OWN VOICE Q&A. Rudy Espinoza Murray is the lead and founding member of the San Mateo County Farmworker Affairs Coalition (FAC) which works in close alliance with the San Mateo County Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC).
The Farmworker Affairs Coalition is a coalition of county agencies, community organizations, and community activists that came together to connect our farmworkers to county and state resources. We initially started to ensure that our farmworkers received personal protection equipment, hand sanitizer, clean water, adequate testing, and resources if they tested positive. As most farmworkers now have been vaccinated, we are shifting focus on some of the long term issues they face, like lack of access to healthcare and housing.
Rudy, and another lead and founding FAC member, Victoria Sanchez De Alba, visited local cannabis farms, HMGrow and Dark Heart Nursery, in the Frenchmen’s Creek watershed on Monday, August 30th, 2021. They were looking to speak with farmworkers to make sure they feel safe, are paid, and that they have good working conditions.
Rudy and Victoria toured the Dark Heart Nursery with Jenny, the farm manager.
There were around a few dozen employees. Pay starts around $17/hr and full-time employees get healthcare benefits. Working conditions were pleasant- clean and non-toxic work environment.
Dark Heart Nursery: High-Quality Clones For California Growers
Ed Wilkinson, partner of the HMGrow farm, provided their tour.
The parcel covers 164 acres with four greenhouses, one of which will be used for a nursery and the other three for the cultivation of flower.
HMGrow has about 2 dozen permanent employees. Pay is $20/hr plus, and all employees have health benefits. Working conditions are optimal.
One HMGrow farmworker told Rudy and Victoria, “It’s the best farm in the region.”
They are also in the process in creating housing for their farmworkers.
In conclusion, Rudy said, “I would want Coastsiders to know that these farm workers are the best-paying jobs on the Coast and the only ones I’ve ever heard of that offer benefits (to non-seasonal employees).
I would also want people to know that working conditions are safe and that the employers are genuinely concerned about their employees’ welfare and wellbeing.
VIDEO. Ed Wilkinson and Aneese Bishara bought the old greenhouses at the end of Frenchman’s Creek Road 2 years ago and shortly after permitted them for cannabis – although they had been working on permitting it for cannabis during their escrow period, for over a year. The parcel covers 164 acres with four greenhouses, one of which will be used for a nursery and the other three for the cultivation of flower. They are called Half Moon Grow (HMG).
The county sets extensive requirements for those hoping to acquire a license, including requirements for video surveillance systems, a local hiring plan, waste management protocol, and odor control, among other stipulations. Additionally, HMG has to follow all the state agency regulations, which are far stricter than regular Agriculture – including tracking each plan from its infant stage to sale.
HMG followed all permitting requirements over the last two years since the purchase, in 2018, of their Frenchman’s Creek greenhouse property.
When HMG first approached the neighbors they proposed repaving the road as it was in a medieval state, with potholes on every inch. Before it was eventually repaved, the horse ranch was barely able to get horses in and out. HMG was going to take on all permitting responsibilities, as well as cover 90%+ of the cost of the repaving.
The neighbors went through multiple rounds of comments to ensure all parties got exactly what they wanted. HMG also met the requirements of the City of Half Moon Bay, HMB Coastside Fire District and CalFire. Since the first meeting with the City, the process took over 2 years to get permitted. Ed, Aneese and all parties worked tirelessly together, as a community, in order to ensure all aspects, of every party’s concerns, were met.
In the end, HMG spent substantial capital on legal, surveyors, consultants, environmentalists, and fees associated with the project in addition to countless hours of emails and meetings in order to get the projected permitted with all the requirements from the neighbors, city, and the fire department.
In February 2021 the repaving project was permitted and construction completed. The total project cost was over a half a million dollars to complete, from permitting to final construction inspection. HMG bore over 90% of those costs.
Now, HMG and its neighbors have a brand new road that satisfies the fire department, the city, and all neighbors on the road, as well as their customers – seriously increasing the quality of life living and commuting on Frenchman’s Creek Road.
Without HMG to middleman and facilitate negotiations between the neighbors, city, and county the road may not have ever been done, as it’s a private road that the city is not responsible for repaving.
Some will say that the road was a requirement for HMG operation, but it was not a requirement at the time, when Ed and Aneese made the gesture at the inception of their endeavors. The road would have never been fixed without HMG involvement. Furthermore, HMG was not required by any agencies to make it a 20-year road. HMG forked out the extra capital for the community to install a double layer asphalt road, which will last a lifetime, instead of just putting a single layer, which might have lasted 5 years.
The video speaks to how bad the road was and to the scope of the project.
~ Approved by Ed Wilkinson and Aneese Bishara
Grow would be first licensed cannabis farm in the county
“And then all of a sudden, we find out there’s a grading violation, there’s multiple buildings that are illegal, and everything that he’s done since 2001, which is when the grading violation occurred, has been illegal,” Wilkinson said.
With the help of $7.5 million from investors, they were able to purchase the land and prepare it for operation. Throughout the next year and a half, Wilkinson and Bishara worked with the San Mateo County Building and Planning Department to remedy existing violations and prepare the site for cannabis cultivation.
The county sets extensive requirements for those hoping to acquire a license, including requirements for video surveillance systems, a local hiring plan, waste management protocol and odor control, and ventilation plans among other stipulations.”