CIRS Blog about Rural California

THERMAL — Fed up with the lack of water and sewer service in their rural communities, a group of Latino voters is demanding that the Coachella Valley Water District change its election system to give them greater influence on an elected board that doesn’t have a single Latino member.

Civil rights lawyers Robert Rubin and Megan Beaman, who represent the group of several voters, told the water board’s president in a letter on Monday that they believe the agency’s at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and “dilutes the ability of Latino constituents to elect candidates of their choice.”

The letter, the first step toward a possible civil rights lawsuit, highlights wide disparities between income and influence in the predominantly Latino eastern portion of the Coachella Valley and the predominantly white and wealthier west valley.

(VIDEO: East valley wants CVWD services and access)


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in Political Representation 1637 0

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently released a new report outlining recommendations for agriculture’s ongoing adaptation to climate change. The report was based in large part on the input of a Climate Change Consortium comprised of stakeholders from the California agriculture community, including the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN).

In a related and broader effort, the California Natural Resources Agency is preparing to release an update to their 2009 Climate Adaptation Strategy, which covers several sectors including agriculture. They are conducting a series of public workshops to gain public input on the updates; a schedule can be found here.

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in Climate Change 1942 0

By Lynn Graebner

Counties all over California are cheering the state’s decision to expand Medi-Cal to more than 1.4 million low-income adults – and bracing for the $1.3 billion the state expects to take away from county health services over the next four years.

Counties should see savings on January 1, 2014, when Medi-Cal expands to include childless adults under the age of 65 with incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level or $15,856 for an individual annually. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs for new enrollees from 2014-2016 and 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

“On paper, you’d think there would be savings,” said David Luchini, Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health. But the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research predicted in a Sept. 12, 2012 report that three to four million Californians would remain uninsured in 2019. Counties say it is way too early to count on savings from the ACA and to chop away at county health care safety nets.

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in Rural Health 1859 0

The University of California magazine California Agriculture recently published a report that measured soil carbon levels in three perennial cropping systems across Northern California. This study, which was funded by the USDA, brings California one step closer to realizing programs for agriculture that could incentivize sustainable soil management practices and provide financial benefits to farmers.

With a focus on the lesser-understood “high-value specialty perennial crops,” such as walnuts, almonds and wine grapes, researchers in the study sought to develop baseline soil carbon estimates for a variety of agricultural land types and management systems. They gathered data by implementing long-term monitoring networks in perennial crop soils, using a research methodology that could serve as a model for future carbon storage studies.

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in Climate Change 1776 0

By Leslie Griffy

Agricultural businesses and the insurance companies that serve them are scrambling to prepare for the changes that health care reform will bring over the next few years.

Many smaller farmers struggle with the details of the Affordable Care Act, such as how to count seasonal farmworkers to determine who they must insure. Employers of more than 50 will face fines if they don’t insure eligible workers.

Meanwhile, three of California’s agricultural-focused health insurance providers required waivers from ACA rules to continue operation. Those waivers expire next year.

“There is a lot of confusion,” said Norm Groot, president of Monterey County Farm Bureau. “I think everyone is really put off with the amount of complexity, particularly for agriculture.”

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Farmers’ congressional allies are pressuring the Obama administration to ease up on some immigration work-site enforcement, underscoring a conflict at the heart of a broad-based immigration bill.

This week, spurred by complaints from farmers in California’s Central Valley, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly urged the Department of Homeland Security to “redirect” immigration enforcement efforts toward “serious violent crimes” instead of “legitimate agricultural employers and their workers.”

“The reality is that the majority of farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign-born and unauthorized, which is well-known,” Feinstein wrote Tuesday, adding that she’s “afraid that this aggressive worksite enforcement strategy will deprive the agricultural sector of most of its workforce.”

Worksite monitoring has definitely heated up.

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in Farm Labor 1645 0

As you walk into the Casa del Migrante (a migrant shelter) in the historic center of Guatemala City, you will see a sign to the right that reads: “To migrate is not a crime. Crime is that which causes migration.” One way to read this sign is that the factors that provoke migration are so severe they could be considered criminal.


 1997 calendar in the Casa del Migrante that continues to have relevance in 2013

People migrate to be with their families, to provide for their families, and to escape violence. In essence, people migrate to have their human rights met.

Is it a crime that children in Guatemala grow up without their parents because their parents live in the United States and can’t afford to reunite with them? Is it a crime that parents of U.S. citizens are deported to Guatemala and may never see their children again? Is it a crime that Guatemalan children are obliged to join criminal gangs and must flee their towns to escape death? Or, is it a crime to emigrate under these circumstances? Increasingly, the United States is prosecuting would-be migrants found along the border, and placing them in private prisons. Is it a crime to profit from other people’s desperation?

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in Immigration 1906 0

By Leah Bartos

With all Americans required to enroll in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, will the existing safety net clinics become a thing of the past?

For generations, grassroots-style community clinics have worked to fill the coverage gap. Their mandate: to treat any patient who walks in the door, regardless of ability to pay.

But by January of next year, all those patients should have health insurance. In theory.

Despite the requirement  — and penalty fee for noncompliance — a projected 3 to 4 million Californians will remain uninsured through 2019, according to a UC Berkeley Labor Center study. Of the remaining uninsured, the report projects that nearly 40 percent still won’t be able to afford coverage, and that three-fourths will be U.S. citizens or lawfully present immigrants. More than half will include households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

For many, California’s safety net clinics will continue to be their best — or only — option for care.

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in Rural Health 1903 0

Cover crops don’t look like much. To the untrained eye, these vast fields of green grasses, clovers, and legumes might be reminiscent of a long-neglected lawn gone to seed. For acres. On the contrary, these in-between crops are anything but the product of neglect.  And they’re growing in popularity as a relatively easy way for farmers raising commodity crops at an industrial scale to show some care for the environment. In fact, the rapid growth in their use can be seen as one of the more hopeful things to come along in the world of big commodity corn and soy farming in a long time.

An important report released last month by the USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program found that the 750 Midwestern farmers surveyed planted 350 percent more cover crops in 2012 than they had just four years earlier. And SARE expects even more of these crops will be put in the ground this fall.

Why do these numbers matter? As Rob Myers, one of the University of Missouri scientists behind the SARE survey, sees it: “From a sustainability standpoint, one of the best things a farmer can do is plant cover crops.”

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in Agriculture 1706 0

The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) released earlier this month a unique report on the effects of climate change that the state is experiencing now.  The report comes as a recent public opinion poll finds a record number of Californians want immediate state action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many climate science reports project into the future what we may experience as greenhouse gases accumulate and heat up our planet.  Such studies are critical to our understanding of climate change, but can make its impacts feel far and distant from our day-to-day.

But the most recent CalEPA report documents current climate change impacts that Californians are living with now. And the news has implications for all of us and especially for farmers and ranchers who are among the first to feel the effects of a changing climate.

Wildfires are increasing in intensity and frequency. Since 1950, annual acreage burned in wildfires statewide has been increasing.  The state’s three largest fire years occurred in the last ten years.


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in Climate Change 1687 0

By Hannah Guzik

Demetria Martinez is sitting in a state funded children’s center in Oxnard, wrapping her baby daughter in a shawl, when worry invades her face. Her daughter is sick, she says. Something about her heart. The doctors told her, but she didn’t understand.

Martinez is speaking Mixteco—an indigenous Mexican language full of clicks and tones not used in English or Spanish—but she conveys her emotion without words too. Twisting the ends of her rebozo, frayed from all the baby wearing and worrying, she says what she does understand is that she’s still making payments on a $1,700 hospital bill for the tests doctors did on her 5-month-old daughter.

“I can’t afford it,” she says, speaking through an interpreter. “I’m worried too much about it, and I don’t know what to do. They said her heart isn’t working right. They said her heart is not OK.”

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Washington apple grower Evans Fruit in June 2010 for allowing a ranch manager to sexually harass female workers, and obtained a temporary restraining order to protect class members and potential witnesses from retaliation. After 12 days of testimony, a federal jury in 2013 found no sexually hostile work environment at Evans.

The case against Evans, which employs 1,200 to 1,300 seasonal farm workers, began with a complaint by three women who alleged that they were constructively discharged after supervisors subjected them to "ongoing sexual comments, propositioning, and physical groping." Evans and the ranch manager denied the allegations. A federal judge in April 2013 dismissed a September 2011 EEOC suit against Evans that alleged Evans retaliated against 10 farm workers who attended a meeting at a public library where EEOC representatives explained sexual harassment and the remedies.

PBS's Frontline aired an associated documentary, Rape in the Fields, in June 2013 that profiled the women and the ranch manager in the Evans case.

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in Farm Labor 2038 0

By Daniel Weintraub

Nearly one in every four California kids lives in poverty – a familiar but still-stunning statistic in a land as plentiful as ours.

You would think this would be the top focus of the state’s policymakers – on the left and the right. Either by increasing public assistance, or increasing economic opportunity, or both, California must do something to lift the next generation out of this condition or risk supporting a permanent underclass for decades to come.

That’s why a recent report card on the wellbeing of children from, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is worth reviewing.

California, a state with an income per person ranked 15th highest among the states, finished 41st on the foundation’s broad-based measure of the condition of America’s children.

On 16 measures of economics, education, health and family and community characteristics, California kids rank near the bottom nationally.

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in Poverty 1565 0

In California, farmworkers in general, and the indigenous in particular, are undercounted by official census takers. Ignorance about the indigenous population—one of the poorest groups in California—has led to widespread unawareness of this community’s needs; service providers in some regions may even be unaware of the community’s existence.  The language barriers and the unique cultural traits of the population make it critical that customized programs be implemented to accommodate the significant differences with other Mexican immigrants.  These videos are posted both for the stories conveyed and to introduce viewers to the sound of some indigenous Mexican languages. Here, Fausto is speaking Mixtec Alto and Jesus is speaking Mixtec. For more information and videos go to the Indigenous Farmworker Study

Fausto - English from Indigenous Farmworkers on Vimeo.


Jesus - English from Indigenous Farmworkers on Vimeo.

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July 2013


The eight-county San Joaquin Valley was the focus of a second economic summit on April 26, 2013.  The briefing book noted the "challenges" of poverty and unemployment, poor air quality, and low scores on other quality of life indicators. These factors combine with too few skilled workers to attract businesses that could help the San Joaquin Valley transform its agricultural economy to a higher-value and higher wage economy.

Average per capita income in the San Joaquin Valley was $31,500 in 2011, only 70 percent of the average $44,600 in California.  Among San Joaquin Valley adults, 30 percent did not graduate from high school and 15 percent had college degrees.  Among Hispanic San Joaquin Valley adults, 48 percent did not graduate from high school and six percent had college degrees.

The San Joaquin Valley summit dealt with the chicken-and-egg problem of stimulating the growth of high-wage jobs.  There is general agreement that the San Joaquin Valley should create more high-wage jobs, but also agreement that high-wage job growth is deterred by  insufficient skilled workers to attract investment that creates jobs that pay more than $30,000 a year.  The summit made only a passing reference to the state's high-speed rail system to be launched in the San Joaquin Valley.

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in Rural California 1890 0

By New American Media Health Editor Viji Sundaram

Originally published on the New American Media website on June 30, 2013.

New American Media Editor’s Note: After spending two years among indigenous farm workers in Mexico and in labor camps in the United States, medical anthropologist Dr. Seth M. Holmes documents how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism undermine their health and access to health care in his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. He spoke to NAM Health Editor Viji Sundaram.

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in Immigration 2066 0

By Minerva Perez
California Health Report

Central Valley communities have the highest percentage of youth in the state who are not working and not in school, according to a recent report. Advocates in the afflicted counties say there is a way to help these so-called “disconnected youth” by building a council specifically aimed to address their needs.

The report, compiled by and derived from the 2010 Census’s American Community Survey, cited Merced County as having the highest percentage of disconnected youth ages 16-19 with 13.5 percent, the highest percentage in all of California.

“Merced already has a reputation of ‘there is nothing to do around here’ so it’s not very surprising,” Michelle Xiong, the youth coordinator for the Merced’s Building Healthy Communities initiative, said of the indicators. “It’s still sad that this is what we are known for.”

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in Rural Youth 1907 0

The recent senate border security decision (June 24, 2013) to increase the size of the Border Patrol by 20,000 agents, add 700 miles of fence, and deploy $3.2 billion in military equipment is likely to increase border deaths if current Border Patrol policies are continued. Most media coverage of the senate agreement and on the increasing deaths in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands does not examine the ways in which Border Patrol policies and actions contribute directly to the high number of deaths on the border this year. For example, last week’s LA Times article titled, “In 30 days, Border Patrol rescues 177 people from Arizona desert,” leaves out crucial background details related to the ways in which Border Patrol policies directly contribute to rising numbers of deaths on the border.

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in Immigration 1790 0

In California, farmworkers in general, and the indigenous in particular, are undercounted by official census takers. Ignorance about the indigenous population—one of the poorest groups in California—has led to widespread unawareness of this community’s needs; service providers in some regions may even be unaware of the community’s existence.  The language barriers and the unique cultural traits of the population make it critical that customized programs be implemented to accommodate the significant differences with other Mexican immigrants.  These videos are posted both for the stories conveyed and to introduce viewers to the sound of some indigenous Mexican languages. Here, Felipe is speaking Mixtec and Juan is speaking Zapotec. For more information and videos go to the Indigenous Farmworker Study

Felipe - English from Indigenous Farmworkers on Vimeo.

Juan - English from Indigenous Farmworkers on Vimeo.


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in Indigenous Farmworkers 1502 0

Below is an excerpt from Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies by Seth M. Holmes. Holmes, an anthropologist and physician, documented the journey of Mexican migrant farmworkers as they travel between Southern Mexico, California's Central Valley and Washington, in search of work. 

One: Introduction --"Worth risking your life?"

The road from San Miguel

It is early April and our group is leaving the Triqui village of San Miguel in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, each of us wearing dark-colored, long-sleeved clothes and carrying a small, dark-colored backpack with one change of clothes, a plastic bag with coyote fur and pine soap made by a Triqui healer for protection and called a suerte [luck], along with many totopos [smoked handmade tortillas] and dried beans to eat. I was instructed by Macario to bring these things. Each of us carries between $1,000 and $2,000 to pay for the buss ride to the border, for food at the border, for rides on either side of the border, and some for the coyote [border-crossing guide].

Our journey begins with a two-hour trip in a Volkswagen van from San Miguel to the nearby mestizo town of Tlaxiaco. After buying our bus tickets, we walk around the town's market, buying food to share with each other on the bus. Joaquin chooses mangoes, Macario oranges and peanuts, and I miniature bananas. Macario buys a slingshot to use against rattlesnakes in the desert and asks if I want to carry one, but I don't have much experience with slingshots. When we return to the bus, the two nuns from San Miguel are waiting to wish us well as we board. The younger nun explains to me that they go there every weekend to pray for the border crossers.

The bus ride in itself is exhausting. The bus is packed with people, mostly men, all headed to the border except a half dozen who plan to go to Baja California to harvest tomatoes. We ride from 3:00 P.M. on Saturday until our arrival in Altar at 4:00 P.M. on Monday, a total of forty-nine hours. We pass through five army checkpoints between the state of Oaxaca and the border. Two checkpoints all have signs that say in Spanish, "Permanent Campaign Against Narcotraffic." Before each checkpoint, the bus driver or his assistant announces loudly that all the bus riders should say that they are going to Baja California to work so that the stop would not take too much time with the questions about crossing the border into the United States. Each time, the driver tells me to say that I was just hitchhiking to the next tourist town-Mazatlan Hermosillo, Guadalajara, depending on where we are at the time. Before each checkpoint, the bus becomes quiet, and people seem nervous about the possibility of being interrogated or sent back south. Two or three soldiers aboard the bus each time in green army fatigues and ask a few seemingly random people for identification and search a few bags while other soldiers look through the windows with rifles over their shoulders.

Interestingly, there are three army soldiers riding the bus with us, going to their base in northern Mexico. They, as wells as everyone else, play along with the story. The oldest of the soldiers, seated next to me, is convinced I am the coyote leading my friends to a job in the United States. He explains to me that these military checkpoints are paid for by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in order to stop drug smuggling across the border and to stop undocumented immigration to the United States. He tells me to take the driver's assistant to "El Norte" for free since he is so nice to everyone on the bus. The driver's assistant -- who collects fares from the passengers, enforces the schedule at the food stops, and makes sure everyone makes it back on board after meals -- simply smiles in response. I reply that I am not a coyote. The soldier laughs and asks in Spanish, "Then why are you taking all these guys?"

For more information on "Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies" or to buy the book, please visit Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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