CIRS Blog about Rural California

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Definitions of “rural” are not standardized – some programs use definitions such as "communities under 50,000 that are rural in nature," "areas of less than 2,500 not in census places," or "Nonmetro County." In addition to the confusing nature of the definitions, they generally do not relate well with realities of western states and mountainous topography – greatly impacting the eligibility of communities and individuals to access programs. The negative impact of these definitions is especially true for rural communities that have been experiencing inordinately high in-migration from other areas; growth not necessarily due to increased economic opportunity within the region, but rather from lack of affordable housing for low- and middle-income people in nearby areas.

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Edie Jessup

           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.

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census black and white


When most Americans think of California, they typically conjure up visions of beaches, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge, Silicon Valley, or an urban/suburban lifestyle. But for many decades, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, California also has had more rural residents than any of the eleven western-most states of the contiguous forty-eight. Census 2000 found California’s rural population totaled 1,876,753 persons, nearly twice as large as second-ranked Washington state’s non-urban population (Census 2010 has not yet reported rural population findings).  

Rural economies of California have been historically dominated by natural resource production (some would say “exploitation”): farming, ranching, fishing, logging, mining and hunting. During the past several decades, only farming has experienced real growth in economic terms, largely due to a major expansion of the annual output of high value commodities, such as fruits and nuts, vegetables, ornamentals and dairy products.

California’s agricultural success story is illustrated by the fact that nine of the ten U.S. counties with the largest value of farm production are located within the state. But the fishing and logging industries are in serious decline and may never recover, while mining and hunting long ago depleted their natural resource bases.

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