Letter to the editor by Shelby Dill, Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers
As we continue to adapt to the new limitations as a result of COVID-19, agriculture has been classified as an essential service and the Imperial Valley has continued to farm. A majority part of the farming effort is the harvest of field crops — alfalfa, wheat, and Bermuda grass — this time of year. We need farm workers to continue harvest, while some live here and some live in Mexicali Valley. Those in Mexicali cross daily, and some experienced long wait times and crossing was delayed. We are pleased to report that the majority of the crossing issues experienced in early May have been greatly improved or resolved completely.
We, however, noticed that not all of those crossing had protective face masks, thus creating dangerous conditions for themselves, their families, and their co-workers. Initially, as the statewide order for face masks was issued, the supply for disposable masks was extremely limited. To protect our farm workers, three separate efforts occurred. First, prior to the start of onion, sweet corn, and melon harvest, washable cloth masks were purchased from a reliable source in California and distributed directly to cattlemen and farmers for them to disperse to their employees. Shortly after, the California Department of Food and Agricultural obtained a supply of disposal masks that were distributed through the Imperial County Ag Commissioners’ office. A second supply has also been received and is available for the agriculture community through the Ag Commissioner’s office.
The third and most notable is the donation by an anonymous donor for disposable masks and gloves to be distributed in three efforts to the essential workers. A portion of the allocation has been provided to the two local hospitals, El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, for their use at the hospitals and their clinics throughout Imperial Valley. These medical professionals are certainly essential and continue to be critical in this pandemic. The second allocation has been provided to Comite Civico Del Valle, Imperial Valley Community Health Coalition, and Coalicion De La Buena Salud y Bienestar Communitario. These coalitions will distribute the masks to the farm workers once they have crossed the border and at times the farm workers are generally crossing daily. The last allocation will be distributed by Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, who has been designated by the donor as the local coordinator. This allocation will be made available to the labor contractors and farmers for those farm workers who live in Imperial Valley or those who did not receive them otherwise.
We also acknowledge the ongoing support of Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia to elevate the local farm worker and health needs in response to COVID-19. The safety of all of us is a major concern — we need healthy farm workers to harvest the food we eat and we need medical staff safe as they care for those of us who have contracted COVID-19. All are important, and we are certainly appreciative of the effort by the donor to provide this generous and timely donation. Working together our community is more resilient in stopping the spread of this novel virus and speeds the pathway to recovery.