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Swanton Berry Farm

swantonlogo.jpg This organic farm reaps the benefits of its progressive labor model by empowering workers with a voice on the job and ample compensation for their work.

In Partnership With: UFW

A cooperative spirit is only natural for this socially-responsible farm

At a Glance

Founded in 1983, Swanton Berry Farm is a trend-setter in the agricultural industry as the first certified organic strawberry grower in California and the first organic farm to have a union contract.

Headquarters
Davenport, CA

Website
www.swantonberryfarm.com

Industry
Agricultural

Union Employees
50 production, distribution, and sales employees

Total Employees
60

Annual Revenues
$1.7 million

Outlets
5 farms in Northern CA

Customers
100,000

Lines are always long at the Northern California farmers markets where Swanton Berry Farm strawberries are sold. Loyal, local customers don't mind waiting for the sweet, ripe, and certified organic strawberries bearing the United Farm Workers label.

Cultivating a partnership with the union was only natural for Swanton founder Jim Cochran, who in 1998 became the first organic farmer in the country to sign a union contract with his workers. Cochran abides by the philosophy that producing the best-tasting produce requires respecting the workers who harvest them.

At Swanton workers are paid on an hourly basis, as opposed to the traditional, regressive piece-rate system common in the agricultural industry. Swanton's year-round, full- and part-time staff receive health insurance, a pension plan, paid vacations, and paid holidays-all of which are rare in non-union agricultural workplaces. The farm's commitment to its workers also led to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. After 500 hours of work, employees automatically begin to earn a financial stake in the company.

Swanton encourages worker input in decision-making because it strengthens the success of the farm operation. When workers suggested using a crop rotation system to include more than strawberries, Cochran welcomed their involvement in designing the system and choosing which crops to include. Cochran explains, "Everything we do is a result of a number of discussions between employees and management on what is the best way to do things." The company and the union even offer leadership and communications training, preparing workers to take part directly in the decision-making process.

Currently, efforts are underway to increase worker involvement in every stage of the production process, from harvesting the produce to selling goods at the farm stand. This will ensure that workers see the fruits of their labor and hear praise firsthand from Swanton's loyal customers.

Workers are true partners in this progressive farm venture. Swanton proves that a small organic farm can have a fertile business model and a socially-responsible approach to agricultural production and labor relations.

Selection Criteria

> Free and fair chance to form a union

> Collaborating as equal partners with workers and their unions to craft innovative strategies on compensation, performance, and productivity to meet business goals and address challenges

> Protecting workers' safety and health

> Providing sustainable wages or progressive increases and worker-friendly benefits

> Creating new jobs and implementing employee retention strategies

> Offering training and professional development opportunities