CIRS Blog about Rural California
“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.”
Consumers in the United States are especially fortunate to have access to fresh food at all times of the year. In our supermarket produce aisles it’s hard to tell what season it is when fresh fruits and vegetables are available all the time. We can be thankful for this abundance and especially in California where we have a year-round growing season. But hidden in the abundance of produce on the shelves is a darker story of food chain workers who struggle to eat the foods they grow and package.
Food Equity along the Chain
Equity is an essential characteristic of a healthy food system. Access to healthy, fresh, sustainably grown food is a basic human right. Ironically, this right is often denied to workers who are directly engaged (frontline workers) along the food chain.
The Food Chain Workers Alliance recently updated their report “The Hands that Feed Us” from 2012 with the new report, “No Piece of the Pie.” The report is full of sobering data. The food industry, employing 21.5 million people is the single largest employment sector in the US. And, despite steady growth of the sector, wages for workers have only risen twenty cents an hour in the last four years. As a result, food workers are increasingly turning to food assistance programs, like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Access Program also known as Food Stamps) to help feed themselves and their families. Median wages for front line food workers are $16,000 while industry CEOs have a salary of $120,000.
- Despite employment growth, the food chain pays the lowest hourly median wage to frontline workers compared to workers in all other industries.
- The annual median wage for food chain workers is $16,000 and the hourly median wage is $10, well below the median wages across all industries of $36,468 and $17.53.
- Food chain workers rely on public assistance and are more food insecure than other workers. Thirteen percent of all food workers, nearly 2.8 million workers, relied on SNAP to feed their household in 2016.
- This was 2.2 times the rate of all other industries, a much higher rate than in 2010 when food workers had to use food stamps at 1.8 times the rate of all other industries.
- Food insecurity in households supported by a food chain worker rose to 4.6 million during the Great Recession ("No Piece of the Pie," Executive Summary, Pages 1-2)
California is offering free wireless devices that allow farmers to accept money from CalFresh recipients at farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs. The grant-funded program covers the $1000-value POS (point of sale) device for scanning CalFresh cards, and provides complimentary training for using the device. Farm marketing and promotion are built in as well: CalFresh customers have access to lists of farms and farmers markets that participate in the program, and the Foodies Project, and likely others, will promote individual farm participants online.
Farms should apply now to take advantage of this ultimate win-win program for the rest of the season. Food and food justice advocates, health workers, CSA members, and anyone with a favorite farm should encourage their local producers to sign up.
is the federally-funded food assistance program for California—the state version of the federal (SNAP), the nation’s largest source of nutrition assistance. This major entitlement program is fully funded by the federal government, which is required to make funds available to all eligible applicants, i.e. individuals and families who qualify based on income level. are higher than ever, with nearly 50 million program participants in 2013, and a total annual cost of nearly $80 billion. State and county governments cover a portion of the administrative costs to run the program.
This article is adapted from a presentation on Food Justice given to the American Planning Association California Chapter meeting in Visalia, CA in 2013.
When addressing food justice, there are several issues farm workers deal with. The two to be discussed here are: access to food and cost of food. When addressing planning issues for rural regions in the context of food justice, we need to review what the barriers are to farm worker justice in the built environment and develop ideas for improvement.
PLANNING ISSUES TO KEEP IN MIND
• Where do laborers work and where do they live?
• How does this affect housing, transportation and food access?
• How do we balance farmland preservation and affordable housing for workers?
• What does transit oriented development mean in creation of affordable and accessible transport in rural regions?
FOR THE FARMWORKER POPULATION, WHAT DOES FOOD JUSTICE MEAN?
In 2007, CIRS completed a study in Fresno of farm worker food security. We found that 45% of the workers interviewed in the most productive agricultural county in the US, are food insecure. We conducted a similar study in the Salinas Valley (America’s Salad Bowl) and found a staggering 66% of workers interviewed were food insecure.
We’ve all heard the drumbeat from nutrition experts: Eat more fruits and vegetables. We know this advice is good for our health. But what does it mean for our land—and for the farmers who grow food on our land?
With obesity rates at epidemic levels, easier access to fruits and vegetables is important, especially in low-income neighborhoods where healthy options can be hard to find. But ramping up demand for affordable produce means stepping up production, which means more demand on land and water.
How we use these resources will affect our environment and communities for years to come. We need to find new ways to protect both human health and the health of our land long into the future.
The Salinas Valley, in Monterey County, with dark, rich soils highlighted by contrasting rows of greens invokes a picture perfect image of California agriculture. It has been nicknamed "the salad bowl of the United States," and grows an abundance of fresh greens and fruit. Despite this seeming abundance, the Salinas Valley is not a stranger to poverty and hunger.
Monterey County is the third highest grossing agricultural crop producing county in the US, with sales of more than $4 billion in 2010. Despite this agricultural bounty, Monterey County has the highest rate of adults in food insecure households out of all California counties, with a ranking of 58th in the state. There are approximately 51,000 individuals, or 49% of adults, in this county with incomes lower than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level who are food insecure.
Danielle Boule, George Hubert, Anna Jensen, Alannah Kull, Julia Van Soelen Kim, Courtney Marshall, Kelsey Meagher and Thea Rittenhouse
This report was prepared by a team of graduate students at UC Davis in the spring of 2011 for the Yolo Ag and Food Alliance (AFA). The objective was to examine the plausibility of creating a food hub in Yolo and Solano Counties. To achieve this, the UC Davis research team explored recent trends in food hubs across the country and conducted a food system assessment of the two counties to provide a context for how and whether a food hub might be situated.
Gail Wadsworth and Lisa Kresge
“The green grass spreads right into the tent doorways and the orange trees are loaded. In the cotton fields, a few wisps of the old crop cling to the black stems. But the people who picked the cotton, and cut the peaches and apricots, who crawled all day in the rows of lettuce and beans, are hungry. The men who harvested the crops of California, the women and girls who stood all day and half the night in the canneries, are starving.” -- John Steinbeck, 1936, Final Essays
Across the United States, farmworkers are having difficulty getting enough to eat. And they’re not alone: rural communities as a whole are poorer and less able to feed themselves than their urban counterparts. It is ironic that in regions where our food is being grown, access to food is limited and the people who grow it are unable to afford it when it is available. For farmworkers, lack of transportation, fear and other social issues increase their isolation and limit their food choices even more. The food security movement, working to increase access for communities at risk of hunger, tends to overlook rural people and especially those who work in the fields.
Program Development Specialist at CCROPP & Co-Chair at Roots of Change
California’s Central Valley is where much of the nation’s produce is grown and where the greatest diversity of farmers live and work, but it is also a region where some of the most concentrated and entrenched poverty exists (Brookings Institute Report). Some of these rural communities have over 40% unemployment and the current economy is driving the fact that here in the Central Valley, the poorest congressional districts in the nation are suffering greatly from a lack of steady work. The Central Valley’s primary asset is the agriculture industry that feeds the nation and world; however, the Valley has 40% food insecurity and 67% of adults are obese, while children suffer from chronic disease, hunger and poverty.