Feeding the nation is essential, and it is incumbent on agricultural employers to put stringent prevention practices in place to protect our essential employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Monterey County, in cooperation with the ag community, was among the first in the nation to develop guidance for Covid-19 prevention for farmworkers, released on March 20. While we were adjusting to shelter-in-place, farmers were securing personal protective equipment for their workforce, developing new training protocols for harvesting crews (in English, Spanish and Indigenous languages), purchasing additional hand-washing facilities and thermometers, as well as buses, tables, tents and vinyl sheeting to provide separation during transportation, breaks and work.
At the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, we have supported the farming community’s efforts to protect workers by partnering with local hospitals to provide onsite Covid-19 prevention training, establishing quarantined housing for workers who have symptoms, test positive or were exposed to the virus, and secured over 1 million face masks. In conjunction with Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, we developed a new system for expedited testing.
The farming community is committed to improving prevention efforts and protecting workers. Farmworkers have two weeks paid sick leave if they contract or test positive for Covid-19, and their healthcare costs are covered. California has stringent standards governing worker health and safety, field sanitation and wage rates.
Is there more work to do? Yes, especially in the area of affordable housing. While housing concerns are not new, the pandemic has shined an even brighter light on the need for solutions to overcrowding. We must accelerate efforts to secure housing for essential employees, including farmworkers, such as the new farmworker housing developments approved in Greenfield and Salinas.
Recently the spirit of “we are all in this together” seems to have lessened and been replaced with frustration and blame. But that concept remains important. For us in the farming community, it means we acknowledge our responsibility to do better each day to protect farmworkers – broadly, that we strive to maintain the livelihoods of our employees as well as supply safe and healthy foods to consumers.
Whether you live in Salinas or Soledad, Pajaro or Pebble Beach, Carmel or Castroville, our home is where much of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown and where the “essential” workforce resides, whether they work in agriculture or other critical jobs. All of us can take steps to protect each other – wear a mask, socially distance and abide by county rules.
And take a moment to remember essential workers locally and nationwide who are facing an increased risk from this virus to keep the rest of us safe and supplied with the goods and services we need.