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Rural Tour Visits California’s Central Valley

Secretary Vilsack meets with business owners and United Farm Workers

Today, Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Merrigan met with leaders and members of the United Farm Workers at Monterey Mushroom, a company located on the edge of California’s Silicon Valley. The roundtable discussion involving 27 workers and eight growers is part of USDA’s ongoing effort to communicate with disadvantaged and underserved communities. The meeting began with a moment of silence for farm worker champion, Senator Ted Kennedy.

As Shah Kazemi, CEO of Monterey Mushroom, spoke about the contributions of workers to the success of his company, the growers in attendance nodded their heads in agreement. Mr. Kazemi highlighted the need for highly skilled workers and the investments his company made in its employees through extensive training. The result is a mutually beneficial relationship between the workers and employer and a low rate of turnover. Secretary Vilsack said during the meeting, “without workers you don’t have companies and without companies you don’t have workers” to emphasize the importance of partnerships in the agricultural industry.

A thirty-four year employee of Monterey Mushroom, Rogelio Lona, spoke about the great pay and benefits he receives from his employer. But, he shared his concern for “other workers who are paid much less and suffer under the sun without shade and water.” Secretary Vilsack took careful notes throughout the meeting and thanked the farm workers for their commitment and sacrifice they make to feed this nation. Jim Cochran, President of Swanson Berry Farm, stood before the group and said, “I am almost speechless to hear from a Secretary of USDA who understands our concerns and wants to work with growers and workers to find solutions.” Mr. Cochran added, “Mr. Vilsack, now I know why you are Secretary of USDA.”

The meeting concluded with photographs of the workers with the Secretary and Deputy Secretary and UFW President Arturo Rodriguez.

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