CIRS Blog about Rural California
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.
(Curtis Silk Farms, Gathering Mulberry Leaves, Curtis Silk Farms, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1907 Courtesy of the California Historical Society)
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 100 California communities -- and more than 900 communities across the nation -- will lose their eligibility for USDA rural housing programs on October 1, 2012. Of the 97 California communities that will be impacted, 64 are cities and 33 are census-designated places in unincorporated areas. These communities are scattered throughout the state, but more than half (50) are located in the San Joaquin Valley (31) and Inland Empire (19). Not coincidentally, these two regions have been major magnets for population growth over the last several decades. A current list of communities can be accessed at http://ruralhousingcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/USDA-List-of-Impacted-Communities_06272012.pdf. The USDA could release a final list as early as August.
by Gail Wadsworth and Vallerye Mosquera
The California Institute for Rural Studies, University of California, Davis and the Organización de Trabajadores Agrícolas de California recently completed a collaborative research project that focused on identifying the residential and community factors related to heat stress for farmworkers living in Stockton, California and the surrounding region. The goal of this research was to create a pilot tool for assessing community and residential site factors (i.e., those factors to which they are exposed outside of the agricultural work environment) that can exacerbate farmworkers’ exposure to heat and increase their risk of heat-related illness.
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.
In the early 1970s, Geraldine Bardin chose to sell her family farm to an upstart community development corporation. She lit a spark that has provided nearly 40 years of educational and economic development impacts for farmworker families in the Salinas Valley. Over the years, cooperative development programs evolved into a small farm business incubator primarily serving farmworkers.
The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) is on a long-term trajectory to build upon its unique assets for community development. The model has been popular. Dozens of owner-operated organic farms have been launched and sustained. In recent years, organizations nationwide, inspired by the farm incubator, have called, visited, attended workshops, webinars and farm walks, to learn from ALBA’s work.
What ALBA discovered in this process, is that the more we helped others, the more the organization learned about itself. Inquiries from visitors and partners have informed our perspectives and strategies. In my work as development director, securing grants and contracts while helping develop ALBA’s economic engine, I’ve long operated by a core truism: the key to successful fundraising is to do good work. “Good work is rewarded,” stated Don Ralston, an early mentor, among a compelling collection of short essays on lessons learned by the Center for Rural Affairs. No doubt the greatest lessons at ALBA arise from working with and learning from aspiring and beginning farmers.
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.
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.
In 2011, some notable government actions influenced immigration policy across the US. The federal Secure Communities program came under fire, five more states, following Arizona’s lead, enacted independent immigration laws and deportations reached an unprecedented high level.
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.
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.
Jonathan London and Ted Bradshaw
This essay is based on research being conducted for a book by Jonathan London, Ted Bradshaw and Ed Blakely. Ted Bradshaw passed away before this article was written but the concepts and structure were developed in conversation with Jonathan London. In honor of these intellectual influences, this article is credited as a co-authored piece.
For those who care about rural places, whether scholars or practitioners (or, in the case of these authors, both) the inadequacy of analytical frameworks for understanding and therefore intervening in rural change is troubling. Alternately framed as an immaterial anachronism in an increasingly dominant metroscape; a victim of over-determined and extractive structures of modernity, capitalism, and globalization; a romanticized lost agrarian world, or an uncritical site of local progress, the dominant rural discourses provide little basis for satisfying intellectual or political projects.