Gilroy, Calif., Garlic Growers Get Wise to Ending Labor Shortages: Pay Workers More!

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

February 16, 2017

When I lived in California’s San Joaquin Valley, I made a point to attend as many of the state’s summer fairs and festivals as I could. One favorite was the Gilroy Garlic Festival traditionally held in late July. The two-hour drive from Lodi was well worth the chance to walk down Gourmet Alley and eat garlic fries or even garlic ice cream, tastier than you may think. Another inducement to attend was that over its 38-year existence, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has donated more than $11 million to local charities and nonprofits.

Buy American!

Since I moved away from California, I still make a point to look for Gilroy garlic wherever I shop. I pointedly ask the produce manager to tell me the origin of the garlic he sells: from Gilroy, yes; cheap, nasty-tasting, low-quality from China, no.

Now I have another reason to seek out Gilroy garlic. Faced with the perennial California farm labor shortage that historically results in congressional demands for more guest workers, Christopher Ranch, which grows garlic on 5,000 acres in Gilroy, raised its hourly workers’ wage from $11 an hour to $13 hour this year, an 18 percent bump. Another increase to $15 will come in 2018, four years earlier than California’s schedule for minimum wage increases requires.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Ken Christopher, a Christopher Ranch vice president, said the effect of the raise was obvious immediately. At the end of 2016, the farm needed 50 additional workers to help peel, roast and package garlic. Within two weeks of upping wages in January 2017, applications flooded in. Now the company has a wait-list 150 people long.

Christopher, apparently just awakening to the reality that the long-acknowledged solution to filling labor shortages is higher wages and not guest worker programs, said, “I knew it would help a little bit, but I had no idea that it would solve our labor problem.”

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