How a small worker-owned trust could transform agricultural labor

Singh, who on a recent day was picking seedless green grapes at a ranch just south of Bakersfield, is part of a startup venture that stands to shake up the agriculture industry by improving the way that farm workers are treated, trained, and compensated. Called California Harvesters, it operates for all intents and purposes as a worker co-op (though, technically, it’s a labor trust).

“They’ve given me a real opportunity,” says Singh, standing beneath a canopy of vines, heavy with fruit.

It is tempting to label what is unfolding here a grand experiment, but California Harvesters has taken off so quickly that it has practically shot right past the trial stage. Launched in April, it already has recruited some 450 workers–and more are signing up by the week. Eager for a steady stream of labor, major growers are coming on as customers.

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