CIRS Blog about Rural California

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A high school senior with farmworker roots may have found a way to keep workers safe when the weather is scorching hot.

 

Faith Florez, 17, has created an app that alerts workers when temperatures reach 95 degrees. It also gives tips for keeping cool and serves as a direct link to first responders in case of emergency.

 

Currently in the crowd-funding stage, the app, called Calor, has nearly reached its $60,000 goal. It also has begun to attract social media attention.

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The California State Supreme Court Nov. 27 ruled against Gerawan Farming’s attempts to dismantle the state’s process for settling employment contract disputes.

 

Gerawan, one of the largest tree fruit farmers in the nation and based in Fresno County, has been locked in a battle with the United Farm Workers for four years over a union agreement with its workers.

 

The dispute has lead to numerous lawsuits, a failed attempt to kick the union out and several findings of unfair labor practices by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

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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.

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.

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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.

Problem

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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By Guadalupe Sandoval

It’s 4:30 a.m. and I wake up to my little sister’s nudging. She’s used to waking up at this time and tenderly asks if I can put her hair into two ponytails today. “Sure.” I respond with a smile. I wake up the rest of my siblings and get them ready for school. With two younger brothers and two youngers sisters, it can be a hectic morning filled with surprises. 

My parents are probably hard at work at this time by now. 

My parents work in the fields. My mother harvests crops such as grapes, green beans, and onions. My father is handicapped, so he tries to look for small tasks here and there that can provide our family with some much needed additional income.

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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.

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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.
ABC Room
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 

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By Paulina Rojas

Editor’s note: Alma Ochoa is a Purépecha musician based out of the Eastern Coachella Valley. The Purépecha are a group of indigenous people originally from the state of Michoacan in Mexico. Their presence in the Eastern Coachella Valley dates back to around the 1970s, when few Purépecha spoke Spanish. Over the years the community struggled with both linguistic and cultural isolation. Ochoa, who sings in her native language, is one of only a few female Purépecha singers. She recently performed at The Hue Festival in Mecca, Calif. Coachella Uninc. program associate and reporter, Paulina Rojas sat down with Ochoa to find out how she helps preserve Purépecha culture. 

Q: How long have you been producing Purépecha music? 

A: About three or four years ago, I got inspired to start recording my own music. About two years ago, I recorded my first music video and a few months ago I released it on YouTube.

Q: What was the initial feedback like?

A: I wasn’t expecting so many people to like it. I was surprised, but I am happy that so many people are enjoying it.

Q: What inspired you sing in Purépecha instead of Spanish or English?

A: Most of the people that sing pirekuas (traditional music from Michoacan) are men and I wanted to change that … so that women might feel encouraged to make this music as well. With my music I hope to inspire young women to start doing the same. I also want preserve my culture in some way. Little by little we are losing parts of it due to the fact that it is being mixed with Spanish. I want to keep our culture alive so future generations can have the knowledge of what Purépecha culture is.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 

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Changing Demographics

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.

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By Claudia Boyd-Barrett

The future is hot.

As climate change heats up the globe, Californians can expect to face longer and more extreme heat waves like the ones sweeping through parts of the state this summer, experts warn.

Seniors, who are more prone to heat stress than younger adults, will be among those most affected by rising temperatures. With the over-65 population projected to expand rapidly in the coming decades, the accompanying hotter weather could place an enormous burden on emergency and health care infrastructure.

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Noé Montes has photographed and interviewed people in the Eastern Coachella Valley for two and a half years as part of a photo documentary project  (which can be found at https://coachellafarmworkers.com). Recently, he answered the Rural California Report's questions about what the work. 

 

Rural California Report: What is the Coachella Valley Farm Workers project and how long have you been working on it?

 

Noé Montes: It is a photo documentary project about the community of farmworkers in the Eastern Coachella Valley. It focuses on the individuals that are working in various capacities to address the many social justice issues and issues of inequality that exist in the community. Most of the people photographed and interviewed have been farmworkers themselves or are the children of farmworkers. It is comprised of photography, writing and audio interviews. I started working on this in January of 2015.

 

Castulo Estrada copy

   Photo of Castulo Estrada by Noé Montes

 

RCR: What inspired you to pick the Coachella Valley? Why did you want to photograph farmworkers and other community members there?

 

NM: One of the main reasons I wanted to photograph and interview farmworkers is that I myself come from family of farmworkers and I know that there is a lot of value on the community. There is a lot to learn from about how to develop our communities in a positive way. A lot of the previous work done about farmworkers focuses on the problems in the community and often farmworkers are depicted very simply, either as examples of inequality or to illustrate some social justice issue. I wanted to add to the conversation and our understanding of this community and see what we can all learn from them.

I picked the Coachella Valley because it is a good representative example of a rural farmworker community in California. It is a microcosm that contains all the elements present in many rural American communities. Logistically it also worked in that it is close enough to where I live (Los Angeles) that I was able to travel there regularly and often.

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By Hannah Guzik

If Washington, D.C. legislators approve cuts to government health care, California’s rural counties are among those who will suffer most, according to a new report.

Those who live in the state’s rural counties—which are largely in Northern California—are more likely than urban residents to be enrolled in the low-income health program called Medi-Cal, according to the report released June 6th from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and North Carolina Rural Health Research Program.

Medi-Cal covers 28 percent of adults and 54 percent of children in California’s rural counties, researchers found. Meanwhile, in the state’s metro areas, 21 percent of adults and 44 percent of children are enrolled in the health program.

Before the federal Affordable Care Act and state reforms opened the gates of Medi-Cal to most low-income adults and children, a quarter of the state’s rural residents under age 65 were uninsured. But by mid-2015, that uninsured rate had fallen to 11 percent.

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By Hannah Guzik

Amidst anxiety about potential federal funding cuts to health programs, California has one bright spot. The state’s new tobacco tax is expected to generate about $1.2 billion next fiscal year for the state’s low-income health program.

Now, California legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown are battling over how to spend the money.

Immigrant rights’ advocates are asking the state to use a portion of the Proposition 56 funding to expand health coverage to undocumented young adults.

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By Lisa Renner

For Steve, a senior in rural Stanislaus County, problem-solving therapy helped him conquer mild depression.

“The first step in improving is finding the problems,” said the 63-year-old Oakdale resident, who requested that his last name not be used because he doesn’t want to be stigmatized for having depression. “Once you find and define them, then you can work on how to overcome them.”

Steve is one of about 80 seniors who have participated in a study to determine the effectiveness of problem-solving therapy in reducing depression in rural seniors who live in the Central California counties of Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Calaveras.

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By Lisa Renner 

Richmond resident Jervice Youngblood is grateful that she receives government-subsidized child care for her 2-year-old daughter while she works as a transit driver.

“I do not have too many family members I can depend on to watch my daughter,” she said. Without the subsidy, “I wouldn’t be able to go to work and make money and it would be hard to pay my bills.”

Youngblood is among the few qualifying low-income parents who use child-care subsidies for children 2 and younger. According to a report released in March by policy group Children Nowonly 9 percent of eligible infants and toddlers have state-subsidized child care.

Eligibility for these subsidies is based on state income eligibility guidelines, set at 70 percent of the state median income — or $46,896 for a family of four, said Stacy Lee, managing director of early childhood project integration for Children Now.

Those who work in the child-care field say the chief reasons the subsidies are underused are a severe shortage of child-care spots for that age group, insufficient hours offered by day care providers and reluctance on the part of parents to leave children that young in day care.

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By Renata Brillinger

 

Earlier this month, on behalf of the California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN), I attended two unique and thought-provoking international conferences in Paris, France. The following is a report back on the two events.

Overview

The by-invitation conferences were loosely coordinated and overlapping, and both were the first of their kind. They were attended by approximately 350 people from at least 40 countries and every continent. Several CalCAN partners attended, as did Jenny Lester-Moffitt, Deputy Secretary with CDFA.

The Future of Food in a Changing World was organized by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a collaboration of philanthropic foundations. The first conference brought together 250 experts and leaders from the local to the global to gain deeper insights into the connections between climate change and food systems, to craft visions of the food systems we need today and tomorrow, and to chart potential pathways to get there.

The second conference was titled Sequestering Carbon in Soil: Addressing the Climate Threat and was organized by Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions, philanthropic consultants. I served as a conference planning committee member along with others from Canada, Germany, France, Ghana and California. We met for six months leading up to the conference to provide input on the conference objectives, structure, content, speakers and participants.

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