Farmworkers in the time of pandemic

| Agricultural workers in Gonzales


Story and photos by Kimberly Piñon

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, farmworkers have struggled with staying healthy and safe. Although they are taking precautions, some have still gotten sick.

Two farmworkers, Jorge and Rosio, said they have avoided contracting the coronavirus. They’ve asked that their last names not be used.

“We use face masks all the time and so far no one has gotten sick in our crew, although people in other crews have gotten sick,” said Jorge, who has worked for RC Packing in Gonzales for about 10 years.

Jorge and Rosio both live in Gonzales. Many farmworkers reside there, and many of them are undocumented. According to the Monterey County Health Department, as of July 15, 73 Gonzales residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 45 have recovered. That’s about the same number of cases that have been confirmed among residents of Monterey, whose population is three times larger than Gonzales.

In addition, 779 agricultural workers in Monterey County have also tested positive, most of them from the Salinas Valley.

More than 70 percent of Gonzales residents work in agriculture. Most travel to work in nearby towns, and 10.7% work in the town where they live. According to, 98% of employment is in agriculture.

Many agricultural companies are still hiring farmworkers and are being cautious about their employees’ well-being. In the U.S., there are about 3 million farmworkers, according to Worldwide, farmworkers struggle with language, cultural, and transportation barriers. Many are exposed to the coronavirus just by traveling to their jobs.

Most farmworkers work long hours to plant, cultivate, harvest, process, and package our food. They often earn low wages, even though they supply fruits, vegetables and other produce. Some workers leave their homes for months to oversee crop production.

Jorge isn’t worried about himself, but said it’s been a difficult time. “The biggest challenge I have faced is not receiving help from the government,” he said.

Rosio, who’s been working at RC Packing for five years, said workers there are taking measures to keep themselves and others safe from the virus.

“We cover ourselves and keep our distance to protect ourselves and each other,” she said, adding that it’s been the biggest challenge she’s faced during the pandemic.

Rosio said she has not received help from the government because “I don’t qualify for the government’s help.”

While Jorge and Rosio have been taking precautions so they do not get or spread the coronavirus, and while they are glad to be healthy, they are putting their lives at risk every day with no financial assistance from the government. Like all farmworkers, Jorge and Rosio are resilient people who work hard for little pay to give their families a better life.

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported by the Clare Giannini Fund.