Taking precautions
Rocket Farms, one of the Coastside’s largest employers, has taken steps to keep workers and customers distant while maintaining operations. Photo courtesy Rocket Farms

One of Half Moon Bay’s largest employers has continued to operate during the county’s shelter-in-place orders. Rocket Farms, which has been in the city since 2011 when it purchased Nurserymen’s Exchange, sells roses and potted plants, including edible herbs. The company employs 129 full-time staff and relies on as many as 400 seasonal farm labor contractors.

Rocket Farms was deemed an “essential” business under the shelter-in-place guidelines, so it’s remained fully functional since March.

“We were able to keep our doors open and remain operational through all this, which is great news,” Senior Vice President of Marketing Jason Kamimoto said.

He said that in the early stages of the stay-at-home order customer demand was lower, but by May it slowly picked up, with people wanting herbs and other living plants. Kamimoto credits people eating at home and gardening more.

“We’re looking at expanding the business into more herbs and edible foods,” he said. “We’re listening to the customers and their demand.”

The company has implemented strict protocols for public safety in relation to the coronavirus, he said. Kamimoto said line workers are now spaced 6 feet apart, have their temperatures checked when they arrive, and hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the nursery for easier access. All workers are required to wear masks and gloves, and lunch times are now staggered to avoid large congregations of people.

Rocket Farms largely relies on farm labor contractors during its peak seasons. Many workers arrive to the business from out of the area by bus or car. Kamimoto said the company added buses to give workers more space, and he hopes the company may soon be able to hire more local farmworkers at Rocket Farms. The company would also like to build farmworker housing on site.

“We’d like to hire a pool of local workers so the pressure is not on bringing in contract workers who are spending several hours a day (commuting) in close proximity,” he said.

Kamimoto said he could not say whether any employees have tested positive for COVID-19. He stated the company has contingency plans in place if someone does test positive, such as asking a person to stay home until a negative test is shown.

Rocket Farms offers employees health benefits, however the farm laborers, who are some of the more vulnerable people to getting the coronavirus, often do not qualify.

Kamimoto said Rocket Farms shares information about resources available for workers who do not qualify for benefits. If employees or farm labor contractors feel ill or suspect they have been exposed, they don’t come to work, according to Kamimoto.

“We’ve done a great job managing an off-site workforce that we bring in and providing them with the tools to effectively work and do it in a way that is safe,” he said.

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