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The pack is over

Del Monte workers, family reflect on careers

Submitted photo A stamped vegetable can was recently posted on Facebook read “LAST CAN EVER SLEEPY EYE 114,” which is the number of the Sleepy Eye Del Monte pea and corn canning plant.

SLEEPY EYE — Former Del Monte employees shared their fond memories earlier this week as plant employees cleaned the corn conveyor machinery with high pressure hot water at the end of the last sweet corn pack.

In August, Singapore-based Del Monte Pacific Limited announced plans to close the Sleepy Eye and Mendota, Ill. vegetable plants at the end of the current pack season as part of a restructuring plant.

Employees will be laid off in stages as activities are completed, according to a news release. Del Monte employs about 69 full-time employees and 294 seasonal employs in Sleepy Eye.

“Del Monte has been the rock of Sleepy Eye for so long … Thank you Del Monte for the many years of employment for my family and friends,” Sleepy Eye Public School paraprofessional Barb Seifert posted on Facebook Thursday.

“I watched my husband spend 21 years of his life working 13-hour nights summers and fall and full-time the rest of the year,” Barb Seifert wrote. “Then each of my sons worked summers through college.”

Sleepy Eye dairy farmer Ben Seifert posted on Facebook Thursday.

“Last can of vegetables was canned yesterday at Del Monte in Sleepy Eye,” Seifert wrote Thursday. “Got me reflecting on my summers working at Del Monte out in the fields.”

Ben Seifert wrote that he worked as a relief pea combine operator after high school graduation in 2007. He later operated a sweet corn cart for several seasons before becoming a crew boss, in charge of four combines and pea cart operators. Seifert worked as a crew boss until 2017 when he became relief crew boss when he got busier dairy farming and with his new, growing family.

“I always enjoyed working out in the fields with a bunch of great, fun people. Made lots of new friends, learned a lot, and enjoyed running the nice, big machines,” Seifert posted.

“Always thought I would go back if life would change. I feel for those more affected by this than me: farmers raising the crops, current employees that rely on Del Monte for their yearly income; truckers that hauled the crops from field to plant and hauled a lot of cans out; Braun Oil that supplied all the combine and tractor fuel; Heiderscheidt Aerial that did the crop spraying, etc, etc. Many local businesses worked with Del Monte!”

Jeff Wall, now Vesta mayor, firefighter and insurance systems analyst, shared his thoughts.

“I will always remember the planes buzzing our house early in the morning, spraying the peas and corn my grandpa and uncle raised for Del Monte outside of Clements,” Wall wrote.

Del Monte has not announced any news about the plant recently. Phone calls and emails to corporate staff were not returned in time for this story.

An earlier corporate news release read that the closure was caused by an increased demand for frozen vegetables that are not produced at the plants scheduled to close.

“This decision has been difficult and come after careful consideration,” said Del Monte Pacific Limited Managing Director and CEO Joselito D. Campos, Jr. “We are committed to doing all we can to provide the affected employees with resources and support.”

A job fair for Del Monte employees was held at the Sleepy Eye Event Center Sept. 25.

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