May 12, 2020Keeping workers safe a focus of Colorado produce operations
Colorado fruit and vegetable growers are working hard to protect the health of the men and women who work to cultivate, harvest and pack fresh fruits and vegetables.
At Petrocco Farms in Brighton, workers are being encouraged to stay home if they are sick, and Petrocco will continue to pay their salaries if they must do so. The farm, which employs both domestic and foreign guest workers, is training all its workers to use social distancing and to employ frequent hand-washing. The farm also has two different quarantine areas, should workers come down with the virus.
“The produce industry is vigilant about food safety, so adding additional measures to keep workers safe falls right in line with our focus on health and safety,” said Joe Petrocco, Petrocco Farms, who serves as the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Labor Committee Chair.
In addition, Petrocco Farms is implanting social distancing in the fields by having workers in every other row. Similar measures are being taken during transporting workers and in its packing sheds.
In the Arkansas Valley, home to Rocky Ford melons and other produce, Knapp Farms is employing social distancing, hand washing and heightened awareness of good personal hygiene to keep workers safe.
Another Brighton farm, Sakata Farms, has posted on its entry doors signs instructing employees who feel sick not to enter. The farm also shows employees videos on virus symptoms and transmission and how to work safe. The door signs, along with videos from CDC are available in multiple languages. Workers are encouraged to stay home if they are sick and are assured, they will be paid their regular salaries.
“In their payroll checks we have included information about the important role they play and what they can do to help stop the spread,” said Robert Sakata. “In addition, we have weekly staff meetings but only in groups of 5-6 people at one time, so we can keep social distance. We hold meetings outside or in our open shop rather than our conference room. We stress the importance of not only what we do at work but what we do at home.”
Sakata notes that currently with only 40 employees and most doing jobs like driving tractors and irrigating, social distancing isn’t a problem. However, he said the challenge will be later in the season when more people are working in closer proximity. And, even more concerning is securing the additional personal protective equipment to keep his workers safe.
“I am struggling to find enough masks to supply everyone,” said Sakata. “Even the disposable gloves that we used for harvest last year are now 4.25 times what we paid for them a year ago.”
The CFVGA is comprised of roughly 250 members, including produce operations of all sizes and types of production throughout the state, as well as representatives of allied industries. The Colorado fruit and vegetable growing sector contributes nearly $485 million to Colorado at the farm gate and is multiplied as it goes through the distribution chain. Over 90,000 Colorado acres are in fruit and vegetable production.