Authors: Kathy Novak & Greg Wong
Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Ramon Sonoqui Martinez, a 67-year-old farmworker in Half Moon Bay, is working for around $15 hour because he needs the money for rent and other expenses. Photo credit Kathy Novak/KCBS Radio
HALF MOON BAY (KCBS RADIO) – San Mateo County is home to a large community of immigrant farmworkers, many of whom have trouble accessing essential services. A new program will soon offer a novel way to bring those resources to them, through the use of double-decker buses.
If you've walked along the coastal trails of Half Moon Bay, you've probably passed these farms. Alongside these trails with multi-million dollar views lie fields full of kale, Brussels sprouts and artichokes.
"We have the Ritz Carlton over there. People hiking. They have no idea what’s going on in these fields,"Joaquin Jimenez, farmworker program and outreach director at the Latinx-centered non-profit "ALAS" – which literally translates to "wings" and doubles as an acronym for "Ayudando Latinos A Soñar" or "Helping Latinos to Dream" – told KCBS Radio.
Ramon Sonoqui Martinez, 67, who has worked in the fields since 1982, is semi-retired, but said he still picks Brussels sprouts for about $15 an hour because his social security doesn’t cover his rent and other expenses.
Ramon Sonoqui Martinez, a farm worker in Half Moon Bay, and Joaquin Jimenez, farmworker program and outreach director for ALAS.Photo credit Kathy Novak/KCBS Radio
Dr Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, Executive Director of ALAS.Photo credit Kathy Novak/KCBS Radio
His story is a familiar one to both Jimenez and ALAS Executive Director Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, who said the pandemic revealed how farmworkers were missing out on access to critical services, including health care.
"Many don't have medical insurance," Hernandez-Arriaga told KCBS Radio. "Others really find it challenging to go to the doctor because they don’t want to take time off of work because they don’t want to lose their employment."
ALAS conducted a survey of the farmworkers which revealed that many aren't visiting the doctor as often as they should both because they don’t have transportation and can't afford not to work.
Jimenez said he's often asked what the best way to help these farm communities is and his answer is always the same: "We go to them." To help farm workers receive the benefits they need, ALAS decided to take that concept to the next level.
The organization, in partnership with the nonprofit "Life Science Cares," is retrofitting a double-decker bus – similar to the kind tech companies use for their commuter shuttles – and calling it the "Farmworker Equity Express."
The Farmworker Equity Express bus being used to deliver essential services to farmworkers.Photo credit Kathy Novak/KCBS Radio
The bus will provide virtual connections to telehealth and online tutoring, among other services.
"We see the impact of taking direct resources out to the farm out to the fields for our farmworkers and their families," Hernandez-Arriaga said.
They hope the bus, which is set to arrive this fall, will be the first of many around the state.
ALAS will hold community information sessions about the resources and services that will be available on the Farmworker Equity Express Bus on August 10, 17, 24, and 31 from 5 to 7 p,m, at the Half Moon Bay Library Community Room at 620 Correas St.