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