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Labor secretary meets growers, farmworkers

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez met with Equitable Food Initiative stakeholders April 8 at Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce’s Crisalida Berry Farms in Oxnard, Calif., the first farm to be certified by the nonprofit.

Perez met with growers and marketers from Andrew & Williamson, Houweling’s Tomatoes, Windset Farms, Keystone Fruit Marketing and Alpine Fresh, plus retail representatives from Costco Wholesale and Whole Foods Market.

Labor organizations United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste and Farmworker Justice were also on hand.

Equitable Food Initiative provides a certification for improved working conditions, pest management and food safety.

“I was heartened to see firsthand how this partnership of unions, consumer groups, growers and buyers is working to invest in their workers and create shared prosperity,” Perez said in a news release. “They reject the false choice that says you can either create value for shareholders or treat workers with dignity — they know they can and must do both.”

“We are committed to continuous improvement of our farm practices and are glad we are able to share our experiences with both the secretary and our industry colleagues,” said Ernie Farley, partner at Andrew & Williamson.

Congresswoman Julia Brownley welcomed the group.

“I applaud Andrew & Williamson’s Crisalida Berry Farms, the first in the nation to receive EFI certification and a shining example of Ventura County’s excellence in agriculture,” Brownley said in the release.

Perez toured operations before meeting with a leadership group of workers representing every position on the farm. The group participates in workforce development training, educates colleagues, and works to verify the farm’s compliance with EFI standards for labor, food safety and pest management.

EFI executive director Peter O’Driscoll aims to expand the initiative with new retail and grower partners.

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