Episode 212: Amalia Lommel and LeAnne Ruzzamenti

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The Equitable Food Initiative is raising awareness for sexual harassment prevention in the month of April and, thanks to them, all companies across the Agriculture industry have access to a phenomenal sexual harassment prevention training and toolkit that’s helped transform company culture at businesses like GoodFarms, one of the brands under Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. 

Sexual harassment is an uncomfortable issue to talk about, but thanks to initiatives from the EFI (which started decades before Hollywood’s “#MeToo” movement), more and more business have the tools to create trust, build open lines of communication and properly handle cases of sexual harassment that previously were never spoken about. 

Not yet familiar with the Equitable Food Initiative? The EFI is a skill building and certification organization that focuses on workforce development to create healthier workplaces and safer food by engaging farm workers in new and different ways in their work. They help train growers and workers to create new forms of communication and collaboration that’s most conducive to a healthy working environment. The EFI also works with retailers by helping them understand what those industry requirements are that growers like Good Farms are meeting and exceeding those. This ends up helping consumers so have a barometer for comparing fresh produce brands and grocery retailers.

Some studies show that 99.8% of people who experience sexual harassment at work never file a sexual harassment charge, and in the farming industry that can be especially true. Because of the nature of the work, employers and employees can be left at risk because workers are spread out and can be easily isolated. Many workers are under the supervision of just one person and that person might have the majority power in the working relationship, like controlling shifts in the quality of work. Plus, a large majority of the worker population speaks a different language which can make it difficult for them to know about certain policies and how to get help if they need it.

“You see women who will leave jobs. You see both men and women who are reluctant to refer family and friends to work in an organization that has harassment issues. When you’re in an industry like food and agriculture where we have a dire labor shortage, you really want to ensure your working conditions are safe and healthy and have a reason to be attracting and keeping talent, not driving them out the door.” LeAnne Ruzzamenti (12:19-12:47)

Amalia Lommel, Director of Social Responsibility at Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce (or as Lori likes to call her “the OG of the social responsibility space for fresh produce”), started the social responsibility program at Andrew & Williamson first by taking the partner owners of GoodFarms out into the field sand speaking to every different crew about EFI. Each crew was asked to nominate a representative to be the liaison for learning about the EFI program. The workers were skeptical, wondering things like if they had anything to gain from this, or if they’d be retaliated against by a supervisor, for example, if they volunteered for this program. 

“We needed to teach everybody within the sexual harassment standards and the labor laws what their rights are, what their responsibilities are, and that it’s your responsibility to report and your right to be safe and not harassed.” Amalia Lommel (19:22-19:41)

At first, Amalia would ask women “how are you doing? How are you feeling?”, and their response was always “fine”. No news is good news, right? Amalia soon realized she wasn’t communicating and building trust with workers in the right way so she could break the barrier and offer a safe space for them to speak up about what they were encountering. Eventually she began to hear about sexual harassment issues and claims after consistently using the communication tools from the EFI training. 

Since putting the EFI program into place, there’s been a great shift culturally at Andrew & Williamsons GoodFarms. More and more women are in decision-making roles, and women are arriving to the farm through their H2A program, a guest worker program where people from Mexico are invited to come work in the United States. Women now feel more comfortable to ask for promotions, volunteer for leadership positions and are speaking up about harassment issues they used to keep quiet about.


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What can other businesses in agriculture address sexual harassment in their own organization? The EFI partnered with a University of Washington professor to create a sexual harassment prevention curriculum designed specifically for the Agriculture industry. The training took six years to develop and 72 stakeholders in the process including human rights organizations, state and federal agencies, grower associations, legal experts and more. This program is now free and completely available online! The course is self-guided through videos to watch, and available to order as an in-person hard copy as well! Find out more about this free program at www.equitablefood.org/harassment.

How to get involved

  • Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
  • Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.

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About Lori

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

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