprised” by it.

      I think it’s valid to criticize the company going in so hard with the values/faith marketing, including how much they care about their workers, then having something like this happen.

      If you’re going to use that approach to sell your product, then in my view you need to be squeaky clean. Maybe one or two or three can slip through the cracks, but not dozens. At some point that’s on you as a company. The higher the numbers go, the harder it is to argue you weren’t aware, and it starts to look like a “blind eye” situation at best. And, these were presumably just the ones working at the time of the raid, you’d have to assume there were more.

      Don’t get me wrong, holding those values, and even to some degree promoting those values is not bad, I think it’s great. But not every company uses them to market their products. To find a good example of businesspeople who generally don’t, we don’t have to look far.

      Gerber’s neighbors the Amish presumably share values of faith, family, and caring about workers, but (for the most part) don’t use the same language/approach to sell their products. And yes, one could argue they don’t *need* too.

      But presumably neither does Gerber’s. They are well-established over generations. They also market using the “happy healthy chicken” angle, as well as using the Amish angle (which I would argue already more subtly conveys the same values that they try to spell out in big letters on the site).

      But when you use such language to market your products, then you open yourself up to criticism when something like this happens. And I don’t mean just a text-based faith/values statement on a back page of the site. I’m talking about prominent messaging, story, large “100% Faith based” logo as you can see screenshotted above, etc.

      People might not like the law, or that an outsider criticizes a local company, and that’s fine. Someone vaguely suggested that the “full story” is not known. If and when something materially changes this story, I’ll gladly update this post and do a fresh post on it as well. Otherwise I think it’s fair to point out what I did in the post.

      Last thing to throw in here, a secondary matter is the collateral damage to the “Amish” name from things like this. Some media consumers will take away the idea that “the Amish” were employing minors/children in a processing plant – not a non-Amish company using Amish-raised chickens.

      That’s the hazard of working with companies who use the Amish name on products which ultimately the “owners” of that name, the Amish themselves, don’t fully control.