The American Dream, the idea that anyone, regardless of social class or location of birth, can attain prosperity through perseverance and hard work, has inspired the migration of millions of people from around the world to the United States. Though the term was not officially coined until it appeared in James Truslow Adams’ best-selling novel, “Epic of America,” in 1931, the concept has been deeply rooted in our nation’s history since before its inception, and has formed the foundation of its success.
This dream is achievable largely through the opportunities offered by America’s employers, in particular, the agriculture industry. A recent Feeding the Economy study revealed that 22.8 million of all U.S. jobs are directly related to food and agriculture, representing approximately 15 percent of all U.S. employment. Even more significantly, agriculture provides jobs and opportunities for immigrants to take the first step on the American Economic Ladder.
These immigrants travel from Mexico and other countries looking for higher-paying opportunities that will allow them to utilize their skills while building a secure future for their families. According to a study conducted by the University of California, a worker paid on a piece-rate basis could earn up to $45 per hour—an amount well above wages available in Mexico and elsewhere around the world. The research also showed that the fastest worker in a crew was capable of four to eight times the performance of the slowest, demonstrating that hard work results in higher wages and upward mobility.
In addition to providing employment, many farms take it one step further to enrich the lives of their employees. Western Growers recently released its 2019 Professional Compensation & HR Practices Survey, which compiles and analyzes exclusive data on base pay, incentive pay, merit increases and health plan coverages for the California and Arizona produce industry.
The results revealed that of the WG members who participated in the survey:
• 93% offer a health plan coverage
• 77% offer a 401(K) retirement plan to field workers
• 61% offer an annual bonus plan to field workers
This data demonstrates that agriculture cares for its people, provides opportunities for immigrant families and sustains rural communities. Farmers are continually developing programs that enrich the lives of all their employees—everyone from the field to the office.
The following are just a few of the countless initiatives launched by WG members to build a positive company culture for their workers:
1. Christopher Ranch’s Commitment to Balancing Work and Family
As the only family-owned commercial garlic farm in the country, Christopher Ranch understands the importance of balancing work and having a family. The farm offers on-site daycare to its 1,000 employees—900 who work at the company’s headquarters in Gilroy, Calif. In fact, Christopher Ranch is the first agricultural operation in the state to partner with the federal government and operate a Head Start Preschool.
“We provide the facility, they provide the instructors and our employees have a great place for their kids to be while they are at work,” said Ken Christopher, executive vice president of Christopher Ranch.
2. Tanimura & Antle Now Family AND Employee Owned
In 2017, Salinas Valley grower-shipper Tanimura & Antle launched an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), allowing employees to become partial owners of the company. Last year, on the first anniversary of the ESOP, the company deposited $21.7 million into the plan on behalf of its employees, which represented nearly 18 percent of wages. This first payment allowed the ESOP to distribute shares of stocks to all eligible employees.
Tanimura & Antle is proud of the fact that the majority of these contributions go to the company’s farm and harvest employees.
“For these employees, such a large start towards a company-sponsored retirement plan, in addition to their preexisting 401(k) Plan, is a game-changer,” said CEO Scott Grabau in a press release. “Labor is, and will continue to be, one of the industry’s greatest challenges. We are proud of the employees who chose to join the Tanimura & Antle family and look forward to adding new employee-owners each year.”
According to Tanimura & Antle, the company is one of the first grower-shippers in the United States to share company ownership with all qualified, domestic employees.
3. DFF University Encourages Employees to Grow Their Careers
Duncan Family Farms created an employee education program called DFF University to help team members advance their skills and grow their careers. The purpose of the university is to help team members develop the skills that will allow them to grow within the business.
“As a fifth-generation Arizona farmer, there’s many things I learned from my father and the thing that stuck with me the most is to value our people,” said Sean Duncan, supply chain manager at Duncan Family Farms. “That’s one of the reasons why we started Duncan Family Farms University.”
Paving the way for standardized employee education across the farm’s seven locations, DFF University covers everything from management practices, technical skills, operational expertise, language skills, team collaboration and mentorship. The university also prepares employees for purposeful, sustainable company growth, as well as offers an archive of courses where team members can explore their own passions and interests.
“I recently started DFF University, where I’m learning English right now,” said Francisco Gonzalez, food safety crew leader for Duncan Family Farms. “Every night at home, I spend 30 minutes teaching and speaking English with my daughter and my wife. I hope to be a better leader and one day become a manager at Duncan Family Farms.”
4. Andrew & Williamson’s Workplace Initiatives Increase Retention
Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce has implemented numerous workplace initiatives throughout their farms that improve the lives of workers and have significantly increased retention.
“Our farmworkers are so important to us. We’ve developed unique programs to ensure that we benefit their lives in different ways other than just a paycheck,” said Jackie Vazquez, director of operations at Andrew & Williamson’s Sundance Berry Farm.
The company started a program with the Food Bank of Monterey County where harvesters can pick up their allotment of healthy and nutritious food right at their workplace. Rather than standing in line and missing work to pick up fruits, vegetables, proteins, diaries and bread for them and their families, the Food Bank and Andrew & Williamson have farmworkers’ food delivered to the farm and available for pick up after their shift.
Additionally, Andrew & Williamson has developed a host of programs geared toward supporting women farmworkers. They recently collaborated with Women Infants and Children (WIC) to provide new moms with a comfortable and safe environment to pump in the field, including a private location to pump and coolers to ensure that the breastmilk stays fresh. The company also partners with local Catholic charities to offer moms free diapers and car seats and works with United Way to give the children of harvesters free school supplies.
5. Mountain View Fruit, California Farmworker Foundation Help Farmworkers Gain New Skills
Mountain View Fruit Sales has formed an official partnership with the California Farmworker Foundation (CFF) to provide employees with access to programs and services geared toward strengthening their personal and professional skills.
“The California Farmworker Foundation was built to improve lives and we want to make sure that we are investing into communities where farmworkers live,” said Hernan Hernandez, executive director for the CFF.
CFF, a non-profit association where every dollar donated goes directly to programs for farmworkers, is currently targeting farmworkers who are in the Central Valley. By analyzing farmworker data and speaking directly to employees on-site, CFF determines what the most pressing needs are for farmworkers.
“We are improving lives by investing in five areas: personal development, professional development, community engagement, immigration and citizenship, and health and wellness,” said Hernandez.
Some of the services CFF offers include women’s self-defense workshops, health education classes, financial wellness workshops, fitness classes, immigration services and English classes.
Now playing an official role in this grassroots movement, Mountain View Fruit Sales can directly enrich their relationships with their employees and provide opportunities that will allow them to learn and master new skills that can improve their quality of life.
6. Ocean Mist Offers Scholarships to Employee’s Children
Since 2017, Ocean Mist Farms has awarded academic scholarships to high school graduates who embody the farm’s four guiding values—integrity, quality, passion and success. The Ocean Mist Farms Academic Scholarship Program grants a total of seven $1,000 academic scholarships each year, with two of those scholarships exclusive to a dependent of an Ocean Mist Farms Affiliate Company employee.
“As a company that values family, education and community, we’re happy to offer a program that embodies these values to our employees and their families,” said Diana McClean, Ocean Mist Farms’ senior director of marketing, in a press release.
These scholarship opportunities provided by Ocean Mist, as well as the real and substantial investments being made by many WG members into their workforces, are part of the American Dream and will help these employees and their families climb the American Economic Ladder.