The city of Half Moon Bay is rooted in its rural agricultural history. Now, some are working to try and preserve that farming culture while assisting farmworkers who are struggling to pay rent and bills to maintain their lives on the Coastside.
Half Moon Bay resident Joaquin Jimenez, along with members of the Half Moon Bay Latino Advisory Council, have been working for about a year to launch Rancho San Benito, a farming cooperative for farmworkers. Rancho San Benito would allow farmworkers to use acreage to farm crops and sell that food for profit.
“It’s about giving the opportunity to farmworkers to start their own farming business,” Jimenez said.
A recent National Agricultural Workers Survey, published by the U.S. Department of Labor, showed farmworkers work, on average, 42 hours per week and earn $7.25 per hour. The annual average income for farmworkers ranges from $12,500 to $14,999 for individuals and $17,500 to $19,999 for a family. It is the second-lowest paid job listed in the country.
That is why Jimenez and members of the Latino Council say there is a need for Rancho San Benito. The project would allow farmworkers who work at local farms to also manage their own crops to sell during their off hours or days they are not working.
“It would help them get started until they get to the point they can just focus on their own farming,” Jimenez said. Jimenez is using a program based in Salinas Valley as an example. Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association is a 100-acre training facility with a mission to create economic opportunities for organic farmers and to educate them. It offers a five-year education and enterprise development program to help low-income farmworkers develop skills to prepare to launch farm businesses.
Jimenez is also hoping Rancho San Benito creates opportunities for cultural activities such as drum circles or high school after-school courses for students interested in agriculture.
“It is a place of healing, education and equity,” Jimenez said.
Finding the right land for the project is critical. Jimenez is working with city staff to determine useable farmland that might be available to launch the pilot project.
The aim would be to lease the land and start off with about two to five acres and a few farmworkers. Jimenez said he has support from local farmers to use their equipment to get started once land is acquired.
“The coastal community is known as a farming community. We want to give the farmworkers the opportunity to become farmers,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez said he plans to present the project formally to the Half Moon Bay City Council sometime this year.
“Just having the farm land is not holding the heritage,” Jimenez said. “Making use of the farm land, that is keeping our heritage.”