The agricultural industry is a major component of San Mateo County’s economy, bringing in nearly $98 million in 2021. According to the Healthcare for the Homeless/Farmworker Health Program’s 2019 Needs Assessment, the county is home to about 80 farms from north of Half Moon Bay to the Santa Cruz County line.
Farms in the county are typically small, family-owned and local operations, which in total employ somewhere between 1,300 and 1,600 farmworkers. It is difficult to get an exact number in part because many farmworkers are immigrants and, regardless of documentation status, there is a great deal of distrust and fear of the government. These farmworkers support another 1,700 to 2,000 dependents in our county, and often support family members in their home countries as well.
As we all faced the harsh reality of a pandemic, COVID-19 hit the farmworker community especially hard. Farmworkers already faced disproportionate difficulties with housing, health care, immigration, employment, workers rights, access to safety net services and youth and adult education.
In partnership with community advocates and community-based organizations, my office has hosted four listening sessions, with about 15 farmworker attendees each, throughout 2021 and 2022. I asked the County Attorney’s Office to research best practices in other California counties for supporting farmworkers. Although a few places have ad hoc subcommittees, San Mateo County leads the way with this dedicated Farmworker Advisory Commission.
The purpose of this commission is to help farmworkers and their families navigate public agencies and access services, build trust in county government, enhance the reputation of the county’s agricultural industry, increase awareness of issues that disproportionately impact farmworkers, advise the Board of Supervisors, develop policy recommendations, serve as a forum for the community, and advocate for and support the farmworker population.
The Commission has 10 members in total from a variety of backgrounds. The farmworker commissioners are Rogelio Nabor-Martinez, Nicolas Romero-Gonzalez, Yolanda Guzman Calderon, and Yesenia Garcia; the family member commissioner is Jacqueline Nabor-Gomez. The three commissioners representing community-based organizations that work with farmworkers are Corina Rodriguez Perez from Puente de la Costa Sur, Judith Guerrero from Coastside Hope, and Stephanie Perez from Catholic Charities. The commissioner from the agricultural community who is not a farmworker is Jonatan Ramirez, who works at Rocket Farms, and the commissioner appointed by the Agricultural Advisory Commission is John Vars from Fifth Crow Farms.
Since this is a new commission and many of the members’ first time as commissioners, the county has committed a great deal of support to bring them all up to speed. This includes live interpretation for all meetings, staff support from the Office of Community Affairs and the Healthcare for the Homeless/ Farmworker Health Program, as well as professional training through the organization Urban Habitat.
The first commission meeting was held on Nov. 16 in the Half Moon Bay Library. At the pre-meeting reception, there were about 30 members of the public interacting with commissioners and staff before everyone was asked to take their seats; a significant portion of the attendees were farmworker community members.
The first official action taken by the commission, with assistance from facilitator Debbie Schecter, was to approve the timing and language of meetings. Beginning Jan. 11, meetings will be held every other second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Half Moon Bay Library and will be conducted entirely in Spanish with live English interpretation available.
This is the only commission in the County that will be conducting business entirely in a language other than English, and that will make these meetings much more accessible to the farmworker community, many of whom speak limited or no English.
I would like to personally extend a special thanks to those county departments supporting the creation and first meeting of the commission: the Office of Community Affairs, the County Attorney’s Office, the County Executive’s Office, and the Chief Equity Officer. This commission would not have gotten off the ground without their support and I am proud of them all. This commission will be the voice of the farmworker community, coming directly from that community.
If you have questions, contact Emily or Megan in the Office of Community Affairs. You can find more details about the Commission at farmworkercommission.org.
Don Horsley is the outgoing District 3 supervisor on the San Mateo County Board
of Supervisors. He has served three full terms and is winding up his tenure on
Jan. 2, 2023.