CIRS Blog about Rural California

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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.

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

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Far from California’s San Joaquin Valley, an irrigation drainage problem that once turned deadly continues to confront a crucial but little-known federal court.

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Recovery in the Valley

California began to recover from the 2008-09 recession in 2012. Employment rose from 16.2 million in January 2012 to 16.5 million in November 2012, and the unemployment rate dropped from 11.3 to 9.8 percent.

In Fresno county, a bellwether for the San Joaquin Valley, the labor force was stable at 441,000 in 2012 but employment rose from 367,000 to 380,000. Fresno's unemployment rate dropped from 17 percent in January 2012 to 14 percent in October 2012.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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"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.

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(Image by Ken Light)

Valley of Shadows & Dreams, Heyday, 2012

Photographs By Ken Light & Text by Melanie Light

Forward by Thomas Steinbeck

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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.

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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.

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This posting is reproduced from the Stockton Record dated February 24, 2012

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Bankruptcy for Vallejo was a messy, demoralizing ordeal that saw an exodus of city employees and left residents without enough fire fighters and police officers to protect them.

But it penciled out financially, said Deborah Lauchner, Vallejo's financial director for the last 10 months.

"With bankruptcy, everything we had got studied, reviewed, torn apart and ripped open," Lauchner said Thursday. "We didn't really have a lot of options. We were going to run out of cash."

Stockton city officials are expected Tuesday to consider taking the first step down the road of bankruptcy.

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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.

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