CIRS Blog about Rural California
At California Institute for Rural Studies we believe:
•Farmers and farmworkers should be able to support their families in a healthy environment and with dignity.
•There is power in independent scientific research.
•Farming is essential to civilization.
•All members of our communities have valuable knowledge.
•Collaboration for the common good is essential.
For 38 years we have acted on these values by conducting sound independent research. Below you will see what we did in 2015 and what we plan to do in 2016.
We hope it motivates you to support our work today. Your donations keep us independent!
We did a lot in 2015
We've been concerned about farmworker housing for decades and in 2015, we commissioned Dr. Don Villarejo, to write a summary on the current status of farmworker housing and health. Our work on housing in the Eastern Coachella Valley is generating results with the completion of community-wide surveys in Coachella, Mecca and Thermal. We are currently working in North Shore, on the troubled Salton Sea.
We helped other advocates understand the importance of scientific sampling methods with a presentation on our methods to housing advocates in Washington, DC.
"CIRS successfully brings the much-needed voice of disenfranchised men and women working in the food industry to the attention to those who would otherwise not hear about these stories. I appreciate Gail and Sarah's attention to including the various diverse missing narratives that make up the rural food movement. As a new filmmaker working with African American farmers, CIRS invited me to participate in screening the film trailer of my upcoming documentary. Since that initial screening two years ago at a CIRS program, the organization has continued to support my work and the work of farmers of color. Thank you and keep up this important work!”
Dr. Gail Meyers, Co-Founder, Farms to Grow
We took a look at the Agricultural Labor Relations Act on its 40th anniversary. What we found is that farm workers are actually making less money now than they did in 1974. The legacy of the ALRA is unfortunately, farm workers living in poverty.
We are proud to have CIRS as a member of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. CIRS' research in partnership with farmworkers organizations is a model for everyone everywhere - they conduct research with, not just about, farmworkers. That is so important in lifting up the challenges facing farmworkers and the solutions that they want.
Joann Lo, Co-Director, Food Chain Workers Alliance
Our new project, Cal Ag Roots, spearheaded by Ildi Carlisle- Cummins, is unearthing stories of California agricultural history to help food movement leaders craft informed change strategies. The project launched this fall, producing a series of three stories that focused on three pivotal moments in California farming: the end of the Bracero Program, the battle to enforce acreage limitations in the Central Valley, and the invention of the mechanical tomato harvester.
“Historically, the California Institute for Rural Studies took on research questions that were too politically controversial for traditional universities in the state to even consider. Today, CIRS continues this work through programs like the Cal Ag Roots project and as a location for critical studies of food and agriculture in California.”
Daniel O’Connell, PhD, Co-Director of Food Commons Fresno
Our sold-out Docks to Delta event on the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train featured live podcasts of all three stories, performed for 90 riders. Two of our stories have made an impact in traditional media as well-- the National Land for People story was recently featured in the Fresno Bee, and both Civil Eats and Davis Enterprise published the tomato harvester story.
"For young farmers and food advocates looking ahead to the future, understanding the past and the broader context in which they work is crucial. The California Institute for Rural Studies brings that, with a cultural, historical and social perspective desperately needed for a more holistic conversation about how we in California feed ourselves."
Evan Wiig, Executive Director, The Farmers Guild
2015 was the International Year of Soil! We responded by posting a series of articles on the Rural California Report on soils: why they’re important, how to care for them and what we lose when we lose them. These posts will be compiled into a folio for easy access.
In Merced County, we worked with a group of growers to help them focus on their needs. We found out that there are currently mechanisms available to them for cooperative marketing but that there are still many needs to help promote their products.
Keeping in line with our past work on farmworker food security, we completed a study of Yolo County.
Look for the results soon!
Our continued participation in the California Heat Illness Prevention Study (CHIPS) with UC Davis will help inform future workplace practices to better prevent heat stress, and protect farmworker health. We have completed focus groups with over 100 farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley since beginning the study in 2012. Through our continued research, we have gained a more complex understanding of how current regulatory policy and workplace practices inhibit or advance farmworker health. Our preliminary findings will be presented in the forthcoming winter edition of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development.
"One time I got sick from overheating. I felt like I was suffocating, not really dizzy, but desperate to get out of the fields. It was in the blueberry fields. I went to find shade, drank water, and put water on my face, and I felt better after that. I put cold water on a paper towel, put it under my hat, and went back into the field. I didn't ask for any help, because I wanted to work and make money."
Farmworker woman in Stockton, from “The Story of Fruit”
Our plan for 2016
We’re in the process of looking at promising practices in farmworker housing. We will complete a review of these in 2016 and post a paper. We think it’s important to look toward improvements using examples of successes.
Our review of data on farm worker wages and the ALRA has spurred us to envision a farm worker wage initiative. Linking to the work of our colleagues at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Fight for 15, we will be working on increasing wages to $15 an hour for farm laborers in one region of the state. If we are successful, we will replicate our work in other agricultural regions.
In 2016, all current Cal Ag Roots stories will be available as podcasts for download through the Cal Ag Roots Story Hub, which also features short articles on the stories. We will be performing our first three-part story series in Davis, Merced, Sonoma and Santa Cruz and will be working on a second set of Cal Ag Roots stories. Look out for these dates in upcoming e-newsletters.
In Merced County, as our next step, we will be working with growers to develop educational tools for outreach to their local community members. We think Merced residents should know about these remarkable growers.
And finally, in 2016 we hope to launch our Women in Agriculture project. Through several events (including the “Celebrating Women in Agriculture” event at Full Belly Farm, pictured right) we heard from women growers that they would like a forum for discussing challenges they face that are unique to them. We plan to hold a series of regional roundtables in rural California that bring together women employers and women farmworkers. We think these groups of women will be powerful in addressing barriers to success and in developing solutions together.
need your support
"There is so much interest in food these days and much talk about sustainability in agriculture, but mostly from an environmental vantage. Sustainable agriculture is not possible without a sustainable pool of labor - one that is treated well and paid fairly. Too few of our policy makers seem to understand this but, thankfully, CIRS is working assiduously to change this.
Social justice and food security go hand in hand. Thanks to CIRS, more and more influencers are realizing this. CIRS plays an absolutely critical role in linking the massive food supply chain to those on whose backs this system rests. If you eat, you should support CIRS."
Sanjay Rawal, Director of “Food Chains” documentary film
This all costs money and while we are able to secure funding for our large projects, some of our work goes unfunded. We especially need funds to complete our Promising Practices in Farm Labor Housing work, our collaboration with Merced growers and our Women in Agriculture initiative.
How to give
Since we don’t have members, we need people like you, all across the state to work with us. We’re looking for supporters who have an interest in seeing social justice for rural residents. Each of you is an important partner for our work. We need your donations to help us expand our work and conduct research that is responsive to the needs of rural communities and rural workers.
To ensure all that we do and all that we hope to do, please donate to CIRS. Help us empower rural residents, educate all sectors of the state about rural California, and improve policies related to rural regions.
Together we can affect real change.
Thank You and Happy Holidays
From All of Us,
Gail, Michael, Ildi, Sarah & Jaime
at California Institute for Rural Studies
Greetings CIRS community:
We wanted to share with you some reflections on the legacy of CIRS, the changes we have made over the years to stay the course, the announcement of an addition to our leadership team at CIRS, and a change in its structure.
Continuity and Change
Much of the work we have done at CIRS has been focused on generating rigorous research and analysis, to help identify equitable solutions to long-standing dilemmas in California farming. Our work has also focused on the needs of diverse communities where farming takes place-from farmworker neighborhoods of the San Joaquin Valley, to urban agricultural outposts in Santa Cruz. While rural communities continue to change, the mission of CIRS remains focused on the persistent challenges of equitable food production and community development. There is still a need for fact-based solutions to address these challenges. The CIRS commitment to scientific inquiry that consciously serves the long-term public interest has not waned.
Maintaining and developing our work is no small task, and our success builds ever-deepening connections to networks of people concerned about food, labor, water quality, climate change, rural community health, the environment, and agricultural policy. The continuity of CIRS has been proven through its ability to make change when needed. For example, in 2010 we became a virtual office with the vision of staff dispersed and working on the ground in rural communities. We also recognized that getting the best researchers for the job would often require us to contract with professionals outside our staff, so we have developed a list of affiliated researchers who you can see on our website and who consistently respond and provide excellent services.
Now we are embracing a model of shared leadership, both in practice and in title. CIRS has always made a big footprint with few staff, and while this has served us well, it has not allowed us to build the next generation of future leaders. So I asked Michael Courville to work alongside me as Co-Executive Director. I am happy to announce that he started in April. Michael brings a depth of experience in social research and nonprofit management that will complement and strengthen my own work at CIRS, and he brings a real passion for rural issues that have kept him engaged in research and rural community advocacy his entire career. (See Michael's bio, below)
Why Shared Leadership?
“Our mythology refuses to catch up with our reality. And so we cling to the myth of the Lone Ranger, the romantic idea that great things are usually accomplished by a larger-than-life individual working alone. Despite the evidence to the contrary -- including the fact that Michelangelo worked with a group of 16 to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -- we still tend to think of achievement in terms of the Great Man or the Great Woman, instead of the Great Group.”
Walter Bennis, The Secret of Great Groups, 1997
Sharing leadership helps to institute an executive team with the skills, experiences, resources, and continuity of values that will impel our mission well into the future. We will share the management duties and leadership of the organization, building upon a model of equitable leadership and collaborative decision-making.
Our work at CIRS requires keen management; sharp thinking, collaboration, public relations, program oversight, financial planning, and the cultivation of supporters that can help us implement our formula for change. It is a complex and demanding job. No one person, or one leader, is likely to sustain such an eclectic set of demands over time. In fact, a great deal of scholarship and evaluation of nonprofit leadership has pointed to the value and benefit of sharing leadership responsibilities, and a number of high-functioning nonprofits and businesses have adopted shared leadership to draw upon the full strengths of their leadership teams. We believe that this approach allows each director some time and space to reflect on their work, stay grounded in the organizational values, and practice more inclusive leadership throughout the entire organization. Shared leadership reflects our value of social justice, advances the sustainability of CIRS, and aligns with our commitment to promote the public interest: develop CIRS while developing others in the process.
We are both thrilled to be working together in this capacity, and look forward to talking with many of you in the months ahead about CIRS and our embrace of shared leadership.
Gail Wadsworth Michael Courville
Co-Executive Director Co-Executive Director
Michael Courville is an experienced nonprofit director and social researcher. He brings over twenty years of experience to CIRS working on rural issues, sustainable food systems, community development, social policy, and organizational capacity building. He is the founder of Open Mind Consulting and served in a combined role as Director of Community Programs and Development at California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA). While at CRLA, he led the Fund for Rural Equity in partnership with the Irvine, Hewlett and Packard Foundations. He has also led a number of formal program and learning evaluations for nonprofits, with an emphasis on qualitative methods and research design. He believes that a combination of research, reflective leadership, and civic engagement helps to advance equality and enhance our capacity to build more caring communities.
His past projects have included an investigation of agricultural export production in Latin America and the impact on small producers in Honduras, a process study of family-centered social service interventions in rural areas of Fresno and Riverside Counties, cross-generational leadership in nonprofits, and a formal analysis of farmworker heat stress prevention methods in California. His writing has appeared in Social Policy, the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, and the Management Information Exchange Journal. He was also co-editor and co-author of Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform (Food First Books, 2006). Michael holds graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley in political economy and social welfare.
Last week, a prominent environmental group released its annual report identifying the top ten “endangered” streams and rivers nationwide—waterways that are at a crossroads politically, where key upcoming decisions will have major impacts for better or worse. California’s San Joaquin River, the second longest river in the state, is #1 on the list due to the historical and ongoing impacts of state water infrastructure, and major proposals to expand this infrastructure in the future. Flowing 330 miles, the River begins in the Sierra Nevada mountains and meanders through the San Joaquin Valley toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is part of the largest estuary on the west coast. Tributaries to the San Joaquin include the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, Calaveras, and Mokelumne Rivers. The 10,000 square mile San Joaquin Valley receives little rainfall on average, but historical river flows have been maintained by seasonal snow melt from the Sierras. This area is the most agriculturally productive region in the country; the San Joaquin Valley supports upwards of $25 billion in food crops annually. The San Joaquin River provides important transportation corridors for agricultural products and since the early 1900s, the river has been routinely dredged to allow large cargo ships to navigate.
It is well documented that major changes to the Delta and the San Joaquin River have resulted from human activities, especially water diversions and other infrastructure that captures and transports water away from the Delta to drier parts of the state. Some studies estimate less than five percent of the native biodiversity of the Delta remains, with the tidal marsh habitats being most degraded. Chinook salmon and other native fish struggle to maintain healthy population levels as aquatic habitat areas along the San Joaquin (and many other waterways in and near the Delta) have been degraded and blocked by in-stream water diversions and monumental structures like dams.
Water diversions and stream barriers reduce flows and physically alter the surrounding habitat areas. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, many of these alterations and changes will be permanent: [t]he characteristics of the earlier Delta that are likely gone forever include (1) physical habitat appropriate for species that tend to rely on shallow water and structure for refuge and feeding; (2) food aggregation that long, complex sloughs and channels provide through increased production and retention, and (3) cooling functions that adjacent wetlands provide for small water bodies, such as sloughs, which provide refuge for fishes during summer heat spells.
FRESNO — Hmong parents and community members gathered for a listening session here last month where they weighed in on the debate over how local school districts should be allocating their state funds. By the end of the discussion, the message was clear: a lack of translation services for Hmong speakers is the greatest barrier to that community’s engagement with Fresno Unified (FUSD) schools.
“When I go (to school meetings), I feel like I’m an outcast,” said Yeng Xiong, a mother of two and a native Hmong speaker. Xiong said she still attends the school meetings, even though there is never a translator for her.
Hmong youth make up the second largest group of English Language Learner (ELL) students in FUSD, with Spanish-speaking students being the largest, according to the California Department of Education. Hmong are the largest Asian ethnic group in the City of Fresno, with a population of 31,771, or 3.6 percent of the city’s total population, according to 2010 census figures. In the U.S., only Minneapolis boasts a larger Hmong community (64,422) than Fresno.