Mushroom Farm Workers Living in Poor Condition Prior to Shooting

01 Feb, 2023 Liz Carey


Half Moon Bay, CA ( –  Authorities say the suspect in a multiple fatality shooting last week lived in squaller with his co-workers at the mushroom farm.  

On Friday, law enforcement officers and elected officials toured California Terra Gardens, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm in Half Moon Bay, Calif., after a deadly “workplace violence” shooting left several workers at that farm and another farm dead.  

According to the San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, Chenli Zhao admitted he went on the shooting spree because he was infuriated when a supervisor told him he’d have to pay $100 for damage to farm equipment that Zhao said was caused by one of his co-workers. 

Zhao told officials he went to his room on the farm, grabbed a gun, and then shot both the co-worker and the supervisor before targeting other employees. After shooting several co-workers there, he drove to nearby Concord Farms where he had previously worked, and shot an assistant manager and another two former co-workers, all of whom he’d had a long-standing beef with.  

Zhao lived on the California Terra farm with his co-workers, some of whom paid as much as $300 a month for squalid living arrangements. County supervisors toured the farm where workers lived with their families in trailers on Thursday. Residents used outdoor kitchens and portable toilets, officials said.  

“The living conditions are deplorable, heartbreaking,” Ray Mueller, a San Mateo County supervisor told the Mercury News. “There’s modified [shipping] containers. It looks like there’s rooms where people are living where there’s no running water. Very little shelter from the elements. No one should be living there.” 

In an interview reported by NBC Bay Area, Zhao said he was tired of the working conditions on the farm including long hours and bullying at the hands of his co-workers.  

It wasn’t the first time that Zhao had run-ins with his co-workers. In 2013, a man who was a roommate at Zhao’s home in San Jose (prior to his working at the two mushroom farms) reported Zhao threatened to kill him after Zhao lost his job at a San Jose restaurant they’d both been working at. The roommate said Zhao “took a pillow and started to cover my face and suffocate me” and threatened that he would split open the roommate’s head with a kitchen knife if he didn’t get his job back. The roommate filed for, and won, a restraining order against Zhao which has since expired.  

It also wasn’t the first time there had been a shooting at the California Terra Gardens.  

In July 2022, California Terra employee Martin Medina, 49, approached two co-workers near the trailers and yelled “I’m going to kill you.” The couple fled to their trailer, which Medina fired into it. The shots missed and instead hit a neighboring trailer where another couple lived. No one was injured in that incident, and Medina was arrested. Officials said Medina’s actions were based on simmering tensions between the co-workers.  

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office and Cal/OSHA said last week it had launched investigations “into potential labor and workplace safety and health violations for the worksites... to ensure that employees are being afforded all the protections of California labor laws.”  

A company spokesman, David Oates, told the Mercury News that employees earned more than minimum wage for their work – between $16 ad 24 an hour – as well as benefits like paid time off, company-sponsored health insurance, workers compensation and a 401(k) retirement plan. The monthly rent of $300 is taken from the employees paychecks, he said.  

Oates also said the families living on the property live in mobile homes and RVs and that the shipping containers are storage areas, not living quarters (even though one picture tweeted by an elected official appeared to show a mattress). The outdoor kitchens and portable toilets, he said, are for large gatherings the families may have.  

The workers and their families were moved to hotel rooms after the shooting, officials said. However, officials at the mushroom farm said the farm would return to operations as normal on Monday. 

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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