Half Moon Bay’s Farm Day is a 50-year-old tradition that is among the Coastside’s most cherished annual events. For it to remain that, it must evolve with the times. That was clear following a joyous albeit flawed event held on March 31.
In many ways, this year’s event unfolded as Farm Day has for decades. It all began in the 1970s as a way to highlight the importance of agriculture to the local economy and culture at a time when farmland was being sold off and carved into Peninsula suburbs. This year as in past years, people from the agricultural industry gathered with civic and business leaders and seemingly every politician within 100 miles. It has always begun with a happy fellowship in a crowded I.D.E.S. Hall before hungry people stake out a place at communal tables. They were served tri-tip, Brussels sprouts and other local delicacies buffet style as the program began. The highlight of the event is always the revelation of the “Farmer of the Year” and well-deserved recognition for other community volunteers.
If the event hasn’t changed much through the years, the times surely have. Barely two months ago, a disgruntled gunman — himself a farmworker — opened fire on a pair of Coastside farms, killing seven co-workers and wounding another. It was the worst mass shooting in the history of San Mateo County and it put Half Moon Bay on an unfortunate map of mass-shooting locations.
The day after the carnage, the governor of California stood outside the very same I.D.E.S. Hall and pledged his support to the Coastside community. And in the wake of the violence, we gathered for candlelight vigils and silent prayers. We despaired over gun violence. And many of us were shaken by what the shooting revealed about the desperate lives lived by some farmworkers who toil in deplorable conditions within walking distance of our ritzy hotels and expensive restaurants.
Yet, on this Farm Day, held on Cesar Chavez Day, the day specifically set aside to recognize the struggle of farmworkers, the names of the victims were not spoken. It’s hard to understand why no one mentioned Zhishen Liu, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, Aixiang Zhang, Qizhong Cheng, Yetao Bing, Jose Romero Perez or Jingzhi Lu — the farmworkers killed on Jan. 23 — not even during the “in memoriam” portion of the program expressly set aside to recognize those in the farming community whom we’ve lost.
Privately, organizers and event speakers say that was by design. The feeling was that the local farm community had been through a lot and that Farm Day was a celebration of what was good here. That is an understandable impulse, but perhaps evidence of a larger issue: to remain relevant, Farm Day must become more inclusive. It must embrace the men and women who turn the soil and are not always invited to the party. It should also make a greater effort to include innovative, young farmers who perhaps didn’t grow up on the coast and aren’t a part of the Farm Day network, but nonetheless represent the future of agriculture here.
None of this is meant as criticism of the volunteer Farm Day Committee, which is composed of salt-of-the-earth people who have dedicated much of their lives to serving their Coastside community. One of them is on the board of directors of this very newspaper. They are good people, some of whom toiled in the wake of the shootings to deliver meals and provide venues for grieving. They are simply carrying on a tradition that has become an anachronism.
Change is good. Change is necessary. Planning a more inclusive Farm Day next year would welcome a new generation of farmers to those communal tables and recognize the value of everyone involved in putting that delicious food on the table.
Virginia Chang-Kiraly I feel spoke well on behalf of the slain workers and her words will stay with the sad families she unselfishly gave many days of herself in translating for them and the authorities. A tip of the hat to Clay as well. For the persons responsible for the agenda, you really f'd up and there's no graceful way of saying that. The farmers, the celebration and the communities deserve better.
I was so saddened to read the story about the celebratory Farm Day with no mention of the slain farmworkers. Clay Lambert's response was right on. its hard to imagine what motivated the event organizers to consciously avoid the subject if for no other reason than farmers' dependency on farmworkers. Equally disappointing, not a single person in attendance stood up to call for a moment of silence to honor the dead. What happened to all the words of support for and pledges to support farmworkers the followed the shootings?
Mayor Penrose stood up and told them all that Farmers treat their tenants and worker with love.
Do a search on Marchi Farms and labor code violations. You will see why folks like Penrose are part of the problem.
Important, timely, respectful--classic Clay Lambert editorial.
Good editorial. Major faceplant by the Farm Day folks. Hopefully they will do something soon to address this. If not, they'll have to wear an uncomfortable stain.
"....The day after the carnage, the governor of California stood outside the very same I.D.E.S. Hall and pledged his support to the Coastside community..."
Yes, and that pledge is worth just as much as every other pledge the same guy has made over the past 2 decades.
Could not agree more. Grandstanding as usual, claiming ignorance as usual.
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