CIRS Blog about Rural California
Despite the most stringent regulations in the U.S., agricultural workers in California continue to die from heat related illness, a preventable outcome, and are at higher risk than other workers exposed to hot environments. The search for effective and feasible solutions must involve diverse approaches appropriate for hired farm workers.
A current research project titled, “Reducing the risk of heat-related illness in western agricultural workers” brings together investigators from medicine, epidemiology, public health, physiology, rural sociology and community outreach and education. The group’s goal is to obtain novel data on internal body temperature as it relates to crop type and geography, external heat, and internal metabolic loading.
This long-term collaborative research project between the University of California Western Center for Agricultural Worker Health and Safety and the California Institute for Rural Studies will gather behavioral, physiological and environmental data from California agricultural workers and environments that will allow us to assess vulnerability to heat related illness, provide the methodology to test potential strategies in the fields, and disseminate results to stakeholders. The project employs innovative techniques for both understanding and evaluating potential solutions to reduce the risk of heat related illness in varied agricultural settings.
California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) http://www.crla.org/ created Rural Justice Forums in response to a need for further evidence and literature to support many of the issues CRLA staff witness in the field every day. CRLA attorney, Ilene Jacobs, Director of Litigation, Advocacy and Training, saw a lack of research and analysis of an underlying problem demonstrated by her cases: that living in some of the worst housing conditions in the United States has a severe impact on the physical and mental health of California farmworkers.
“Farmworkers and their families in rural California and throughout this country often are forced to live in the most despicable and challenging conditions. They sleep in onion fields, live in caves dug into canyons bathe in irrigation ditches, huddle under tarps or find refuge in cars, tool sheds, barns and in river banks, face rent gouging for substandard and dangerous housing units, rent rooms, in dilapidated old motels, face housing discrimination because of who they are, what they look like or they language they speak, and suffer retaliatory eviction and firing should they have the temerity to complain about such third world conditions in the richest nation in the world.”
The state will begin sending out bills for fire protection this month to nearly a million rural California households, including nearly 30,000 in the central San Joaquin Valley.
The fee, up to $150 per home, comes a year after the Legislature approved the charge as a way to offset the growing expense of firefighting.
The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has seen its budget slashed in recent years despite California wildfires becoming increasingly menacing and more homes put in jeopardy.
But even as the first-time bills make their way to rural mailboxes, concerns about the new fire fee persist.
Many residents aren't expecting the invoice and either won't be prepared to make the payment or will dismiss it as junk mail, critics say. Meanwhile, anti-tax groups continue to denounce the fee as illegal and threaten court action.
The shortage of farm labor is an issue that California farmers have complained about this summer. Leaders from the California Farm Bureau said, “farmers are telling us that the workers they usually see in the spring just didn't show up this year. We're just not seeing the number of people we (usually) see this time of year."
Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League predicted that labor shortages could reach 80,000 of the peak of 250,000 workers that are employed in California's San Joaquin Valley, which Cunha says is similar to the "worker shortage" of 1998. Cunha said that many farmworker crews were 10 to 15 percent smaller than the usual 20 to 30 workers.
There are many issues related to California’s Central Valley that have been in the news recently. Topics such as social justice, farmworker health and labor conditions, immigration and its role in labor fluctuations/shortages, how pesticides are affecting drainwater and the health of people and animals living in the Valley and the ability of lawmakers to shift the future of agriculture in the country. This post is a collection of these issues. Hopefully this will be an opportunity to learn more about a topic you were unaware of, or a chance to learn more about issues currently influencing the region.
"Valley of Shadows and Dreams" documents the conflicting reality for people living in California's Central Valley. Photographer Ken Light and author Melanie Light began the project in 2006, during the housing boom that swept through the region, and their reporting continued throughout the recent economic crisis that is still affecting millions of people in the state. The Lights uncover the experiences of the often forgotten people who work and live in the valley and their pursuit of the California Dream. The Rural California Report interviewed Ken and Melanie Light about their project.
(Image by Ken Light)
Valley of Shadows & Dreams, Heyday, 2012
Photographs By Ken Light & Text by Melanie Light
Forward by Thomas Steinbeck
The poverty of the Central Valley of California and the abundance of the region’s agriculture is a conundrum. Even though there has been a decrease in community-based access to healthy food, and a rise in chronic disease in the heartland of the state of California, and the nation, we are beginning to see people and agriculture coming together for the good of both.
The exciting change arising in the Central Valley, honoring our agricultural roots and reinventing our regional economy, has been led by the smart growth investments of Smart Valley Places, with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation. These buds of change are blossoming into a new triple-bottom-line Central Valley economy that honors the environment, equity and economics. Environmentalists, supporters of the organic movement, and advocates for social justice, are not the only ones talking the regional food system talk anymore. The Fresno Business Council, the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley and regional cities are choosing smart growth and healthy communities and realizing that the Central Valley, a place with the capacity to feed the nation, can also feed our region. Institutions (such as schools, hospitals and city and county governments) are looking at their ability to access healthier, affordable local food, and the ability for local purchasing to drive their economies home.
The San Joaquin Valley is the agricultural powerhouse of the United States and California. California accounts for an eighth of U.S. farm sales, largely because it produces high value fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, and horticultural specialty (FVH) crops such as nursery products and flowers. Over three-fourths of the state's $37 billion in farm sales in 2010 were crop commodities, and almost 90 percent of the $28 billion in California crop sales represented labor-intensive FVH commodities.
About half of California's farm sales and farm employment are produced in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley with four million residents that stretches from Stockton in the north to Bakersfield in the south. The leading U.S. farm county is Fresno, which had farm sales of almost $6 billion in 2010.
There are many heat stress prevention strategies for farmworkers that focus on correcting either individual behaviors (e.g., avoiding caffeinated beverages and bulky sweatshirts) or workplace conditions (e.g., providing shade and regular break periods). Yet, few heat stress-specific health plans take into consideration the conditions of the built and natural environment that farmworkers are returning to at the end of a long day in the fields.
For decades, the rural housing program has been a mainstay of national and state efforts to improve the living conditions of low-income people in the U.S. At the federal level, Congress adopted a series of initiatives during the 1930s to stabilize rural families on family farms and rehouse the Depression-era rural poor, which laid the groundwork for a national rural housing program. At the state level, since the mid-1970s, the state of California has operated programs targeted specifically to small towns and rural communities and amelioration of the dismal living conditions of farm workers and Native Americans.
At the forefront of these efforts in California has been a strong network of community-based, nonprofit and public organizations and agencies located throughout the state and delivering a variety of housing services. These services include: acquisition, rehabilitation, construction, and operation of rental housing for low-income families, the elderly and disabled, homeless, and farm workers; construction supervision and loan packaging for families participating in owner-build programs; rehabilitation and retrofits of existing owner-occupied homes; installation of sewer, water, and other infrastructure improvements; provision of supportive services; and foreclosure prevention intervention, homeownership counseling, financial literacy training, and asset-building. These services have been funded by an array of federal, state, and local government housing and community development programs, lending institutions, such as banks and nonprofit financial intermediaries, private investors, and others.
The California Coalition for Rural Housing (CCRH) was created in 1976 to represent the interests of this network of rural affordable housing providers and their clients and ensure continuing funding and supportive land use and planning laws. CCRH is the oldest statewide affordable housing coalition in the U.S. Our members include some of the oldest nonprofit housing development organizations in the country, groups that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s to provide decent and affordable homes for California farm workers and other rural poor. They include the largest producers of mutual self-help housing in the country, a precursor of Habitat for Humanity. They also include some of the largest operators of farm labor housing for permanent and migrant workers.
It is this highly successful network of sophisticated, mission-driven, rural housing providers that is currently seriously threatened by shrinking funding resources. The threats are manifold. But, with the threats come several new opportunities.
In order to develop a vision and strategic plan for improved farm labor conditions in California, Roots of Change and The California Endowment funded a collaborative effort to obtain direct feedback from agricultural workers and growers to develop a vision for more sustainable farmlabor conditions in California and to identify short- and long-term strategies for achieving that vision. Published in 2007, the results of that study still resonate.
Five grassroots organizations with diverse and longstanding ties to the agricultural community –California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, California Institute for Rural Studies, CommunityAlliance with Family Farmers, the Farmworker Institute for Education and LeadershipDevelopment and Ag Innovations Network – convened a series of meetings including growers and agricultural workers in five of California’s principal agricultural regions: Monterey, Yolo, Merced,Tulare and Ventura Counties.
The resulting report presents a synthesis of the vision and strategies for promoting a more sustainable farm labor system in California, as put forth by the participants.
There is a contradiction of US interests opposing child labor in the international context while allowing agricultural exceptionalism to undermine child labor protections here in the US. Agriculture is the largest employer of children worldwide. According to the UNFAO, “Poverty and child labor interact in a vicious cycle and are mutually reinforcing. In rural areas, there is need to fight poverty and hunger in order to fight child labor.”
The information in this post is from Rural Migration News, a publication on rural issues at University of California, Davis. Rural Migration News summarizes and analyzes the most important migration-related issues affecting immigrant farm workers in California and the United States during the preceding quarter. This post focuses on poverty, water, labor shortages, health and current state laws.
California’s San Joaquin Valley is a place of contradictions. It has some of the most productive and wealth-generating agricultural lands on the planet, but many of the people who live in this region live in poverty, confront environmental contamination, and face serious health risks. Despite efforts to alleviate these problems, the region’s poor air and water quality, concentrated poverty, and uneven access to educational and other opportunities continue to afflict the Valley. Additionally, sustainability of the Valley’s economy is increasingly dependent on the health and well-being of the all of the region’s residents across its diverse rural and urban communities.
By Gail Wadsworth and Vallerye Mosquera
With funding from University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, CIRS is partnering with Dr. Michael Rios and Vallerye Mosquera from UC, Davis, and Luis Magaña from the Organizacion de Trabajadores Agricolas de California, to complete a community-based risk assessment tool for heat stress. This tool is unique in that it is focusing on the risk of heat stress to farmworkers within their communities. In other words: off the farm.
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.
Although most of us have probably participated in agritourism at some point in our lives, not everyone may be familiar with the meaning of term agritourism. One source defines agritourism as “a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors, and that generates supplemental income for the owner.” Agritourism encompasses a diverse range of activities such as farm tours, festivals that celebrate regional crops, farm stands, school group field trips, on-farm weddings, farm stay bed and breakfasts, vineyard wine tastings, picking fruit at a u-pick operation, culinary events, and farm classes etc. In addition, agritourism can include attractions that have little or nothing to do with food production but that offer entertainment such as hay rides, petting zoos, pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms, and concerts.
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.