CIRS Blog about Rural California

By Ron Shinkman

 

After nearly a decade of cuts and incomplete coverage, Californians enrolled in the state’s low-income dental program have full coverage this year.

 

But whether there will actually be enough dentists willing to accept the low-reimbursement rates and red tape often attached to the Denti-Cal program remains to be seen.

 

Denti-Cal provides dental services to roughly 14 million children and adults statewide. But coverage for the 7 million adults enrolled was hobbled for years following the 2007 economic recession.

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in Rural Health 54 0
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Dewey Welker has lots of dreadful memories.

 

With great clarity, down to the way his father turned up his shirt sleeves that day and the deep gray of his father’s jeans, he can describe every moment of being abandoned outside a liquor store at age 4.

 

He remembers stealing his first pair of shoes at age 7 and, a little later, beating up another boy to rob him of his scooter.

 

Marijuana came at 9, cigarettes at 12. His best friend introduced him to methamphetamine at 15.

 

That boy would later shoot himself.

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in Rural Health 143 0
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ChrisAnna Mink

 

“All five children get lunch at school,” mother Maria Chavez said through a Spanish interpreter. School lunches help the Chavez’, whose names have been changed, make ends meet.

 

Arturo Chavez, 7, is my clinic patient in South Los Angeles. He has developmental issues, notably a speech delay. But with help from medication and therapy, he is catching up to his first-grade peers. He is an engaging little boy who loves to tell stories, even with his speech difficulties.

 

Arturo has four siblings, ages 4 to 17, and all are in school. Maria Chavez, their mother, is unable to work, in part because of Arturo’s frequent appointments. The children’s father’s monthly income as a restaurant cook is less than $4,000.

 

“At the end of the month, it’s difficult,” Maria Chavez said. “So we go to food banks or our church for food.”

 

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in Food Insecurity / Food Deserts 213 0
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New state rules about the application of  pesticides on farms near rural schools and daycare facilities take effect Jan 1., following years of campaigning by groups advocating for teachers, the environment and public health. Yet these advocates argue that the rules still don’t do enough to protect school children and school staff from potentially dangerous chemicals.  

 

The new rules adopted by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) prohibit spraying pesticides within a quarter mile of schools and daycare facilities on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. 

 

Advocates argue that the buffer zone of a quarter of a mile doesn’t do enough to protect the estimated 5,500 students, teachers and daycare workers who spend their weekdays at the farm-side facilities.

 

“At the end of the day is this where we want to be? No. We wanted the buffer at one mile. But, are these new regulations better and more consistent than before? Yes, they are,” said Paul Weller, a spokesman for Pesticide Reform. 

 

DPR’s long-awaited rules apply to fumigation, aerial, ground air-blast, sprinkler and dust application of pesticides on fields. These application methods may cause pesticide drift, when potentially harmful chemical become airborne and drift from farms into the surrounding communities.

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in Rural Health 180 0
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The Strategic Growth Council recently approved nearly $34 million in new grants for the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP).

 

SALCP is one a suite of Climate Smart Agriculture programs developed in California to meet the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The state program aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with urban sprawl and rural ranchette development by protecting at risk agricultural lands. SALCP is part of a larger effort to promote in-fill, transit-oriented development by the Brown administration.

 

The Council funded 25 agricultural conservation easement projects and 2 Strategy and Outcome grants for local governments to improve farmland conservation planning and policy development. The latest round of funding brings the total number of awarded conservation easement projects to 52 and 8 local government farmland conservation projects since the program began in 2014. The Council has invested nearly $76 million since the inception of SALCP.

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in Climate Change 268 0
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A high school senior with farmworker roots may have found a way to keep workers safe when the weather is scorching hot.

 

Faith Florez, 17, has created an app that alerts workers when temperatures reach 95 degrees. It also gives tips for keeping cool and serves as a direct link to first responders in case of emergency.

 

Currently in the crowd-funding stage, the app, called Calor, has nearly reached its $60,000 goal. It also has begun to attract social media attention.

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in Heat Risk 254 0
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The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) certified 165,000 farm jobs to be filled with H-2A workers in FY16, and is expected to certify over 200,000 jobs in FY17. The U.S. Department of State issued 134,400 visas to H-2A workers in FY16, up from 108,100 in FY15 and 55,400 in FY11.

 

The DOL does not generate estimates of the weeks of farm work done by H-2A workers or wages earned by H-2A workers. An analysis of FY12 data, when the DOL certified 85,248 jobs to be filled by H-2A workers, found that the 5,400 employers who were certified offered an average 33 weeks of employment for an average 43 hours a week to H-2A workers. If weeks of U.S. employment are multiplied by the number of workers requested by each employer, the average number of weeks drops to 26, reflecting the fact that several hundred employers offer 52-week sheepherder jobs to relatively few workers.

 

The average AEWR (Adverse Effect Wage Rate) in FY17 was $12.20 an hour or $525 for a 43-hour week. Over 26 weeks, an H-2A worker would earn $13,650 and 100,000 H-2A workers would earn $1.36 billion. If 150,000 H-2A workers are in the U.S. in FY17, their total earnings would be about $2 billion.

 

The DOL sued G Farms of El Mirage, Arizona for housing 69 Mexican H-2A workers in substandard housing and not paying them the AEWR of $10.95 an hour. Santiago Gonzalez grows watermelons and onions near Phoenix, and said he fixed housing problems as soon as the DOL notified him of them, making the DOL's suit unnecessary.

 

Gonzalez admitted that some H-2A workers did not receive the AEWR when they began to work because they were learning how to do the job; G Farms paid piece rates to harvest onions of $0.13 to $0.70 a bag.

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in Farm Labor 174 0
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Coachella, California

CIRS is a public interest research non-profit with offices in the SF Bay Area. CIRS is seeking a Community Research Outreach Specialist. We are currently seeking to hire a staff member to work on a three year project, starting January 2018. The positing starts at 80% FTE but with increased funding could become full time.

The Project

The integrated campaign we will initiate involves a collaborative effort driven by residents of communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley to address issues of environmental injustice. Our goal is to inform residents and policy makers, to implement mitigation strategies and spur investment. The policy changes we advocate for will result in a systemic change in the region and the changes in practice we encourage will impact community norms. We expect to improve community health as a result of the goals we set forth.

The project will contribute to the following:

  • Develop youth leadership through citizen science projects designed to render power through knowledge and mitigate on the ground risks. (air quality monitoring and community greening)
  • Build the power of residents to influence decisions that affect them by working with them to develop data-based tools to
  • Enhance the effectiveness and leverage partnerships by working with a diverse group of partners both within and outside the Coachella Valley.
  • Raise the visibility of community health issues impacting the residents living near the impact area of the Salton Sea by supporting their ability to lead discussions, hold space and power in meetings and tell their stories at a regional, county and state-wide level.

The Job

  • The role requires driving throughout several communities engaged as this position is field based only
  • The position entails working in various community settings
  • English-Spanish bilingual, native Spanish speaker preferred
  • Must possess strong interpersonal skills and be culturally competent with the ability to adapt to different populations
  • Must be able to work in a multi-organizational collaboration
  • Must be able to facilitate meetings where scientific data are explained to community members
  • Track and follow-up with past and present potential community partners
  • Maintain community engagement
  • Requires an individual who is a self-starter, disciplined with his/her time
  • Ability to work with little supervision
  • Candidate will ideally possess some community outreach/organizing experience

Education:

  • Bachelor's Degree required/Master’s Degree a plus
  • Emphasis in Sociology. Geography, Environmental Studies or Community Development preferred but not required

Skills:

  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Community outreach/organizing
  • Ability to communicate clearly on multiple levels
  • Understanding of environmental justice issues
  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Must have excellent time management skills
  • Self-starter yet team oriented-outcomes
  • Knowledgeable in rural issues
  • Effective presenter
  • Effective in developing rapport and relationships in the community
  • Receptive and efficient in executing tasks designated by the Executive Director

We offer a competitive compensation and benefits package, including vacation, healthcare subsidy, sick leave and compensatory time off. Rent on home office can be negotiated. All benefits will be prorated to % FTE if not full time.

CIRS is an equal employment opportunity (EEO) to all persons regardless of age, color, national origin, citizenship status, physical or mental disability, race, religion, creed, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, genetic information, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state or local law.

To apply and for details on compensation contact Gail Wadsworth gwadsworth@cirsinc.org

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in Rural California 144 0
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The California State Supreme Court Nov. 27 ruled against Gerawan Farming’s attempts to dismantle the state’s process for settling employment contract disputes.

 

Gerawan, one of the largest tree fruit farmers in the nation and based in Fresno County, has been locked in a battle with the United Farm Workers for four years over a union agreement with its workers.

 

The dispute has lead to numerous lawsuits, a failed attempt to kick the union out and several findings of unfair labor practices by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

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in Rural California 220 0
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County agricultural commissioners released reports of 2016 revenue in summer 2017. Kern County led the state in farm sales, with $7.2 billion worth of commodities sold, led by grapes, almonds, citrus, pistachios and milk.

Monterey County farm sales fell from $4.7 billion to $4.3 billion, largely because of lower vegetable sales of $2.8 billion in 2016. Leaf ($785 million) and head ($480 million) lettuce was the major crop in Monterey, followed by strawberries, $725 million, and broccoli, $390 million.

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in Rural California 205 0
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thanksgiving 2017As we approach Thanksgiving 2017, let’s give a thought to workers who work along the food chain, often in the lowest paying and most tenuous positions. According to a report from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, “More than 86 percent of workers reported earning subminimum, poverty, and low wages, resulting in a sad irony: food workers face higher levels of food insecurity, or the inability to afford to eat, than the rest of the U.S. workforce.” And workers along the food chain are not a small portion of the US workforce, five core segments of the food chain[1] employ 21.5 million workers the largest employment sector in the US.

Our economy has been transitioning from one in which workers have been able to exercise their rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions to one where workers are, in effect, disposable. What are the trends that contribute to this situation?


[1] Production, processing, distribution, retail and service are the 5 core segments.

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in Inequality 796 0
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Much has been written about the disproportionately high incidence of health problems such as diabetes and obesity among African Americans and Latinos when compared to non-Hispanic whites. But health disparities among smaller minority groups such as American Indians and Pacific Islanders have received far less attention.

new report out of University of California Riverside aims to change that. Led by Andrew Subica, an assistant professor of social medicine, population and public health, the study examines seven years worth of data on health trends among American Indians and Alaskan natives, native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and multiracial adults living in California.

The findings paint a startling picture of ill health among these small and historically neglected populations. Not only do their rates of diabetes and obesity surpass those of non-Hispanic white people, but many are just as or even more likely to suffer from these diseases than African Americans and Latinos.

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in Rural Health 346 0
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By Amy Winzer

 

Scott Park never set foot on a farm until he was twenty years old. At that time, a fraternity brother connected him with the manager of a tomato operation in the Sacramento Valley, and Park ended up going into business with him. Six years later, he went out on his own. “The fact that I’m doing this is pretty much a fluke,” said Park. “I don’t go generations back. I think it gives me a different perspective because I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what farming is.”

Today at Park Farming Organics, Park, joined by his wife Ulla and son Brian, farm 1,500 acres in Meridian, California. Out of that total, Park rents roughly 1,300 acres and owns about 200 acres. Almost all of the acreage has been certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Although he started out in tomatoes, Park’s crop portfolio has expanded to include rice, corn, wheat, millet, dry beans, herbs, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, gourds, stevia, coriander, flax, snow peas, safflower, sunflowers and more.

Problem

Before 1986, Park relied heavily on synthetic fertilizers, which he now characterizes as a short-term approach to farming. He switched to a long-term approach focused on nurturing soil health after noticing a nearby field was healthier than the ground he was working. “It slapped me in the face that what I was doing was completely wrong. My ground was getting harder and harder,” recalled Park.

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in Soil 186 0
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The Los Angeles Times reviewed the status of mechanization in various crops July 21, 2017, emphasizing the large number of prototype machines in development to replace hand workers. From apples to strawberries, tech firms are developing machines to harvest crops.

Asparagus acreage is declining, and many leafy greens are harvested mechanically with knives or water jet cutters. Urban tech firms want radical changes in farming to facilitate mechanization, while firms such as Ramsay Highlander in Salinas stress the productivity gains from incremental changes such as conveyor belts to make hand workers more productive. Machines are being used to plant lettuce so that it does not have to be thinned.

Christopher Ranch, which hires 600 workers to pack and process 90 million pounds of garlic a year at its plant in Gilroy, saw a surge in applications after raising packing shed wages from $11 to $13 an hour in 2017; the firm's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $15 in 2018. The wages of more skilled packing shed workers rose as well. Christopher uses FLC (Farm Labor Contractor) crews and H-2A workers in the fields, where workers are paid piece rates.

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in Farm Labor 380 0
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By Linda Childers

Olivia Basurto was concerned when her nine-year-old son Samuel came home from school with a rash on his arms. After trying to treat the pink bumps with over-the-counter creams, and having no success, Basurto called to make an appointment with a dermatologist.

She quickly learned that in her small rural town of Pixley (population 3,310), in the Central Valley, physician specialists are a rare commodity. The nearest specialist was either in Porterville or Fresno, located almost an hour away, and they had a three-month wait.

But then, the Pixley Medical Clinic, a rural health clinic that provides family practice medicine to residents of Pixley and the surrounding cities, asked Basurto if she would be open to a telemedicine appointment with a dermatologist. The doctor, a retired dermatologist volunteer with The MAVEN Project, could assess her son’s rash and offer medical advice.

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in Rural Health 272 0
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The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the state's largest, wants to delay implementation of the tighter standards on particulates required by the federal Clean Air Act. The District, which covers eight counties with four million residents from San Joaquin to Kern, is a natural bowl with mountains on three sides that has been unable to improve regional air quality.

Fresno County had 25 unhealthy air warnings in 2016. One consequence is asthma, as especially children have trouble breathing. Many children carry inhalers to school and elsewhere.

California is responsible for one percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Governor Jerry Brown in July 2017 persuaded the Legislature to support the extension of the state's 2012 cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 431 million metric tons in 2020 to 260 million metric tons in 2030 (AB 398). California emitted 440 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2015 and Brown warned of "mass migrations, vector diseases, forest fires, Southern California burning up" if the state failed to reduce them.

The extension of cap-and-trade could raise gas prices up to $0.75 a gallon and provide funds for the bullet train that aims to link northern and southern California. The California's Air Resources Board, which will implement AB 398, projects an increase in the number of electric cars from 250,000 in 2017 to 4.2 million in 2030. CARB is targeting manure on dairies to reduce methane emissions.

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in Rural Health 342 0
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Raisin farmers and packers have settled on a price for the 2017 Natural Seedless raisin crop at $1,800 a ton, the second-highest in the industry’s history.

 

And while that would be great news in a normal year, this isn’t a normal year.

 

Raisin industry officials said the crop has been plagued with uneven growing weather and rain. A severe heat wave scorched the Fresno area in early June, damaging about 5 percent of the crop.

 

In September, heavy rains – two within a two-week period – further reduced the size of a crop that was already coming up short of the expected estimate of 235,000 tons.

 


“Despite this being the second-highest in history,” said Kalem Barserian, chief executive officer of the Raisin Bargaining Association, a grower group based in Fresno, “there will be no winners.”

 

Barserian said this is probably one of the four worst crops he has seen in his 52 years in the California raisin industry.

 

He said yields were off about 32 percent of normal.

 

“We ask everyone to be patient until things settle down so our growers and processors can get the product ready for market,” Barserian said.

 

This article published on the Fresno Bee website on Oct. 13. 

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in Agriculture 245 0
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By Guadalupe Sandoval

It’s 4:30 a.m. and I wake up to my little sister’s nudging. She’s used to waking up at this time and tenderly asks if I can put her hair into two ponytails today. “Sure.” I respond with a smile. I wake up the rest of my siblings and get them ready for school. With two younger brothers and two youngers sisters, it can be a hectic morning filled with surprises. 

My parents are probably hard at work at this time by now. 

My parents work in the fields. My mother harvests crops such as grapes, green beans, and onions. My father is handicapped, so he tries to look for small tasks here and there that can provide our family with some much needed additional income.

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in Rural Youth 340 0
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By Brian Shobe 

 

The State Legislature took an important step in September toward recognizing and remedying centuries-long injustices for people of color and women in agriculture. Both chambers passed Assembly Bill 1348 – the Farmer Equity Act – with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), now heads to the Governor’s desk.

By building racial and gender equity priorities into the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s responsibilities, executive staff structure, advisory committees, and programs, the Farmer Equity Act moves us closer to ensuring that all of California’s farmers have equitable influence on and access to government resources, including the state’s Climate Smart Ag programs.

Approximately one in four farms in California are managed by farmers of color and approximately one in five are managed by women. California has the largest population of Asian farmers and third largest population of Latino farmers in the country.

But despite their sizable numbers, data from the 2012 Ag Census shows that farmers of color and women tend to operate on significantly smaller acreages, earn significantly less revenue from the products they sell, and receive significantly less in government funding compared to white farmers and men.

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in Inequality 314 0
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Lousy milk prices spoiled Tulare County’s chances of holding on to its title as the state’s No.1 agriculture county. 

Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agricultural commissioner, delivered the bad news to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. The county’s total production value for 2016 tumbled 8 percent to $6.3 billion.

That crop value wasn’t enough to keep Kern County from seizing the top spot with a total agriculture value of $7.2 billion. It was a record for Kern County and put them in the No. 1 position for the first time. Strong markets for grapes, almonds and citrus, helped push the county to the top.

Tulare County may be the leading dairy county in the state but that’s also part of the reason it slipped to No. 2, just ahead of Fresno County, which had a total crop value of $6.1 billion.

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in Agriculture 278 0
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