WASHINGTON – In 2022, Equitable Food Initiative, the workforce development and certification organization that partners with growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumer groups, marked a year of growth, new partnerships and promising tools to transform the produce industry and improve the lives of farmworkers.
The past year brought increased recognition of EFI’s rigorous certification program, combined with preparation to support new initiatives and growth.
EFI’s impact on the produce industry continues to grow. By the end of the year, it had certified 53 operations in 5 countries, with another 19 farms in progress. Together those operations employ nearly 60,000 workers, and EFI’s premium program generated over $3.2 million in worker bonuses last year.
The cornerstone of EFI’s model is the training of worker-manager “leadership teams” in the problem-solving skills they need to keep their farms in compliance with the program’s rigorous labor, food safety and pest management standards. The easing of the COVID crisis allowed EFI to return to in-person, on-farm training, while also allowing grower-shippers to choose a completely virtual or hybrid training experience.
EFI facilitators completed 22 team trainings this past year, including a pilot program for farm labor contractors and a partnership with Regenerative Organic Alliance that applies EFI labor standards to smaller producers, such as wineries, that aim to achieve Regenerative Organic Certification.
If training has been the engine, partnerships have been the fuel for EFI’s continued growth and program expansion. In 2022:
- EFI earned recognition from the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) in September, making it the only “one-stop-shop” certification that allows growers to meet most major retail requirements for labor, food safety and integrated pest management through a single audit.
- EFI’s integrated pest management standards were recognized as one of Walmart’s qualified programs for new pollinator health commitments.
- The Walmart Foundation awarded EFI a two-year, $2 million grant to support implementation of the Ethical Charter on Responsible Labor Practices.
- EFI and Measure to Improve, LLC, partnered to pilot waste reduction programs on three farms, with support from the California Workforce Development Board’s High Road Training Partnership to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
EFI continues to offer the industry thought leadership about how the inclusion of worker voice and agency can help meet both compliance requirements and business performance goals. EFI launched a podcast series to highlight worker-led continuous improvement stories. Several online issue campaigns helped educate industry members about topics ranging from sexual harassment prevention to worker health and safety. EFI developed shareable tools for the entire industry to raise awareness and facilitate changes that can have measurable impacts on workers:
- National Farm Safety & Health Week materials included an infographic with risk-related data and recommendations for maintaining safe work environments.
- A toolkit created by University of Washington was shared during Sexual Harassment Awareness & Prevention Month.
- A complete communications toolkit was provided to highlight the skilled labor and contributions of essential workers during National Farmworker Awareness Week.
- The report,10 Ways to Improve Recruitment of Guest Workers, According to Farmworkers, was released after EFI conducted more than 1,300 interviews with 650 guest farmworkers to understand their challenges and concerns and to highlight potential improvements to the recruitment process.
“The fresh produce industry has been severely challenged in recent years by the combination of COVID, supply chain disruption, inflation, uneven regulation, labor shortages and more frequent extreme weather events,” said Peter O’Driscoll, executive director of EFI. “As a multi-stakeholder collaboration, EFI’s role is to support the industry to overcome these challenges through workforce engagement, in ways that bring measurable value to workers, employers, retailers and consumers alike.”
Expect to see more new programs and educational resources in 2023 as EFI expands to advance responsible labor practices, food safety and sustainability. EFI has a variety of workforce development tools and training modules that grower-shippers can access online at equitablefood.org/resources.
Equitable Food Initiative is a nonprofit certification and skill-building organization that seeks to increase transparency in the food supply chain and improve the lives of farmworkers through a team-based approach to training and continuous improvement practices. EFI brings together growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers to solve the most pressing issues facing the fresh produce industry. Its unparalleled approach sets standards for labor practices, food safety and pest management while engaging workers at all levels on the farm to produce Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured fruits and vegetables. For more information about Equitable Food Initiative, visit equitablefood.org.
View a list of EFI-certified farms at equitablefood.org/farms.
Source: Produce Blue Book