CIRS Blog about Rural California
It is difficult for farm workers to find affordable housing in coastal counties such as Monterey and Ventura with expanding labor-intensive agricultural sectors. Strawberry production is increasing. Most growers hire 1.5 workers for each acre to pick strawberries several times a week during a season that can last several months.
Rents in these metro countries are often $1,200 a month or more for two-bedroom units. For example, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in Monterey County is $1,223 in 2013, and for Ventura County $1,500 (www.huduser.org/datasets/fmr.html). Many farm workers, especially those who are in an area only for seasonal harvests, live with friends and relatives or in converted garages, leading to overcrowding.
A $110,000 report on housing for Napa farm workers prepared by Bay Area Economics was released March 1, 2013. It estimated that a peak 7,000 workers are employed in Napa county agriculture.
Interviewers found that 95 percent of the 350 farm workers contacted for the study were born in Mexico, but 54 percent consider Napa County their permanent home. Napa County has farm worker centers in Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville with a total of 180 beds. The report found that 46 percent of center residents consider the farm worker centers to be their permanent homes and urged that the centers, which are subsidized by a $10 an acre assessment on wine-grape growers who do not provide housing to their workers, be maintained.
After Riverside County cracked down on the informal housing often used by farm workers in the Coachella Valley, a mobile home park known as Duroville opened on land owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian tribe, escaping the county's jurisdiction.
Duroville was soon populated by 4,000 mostly Purepecha Indians from Michoacan who pick table grapes in Coachella and in the San Joaquin Valley. A federal judge in 2009 ordered Duroville to be closed after alternative accommodations were found for residents. With $28 million in federal, state and local funds, 183 homes for Duroville residents were built in Mountain View Estates. Mountain View residents pay $425 a month in rent; less than the $450 many paid in Duroville.
Desert Hot Springs and Coachella were defined by USDA as rural in 1990, when each had less than 20,000 residents and were not in a metro area. Today, their populations have grown to 26,000 and 41,000, respectively, and they are no longer eligible for USDA rural housing loans.
(All names used are pseudonyms, in order to preserve interviewees' confidentiality)
Nadia: "You really can't run against a white guy. You can't. You're going to lose, regardless whether the population, whether we outnumber them. I think they'll still win."
Interviewer: "Why do you think that?"
Nadia: "I think they can brainwash us, because we work for them. In farm labor. We work for them in the rice fields. We work for them in the orchards. We work for them."
In Colusa County (located in the northern Sacramento Valley), Latinos comprise 55 percent of the total population, but there are no Latino representatives on the two city councils or among the five county supervisors (US Census, 2010).[i] In fact, there are only two Latino elected officials in the entire county: one on a local school board and the other on the county’s school board. As of March 2012, there were 14 majority-minority[ii] cities in California with all non-Latino white city councils, and there were 20 majority-minority California cities with only one minority member on the city council.[iii] With similar situations arising in political districts across the United States, the study of the potential causes for this phenomenon is timely.
In many people's experience, California consists of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and the highways that connect them. In reality these urban centers make up only a fraction of the whole; according to the 2010 Census, geographically the state of California is more than 94 percent rural. Surprise Valley, Lost Hills, Raisin City, Mecca—these are the communities that make up "the rest" of California.
(Curtis Silk Farms, Gathering Mulberry Leaves, Curtis Silk Farms, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1907 Courtesy of the California Historical Society)
Recovery in the Valley
California began to recover from the 2008-09 recession in 2012. Employment rose from 16.2 million in January 2012 to 16.5 million in November 2012, and the unemployment rate dropped from 11.3 to 9.8 percent.
In Fresno county, a bellwether for the San Joaquin Valley, the labor force was stable at 441,000 in 2012 but employment rose from 367,000 to 380,000. Fresno's unemployment rate dropped from 17 percent in January 2012 to 14 percent in October 2012.
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.
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.
WASHINGTON — Dissident raisin farmers from California’s San Joaquin Valley and their ideological allies will get a shot at attacking a federal farm program, under a case that the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Tuesday.
Bucking the odds, Fresno-area farmers Marvin and Laura Horne succeeded in convincing the high court to hear their challenge to federal handling of the raisin industry. Though the legal questions are complicated, the real-world stakes add up.
The Great Valley Center released a report on the air, land and water in the San Joaquin Valley in July 2012 that emphasized the need to further improve air quality, preserve and enlarge water resources, and adopt green technologies to support sustainable San Joaquin Valley growth. San Joaquin Valley air quality is improving, but the "easy" or less costly reductions in emissions have already been made.
The report analyzed grant programs that subsidized the replacement of older cars and tractors with newer ones, but did not analyze whether subsidized replacement programs were the best way to use limited tax monies to improve San Joaquin Valley air quality.
On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments that could affect farmers near the San Joaquin River. Michael Doyle has the story, and what the broader implications are for farmers in the Central Valley. The article was originally published Wednesday on the McClatchy Newspapers website.
This article was originally published on Aug. 9 on the McClatchy Newspapers website.
WASHINGTON — A major fertilizer producer from California’s San Joaquin Valley who pleaded guilty to fraud charges this week ran into what appears to be a newly aggressive federal effort to crack down on organic-farming cheaters.
Once one of the largest organic-fertilizer operators in the Western United States, Bakersfield resident Kenneth Noel Nelson Jr. faces prison time and a big fine after his guilty plea to four counts of mail fraud. The 59-year-old businessman will be sentenced in early November.
The shortage of farm labor is an issue that California farmers have complained about this summer. Leaders from the California Farm Bureau said, “farmers are telling us that the workers they usually see in the spring just didn't show up this year. We're just not seeing the number of people we (usually) see this time of year."
Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League predicted that labor shortages could reach 80,000 of the peak of 250,000 workers that are employed in California's San Joaquin Valley, which Cunha says is similar to the "worker shortage" of 1998. Cunha said that many farmworker crews were 10 to 15 percent smaller than the usual 20 to 30 workers.
by Gail Wadsworth and Vallerye Mosquera
The California Institute for Rural Studies, University of California, Davis and the Organización de Trabajadores Agrícolas de California recently completed a collaborative research project that focused on identifying the residential and community factors related to heat stress for farmworkers living in Stockton, California and the surrounding region. The goal of this research was to create a pilot tool for assessing community and residential site factors (i.e., those factors to which they are exposed outside of the agricultural work environment) that can exacerbate farmworkers’ exposure to heat and increase their risk of heat-related illness.
There are many issues related to California’s Central Valley that have been in the news recently. Topics such as social justice, farmworker health and labor conditions, immigration and its role in labor fluctuations/shortages, how pesticides are affecting drainwater and the health of people and animals living in the Valley and the ability of lawmakers to shift the future of agriculture in the country. This post is a collection of these issues. Hopefully this will be an opportunity to learn more about a topic you were unaware of, or a chance to learn more about issues currently influencing the region.
"Valley of Shadows and Dreams" documents the conflicting reality for people living in California's Central Valley. Photographer Ken Light and author Melanie Light began the project in 2006, during the housing boom that swept through the region, and their reporting continued throughout the recent economic crisis that is still affecting millions of people in the state. The Lights uncover the experiences of the often forgotten people who work and live in the valley and their pursuit of the California Dream. The Rural California Report interviewed Ken and Melanie Light about their project.
(Image by Ken Light)
Valley of Shadows & Dreams, Heyday, 2012
Photographs By Ken Light & Text by Melanie Light
Forward by Thomas Steinbeck
The poverty of the Central Valley of California and the abundance of the region’s agriculture is a conundrum. Even though there has been a decrease in community-based access to healthy food, and a rise in chronic disease in the heartland of the state of California, and the nation, we are beginning to see people and agriculture coming together for the good of both.
The exciting change arising in the Central Valley, honoring our agricultural roots and reinventing our regional economy, has been led by the smart growth investments of Smart Valley Places, with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation. These buds of change are blossoming into a new triple-bottom-line Central Valley economy that honors the environment, equity and economics. Environmentalists, supporters of the organic movement, and advocates for social justice, are not the only ones talking the regional food system talk anymore. The Fresno Business Council, the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley and regional cities are choosing smart growth and healthy communities and realizing that the Central Valley, a place with the capacity to feed the nation, can also feed our region. Institutions (such as schools, hospitals and city and county governments) are looking at their ability to access healthier, affordable local food, and the ability for local purchasing to drive their economies home.
Last week, two elderly farmworkers took the brave and very unusual step of suing their employer, an onion grower in the Coachella Valley, for violating the few labor laws that protect farmworkers. The two men were regularly paid less than the minimum wage, required by California law, never paid overtime, and not given protective equipment, said Megan Beaman, the attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance who filed the suit on their behalf.
Such practices are common in our nation’s fields. Since many farmworkers are undocumented immigrants, and afraid to speak up, the violations go unreported. As Tracie McMillan writes in her new book, The American Way of Eating (for which she worked undercover in produce fields, two Wal-Marts, and an Applebee’s), even if a company is caught adjusting a worker’s actual hours downward, so that it looks like they paid her minimum wage instead of a much lower piece rate, the fine is around $350. Tracie herself lost out on about $500 for one month of picking. Growers thus have a strong economic incentive to cheat workers.
The San Joaquin Valley is the agricultural powerhouse of the United States and California. California accounts for an eighth of U.S. farm sales, largely because it produces high value fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, and horticultural specialty (FVH) crops such as nursery products and flowers. Over three-fourths of the state's $37 billion in farm sales in 2010 were crop commodities, and almost 90 percent of the $28 billion in California crop sales represented labor-intensive FVH commodities.
About half of California's farm sales and farm employment are produced in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley with four million residents that stretches from Stockton in the north to Bakersfield in the south. The leading U.S. farm county is Fresno, which had farm sales of almost $6 billion in 2010.
There are many heat stress prevention strategies for farmworkers that focus on correcting either individual behaviors (e.g., avoiding caffeinated beverages and bulky sweatshirts) or workplace conditions (e.g., providing shade and regular break periods). Yet, few heat stress-specific health plans take into consideration the conditions of the built and natural environment that farmworkers are returning to at the end of a long day in the fields.
This posting is reproduced from the Stockton Record dated February 24, 2012
Bankruptcy for Vallejo was a messy, demoralizing ordeal that saw an exodus of city employees and left residents without enough fire fighters and police officers to protect them.
But it penciled out financially, said Deborah Lauchner, Vallejo's financial director for the last 10 months.
"With bankruptcy, everything we had got studied, reviewed, torn apart and ripped open," Lauchner said Thursday. "We didn't really have a lot of options. We were going to run out of cash."
Stockton city officials are expected Tuesday to consider taking the first step down the road of bankruptcy.