CIRS Blog about Rural California
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.
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.