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March 17, 2021

Pappas Family Farm: Safe Workers, Safe Produce

George Pappas, Principal & President

Pappas Family Farm

Mendota, CA

Farm Established 1933 by George Pappas, uncle of Current Principal George Pappas

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Has your produce diversified since the start of your operation in 1933?

Yes, we’ve diversified our crops over the years. Now we grow cantaloupe, watermelons, honeydew and sweet corn. We also have some joint deals where we grow produce for other packers.

How has the pandemic affected your operation?

COVID-19 has affected our operation in many ways. I would say first, it’s created a hazardous environment for our workforce because they are aware of the exposure factor. In response, we have taken several measures to protect our employees and make our operation a safe place for them to work. We understand that without our employees, we are nothing. We supply N-95 masks, hand sanitizers and protective gear. Also, we have implemented dividers to create a socially distant working environment, better ventilation in buildings to promote constant air flow and plenty of shade.

Do you promote regular COVID testing at your operation?

We try to make sure that the people in our crew have testing available to them and are remaining safe. While we don’t actually provide the testing, we try to assist our workforce in identifying testing locations at local clinics. In addition to our own workforce, we have also assisted other people in other areas with locating testing centers.

Pappas Produce has also secured a number of vaccinations for your workers. How did you make that possible?

We heard there would be a Fresno County farmworker vaccination pilot program designed to not only administer the vaccine but to also educate farmworkers and ag workers on the importance of being vaccinated. Considering the number of employees and the size of our operation, we volunteered our facility as a place to administer the vaccine and be a part of the program. We initially arranged 100 doses of the vaccine but unfortunately, the state only had 50 doses available. The event was televised. There were TV stations, local officials, mayors, and sheriff supervisors.

How did your workforce respond to the vaccine availability?

Our response was good! We had a lot more people that wanted to be vaccinated than we had vaccines available. We could have used all 100 doses of the vaccines had they given them to us. We explained to our workforce that this was a voluntary program; the vaccinations weren’t mandatory but were safe and available to them.

With more employees than doses, how did you identify the 50 individuals who would be vaccinated?

Ultimately, we had to go by age, similar to the state’s protocol. We asked the oldest of our crew if they would like to be vaccinated and most of them said yes with very little resistance. Most of the individuals that were vaccinated were farmworkers and a few administrative workers.

Now that a portion of your workforce has received their first dose, what changes have you seen in their attitude in regard to both the pandemic and the vaccine?

Firstly, peace of mind for those who were able to get it and eagerness for those who haven’t. When it becomes more readily available, most of my workforce would like to get vaccinated. I have had so many phone calls from other farmers, other agricultural firms who want to know, “Hey, how did you get it? We want to get our people lined up.” People from the community, whether it be people that I knew or not, wanted to come over and get it, which was a really positive thing. But again, unfortunately there just weren’t enough vaccines available.

What’s next for Pappas Produce?

We’re a long-time grower-shipper-packer, looking forward to the third generation being involved in the business and hopefully they’ll continue on with it. I’m going to make sure they are surrounded by a good team who can handle the adversity that comes with the job. Having new minds with new ideas and technology will bolster our operation, especially as the business continues to evolve.

Chardae Heim interviewed George Pappas for this interview.