Right in the heart of Farm-to-Fork country, vaccination drives are taking place to take care of its essential workers. Every year, agriculture workers plant and harvest Yolo County’s prized bounties – vegetable, fruit, and nut crops – and are an integral part of what allows agriculture businesses to thrive.
Covid-19 has crippled the workforce on farms and food processing centers across the country. They have borne the brunt of the pandemic but have received the smaller share of available vaccines. As a result, Yolo County worked in tandem with farmers and farm labor contractors to help those who help put food on our tables by prioritizing farmworkers as essential workers and bringing the vaccine directly to their place of work.
For Jim and Deborah Durst of Durst Organic Growers in Esparto, it’s not just about taking care of business, but also about taking care of its own. Recently, they held a clinic that provided 280 agriculture workers the first dose of the vaccine, with a scheduled second dose clinic already in the works. Jim and Deborah are a part of a landmark effort by the State of California to prioritize vaccines for a community segment often overlooked.
Vaccine clinics are popping up all over the country. What prompted you to host one in Esparto? We had been lobbying our County Health Services to vaccinate farmworkers on site for a few weeks. Our asparagus season was coming up soon, and we felt vaccinating our workers was the best protection against Covid. Yolo County Health and Human Services have been doing a remarkable job of reaching out to essential workers, and our farm was chosen to be the first to host on-site vaccination. Having the clinic on-farm was the best way to get turnout from our employees and our neighbors’ employees. Dignity Health also provided some volunteers and translators.
Do you think more businesses, specifically within the ag community, will be inspired to open their own clinics as more vaccines become available? I think many are anxious to have this happen at their farms. Yolo County has subsequently held more on-farm clinics and continues to reach out to the farmworker community. I think people feel safer and less threatened when the location is at or close to work. It makes the process simple.
How many people were vaccinated during the event? We originally were set up for 200. It included our employees currently working or available to work, some of their spouses, and members of neighboring farms. We invited a few additional people in case there were some who did not come. We came close to the end, and we discovered there were extra vaccinations. So, we contacted other growers and neighbors, calling people in to use up any unused doses. The vaccination crew stayed late to accommodate these extras, and at 4:30 pm, we had a line of cars waiting for vaccination, finally finishing around 5:10 pm. We were tired but exhilarated at the same time.
Are there plans for Durst Organic Growers to host more clinics at a later time?At this time, we will host the second round of shots for those who showed up for the first round. As more of our employees return from Mexico, we would like to have another round of vaccines available on-farm, but that decision will be up to Yolo County.
How important was it for you to ensure that farmworkers got access to the vaccine at their workplace? It was very important for two reasons. One, this is the best method of assuring our employees that their health was foremost and that farms are more than factories, more like families where all are considered essential. Everybody’s well-being is vital to the success of the farm. Second, we live in a world where those at the bottom of the pyramid are often the last to the table. By moving them to the front of the line, we are reversing the paradigm they are fed every day in our culture and provides them a greater sense of well-being and self-care.
To learn more about Durst Organic Growers, visit their website at www.durstorganicgrowers.com.