Rural California Report
CIRS Blog about Rural California
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"Her skin became red and itchy. Her eyes burned. Her hair started falling out. Her family had the same symptoms ... [others] were dying, " California Watch reports. This sounds like a tragic nightmare, but it was a reality for Sonia Lopez, a farmworker who lives in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley area.
She and thousands of other farmworkers in this area have been unknowingly drinking nitrate-contaminated water, which has led to these severe symptoms.
These and other farmworkers have been neglected and allowed to suffer on their own. The state government needs to intervene and offer them some relief.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California is responsible for about 15 percent of the United States' fresh produce.
Every year at Thanksgiving I am reminded of the people who grow and harvest our food. I am constantly immersed in research on the food system and the people who work in it but thinking about the food on my table and how it got there is especially poignant at feast time. In California we are blessed with abundant year round locally grown nuts, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables. The farmers and hired workers who labor to produce this food that feeds our nation do so under challenging conditions.
Posted on the McClatchy website on Thursday, September 5, 2013
WASHINGTON — Farmers’ congressional allies are pressuring the Obama administration to ease up on some immigration work-site enforcement, underscoring a conflict at the heart of a broad-based immigration bill.
This week, spurred by complaints from farmers in California’s Central Valley, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly urged the Department of Homeland Security to “redirect” immigration enforcement efforts toward “serious violent crimes” instead of “legitimate agricultural employers and their workers.”
“The reality is that the majority of farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign-born and unauthorized, which is well-known,” Feinstein wrote Tuesday, adding that she’s “afraid that this aggressive worksite enforcement strategy will deprive the agricultural sector of most of its workforce.”
Worksite monitoring has definitely heated up.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Washington apple grower Evans Fruit in June 2010 for allowing a ranch manager to sexually harass female workers, and obtained a temporary restraining order to protect class members and potential witnesses from retaliation. After 12 days of testimony, a federal jury in 2013 found no sexually hostile work environment at Evans.
The case against Evans, which employs 1,200 to 1,300 seasonal farm workers, began with a complaint by three women who alleged that they were constructively discharged after supervisors subjected them to "ongoing sexual comments, propositioning, and physical groping." Evans and the ranch manager denied the allegations. A federal judge in April 2013 dismissed a September 2011 EEOC suit against Evans that alleged Evans retaliated against 10 farm workers who attended a meeting at a public library where EEOC representatives explained sexual harassment and the remedies.
PBS's Frontline aired an associated documentary, Rape in the Fields, in June 2013 that profiled the women and the ranch manager in the Evans case.
Below is an excerpt from Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies by Seth M. Holmes. Holmes, an anthropologist and physician, documented the journey of Mexican migrant farmworkers as they travel between Southern Mexico, California's Central Valley and Washington, in search of work.
One: Introduction --"Worth risking your life?"
The road from San Miguel
It is early April and our group is leaving the Triqui village of San Miguel in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, each of us wearing dark-colored, long-sleeved clothes and carrying a small, dark-colored backpack with one change of clothes, a plastic bag with coyote fur and pine soap made by a Triqui healer for protection and called a suerte [luck], along with many totopos [smoked handmade tortillas] and dried beans to eat. I was instructed by Macario to bring these things. Each of us carries between $1,000 and $2,000 to pay for the buss ride to the border, for food at the border, for rides on either side of the border, and some for the coyote [border-crossing guide].
Our journey begins with a two-hour trip in a Volkswagen van from San Miguel to the nearby mestizo town of Tlaxiaco. After buying our bus tickets, we walk around the town's market, buying food to share with each other on the bus. Joaquin chooses mangoes, Macario oranges and peanuts, and I miniature bananas. Macario buys a slingshot to use against rattlesnakes in the desert and asks if I want to carry one, but I don't have much experience with slingshots. When we return to the bus, the two nuns from San Miguel are waiting to wish us well as we board. The younger nun explains to me that they go there every weekend to pray for the border crossers.
The bus ride in itself is exhausting. The bus is packed with people, mostly men, all headed to the border except a half dozen who plan to go to Baja California to harvest tomatoes. We ride from 3:00 P.M. on Saturday until our arrival in Altar at 4:00 P.M. on Monday, a total of forty-nine hours. We pass through five army checkpoints between the state of Oaxaca and the border. Two checkpoints all have signs that say in Spanish, "Permanent Campaign Against Narcotraffic." Before each checkpoint, the bus driver or his assistant announces loudly that all the bus riders should say that they are going to Baja California to work so that the stop would not take too much time with the questions about crossing the border into the United States. Each time, the driver tells me to say that I was just hitchhiking to the next tourist town-Mazatlan Hermosillo, Guadalajara, depending on where we are at the time. Before each checkpoint, the bus becomes quiet, and people seem nervous about the possibility of being interrogated or sent back south. Two or three soldiers aboard the bus each time in green army fatigues and ask a few seemingly random people for identification and search a few bags while other soldiers look through the windows with rifles over their shoulders.
Interestingly, there are three army soldiers riding the bus with us, going to their base in northern Mexico. They, as wells as everyone else, play along with the story. The oldest of the soldiers, seated next to me, is convinced I am the coyote leading my friends to a job in the United States. He explains to me that these military checkpoints are paid for by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in order to stop drug smuggling across the border and to stop undocumented immigration to the United States. He tells me to take the driver's assistant to "El Norte" for free since he is so nice to everyone on the bus. The driver's assistant -- who collects fares from the passengers, enforces the schedule at the food stops, and makes sure everyone makes it back on board after meals -- simply smiles in response. I reply that I am not a coyote. The soldier laughs and asks in Spanish, "Then why are you taking all these guys?"
WASHINGTON — Hispanic farmers in Texas and California’s Central Valley planted the seeds for a billion-dollar payout when they charged the Agriculture Department with discrimination.
Their lawsuit has struggled in court, but it scored politically.
Now Agriculture Department officials are scrambling to distribute some $1.33 billion to Hispanic and female farmers with discrimination claims. Hoping not to miss anyone, officials have extended the deadline for applications to May 1.
“We’re trying to make sure we leave no stone unturned,” Lillian Salerno, the acting administrator of the department’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service, said in an interview Tuesday. “We feel like we’ve done a good job of outreach, but you’re never completely sure.”
By Rosa Ramirez
California Health Report
OXNARD— The stories that Dario Gutierrez, a native of Mexico City, would hear before arriving in Oxnard two years ago prompted him to make the dangerous trek to the United States illegally. People here, he recalls hearing, earn enough to live comfortably. “Dicen que aquí se barre el dinero en la calle.”—They say here, people can sweep money off the streets.
The saying has prompted flows of people from Mexico and other parts of Latin America to migrate north for work in California’s bountiful agriculture industry. They hope for upward mobility. But the reality for many toiling in the $44.3 billion industry is different. Poor pay, which characterizes the farmworker labor force, has left many struggling to find adequate and safe housing.
This press release was issued by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
SACRAMENTO, CA (February 19, 2013)
On Friday, February 15, 2013, Judge Perantoni of the Riverside County Superior Court, after learning that RBI Packing, LLC of Mecca, California fired approximately 55 farm workers, ordered RBI to stop discriminating against its employees on the basis of their union activity and to offer them priority in hiring for all agricultural jobs at the company’s Blythe-based lemon ranch.
Originally posted on the New America Media website on Jan. 23, 2013.
Editor’s Note: There are an estimated 600,000 crop workers, and an additional 20,000 livestock workers, in California at any given time. Theirs are physically demanding jobs that carry a high risk of occupational injury – yet the vast majority of these workers lack health insurance. That could change in 2014 when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, although significant barriers will need to be overcome between now and then, if most farmworkers are to benefit. Don Villarejo has worked for more than three decades as a researcher and advocate on behalf of California farmworkers, and has authored major studies on farmworker health in the state. He recently spoke to New America Media editor Jacob Simas.
Starting in childhood, we are encouraged to make wishes during the holidays. As kids, these are usually for gifts. As an adult, I find myself wishing for more substantive things. OK, every once in a while I wouldn't mind seeing a new pair of hiking boots waiting to be unwrapped. But at this time of year, my wishes are not necessarily for myself.
After all, I've got more-than-adequate food and shelter. And I also have a great job. As the vice president of strategy for Bon Appetit Management Company -- a food service provider committed to a sustainable future for us all -- I get to work on issues that are important to me and to make changes that I think are meaningful.
In November 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Victoria Russo spoke with Larry Laverentz, a program manager with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), about his efforts to educate and support refugee farmers in the United States.
Larry has been involved in agriculture for most of his life, from growing up on a cattle farm to working as an agriculture volunteer in Vietnam for International Voluntary Services. His experiences, including earning a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, have enabled him to run programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and prepared him for his current position at RAPP.
This post is from Rural Migration News, a publication of rural issues at the University of California at Davis. Rural Migration News summarizes and analyzes the most important migration-related issues affecting immigrant farm workers in the California and the United States during the preceding quarter. This post focuses on labor shortages, and is from the October 2012 issue.
California farmers reported labor shortages in summer and fall 2012. FLC Brad Goehring in San Joaquin county said 2012 is "the worst year that I've ever experienced in labor," with 40 percent fewer workers than desired. Some coastal strawberry growers reported that workers who can earn more harvesting tree fruit are leaving for the San Joaquin Valley, forcing them to scramble for pickers who are quick to jump to other growers who offer higher piece rates or better yields.
Farmer comments demonstrated weak links to seasonal workers. Peach farmers around Marysville, California in July 2012 said: "Usually, each year the migrant workers show up. This year we keep thinking maybe they'll show up tonight, maybe they'll be here tomorrow morning. Nobody's really showing up yet." Growers of cling peaches that are often canned typically pay $16 to $20 per 1,000 pound bin to pick peaches, and say that a "good worker" can pick five to seven bins a day.
Interviews with female farm workers were conducted by Vallerye Mosquera and Luis Magana in 2011. The stories below were excerpted from three of these interviews and edited by Gail Wadsworth for posting here.
California Institute for Rural Studies organized a small group session at the “Strengthening Regional Food Systems” conference recently held at University of California, Davis. This conference was organized to discuss how policy changes and actions by the private sector and other stakeholders can address impediments to the creation of strong regional food systems and to support innovative initiatives currently underway at the local, regional, and national levels. The meeting was also intended to build stronger partnerships among key actors working on various aspects of regional food systems. The meeting was organized and hosted by AGree.
Despite the most stringent regulations in the U.S., agricultural workers in California continue to die from heat related illness, a preventable outcome, and are at higher risk than other workers exposed to hot environments. The search for effective and feasible solutions must involve diverse approaches appropriate for hired farm workers.
A current research project titled, “Reducing the risk of heat-related illness in western agricultural workers” brings together investigators from medicine, epidemiology, public health, physiology, rural sociology and community outreach and education. The group’s goal is to obtain novel data on internal body temperature as it relates to crop type and geography, external heat, and internal metabolic loading.
This long-term collaborative research project between the University of California Western Center for Agricultural Worker Health and Safety and the California Institute for Rural Studies will gather behavioral, physiological and environmental data from California agricultural workers and environments that will allow us to assess vulnerability to heat related illness, provide the methodology to test potential strategies in the fields, and disseminate results to stakeholders. The project employs innovative techniques for both understanding and evaluating potential solutions to reduce the risk of heat related illness in varied agricultural settings.
Originally published on the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet blog.
Agriculture employs more than one billion people worldwide—about 34 percent of global workers—making it the second-largest source of employment globally. Yet agricultural workers remain one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), the global agricultural workforce is “among the most socially vulnerable; the least organized into trade unions; employed under the poorest health, safety and environmental conditions; and is the least likely to have access to effective forms of social security and protection.”
Originally published by CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)
As the nation grapples with the worst drought in decades, the USDA added more than 218 counties to its list of natural disaster areas, bringing the total to 1,584—more than half of all US counties. Farmers in the Midwest and Great Plains have been the hardest hit, but the drought is a growing reality for farmers across the country, including California. While the Secretary of Agriculture won’t comment on the drought’s link to climate change, it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and as global warming unfolds, knowledge of dryland agriculture will become increasingly valuable.
This is the first in a six part video series speaking with Larry Kleinman, Secretary-Treasurer for the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United (PCUN) about the plight of farmworkers in Oregon, and across the country. PCUN shares its ideological roots with the United Farmworkers Union (UFW), but it’s a separate organization whose base is concentrated in the Oregon counties of Marion, Polk, and Eastern Clackamas, south of nearby Portland.