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Thinking back to barely a year ago, Oscar Vasquez says things have changed on the Oxnard, California farm where he works picking strawberries. For so long, he felt as though he was treated like little more than a cog in the fruit production machine-necessary to his employer, but also very replaceable.

But now, since his farm adopted a new approach to working with its employees, he feels better about going to work each day. Vasquez and his coworkers care more about the quality of the produce they’re picking and, he adds through a translator, “A lot of workers are staying for the whole season, which is a sign that they feel good about the farm.”

A Cultural Shift

The Oxnard farm is one of several pilot sites for a new project called the Equitable Food Initiative, or EFI, which is a collaboration of some unlikely bedfellows: industry players like Costco, worker advocacy groups and unions like United Farm Workers (UFW), and humanitarian organizations like Oxfam (see the full list here). The goal is to create a certification system for farms that will help transform fruit and vegetable production into a business that’s safer-for consumers and workers alike-and a little more more fair for workers.

The Initiative has created a certification scheme, and covers three main areas: labor, food safety, and the environment. The certification requires a farm to comply with a long list of rules, finalized last June, but what it adds up to, says Peter O’Driscoll, EFI’s project director, is more than a few procedural changes.

“It’s a culture shift at the level of the farm,” he says. “Instead of [farm owners and workers] being in confrontation, we have created a whole new mechanism for communication.”