“We realize that they are the ones with the skills. They have been working for a long time, for some of them even decades, and so we just try to create a space for people to shine.”
Alice Linsmeier (16:45-17:02)
The Equitable Food Initiative is on a mission to bring together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to transform agriculture and improve the lives of farm workers. It wouldn’t be a celebration of Farm Workers Awareness Week without sharing the great impact the EFI creates for all individuals in the produce supply chain.
Tony Pacheco, foreign worker and Health and Safety Manager at Winset Farms’ Delta Branch in British Columbia, Canada is their co-chair of EFI and never has a typical day-to-day experience. With about 196 workers from Guatemala and around 150-200 local workers during peak time, every day has a different set of challenges, especially when workers (and EFI reps) speak three separate languages. Whether he’s talking to a Spanish speaking, Punjabi speaking, or English speaking worker, Tony tries to connect with each worker when walking around making sure everyone is working safely. It’s imperative to keep the lines of communication open with these workers to take care of issues, for example, in their housing or with how they are working.
“Everybody has been empowered by the EFI program. It's really cool to see our meetings because I present them in English and Spanish, and then we have a Punjabi translator. Our meetings are updating in three languages and all of our posters are in three languages.” Tony Pacheco (9:33-9:49)
EFI is a training program that anyone in the produce supply chain can take and be certified by. If you’re like Maria Goreti Mireles Gonzalez, Human Resources Coordinator at Andrew & Williamson, you’re talking to workers about the EFI program from the time they sign on as an employee. Not only that, workers around the farm are always talking about how they’ve grown through EFI, what they’ve learned or asking questions, so everyone is well aware of the impact that’s available to them.
That doesn’t mean workers are eager to go through the training, however. Many workers are shy, don’t like to speak in front of people or think it’s just going to be a boring PowerPoint presentation. Tony Pacheco says, “we have workers that didn't want to be part of it and we encourage them to do it, even though they said they were very shy and they couldn't speak in front of people. After about six months of being on the program the turnaround was just amazing and their confidence level went up.”
Thanks to that confidence boost, some of the workers at Winset Farms have become forklift operators, which many were intimidated by at first because they’re used to working with their hands and don’t have as much of the same technology in Guatemala, where they’re originally from. When workers arrive, they’re introduced to electrical greenhouse cards, scissor lifts, the ability to log into computer systems to keep track of produce inventory, and the workers that went through the EFI course to become representatives are impacted greatly because their competency level is raised higher.
“After the first day [of EFI training], the workers are laughing, people that are really shy are speaking, they're making sure everyone has a space to speak, and they are just supporting each other in bringing forth the best of their skills and gifts to keep each other safe, keep the product safe and keep the environment safe.” Alice Linsmeier (18:21-18:42)
One of the main things EFI tries to do is create community and bring together all of the job functions of the farm, include women, include other languages, shine a light on the indigenous workers that are bilingual indigenous speaking and uplift in the vocabulary discussion. On f