CIRS Blog about Rural California
As we approach Thanksgiving 2017, let’s give a thought to workers who work along the food chain, often in the lowest paying and most tenuous positions. According to a report from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, “More than 86 percent of workers reported earning subminimum, poverty, and low wages, resulting in a sad irony: food workers face higher levels of food insecurity, or the inability to afford to eat, than the rest of the U.S. workforce.” And workers along the food chain are not a small portion of the US workforce, five core segments of the food chain employ 21.5 million workers the largest employment sector in the US.
Our economy has been transitioning from one in which workers have been able to exercise their rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions to one where workers are, in effect, disposable. What are the trends that contribute to this situation?
 Production, processing, distribution, retail and service are the 5 core segments.
Much has been written about the disproportionately high incidence of health problems such as diabetes and obesity among African Americans and Latinos when compared to non-Hispanic whites. But health disparities among smaller minority groups such as American Indians and Pacific Islanders have received far less attention.
A new report out of University of California Riverside aims to change that. Led by Andrew Subica, an assistant professor of social medicine, population and public health, the study examines seven years worth of data on health trends among American Indians and Alaskan natives, native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and multiracial adults living in California.
The findings paint a startling picture of ill health among these small and historically neglected populations. Not only do their rates of diabetes and obesity surpass those of non-Hispanic white people, but many are just as or even more likely to suffer from these diseases than African Americans and Latinos.
By Amy Winzer
Scott Park never set foot on a farm until he was twenty years old. At that time, a fraternity brother connected him with the manager of a tomato operation in the Sacramento Valley, and Park ended up going into business with him. Six years later, he went out on his own. “The fact that I’m doing this is pretty much a fluke,” said Park. “I don’t go generations back. I think it gives me a different perspective because I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what farming is.”
Today at Park Farming Organics, Park, joined by his wife Ulla and son Brian, farm 1,500 acres in Meridian, California. Out of that total, Park rents roughly 1,300 acres and owns about 200 acres. Almost all of the acreage has been certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Although he started out in tomatoes, Park’s crop portfolio has expanded to include rice, corn, wheat, millet, dry beans, herbs, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, gourds, stevia, coriander, flax, snow peas, safflower, sunflowers and more.
Before 1986, Park relied heavily on synthetic fertilizers, which he now characterizes as a short-term approach to farming. He switched to a long-term approach focused on nurturing soil health after noticing a nearby field was healthier than the ground he was working. “It slapped me in the face that what I was doing was completely wrong. My ground was getting harder and harder,” recalled Park.
The Los Angeles Times reviewed the status of mechanization in various crops July 21, 2017, emphasizing the large number of prototype machines in development to replace hand workers. From apples to strawberries, tech firms are developing machines to harvest crops.
Asparagus acreage is declining, and many leafy greens are harvested mechanically with knives or water jet cutters. Urban tech firms want radical changes in farming to facilitate mechanization, while firms such as Ramsay Highlander in Salinas stress the productivity gains from incremental changes such as conveyor belts to make hand workers more productive. Machines are being used to plant lettuce so that it does not have to be thinned.
Christopher Ranch, which hires 600 workers to pack and process 90 million pounds of garlic a year at its plant in Gilroy, saw a surge in applications after raising packing shed wages from $11 to $13 an hour in 2017; the firm's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $15 in 2018. The wages of more skilled packing shed workers rose as well. Christopher uses FLC (Farm Labor Contractor) crews and H-2A workers in the fields, where workers are paid piece rates.
By Linda Childers
Olivia Basurto was concerned when her nine-year-old son Samuel came home from school with a rash on his arms. After trying to treat the pink bumps with over-the-counter creams, and having no success, Basurto called to make an appointment with a dermatologist.
She quickly learned that in her small rural town of Pixley (population 3,310), in the Central Valley, physician specialists are a rare commodity. The nearest specialist was either in Porterville or Fresno, located almost an hour away, and they had a three-month wait.
But then, the Pixley Medical Clinic, a rural health clinic that provides family practice medicine to residents of Pixley and the surrounding cities, asked Basurto if she would be open to a telemedicine appointment with a dermatologist. The doctor, a retired dermatologist volunteer with The MAVEN Project, could assess her son’s rash and offer medical advice.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the state's largest, wants to delay implementation of the tighter standards on particulates required by the federal Clean Air Act. The District, which covers eight counties with four million residents from San Joaquin to Kern, is a natural bowl with mountains on three sides that has been unable to improve regional air quality.
Fresno County had 25 unhealthy air warnings in 2016. One consequence is asthma, as especially children have trouble breathing. Many children carry inhalers to school and elsewhere.
California is responsible for one percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Governor Jerry Brown in July 2017 persuaded the Legislature to support the extension of the state's 2012 cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 431 million metric tons in 2020 to 260 million metric tons in 2030 (AB 398). California emitted 440 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2015 and Brown warned of "mass migrations, vector diseases, forest fires, Southern California burning up" if the state failed to reduce them.
The extension of cap-and-trade could raise gas prices up to $0.75 a gallon and provide funds for the bullet train that aims to link northern and southern California. The California's Air Resources Board, which will implement AB 398, projects an increase in the number of electric cars from 250,000 in 2017 to 4.2 million in 2030. CARB is targeting manure on dairies to reduce methane emissions.
Raisin farmers and packers have settled on a price for the 2017 Natural Seedless raisin crop at $1,800 a ton, the second-highest in the industry’s history.
And while that would be great news in a normal year, this isn’t a normal year.
Raisin industry officials said the crop has been plagued with uneven growing weather and rain. A severe heat wave scorched the Fresno area in early June, damaging about 5 percent of the crop.
In September, heavy rains – two within a two-week period – further reduced the size of a crop that was already coming up short of the expected estimate of 235,000 tons.
“Despite this being the second-highest in history,” said Kalem Barserian, chief executive officer of the Raisin Bargaining Association, a grower group based in Fresno, “there will be no winners.”
Barserian said this is probably one of the four worst crops he has seen in his 52 years in the California raisin industry.
He said yields were off about 32 percent of normal.
“We ask everyone to be patient until things settle down so our growers and processors can get the product ready for market,” Barserian said.
This article published on the Fresno Bee website on Oct. 13.
By Brian Shobe
The State Legislature took an important step in September toward recognizing and remedying centuries-long injustices for people of color and women in agriculture. Both chambers passed Assembly Bill 1348 – the Farmer Equity Act – with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), now heads to the Governor’s desk.
By building racial and gender equity priorities into the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s responsibilities, executive staff structure, advisory committees, and programs, the Farmer Equity Act moves us closer to ensuring that all of California’s farmers have equitable influence on and access to government resources, including the state’s Climate Smart Ag programs.
Approximately one in four farms in California are managed by farmers of color and approximately one in five are managed by women. California has the largest population of Asian farmers and third largest population of Latino farmers in the country.
But despite their sizable numbers, data from the 2012 Ag Census shows that farmers of color and women tend to operate on significantly smaller acreages, earn significantly less revenue from the products they sell, and receive significantly less in government funding compared to white farmers and men.
Lousy milk prices spoiled Tulare County’s chances of holding on to its title as the state’s No.1 agriculture county.
Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agricultural commissioner, delivered the bad news to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. The county’s total production value for 2016 tumbled 8 percent to $6.3 billion.
That crop value wasn’t enough to keep Kern County from seizing the top spot with a total agriculture value of $7.2 billion. It was a record for Kern County and put them in the No. 1 position for the first time. Strong markets for grapes, almonds and citrus, helped push the county to the top.
Tulare County may be the leading dairy county in the state but that’s also part of the reason it slipped to No. 2, just ahead of Fresno County, which had a total crop value of $6.1 billion.
By Amy Winzer
First Generation Farmers (FGF) is a non-profit community farm located next to Discovery Bay (between Stockton and Brentwood) with the mission of increasing their community’s access to healthy, locally and sustainably grown food and educating young and old about agriculture.
The 27-acre farmland was donated to FGF by Cecchini & Cecchini, owners of a 1,176-acre family farm. The Cecchini family, with the help of Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust (BALT) and FGF, secured a grant for an agricultural easement through California’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) which is funded with cap-and-trade money.
The easement covers 520 acres of their family farm, including the FGF land. CalCAN and our partners been strong advocates for funding for this program to both preserve farmland and avoid future greenhouse gas emissions associated with urban development of valuable cropland.
To date, over $42 million has been invested in permanent agricultural easements on land at risk of development throughout California. FGF’s SALC-funded agricultural easement is under considerable development pressure, being contiguous to Discovery Bay and sandwiched between the East Bay and Stockton, both rapidly urbanizing regions of California.
This week, California launched an innovative new program aimed at lessening the climate change impact of dairy farms. The Alternative Manure Management Practices (AMMP) Program, run by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), will fund between $9 million to $16 million in dairy and livestock manure management projects that reduce methane emissions and help improve air and water quality.
Dairy and other livestock producers will be eligible for grants of up to $750,000 for projects that convert from manure lagoon systems to methods that avoid or minimize liquid anaerobic manure handling, a major source of methane emissions. This could include transitioning to pasture-based operations where manure is distributed by the livestock on grazing land rather than collected in anaerobic piles or lagoons. It could also include various techniques for separating and drying manure to be spread on pastures or made into compost. See the CDFA program page for application details. The CalCAN factsheet on the program can be found here.
Three grant application workshops are scheduled, with more workshops possible. The current workshops schedule is as follows:
Eureka, Thursday, September 7, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner
5630 S. Broadway
Eureka, CA 95501
Santa Rosa, Friday, September 8, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner
133 Aviation Blvd., Suite 110
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Modesto, Thursday, September 14, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioner
3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite B
Modesto, CA 95358
CDFA will also host a webinar for potential AMMP applicants on September 14th. To register, see the CDFA program webpage.
This is an excerpt of an Aug. 22, 2017 article on the California Climate and Agriculture Network website
By Brian Shobe
California’s much anticipated Healthy Soils Program officially launched Tuesday with the release of the first Request for Grant Applications (RGA) by the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA). The deadline for applications is 5pm on September 19th.
The first of its kind in the country, the program will provide grants to farmers and ranchers for implementing on-farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or store carbon in soil, trees and shrubs. Types of practices that will be eligible include the addition of mulch and compost, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and the planting of herbaceous and woody plants such as windbreaks, hedgerows, riparian plantings, filter strips, silvopasture and more.
Three types of grants will be available:
- Direct farmer grants: Incentives of up to $50,000 per farm or ranch for the implementation of one or more new soil and conservation management practices.
- Outreach and Education/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $100,000 for soil improvement practices that reduce GHGs and increase soil health, and also have an outreach and demonstration component to showcase the healthy soils practices and promote their widespread adoption throughout the state. These will likely involve partnerships between producers and non-profits, Resource Conservation Districts and/or academic or extension departments.
- Research/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $250,000. These are similar to the prior category of demonstration project, but in addition to outreach and education on healthy soils practices, these projects must include measurement and data collection on GHG emissions and carbon sequestration.
For more information on the program and links to resources to assist growers in applying, visit the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) website. This is a condensed version of an article published on August 9, 2017.
A Spring 2017 Washington Post survey found that rural Americans are uneasy about the changing demographics of the U.S. and believe their Christianity is under attack as the federal government caters to urban residents. For example, 42 percent of rural residents agree that immigrants are mostly a drain on the U.S., compared with 16 percent of urban residents. Two-thirds of rural residents say cracking down on illegal migrants would improve job prospects in their areas.
Rural was defined as non-metro counties and counties near population centers with up to 250,000 people, so that a quarter of Americans were considered rural in the poll. Pollsters say that the underlying issue is fairness, with rural residents skeptical of whom the federal government favors and helps.
Rural areas have had a weaker recovery from the 2008-09 recession than urban areas, and job growth has not returned to 2007 levels, prompting rural youth to leave for education and jobs and not return. A third of rural residents said that jobs and drug abuse were the biggest problems confronting their community, compared with 10 percent of urban residents.
The Wall Street Journal reported on May 26, 2017 that the total rural population declined in each of the past five years. Births in rural counties are declining, deaths are rising, and the median age of 41 is higher than the median 35 in large metro areas. Male labor force participation in rural counties is declining, and there are 60 disabled workers per 1,000 working age residents in rural counties, double the 30 per 1,000 rate in large metro areas.
June 23, 2017
After reflecting on this topic, I realized that the best summary available is the paper which Profs. Marc B. Schenker and Stephen A. McCurdy wrote with Heather E. Riden and myself titled Improving the health of agricultural workers and their families in California: current status and policy recommendations, published by the University of California Global Health Institute in February 2015.
Instead, I’ve decided to focus today on how Marc’s leadership and influence broadened the scope of research at the California Institute for Rural Studies (CIRS). In turn, the ultimate impacts of CIRS became greater than any of us could have ever imagined.
Prof. Marc Schenker and I met for the first time on June 6, 1990, at a Conference on Health Concerns of Living and Working in Agricultural California, sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension and the School of Public Health, UC Berkeley. CIRS was asked to bring community folks to the conference as panelists to discuss specific topics of current concern, and, as well, contribute an overview presentation about rural California. CIRS arranged for farm worker advocates, leaders from predominantly Mexican-American rural areas, and staff of agencies providing health services for farm workers to participate in the conference.
As a few who are here today were aware in 1990, it was risky of Marc to seek to engage me in his new initiative. Some eleven years earlier, I was part of an effort led by California Rural Legal Assistance, inspired by the late Ralph Abascal, to sue the Regents of the University of California for ignoring the needs of a great many rural Californians, most importantly, farmworkers, but also small-scale producers, organic farmers and the rural poor. We were not seeking monetary damages, rather we wanted major changes this public institution’s priorities.
Although we prevailed in Alameda County Superior Court, the lawsuit was thrown out by the California State Supreme Court ten years later. But, from the filing of the lawsuit, very quietly, the University of California helped to start or support the Small Farm Center, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and the Student Experimental Farm. Moreover, the controversial Alternatives in Agriculture course, begun in 1977, was added to the formal curriculum of the College of Agriculture.
It was in this context that Marc’s invitation was most welcome. Bob Spear had let it be known that one of the purposes of the conference was to scope the possible creation of a Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at UC Davis as part of the newly authorized Agricultural Worker Safety program of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. After the conference, Marc asked CIRS to become a coinvestigator of the new Center and prepare a research proposal as part of his grant proposal for which he was Principal Investigator.
Quite frankly, in 1990, I could never have imagined what the relationship with Marc’s initiative would eventually yield. When the first NIOSH grant was awarded to the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, in one of the very first discussions with him, we agreed to collaborate in undertaking a population-based survey of farmworker health that would include a modest physical examination.
We approach a farmworker clinic in Parlier, a well-known farmworker community. Joined by a few folks from Marc’s research group, and by Dave Runsten from the CIRS staff, we went to Parlier where Arcadio Viveros, Executive Director of the United Health Centers clinic, and Mayor of Parlier, welcomed us and agreed to cooperate.
I clearly recall one of the first comments Marc made to me about our work.