Hannah Freeman and Sri Artham believe the current system farmers use to get labor is broken, expensive, and fertile ground for corruption. They came to that realization during the years they spent working for Fair Trade USA — and a few months ago they decided to leave their jobs to do something about it.
This month is the official launch of Ganaz, a simple suite of technology tools that connect agriculture operations with farm workers, cutting out the middlemen who are traditionally required to populate the fields with labor.
Growers post job listings to the Ganaz app and website. Workers see those openings, translated into their native language, and can respond directly through Ganaz. Growers can also send urgent messages out to their workforce, get in touch with workers from previous harvests, and provide details about pay, benefits, and hours. The technology is designed with low-literacy populations in mind.
“The laws of supply and demand in a tight labor market should lead to better working conditions and fairer recruitment, but lack of information and communication flow between workers and growers was slowing that progress,” Freeman said in an email. “We felt that some pretty simple tools, if designed in a way to gain the trust of both growers and workers, could solve this problem.”
Growers often rely on labor contractors to find workers, who can charge around 30 percent on top of wages, according to Freeman. She says using an intermediary can make it difficult for employers to know whether their workers are being paid and treated fairly.
Ganaz is headquartered in Seattle and has been operating a beta with about a dozen farming companies on the West Coast to recruit workers for the summer and fall harvests. The startup is currently raising a $200,000 pre-seed round of funding from friends and family.
“I’ve been ferrying between the tech world in Seattle and the farms in Eastern Washington and Oregon and that’s symbolic of what we’re trying to do — bring basic tech tools to painful problems that both farmworkers and growers face daily,” Freeman said. “I think the only reason the tech industry hasn’t solved these problems yet is because they don’t regularly engage growers and farm workers — because the demand is certainly there.”
Ganaz is launching at a time of uncertainty and upheaval for immigrants working in the U.S. Freeman says that political unrest is leading to a shrinking labor pool for the agricultural industry, making her product all the more valuable.
“The political situation is only making growers more likely to try new ways of finding workers, and what they love about Ganaz is they finally can have more control over their recruiting process — cutting out the middlemen and delivering much better value to workers and to their own operations,” she said.