CIRS Blog about Rural California

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By Robin Urevich

Nearly 300,000 children in California—more than in any other state— are homeless, or live in cars, garages or crammed into single rooms with their entire families. More than half of those children are younger than 10 years old.

Most of them are in Southern California, in the state’s five most populous counties: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. But rural Trinity County has the state’s highest percentage of homeless students, followed by Santa Barbara, Sierra, Lake and San Bernardino.

The data, recently compiled by kidsdata.org and the California Homeless Youth Project, show that the number of homeless kids in California rose between 2011 and 2013 at a time when funding to aid them was tight.

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Groundwater is an essential buffer against the effects of prolonged drought. Many Californians think of stored water as water kept on the surface—usually in reservoirs behind dams—but California actually has vast underground basins that hold far more water than can be stored above ground.

In reality, groundwater and surface water are a single combined resource, constantly interacting and interchanging. Some programs in California recharge aquifers through carefully planned and prescribed water management practices to ensure adequate supply in the future. In these well-managed areas and some other parts of the state, aquifers still contain sufficient water despite the multi-year drought.

Other parts of the state, like the Tulare Lake Basin, have been dealing with the effects of groundwater overdraft for years already. These effects include higher pumping costs, depletion of surface water, degraded water quality in aquifers, and land subsidence.

Ground Water 2

On average, about 30 percent of water used in California comes from groundwater. With no end in sight to drought conditions, and diminishing options for acquiring water from long-established water projects, farmers are relying more heavily on groundwater this year.

A recent UC Davis report, prepared for the CA Department of Food and Agriculture, estimates that California’s surface water shortage will be around 6.5 million acre feet in 2014, and increased groundwater pumping will make up for around 5 million acre feet. However, increased groundwater use will come at a cost of nearly $500 million, and more than half of the economic impacts involving groundwater overdraft will occur in the San Joaquin Valley and the Tulare Lake Basins.

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Impact of California’s drought on farmworkers

The effects of this year’s drought in California are being discussed in both statewide and national media. California produces vegetables, fruits, nuts and dairy products for most of the country and for international export. Debate rages about what foods use the most water, what products will be most affected and how consumer food bills will increase. One of the groups of people most seriously impacted by the reduction in planting but least discussed is the farmworker population.

Farm laborers are already one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population and the drought this year will put them even more at risk. The average annual income for a farmworker is $13,800. This places many farmworkers at risk for hunger, poor housing and subsequent health impacts. In some rural California communities that rely almost exclusively on agriculture for work, unemployment rates are already high, even at peak season.

Drought Map 

 

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 This is the third of four briefs on California’s water infrastructure by CIRS and partners. The first explained California’s surface water infrastructure. The second focused on ground water management. This brief will address water quality and the fourth will summarize significant proposals to address California’s water needs. The goal of these short papers is to provide a road map to understanding the conversation around California water issues. All briefs will be featured on the Rural California Report and will be available as downloadable files. Here is a PDF version of the third brief: RuralWaterQualitybrief.pdf 

Water quality management in California

As with storage and delivery, water quality is managed at the local, state and federal levels. The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) administers many of California’s water programs through the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB). The SWRCB operates through nine Regional Water Resources Control Boards (RWCBs) under authority from California’s main water quality law, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.While the SWRCB and RWCBs  (together “State Water Boards”) are the primary agencies enforcing water quality laws and regulations in California, literally hundreds of other agencies and authorities are involved with water quality issues at some level, collaborating to develop and manage programs aimed at understanding and improving water quality statewide. Major state agencies that manage key water quality programs include the CA Department of Public Health (CA DPH) which ensures the quality of public drinking water, and the CA Natural Resources Agency.

 California’s multi-agency approach to water quality relies on delegated authority, which allows states to develop regulations and programs that meet or exceed applicable federal standards. For example, the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) apply to California waters, and the U.S. Congress  authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set water quality based standards and develop programs and regulations to maintain and improve water quality over time. EPA delegated authority to CalEPA to enforce major aspects of the CWA and SDWA. CalEPA divides this authority further between the State Water Boards and CA DPH, which often work closely with other agencies and local authorities to understand issues and implement programs that are authorized and funded under both state and federal law.  

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FRESNO — Hmong parents and community members gathered for a listening session here last month where they weighed in on the debate over how local school districts should be allocating their state funds.  By the end of the discussion, the message was clear: a lack of translation services for Hmong speakers is the greatest barrier to that community’s engagement with Fresno Unified (FUSD) schools.

“When I go (to school meetings), I feel like I’m an outcast,” said Yeng Xiong, a mother of two and a native Hmong speaker. Xiong said she still attends the school meetings, even though there is never a translator for her.

Hmong youth make up the second largest group of English Language Learner (ELL) students in FUSD, with Spanish-speaking students being the largest, according to the California Department of Education. Hmong are the largest Asian ethnic group in the City of Fresno, with a population of 31,771, or 3.6 percent of the city’s total population, according to 2010 census figures. In the U.S., only Minneapolis boasts a larger Hmong community (64,422) than Fresno.

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By Marty Graham

The 14-acre certified organic farm at the south edge of the San Pasqual Academy is surrounded by commercial farms, orange and grape trees on three sides.

It’s a rich metaphor for the academy itself, an organic local effort that’s meant to anchor its community to healthy food, one that’s grown jobs and centered the way the students live.

And it has been more than a farm. According to San Diego organic farmer Scott Murray, who helped launch the farm, it is a hands on part of what the academy tries to teach its residents, teenagers in the county foster care system who have run out of housing options and are within a few years of aging out of the system.

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By Daniel Weintraub

It’s fair to say that California is the richest state in the nation. We have more millionaires than any other state, and mansions dot our coastal bluffs and inland canyons.

But California is also, arguably, the poorest state in the nation. We have more people in poverty — 6.1 million — and more children in poverty than any other state.

Even more ominously, a new measure of poverty shows that California has the highest percentage of its population living below the poverty line.

By the traditional measure, California’s poverty rate is 16.6 percent, 20th in the nation. But the new, supplemental measure released last year by the Census Bureau puts California at the top of the list with a poverty rate of 23.5 percent.

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Merced County officials lobbying Washington this week know, in theory, the secret of getting things done on Capitol Hill.

“The process takes a long time,” Dos Palos Mayor Johnny Mays said Wednesday. “We have to keep nudging, and nudging, and nudging.”

Exhibit A: The Los Banos Bypass.

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By Leah Bartos
California Health Report

In the coming year, millions of currently uninsured Californians will gain coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act — but that does not necessarily mean it will be any easier for them to see a doctor.

As the state prepares for the expected onslaught of newly insured patients, health-care professionals are warning there may not be enough doctors — particularly, those practicing primary care — to meet the increased demand. Some say that the problem will be even more amplified in rural California, which already suffers a physician shortage and dwindling workforce, as the majority of rural physicians nears retirement and recruitment of new doctors lags in replacing them.

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This press release was issued by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

 

SACRAMENTO, CA (February 19, 2013)

On Friday, February 15, 2013, Judge Perantoni of the Riverside County Superior Court, after learning that RBI Packing, LLC of Mecca, California fired approximately 55 farm workers, ordered RBI to stop discriminating against its employees on the basis of their union activity and to offer them priority in hiring for all agricultural jobs at the company’s Blythe-based lemon ranch. 

mecca

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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.

                                                         California_Historical_Society_2

(Curtis Silk Farms, Gathering Mulberry Leaves, Curtis Silk Farms, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1907 Courtesy of the California Historical Society)

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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.

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The future outlook for agriculture is bright. Food production will have to roughly double by 2050 in order to meet population projections. And if we look where much of that growth is expected to occur–Asia–we know that California farmers and ranchers will have an excellent opportunity to meet the new demand. But there will be challenges, too, as increased food production will have to occur with diminishing arable land suitable for farming, pressures on water quality and availability, potential shortages of mineral inputs, and climate change.

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In November, the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply released a report entitled From Storage to Retention: Expanding California’s Options for Meeting Its Water Needs. The report argues for an expansion of approaches to storing water that increase supply reliability for specialty crop agricultural production and other beneficial uses while protecting ecosystem health.

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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.

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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.

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Interviews with female farm workers were conducted by Vallerye Mosquera and Luis Magana in 2011. The stories below were excerpted from three of these interviews and edited by Gail Wadsworth for posting here.

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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.

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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.

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This article was originally published on Aug. 9 on the McClatchy Newspapers website.

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.

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