“I have 1,000 workers and have no way to tell them that it’s raining and work is canceled, and if they show up I have to pay them for their time.”
“I don’t have an easy way to call back my seasonal workers to be sure they return this year, other than having my foremen spend hours and hours of paid time calling people.”
“My company has high turnover and I don’t know why people are leaving.”
Throughout Hannah Freeman’s 14-year tenure at Fair Trade USA, hearing concerns stemming from a breakdown in workforce communication from farmers all over the Western Hemisphere was a common occurrence. Her main focus at Fair Trade USA was to create partnerships with retailers like Costco and Whole Foods Market and build relationships with thousands of farmworkers and growers, but after learning about the crippling labor and communication issues the industry faced, she decided it was time to take action and find a solution.
“I had a front row seat to what the industry was grappling with and really developed a passion for aligning the interest of different parts of the supply chain by building tools that truly helped all parties,” said Freeman.
In April 2017, she co-founded Ganaz, which is a technology platform that connects farmers with farmworkers, translating communications into their native language. The tool enables employers to connect with large numbers of workers to recruit, engage and manage their multilingual workforce at the touch of a button.
Farmworkers don’t read email, they read texts
When cell phones became a necessity rather than accessory in the 2000s, the rapid advancement of its technology transformed every industry—including agriculture.
“What’s different today than 10 or 15 years ago is that most farmworkers have a cell phone,” said Freeman. “There’s now this huge opportunity, especially on a global scale, to serve the needs of employers who need to connect with their desk-less workers—whether it be on a farm, at a processing plant, or in a factory.”
Freeman has spent the last two years developing a communication platform that breaks the mold of typical software products that are e-mail and app based. While creating the tool, she always keeps in mind that the types of technology that engage white-collar workers will not work for agriculture. For example, most seasonal workers do not have e-mail, and if they do, they rarely access it.
“Farmworkers don’t read e-mail. They read texts,” she said. “Plus, text messages have a much higher read and response rate as compared to e-mail or any other engagement tool.” Ganaz delivers messages from the employer to the employees directly to their cell phone through SMS (short message service). Workers can then easily respond to employers by simply replying via text. Additionally, unlike applications on smart phones, SMS messaging does not count against data plans.
On the company side, farm owners, human resource directors, vice presidents of production, and office managers can all access Ganaz by opening up a web browser on their computer or phone and sending a message to all their employees with a single click. The platform works similarly to Gmail and Outlook, where users can compose a message, select the recipients and deliver the message to an unlimited number of employees at once. The message will be delivered as a text message, in the employee’s preferred language, to their phone. Farm owners can then view and respond to any replies from employees through the web platform.
Additionally, Ganaz allows farmers to:
• Send a translated message to all of last year’s workers with details on the upcoming season to be sure they return to your farm.
• Send schedule changes, locations and training videos.
• Send reminders, announcements, productivity reports and recognition for a job well done.
• Hear questions and feedback from your workforce and respond quickly.
Adding features to increase retention, simplify onboarding
Closing a $2.3 million round of funding this past November, Ganaz has been able to hire more staff to beef up the platform. The startup recently rolled out a new retention tool that focuses on helping growers understand why people are leaving, and gives them the information needed to intervene before they lose their best workers.
The tool allows farmers to build surveys, pulling from a library of questions tailored to employment in agriculture. These include questions surrounding wages, benefits, quality of field operations, working conditions, leadership evaluation, and more. The surveys can be scheduled in advance and employees can respond via text, anonymously.
“Our new feature allows growers to benchmark themselves against others in the industry,” said Freeman. “For the most part, growers have an idea of why people leave, but they aren’t necessarily getting the whole story. The tools gives workers an anonymous way to clue growers into the fact that competing farmers upped their rates or that their foreman is mistreating their crew. It provides them accurate data, quickly, so that they can keep the people they worked so hard to recruit.”
Additionally, Ganaz is currently working on building an onboarding tool to help automate the new hire and training process. The tool digitalizes the manual data entry required when hiring new employees. By eliminating the paperwork, growers can hire the 100 to 500 new employees per week needed during peak harvest without worrying about the cumbersome administrative process behind it.
The start-up company strives to be a value-add for the agricultural industry and is continually building new features and functions, based on input from growers. Since joining Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology in February 2018, Ganaz has participated in numerous exclusive events where staff has interacted with growers to receive face-to-face feedback about their product and pitched their technology to venture capitalists for funding.
“The benefits of being part of the Center and attending its events has been amazing,” Freeman said. “Everyone at Ganaz is a produce nerd, and we just love working in and for this industry. It’s really fun to serve agriculture—farmers, farmworkers—and create something for them that not only makes them happy but knocks their socks off.”