CIRS Blog about Rural California
By Ron Shinkman
After nearly a decade of cuts and incomplete coverage, Californians enrolled in the state’s low-income dental program have full coverage this year.
But whether there will actually be enough dentists willing to accept the low-reimbursement rates and red tape often attached to the Denti-Cal program remains to be seen.
Denti-Cal provides dental services to roughly 14 million children and adults statewide. But coverage for the 7 million adults enrolled was hobbled for years following the 2007 economic recession.
New state rules about the application of pesticides on farms near rural schools and daycare facilities take effect Jan 1., following years of campaigning by groups advocating for teachers, the environment and public health. Yet these advocates argue that the rules still don’t do enough to protect school children and school staff from potentially dangerous chemicals.
The new rules adopted by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) prohibit spraying pesticides within a quarter mile of schools and daycare facilities on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Advocates argue that the buffer zone of a quarter of a mile doesn’t do enough to protect the estimated 5,500 students, teachers and daycare workers who spend their weekdays at the farm-side facilities.
“At the end of the day is this where we want to be? No. We wanted the buffer at one mile. But, are these new regulations better and more consistent than before? Yes, they are,” said Paul Weller, a spokesman for Pesticide Reform.
DPR’s long-awaited rules apply to fumigation, aerial, ground air-blast, sprinkler and dust application of pesticides on fields. These application methods may cause pesticide drift, when potentially harmful chemical become airborne and drift from farms into the surrounding communities.
A high school senior with farmworker roots may have found a way to keep workers safe when the weather is scorching hot.
Faith Florez, 17, has created an app that alerts workers when temperatures reach 95 degrees. It also gives tips for keeping cool and serves as a direct link to first responders in case of emergency.
The California State Supreme Court Nov. 27 ruled against Gerawan Farming’s attempts to dismantle the state’s process for settling employment contract disputes.
Gerawan, one of the largest tree fruit farmers in the nation and based in Fresno County, has been locked in a battle with the United Farm Workers for four years over a union agreement with its workers.
The dispute has lead to numerous lawsuits, a failed attempt to kick the union out and several findings of unfair labor practices by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.
Much has been written about the disproportionately high incidence of health problems such as diabetes and obesity among African Americans and Latinos when compared to non-Hispanic whites. But health disparities among smaller minority groups such as American Indians and Pacific Islanders have received far less attention.
A new report out of University of California Riverside aims to change that. Led by Andrew Subica, an assistant professor of social medicine, population and public health, the study examines seven years worth of data on health trends among American Indians and Alaskan natives, native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and multiracial adults living in California.
The findings paint a startling picture of ill health among these small and historically neglected populations. Not only do their rates of diabetes and obesity surpass those of non-Hispanic white people, but many are just as or even more likely to suffer from these diseases than African Americans and Latinos.
By Amy Winzer
Scott Park never set foot on a farm until he was twenty years old. At that time, a fraternity brother connected him with the manager of a tomato operation in the Sacramento Valley, and Park ended up going into business with him. Six years later, he went out on his own. “The fact that I’m doing this is pretty much a fluke,” said Park. “I don’t go generations back. I think it gives me a different perspective because I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what farming is.”
Today at Park Farming Organics, Park, joined by his wife Ulla and son Brian, farm 1,500 acres in Meridian, California. Out of that total, Park rents roughly 1,300 acres and owns about 200 acres. Almost all of the acreage has been certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Although he started out in tomatoes, Park’s crop portfolio has expanded to include rice, corn, wheat, millet, dry beans, herbs, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, gourds, stevia, coriander, flax, snow peas, safflower, sunflowers and more.
Before 1986, Park relied heavily on synthetic fertilizers, which he now characterizes as a short-term approach to farming. He switched to a long-term approach focused on nurturing soil health after noticing a nearby field was healthier than the ground he was working. “It slapped me in the face that what I was doing was completely wrong. My ground was getting harder and harder,” recalled Park.
The Los Angeles Times reviewed the status of mechanization in various crops July 21, 2017, emphasizing the large number of prototype machines in development to replace hand workers. From apples to strawberries, tech firms are developing machines to harvest crops.
Asparagus acreage is declining, and many leafy greens are harvested mechanically with knives or water jet cutters. Urban tech firms want radical changes in farming to facilitate mechanization, while firms such as Ramsay Highlander in Salinas stress the productivity gains from incremental changes such as conveyor belts to make hand workers more productive. Machines are being used to plant lettuce so that it does not have to be thinned.
Christopher Ranch, which hires 600 workers to pack and process 90 million pounds of garlic a year at its plant in Gilroy, saw a surge in applications after raising packing shed wages from $11 to $13 an hour in 2017; the firm's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $15 in 2018. The wages of more skilled packing shed workers rose as well. Christopher uses FLC (Farm Labor Contractor) crews and H-2A workers in the fields, where workers are paid piece rates.
By Linda Childers
Olivia Basurto was concerned when her nine-year-old son Samuel came home from school with a rash on his arms. After trying to treat the pink bumps with over-the-counter creams, and having no success, Basurto called to make an appointment with a dermatologist.
She quickly learned that in her small rural town of Pixley (population 3,310), in the Central Valley, physician specialists are a rare commodity. The nearest specialist was either in Porterville or Fresno, located almost an hour away, and they had a three-month wait.
But then, the Pixley Medical Clinic, a rural health clinic that provides family practice medicine to residents of Pixley and the surrounding cities, asked Basurto if she would be open to a telemedicine appointment with a dermatologist. The doctor, a retired dermatologist volunteer with The MAVEN Project, could assess her son’s rash and offer medical advice.
Raisin farmers and packers have settled on a price for the 2017 Natural Seedless raisin crop at $1,800 a ton, the second-highest in the industry’s history.
And while that would be great news in a normal year, this isn’t a normal year.
Raisin industry officials said the crop has been plagued with uneven growing weather and rain. A severe heat wave scorched the Fresno area in early June, damaging about 5 percent of the crop.
In September, heavy rains – two within a two-week period – further reduced the size of a crop that was already coming up short of the expected estimate of 235,000 tons.
“Despite this being the second-highest in history,” said Kalem Barserian, chief executive officer of the Raisin Bargaining Association, a grower group based in Fresno, “there will be no winners.”
Barserian said this is probably one of the four worst crops he has seen in his 52 years in the California raisin industry.
He said yields were off about 32 percent of normal.
“We ask everyone to be patient until things settle down so our growers and processors can get the product ready for market,” Barserian said.
This article published on the Fresno Bee website on Oct. 13.
By Brian Shobe
The State Legislature took an important step in September toward recognizing and remedying centuries-long injustices for people of color and women in agriculture. Both chambers passed Assembly Bill 1348 – the Farmer Equity Act – with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), now heads to the Governor’s desk.
By building racial and gender equity priorities into the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s responsibilities, executive staff structure, advisory committees, and programs, the Farmer Equity Act moves us closer to ensuring that all of California’s farmers have equitable influence on and access to government resources, including the state’s Climate Smart Ag programs.
Approximately one in four farms in California are managed by farmers of color and approximately one in five are managed by women. California has the largest population of Asian farmers and third largest population of Latino farmers in the country.
But despite their sizable numbers, data from the 2012 Ag Census shows that farmers of color and women tend to operate on significantly smaller acreages, earn significantly less revenue from the products they sell, and receive significantly less in government funding compared to white farmers and men.
This week, California launched an innovative new program aimed at lessening the climate change impact of dairy farms. The Alternative Manure Management Practices (AMMP) Program, run by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), will fund between $9 million to $16 million in dairy and livestock manure management projects that reduce methane emissions and help improve air and water quality.
Dairy and other livestock producers will be eligible for grants of up to $750,000 for projects that convert from manure lagoon systems to methods that avoid or minimize liquid anaerobic manure handling, a major source of methane emissions. This could include transitioning to pasture-based operations where manure is distributed by the livestock on grazing land rather than collected in anaerobic piles or lagoons. It could also include various techniques for separating and drying manure to be spread on pastures or made into compost. See the CDFA program page for application details. The CalCAN factsheet on the program can be found here.
Three grant application workshops are scheduled, with more workshops possible. The current workshops schedule is as follows:
Eureka, Thursday, September 7, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner
5630 S. Broadway
Eureka, CA 95501
Santa Rosa, Friday, September 8, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner
133 Aviation Blvd., Suite 110
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Modesto, Thursday, September 14, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioner
3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite B
Modesto, CA 95358
CDFA will also host a webinar for potential AMMP applicants on September 14th. To register, see the CDFA program webpage.
This is an excerpt of an Aug. 22, 2017 article on the California Climate and Agriculture Network website
By Brian Shobe
California’s much anticipated Healthy Soils Program officially launched Tuesday with the release of the first Request for Grant Applications (RGA) by the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA). The deadline for applications is 5pm on September 19th.
The first of its kind in the country, the program will provide grants to farmers and ranchers for implementing on-farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or store carbon in soil, trees and shrubs. Types of practices that will be eligible include the addition of mulch and compost, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and the planting of herbaceous and woody plants such as windbreaks, hedgerows, riparian plantings, filter strips, silvopasture and more.
Three types of grants will be available:
- Direct farmer grants: Incentives of up to $50,000 per farm or ranch for the implementation of one or more new soil and conservation management practices.
- Outreach and Education/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $100,000 for soil improvement practices that reduce GHGs and increase soil health, and also have an outreach and demonstration component to showcase the healthy soils practices and promote their widespread adoption throughout the state. These will likely involve partnerships between producers and non-profits, Resource Conservation Districts and/or academic or extension departments.
- Research/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $250,000. These are similar to the prior category of demonstration project, but in addition to outreach and education on healthy soils practices, these projects must include measurement and data collection on GHG emissions and carbon sequestration.
For more information on the program and links to resources to assist growers in applying, visit the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) website. This is a condensed version of an article published on August 9, 2017.
A Spring 2017 Washington Post survey found that rural Americans are uneasy about the changing demographics of the U.S. and believe their Christianity is under attack as the federal government caters to urban residents. For example, 42 percent of rural residents agree that immigrants are mostly a drain on the U.S., compared with 16 percent of urban residents. Two-thirds of rural residents say cracking down on illegal migrants would improve job prospects in their areas.
Rural was defined as non-metro counties and counties near population centers with up to 250,000 people, so that a quarter of Americans were considered rural in the poll. Pollsters say that the underlying issue is fairness, with rural residents skeptical of whom the federal government favors and helps.
Rural areas have had a weaker recovery from the 2008-09 recession than urban areas, and job growth has not returned to 2007 levels, prompting rural youth to leave for education and jobs and not return. A third of rural residents said that jobs and drug abuse were the biggest problems confronting their community, compared with 10 percent of urban residents.
The Wall Street Journal reported on May 26, 2017 that the total rural population declined in each of the past five years. Births in rural counties are declining, deaths are rising, and the median age of 41 is higher than the median 35 in large metro areas. Male labor force participation in rural counties is declining, and there are 60 disabled workers per 1,000 working age residents in rural counties, double the 30 per 1,000 rate in large metro areas.
Noé Montes has photographed and interviewed people in the Eastern Coachella Valley for two and a half years as part of a photo documentary project (which can be found at https://coachellafarmworkers.com). Recently, he answered the Rural California Report's questions about what the work.
Rural California Report: What is the Coachella Valley Farm Workers project and how long have you been working on it?
Noé Montes: It is a photo documentary project about the community of farmworkers in the Eastern Coachella Valley. It focuses on the individuals that are working in various capacities to address the many social justice issues and issues of inequality that exist in the community. Most of the people photographed and interviewed have been farmworkers themselves or are the children of farmworkers. It is comprised of photography, writing and audio interviews. I started working on this in January of 2015.
Photo of Castulo Estrada by Noé Montes
RCR: What inspired you to pick the Coachella Valley? Why did you want to photograph farmworkers and other community members there?
NM: One of the main reasons I wanted to photograph and interview farmworkers is that I myself come from family of farmworkers and I know that there is a lot of value on the community. There is a lot to learn from about how to develop our communities in a positive way. A lot of the previous work done about farmworkers focuses on the problems in the community and often farmworkers are depicted very simply, either as examples of inequality or to illustrate some social justice issue. I wanted to add to the conversation and our understanding of this community and see what we can all learn from them.
I picked the Coachella Valley because it is a good representative example of a rural farmworker community in California. It is a microcosm that contains all the elements present in many rural American communities. Logistically it also worked in that it is close enough to where I live (Los Angeles) that I was able to travel there regularly and often.