CIRS Blog about Rural California

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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Farm Labor

The shortage of farm labor is an issue that California farmers have complained about this summer. Leaders from the California Farm Bureau said, “farmers are telling us that the workers they usually see in the spring just didn't show up this year. We're just not seeing the number of people we (usually) see this time of year."

Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League predicted that labor shortages could reach 80,000 of the peak of 250,000 workers that are employed in California's San Joaquin Valley, which Cunha says is similar to the  "worker shortage" of 1998. Cunha said that many farmworker crews were 10 to 15 percent smaller than the usual 20 to 30 workers.

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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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Washington -- The Senate is poised to take up a new farm bill in the coming weeks that will set the nation's food policy for the next five years and cost nearly $1 trillion over a decade.

But California, the nation's largest farm producer and a strong voice in environmental and health policy, is destined to cede billions of dollars to entrenched commodity interests in the Midwest and South.

The state's fresh fruit and vegetable growers are pleased that the Senate bill preserves hard-fought gains in the last farm bill in 2008, including research for organics and produce, farmers' markets and more fruit and vegetable purchases for school lunches and other federal food programs.

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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.


(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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