CIRS Blog about Rural California

By Derek Walter

When Alexis Gonzalez tells her story about overcoming child abuse, she’s surprised by how many people it resonates with. At one event after another in the Central Valley, she’s approached by audience members who can relate.

“People would disclose their own abuse and that they had never told anybody,” said Gonzalez, now 21. “People are actually taking something away from these public speaking experiences, and it’s started to become a natural part of my healing process. At first it was something that was part of the process to help myself, but it’s also been inspiring to do this for other people.”

Gonzalez, who speaks on behalf of the Fresno County Council on Child Abuse Prevention, was molested by her paternal grandfather when she was a girl. For years she suffered in silence, but is now sharing her story in the hopes that it can prevent other Central Valley children from experiencing abuse.

Children in Fresno and Tulare counties, which make up a large portion of the valley, are more likely to experience abuse than most of those that live elsewhere in the state.

Child abuse can take many forms — including neglect through malnutrition, emotional trauma or sexual abuse. While they don’t inherently cause abuse, poverty, drug addiction and family dysfunction can create environments where problems are more likely to erupt, experts say. Thousands of Central Valley families struggle with this toxic mix, punishing the most vulnerable.

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California had a "normal" water year in 2010-11 and again in 2015-16. Droughts reduced the availability of water for the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 crop years. However, farm sales climbed during the drought years, from $43 billion in 2011 to $47 billion in 2012 to $51 billion in 2013 and $54 billion in 2014. Sales in 2015 are expected to set another record.

The reason that farm sales rose even as the availability of water fell from the long-run average of 50 million acre-feet to a low of 31 million for the 2014 crop year was that farmers switched scarce and expensive water from low-value and water-intensive crops such as alfalfa to more valuable crops such as fruits, nuts and vegetables. About 500,000 acres were fallowed in 2014 and 2015, usually land that would normally be used to produce low-value field crops, and farmers pumped ground water to substitute for less surface water.

Monterey County, the nation's salad bowl, had farm sales of $4.5 billion in 2014, led by leaf lettuce worth $775 million, strawberries worth $709 million, and head lettuce worth $651 million. Vegetable crops were worth $3.1 billion and fruit crops $1 billion. A Farmworker Advisory Committee meets quarterly with the Agriculture Commissioner's office to discuss labor issues.

California is projected to have a record crop of table grapes in 2016, some 117 million 19-pound boxes worth almost $2 billion. The state has 100,000 acres of table grapes, and the Scarlet Royal and Autumn King varieties are replacing Thompson seedless, Crimson seedless and Red Globe varieties. Autumn King can generate 2,000 boxes an acre, compared with 1,000 boxes from an acre of Thompson seedless. A third of the state's table grapes are exported.

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At California Institute for Rural Studies we believe:

•Farmers and farmworkers should be able to support their families in a healthy environment and with dignity.

•There is power in independent scientific research.

•Farming is essential to civilization.

•All members of our communities have valuable knowledge.

•Collaboration for the common good is essential.

For 38 years we have acted on these values by conducting sound independent research. Below you will see what we did in 2015 and what we plan to do in 2016. 

We hope it motivates you to support our work today  Your donations keep us independent!

“The California Institute for Rural is our go-to institution for rigorous research, trenchant analysis and timely information on the situation of farmworkers in California. Their empirical work is deeply rooted in the realities of California agriculture and the human rights of the men and women who do the heavy lifting of picking our crops and processing our food.”

Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director, Food First

We did a lot in 2015

We've been concerned about farmworker housing for decades and in 2015, we commissioned Dr. Don Villarejo, to write a summary on the current status of farmworker housing and health.  Our work on housing in the Eastern Coachella Valley is generating results with the completion of community-wide surveys in Coachella, Mecca and Thermal.  We are currently working in North Shore, on the troubled Salton Sea.

We helped other advocates understand the importance of scientific sampling methods with a presentation on our methods to housing advocates in Washington, DC.


"CIRS successfully brings the much-needed voice of disenfranchised men and women working in the food industry to the attention to those who would otherwise not hear about these stories. I appreciate Gail and Sarah's attention to including the various diverse missing narratives that make up the rural food movement.   As a new filmmaker working with African American farmers, CIRS invited me to participate in screening the film trailer of my upcoming documentary.  Since that initial screening two years ago at a CIRS program, the organization has continued to support my work and the work of farmers of color. Thank you and keep up this important work!”  

Dr. Gail Meyers, Co-Founder, Farms to Grow


We took a look at the Agricultural Labor Relations Act on its 40th anniversary.  What we found is that farm workers are actually making less money now than they did in 1974. The legacy of the ALRA is unfortunately, farm workers living in poverty. 


We are proud to have CIRS as a member of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. CIRS' research in partnership with farmworkers organizations is a model for everyone everywhere - they conduct research with, not just about, farmworkers. That is so important in lifting up the challenges facing farmworkers and the solutions that they want.

Joann Lo, Co-Director, Food Chain Workers Alliance


Our new project, Cal Ag Roots, spearheaded by Ildi Carlisle- Cummins, is unearthing stories of California agricultural history to help food movement leaders craft informed change strategies. The project launched this fall, producing a series of three stories that focused on three pivotal moments in California farming: the end of the Bracero Program, the battle to enforce acreage limitations in the Central Valley, and the invention of the mechanical tomato harvester. 


“Historically, the California Institute for Rural Studies took on research questions that were too politically controversial for traditional universities in the state to even consider.  Today, CIRS continues this work through programs like the Cal Ag Roots project and as a location for critical studies of food and agriculture in California.”   

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Daniel O’Connell, PhD, Co-Director of Food Commons Fresno


 Our sold-out Docks to Delta event on the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train featured live podcasts of all three stories, performed for 90 riders.  Two of our stories have made an impact in traditional media as well--  the National Land for People story was recently featured in the Fresno Bee,  and both Civil Eats and Davis Enterprise published the tomato harvester story.


"For young farmers and food advocates looking ahead to the future, understanding the past and the broader context in which they work is  crucial. The California Institute for Rural Studies brings that, with a cultural, historical and social perspective desperately needed for a more holistic conversation about how we in California feed ourselves." 

Evan Wiig, Executive Director, The Farmers Guild


     2015 was the International Year of Soil!  We responded by posting a series of articles on the Rural California Report on soils: why they’re important, how to care for them and what we lose when we lose them. These posts will be compiled into a folio for easy access.

Man with Hoe

In Merced County, we worked with a group of growers to help them focus on their needs.  We found out that there are currently mechanisms available to them for cooperative marketing but that there are still many needs to help promote their products. 

Keeping in line with our past work on farmworker food security, we completed a study of Yolo County. 

Look for the results soon!

“CIRS has been a valuable and unique resource in addressing the health of farmworkers since I arrived at Davis over 30 years ago. Much of my work would not have been possible without the knowledge, contacts and experience of CIRS. It provides not only valuable experience, but it bridges the divide between academia and the communities affected. Thank you CIRS, and keep up the good work.”

Marc Schenker, MD, MPH

Distinguished Professor and Director

Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Migration and Health Research Center

University of California at Davis School of Medicine, Department of Public Health Sciences

Our continued participation in the California Heat Illness Prevention Study (CHIPS) with UC Davis will help inform future workplace practices to better prevent heat stress, and protect farmworker health. We have completed focus groups with over 100 farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley since beginning the study in 2012. Through our continued research, we have gained a more complex understanding of how current regulatory policy and workplace practices inhibit or advance farmworker health.  Our preliminary findings will be presented in the forthcoming winter edition of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development.


"One time I got sick from overheating. I felt like I was suffocating, not really dizzy, but desperate to get out of the fields. It was in the blueberry fields. I went to find shade, drank water, and put water on my face, and I felt better after that. I put cold water on a paper towel, put it under my hat, and went back into the field. I didn't ask for any help, because I wanted to work and make money."   

Farmworker woman in Stockton, from “The Story of Fruit”


Our plan for 2016

We’re in the process of looking at promising practices in farmworker housing.  We will complete a review of these in 2016 and post a paper.  We think it’s important to look toward improvements using examples of successes.

Our review of data on farm worker wages and the ALRA has spurred us to envision a farm worker wage initiative. Linking to the work of our colleagues at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Fight for 15, we will be working on increasing wages to $15 an hour for farm laborers in one region of the state.  If we are successful, we will replicate our work in other agricultural regions.

“CIRS is an invaluable grass-roots organization dedicated to supporting sustainable agriculture that benefits all, from farm workers to consumers.” 

Philip Martin, UC-Davis Professor Emeritus

Agricultural and Resource Economics

Editor Migration News and Rural Migration News

Chair UC Comparative Immigration & Integration Program

In 2016, all current Cal Ag Roots stories will be available as podcasts for download through the Cal Ag Roots Story Hub, which also features short articles on the stories. We will be performing our first three-part story series in Davis, Merced, Sonoma and Santa Cruz and will be working on a second set of Cal Ag Roots stories. Look out for these dates in upcoming e-newsletters.

In Merced County, as our next step, we will be working with growers to develop educational tools for outreach to their local community members. We think Merced residents should know about these remarkable growers.

And finally, in 2016 we hope to launch our Women in Agriculture project. Through several events (including the “Celebrating Women in Agriculture” event at Full Belly Farm, pictured right) we heard from women growers that they would like a forum for discussing challenges they face that are unique  to them.  We plan to hold a series of regional roundtables in rural California that bring together women employers and women farmworkers.  We think these groups of women will be powerful in addressing barriers to success and in developing solutions  together.

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 But we

 need your support


"There is so much interest in food these days and much talk about sustainability in agriculture, but mostly from an environmental vantage. Sustainable agriculture is not possible without a sustainable pool of labor - one that is treated well and paid fairly. Too few of our policy makers seem to understand this but, thankfully, CIRS is working assiduously to change this. 

Social justice and food security go hand in hand. Thanks to CIRS, more and more influencers are realizing this. CIRS plays an absolutely critical role in linking the massive food supply chain to those on whose backs this system rests. If you eat, you should support CIRS."

Sanjay Rawal, Director of “Food Chains” documentary film


This all costs money and while we are able to secure funding for our large projects, some of our work goes unfunded.  We especially need funds to complete our Promising Practices in Farm Labor Housing work, our collaboration with Merced growers and our Women in Agriculture initiative.

How to give

Since we don’t have members, we need people like you, all across the state to work with us.  We’re looking for supporters who have an interest in seeing social justice for rural residents.  Each of you is an important partner for our work. We need your donations to help us expand our work and conduct research that is responsive to the needs of rural communities and rural workers.

To ensure all that we do and all that we hope to do, please donate  to CIRS.  Help us empower rural residents, educate all sectors of the state about rural California, and improve policies related to rural regions.

Together we can affect real change.

 

Thank You and Happy Holidays

From All of Us,

Gail, Michael, Ildi, Sarah & Jaime

at California Institute for Rural Studies

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Greetings CIRS community:

 

We wanted to share with you some reflections on the legacy of CIRS, the changes we have made over the years to stay the course, the announcement of an addition to our leadership team at CIRS, and a change in its structure.

 

Continuity and Change

 

Much of the work we have done at CIRS has been focused on generating rigorous research and analysis, to help identify equitable solutions to long-standing dilemmas in California farming. Our work has also focused on the needs of diverse communities where farming takes place-from farmworker neighborhoods of the San Joaquin Valley, to urban agricultural outposts in Santa Cruz. While rural communities continue to change, the mission of CIRS remains focused on the persistent challenges of equitable food production and community development. There is still a need for fact-based solutions to address these challenges. The CIRS commitment to scientific inquiry that consciously serves the long-term public interest has not waned.

 

Maintaining and developing our work is no small task, and our success builds ever-deepening connections to networks of people concerned about food, labor, water quality, climate change, rural community health, the environment, and agricultural policy. The continuity of CIRS has been proven through its ability to make change when needed. For example, in 2010 we became a virtual office with the vision of staff dispersed and working on the ground in rural communities. We also recognized that getting the best researchers for the job would often require us to contract with professionals outside our staff, so we have developed a list of affiliated researchers who you can see on our website and who consistently respond and provide excellent services.

 

Now we are embracing a model of shared leadership, both in practice and in title. CIRS has always made a big footprint with few staff, and while this has served us well, it has not allowed us to build the next generation of future leaders. So I asked Michael Courville to work alongside me as Co-Executive Director. I am happy to announce that he started in April. Michael brings a depth of experience in social research and nonprofit management that will complement and strengthen my own work at CIRS, and he brings a real passion for rural issues that have kept him engaged in research and rural community advocacy his entire career. (See Michael's bio, below)

 

Mike Courville

Michael Courville

Why Shared Leadership?

 

“Our mythology refuses to catch up with our reality. And so we cling to the myth of the Lone Ranger, the romantic idea that great things are usually accomplished by a larger-than-life individual working alone. Despite the evidence to the contrary -- including the fact that Michelangelo worked with a group of 16 to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -- we still tend to think of achievement in terms of the Great Man or the Great Woman, instead of the Great Group.”

 

Walter Bennis, The Secret of Great Groups, 1997

 

Sharing leadership helps to institute an executive team with the skills, experiences, resources, and continuity of values that will impel our mission well into the future. We will share the management duties and leadership of the organization, building upon a model of equitable leadership and collaborative decision-making.

 

Our work at CIRS requires keen management; sharp thinking, collaboration, public relations, program oversight, financial planning, and the cultivation of supporters that can help us implement our formula for change. It is a complex and demanding job. No one person, or one leader, is likely to sustain such an eclectic set of demands over time. In fact, a great deal of scholarship and evaluation of nonprofit leadership has pointed to the value and benefit of sharing leadership responsibilities, and a number of high-functioning nonprofits and businesses have adopted shared leadership to draw upon the full strengths of their leadership teams. We believe that this approach allows each director some time and space to reflect on their work, stay grounded in the organizational values, and practice more inclusive leadership throughout the entire organization. Shared leadership reflects our value of social justice, advances the sustainability of CIRS, and aligns with our commitment to promote the public interest: develop CIRS while developing others in the process.

 

We are both thrilled to be working together in this capacity, and look forward to talking with many of you in the months ahead about CIRS and our embrace of shared leadership.

 

Gail Wadsworth                             Michael Courville  

Co-Executive Director                   Co-Executive Director

 


 

 

Michael Courville is an experienced nonprofit director and social researcher. He brings over twenty years of experience to CIRS working on rural issues, sustainable food systems, community development, social policy, and organizational capacity building. He is the founder of Open Mind Consulting and served in a combined role as Director of Community Programs and Development at California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA).  While at CRLA, he led the Fund for Rural Equity in partnership with the Irvine, Hewlett and Packard Foundations. He has also led a number of formal program and learning evaluations for nonprofits, with an emphasis on qualitative methods and research design. He believes that a combination of research, reflective leadership, and civic engagement helps to advance equality and enhance our capacity to build more caring communities.

His past projects have included an investigation of agricultural export production in Latin America and the impact on small producers in Honduras, a process study of family-centered social service interventions in rural areas of Fresno and Riverside Counties, cross-generational leadership in nonprofits, and a formal analysis of farmworker heat stress prevention methods in California. His writing has appeared in Social Policy, the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, and the Management Information Exchange Journal. He was also co-editor and co-author of Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform (Food First Books, 2006). Michael holds graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley in political economy and social welfare. 

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By Robin Urevich

Nearly 300,000 children in California—more than in any other state— are homeless, or live in cars, garages or crammed into single rooms with their entire families. More than half of those children are younger than 10 years old.

Most of them are in Southern California, in the state’s five most populous counties: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. But rural Trinity County has the state’s highest percentage of homeless students, followed by Santa Barbara, Sierra, Lake and San Bernardino.

The data, recently compiled by kidsdata.org and the California Homeless Youth Project, show that the number of homeless kids in California rose between 2011 and 2013 at a time when funding to aid them was tight.

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