Although 2020 has been a year like no other, Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), the workforce development and training organization that partners with growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumer advocacy groups, continued to grow. EFI marked its five-year anniversary and found ways to continue training during the pandemic, while its cross-functional teams provided critical input to safety processes on farms.
EFI has now certified 45 farms in four countries, with 18 more in progress, including its first operation in Peru. Through the program, more than 3,500 farmworkers and managers have been trained in continuous improvement processes. Nearly $10 million has been paid to workers as bonuses and working conditions for 52,000 workers have improved.
During the pandemic, EFI staff and its partners worked quickly to pivot to remote training and audits and to clarify what additional safety practices are required that help protect workforces from COVID-19.
The most noteworthy accomplishment of EFI in 2020 came from the cross-functional teams that have been trained by EFI on each certified farm. “We heard from the growers who’ve adopted the EFI model that their trained EFI teams helped them quickly and thoroughly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alice Linsmeier, a senior facilitator with EFI. “From thinking through how to socially distance in common areas to creating signs in multiple languages and using the existing communication networks required for certification, the EFI worker-manager teams helped growers address the workplace health and safety challenges posed by the virus.”
Adapting to issues
Juan Perez, an EFI-trained farmworker with Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce/GoodFarms, acknowledged the cultural change that EFI creates: “We didn’t know much about a global pandemic, but thanks to the EFI program we are trained to adapt to any type of issue,” said Perez. “The things we learned and practiced at work also allowed me to bring this knowledge home and share it with my family and my community to help keep more people safe.”
In addition to providing the team model and skills training that helped farms respond to coronavirus, EFI staff shared a web-based clearinghouse in the early days of the pandemic featuring worker education materials, government resources and practices developed by the worker-manager teams. EFI staff worked with certified growers to use real-time feedback loops and compile materials to be shared directly with growers and workers across the produce industry. The EFI teams helped solve their own workplace safety challenges and also shared their experiences and recommendations with the rest of the industry.
“What 2020 taught us is that fresh produce growers recognize the value of continuous improvement and social responsibility measures--even during an unprecedented pandemic,” said LeAnne Ruzzamenti, director of marketing communications for EFI. “We are excited to build on that recognition and commitment and continue to help growers adapt, innovate and make a difference in the lives of farmworkers.”