Protecting Essential Agricultural Workers During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Woman harvesting Driscoll's strawberries
Driscoll’s history started in the heart of California more than 100 years ago. Today, we serve consumers across North America, Australia, Europe and China. Globally, we are committed to protecting the health and safety of all our employees and those in our broader enterprise, as we navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire produce industry relies heavily on the efforts of farmworkers who as essential workers are hand harvesting the food that feeds the nation. Protecting and treating this workforce with dignity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s crucial to the future of a thriving workforce.
 
COVID-19 has been declared a public health issue across all industries, and public health officials are working collaboratively with industry, hospitals, trade associations, non-profits and other agencies to address the unique needs of each of their communities. This strong cooperation between our industry and local officials in response to what is an unprecedented crisis with no readily available play book has been extraordinary. We take our commitments seriously to prevent the spread of the virus and to proactively contribute to finding resources for those who are impacted.
 
All growers across the entire produce industry are held accountable to follow the specific agriculture guidelines outlined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Several California counties including, Ventura County, Monterey County, Santa Cruz County and Santa Barbara County, are home to locally owned farms that grow Driscoll’s berries during the peak harvest seasons.  California has stringent standards governing worker health and safety, field sanitation and wage rates. All farmworkers have two weeks of paid sick leave if they contract or test positive for COVID-19, and healthcare costs are covered.
 
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on July 24 that the state plans to "build on" the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California's (GSA) quarantined housing program for farmworkers in the Monterey and Salinas region. In his announcement, the governor said that GSA and the farming community have done “an incredible job in this state supporting ag workers and farm workers.”
 
We are appreciative of the collective efforts to address the needs of our farming communities. These communities have come together to proactively secure needed resources for the prevention of – as well as establishing protocols for testing and treatment of the COVID-19 virus.
 
Monterey County:
• Among the first counties in the nation to develop guidance for COVID-19 prevention for farmworkers, introduced on March 20. This guidance was developed in a close collaboration between industry, labor advocacy groups and County officials.
• Farmers led the way in 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.
• Agriculture partners came together to protect workers by partnering with local hospitals to provide onsite COVID-19 prevention training; establishing quarantined housing for workers who display symptoms, test positive for the virus or were exposed to the virus; and securing over one million face masks. Driscoll’s has supported its growers in Monterey and Santa Cruz County by connecting them with local hospitals and non-profit clinics (Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, and Salud Para la Gente in Pajaro Valley) that have provided in-field, Covid-19 prevention training. 
• In conjunction with Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, a new system for expedited testing was developed.
 
In addition, the County of Ventura has been proactive in its efforts to uniquely address the needs of its agriculture community, and Santa Cruz County developed a partnership called SAVE Lives designed to facilitate a community-based plan for moving forward. Similarly, the County of Santa Barbara, in collaboration with the agricultural industry, set up isolation housing and testing resources for essential workers and people with limited access to health care. Driscoll’s was an active participant in the development of industry-county dialogues and in supporting the dissemination of County resources to its network of independent Growers in the region.
 
 
Driscoll’s
For Driscoll’s, our efforts have been focused on partnering with our network of independent growers to ensure our business enterprise, first and foremost, meet the CDC agriculture guidelines. Social distancing, proper sanitation, cleaning, disinfection and personal protective equipment are key elements to preventing the spreading of the virus:
 
Hand Washing:
Worker hygiene and proper handwashing protocol have always been the Standard Operating Procedure for food safety.  In responding to COVID-19, Driscoll’s goal was to rapidly add capacity to improve efficiency and availability of health and safety resources for our direct employees and for the farmworkers employed by our independent growers. It was important for us to play a resource role and be solutions-based during this critical period.
 
Hundreds of hands-free sanitizing stations and hands-free washing stations have either been rented or purchased from multiple sources, including local agriculture rental companies and national distributors, and provided to farmers in Oxnard, Watsonville and Salinas in California. Each of these companies have been incredibly responsive and prioritized our needs, as agriculture is deemed one of the essential industries required to operate during this crisis. We continue to review and assess our capacity in our other growing regions.
 
Face Coverings and Social Distancing:
The CDC recommends face coverings be worn by essential workers. Driscoll’s has implemented a policy for our independent growers in the U.S. and Canada that requires face coverings for workers when they cannot social distance (defined as being less than 6 feet apart for greater than 10 minutes). In addition, we strongly encourage growers to provide face coverings for all on-site employees. Cloth face coverings, in particular bandanas and procedural masks, are widely in use within our enterprise to help prevent the spread of the virus. Driscoll’s Food Safety and Production teams provide frequent visits to ranches to review face covering, social distancing, and other COVID-19 protocols are being followed.
 
Grower Communication:
Driscoll’s facilitates weekly calls with all independent growers that allow for the sharing of learnings and best practices across our grower network. Examples include the innovative development to retrofit existing hand washing stations into a hands-free solution. The sharing of this design to ensure a quick rollout of this improved food safety protocol was implemented by our growers. Other ideas have been quickly adopted as industry norms, including using traffic cones in the field to identify the recommended 6 feet for social distancing, staggering breaks to avoid crowding, temperature taking protocols to ensure accurate reads in the field and sharing suppliers of PPE and sanitization equipment, among many others. The grower communication forum included discussions about the evolving understanding of virus transmission to ensure everyone within our network was updated with the ever-changing scientific understandings of the virus.
 
Community and County Engagement:
Driscoll’s has been collaborating closely with community organizations and county officials to support the COVID-19 response in our growing regions. As an early supporter of the GSA isolation housing project in Monterey County, we helped convene industry, health care and public health officials in both Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara Counties to discuss opportunities to best support essential workers as well as hosted on-site antibody testing in collaboration with UCLA researchers to understand COVID transmission in Ventura County, among many others. Community members continue to come together to distribute educational material and show appreciation to the contributions of farmworkers. In Watsonville, CA, the Watsonville Farmworker Caravan has distributed a lot of the materials that Driscoll’s has helped to develop along with Santa Cruz Save Lives task force.  We recognize their efforts to organize appreciation caravans along the roadside of farms. 
 

Charitable Donation:
As a market leader in fresh produce, Driscoll’s plays an essential role in feeding the world and is compelled during these challenging times to support the communities who are working tirelessly to bring fresh, healthy berries to families.  Driscoll’s deployed more than $4 Million in global charitable funds across health clinics, food banks, fresh berry donations and other community resources in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.