Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm discusses the agricultural labor situation in California, and what he is doing about it. Jim values his employees even more than his 10 acres of strawberries. Housing and year round employment are just some of the benefits Jim’s employees enjoy. Learn more by visiting their website here.
Know Your Farmer | Swanton Berry Farm, CA
Part of the reason that I got into farming was to do something about the agricultural labor situation that we’ve had in California for a very long time. My name’s Jim Cochran, I founded Swanson Berry Farm about 36 years ago. We grow Brussel sprouts and celery, behind me strawberries out in the distance.
We’re committed to year long year round full time employment including housing for all of our employees. That makes a big difference. That means that they’re able to save money.
They have double time holidays, sick pay and vacation pay.
So it adds up.
We don’t do any contract labor, or we hire people to work for the company. They’re union members so they have the pension plan.
There’s been a consensus among organic growers that they have enough to worry about just with organic farming practices and don’t want to take on the major issues from a certification perspective.
I disagree with that. But my way of dealing with that is to have a contract with the United Farm Workers. And then also certified by domestic fair trade association. And that is expensive. Our cost per hour, including all the benefits and everything is really pretty high for industry standards especially since we pay that all year long.
So we have to have stuff growing all year round and things for people to do. Sometimes we don’t make any money on the stuff that we grow during the winter.
Swanton Berry Farm Puts Employees First
But that’s OK because it keeps everybody happy. We depend on the public understanding why their prices are going up and what they do understand is that it’s a good quality product. Then they’re willing to pay a little bit more.
We do eight farmer’s markets a week. So it also saves our space in the farmer’s market if we’re selling squash or artichokes or Brussel sprouts and celery. It’s nice to be in a space all year long. So that people are accustomed to seeing. And then when our strawberries come in the spring, we have really no vegetables.
We time things. So that we have strawberries in we don’t have anything else going on. And then later in the summer, we’ll have various vegetables and the strawberries because the strawberries won’t be as strong.
We try to grow varieties that taste really good like we grow the old fashioned kind of artichokes that are not grown from transplants they’re from stock that came over from Italy 100 years ago and gets divided every four or five years. And then replanted.
And so it’s the flavor on those things is really excellent. We don’t rush things on the farm. It’s sort of slow farming. We let our strawberries sit on the vine for a long time because we don’t ship them. So they pick up some flavor that way too.
People asked me one time do you talk to your plants?
And I said, no, I listen to my plants. You know I go out and look at the field and say these Brussels sprouts look nice and happy, and we just went over and looked at the Olallieberries and they do not look happy.
And I’ve been trying to make the Olallieberries happy for 20 years with organic amendments and everything. And it still hasn’t worked, but I still love the Olallieberry. So you know what can you do?
The more I’ve been farming the more I realize that I have just really no clue what’s happening. It’s funny. I mean, you know I have intuition. I do have intuition about things.