Kercher’s Orchard and the Bracero Program
Kercher’s family-run orchard began in 1922 when William Wheeler Kercher planted apple trees at his home on 7th Street. The business began on 40 acres across the street from the orchard’s current location. Today, the orchard covers over 600 acres and produces apples, corn, cabbage, and other fruits and vegetables. The business continues to be operated by the Kercher family, with Tom Kercher being the fourth generation to run the orchard.
Kercher’s orchard was integral to the growth of Goshen’s Latinx population. From 1942 to 1964, the United States and Mexico had an agreement that allowed Mexican men to come to the United States to work on short-term, primarily agricultural, labor contracts. This agreement, called the Bracero program, was established in response to concerns that World War II would result in labor shortages. The men who came to work included Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who lived on either side of the Rio Grande River. These workers’ main duties included picking and packaging fruit that would be shipped throughout the country. They would work at Kercher’s during the growing season and would either move throughout the United States looking for more work or return home after the harvest.
The Kercher family tried to employ the same group of workers year after year. Workers developed a familiarity with Goshen that would encourage them to bring their families. Some elected to settle in Goshen permanently. Ana Fuentes, one of this first generation of Latinx migrants to live in Goshen was quoted in a story of the Goshen News stating “Since I first arrived, I have liked living here. It is a peaceful town. The people are friendly.”
The Bracero program was a problematic agreement between Mexico and the United States that promised a fair minimum wage, adequate living conditions, and decent, reasonably-priced food. In practice, many US employers did not abide by these rules. Workers faced hostility and discrimination from Americans who felt threatened by laborers, many of whom did not speak English and were of the Catholic faith. In 1946, Indiana was one of eight states cited by the Mexican Minister of Labor as violating the terms of the Bracero program, due to low wages, poor living conditions, and lack of medical care.
With roots from the Bracero program taking hold, the Latinx population has grown and thrived in Goshen. In 1990, the Latinx community made up 9% of Goshen’s population, and by 2000 it had risen to 19%. From 2000 to 2010, the population exploded with 425% growth. In 2019, it was estimated that the more than 8,900 member Latinx community made up almost 30% of Goshen’s population.