CIRS Blog about Rural California
Consumers in the United States are especially fortunate to have access to fresh food at all times of the year. In our supermarket produce aisles it’s hard to tell what season it is when fresh fruits and vegetables are available all the time. We can be thankful for this abundance and especially in California where we have a year-round growing season. But hidden in the abundance of produce on the shelves is a darker story of food chain workers who struggle to eat the foods they grow and package.
Food Equity along the Chain
Equity is an essential characteristic of a healthy food system. Access to healthy, fresh, sustainably grown food is a basic human right. Ironically, this right is often denied to workers who are directly engaged (frontline workers) along the food chain.
The Food Chain Workers Alliance recently updated their report “The Hands that Feed Us” from 2012 with the new report, “No Piece of the Pie.” The report is full of sobering data. The food industry, employing 21.5 million people is the single largest employment sector in the US. And, despite steady growth of the sector, wages for workers have only risen twenty cents an hour in the last four years. As a result, food workers are increasingly turning to food assistance programs, like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Access Program also known as Food Stamps) to help feed themselves and their families. Median wages for front line food workers are $16,000 while industry CEOs have a salary of $120,000.
- Despite employment growth, the food chain pays the lowest hourly median wage to frontline workers compared to workers in all other industries.
- The annual median wage for food chain workers is $16,000 and the hourly median wage is $10, well below the median wages across all industries of $36,468 and $17.53.
- Food chain workers rely on public assistance and are more food insecure than other workers. Thirteen percent of all food workers, nearly 2.8 million workers, relied on SNAP to feed their household in 2016.
- This was 2.2 times the rate of all other industries, a much higher rate than in 2010 when food workers had to use food stamps at 1.8 times the rate of all other industries.
- Food insecurity in households supported by a food chain worker rose to 4.6 million during the Great Recession ("No Piece of the Pie," Executive Summary, Pages 1-2)
California is offering free wireless devices that allow farmers to accept money from CalFresh recipients at farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs. The grant-funded program covers the $1000-value POS (point of sale) device for scanning CalFresh cards, and provides complimentary training for using the device. Farm marketing and promotion are built in as well: CalFresh customers have access to lists of farms and farmers markets that participate in the program, and the Foodies Project, and likely others, will promote individual farm participants online.
Farms should apply now to take advantage of this ultimate win-win program for the rest of the season. Food and food justice advocates, health workers, CSA members, and anyone with a favorite farm should encourage their local producers to sign up.
is the federally-funded food assistance program for California—the state version of the federal (SNAP), the nation’s largest source of nutrition assistance. This major entitlement program is fully funded by the federal government, which is required to make funds available to all eligible applicants, i.e. individuals and families who qualify based on income level. are higher than ever, with nearly 50 million program participants in 2013, and a total annual cost of nearly $80 billion. State and county governments cover a portion of the administrative costs to run the program.
California had farm sales of $44.7 billion in 2012, led by $6.6 billion Fresno county, $6.2 billion in Kern county, and $6.2 billion in Tulare county.
The leading commodities were milk, worth $6.9 billion in 2012, grapes worth $4.4 billion, almonds worth $4.3 billion, greenhouse and nursery commodities worth $3.5 billion, cattle worth $3.3 billion, strawberries worth $1.9 billion, lettuce worth $1.4 billion, walnuts worth $1.3 billion, and hay and tomatoes each worth $1.2 billion.
Lettuce growers thin fields to ensure full heads of lettuce. Blue River Technology has developed a so-called Lettuce Bot that kills unwanted plants with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer.
The Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association, which represents 3,000 growers who produce 90 percent of US raisins, is negotiating a 2013 price with raisin processors. Growers produced 311,000 tons of raisins in 2012 and received $1,900 a ton, up from $1,700 a ton in 2010. The 2013 raisin crop is expected to be larger than in 2012, which has prompted the RBA to propose a lower grower price of $1,700 if the 2013 crop is more than 350,000 tons.
For anyone who follows what goes on (or what doesn’t) in Washington, it’s a well-known fact that significant pressure on members to act is a major ingredient for the success of any legislation, regardless of merits. Now, with the number of legislative days quickly waning for the 112th Congress, agriculture leaders are facing internal and external pressures that are driving their recent efforts to finalize a bill, which also gives more shape to the potential fates of a 2012 farm bill.
First, agriculture leaders understand the need to act. They have heard the increasingly concerned calls to action from many constituents in the food and agriculture system, and share those concerns. After the 2008 farm bill was allowed to expire on October 1, without current authority, agriculture programs are set to revert back to permanent law which includes a portfolio of outdated and impractical commodity pricing and subsidy programs. The fact that the farm bill was allowed to expire was never because any of the agriculture leaders thought this was in itself a good idea, but rather that it could lead to significant and necessary pressure on congress to act and achieve a bicameral compromise before any real consequences are realized. That time is quickly approaching. With the expired dairy provisions, consumers would start to see a spike in milk prices in the new year. This is important. While only a fraction of legislators include agriculture as a major priority for their legislative decisions, every legislator cares about the price for a gallon of milk just as they care about the prices their constituents are paying for a gallon of gas.
In the United States, and increasingly around the world, it’s easy for consumers to find high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, including sugar-sweetened drinks, fast foods and highly processed snack foods — they’re abundant, easily accessible and perceived as more affordable than healthier foods.
The Farm Bill renewed every five years or so, plays a significant role in shaping this food environment by influencing what foods get produced, how they are produced, who has access to them and, in some cases, how foods are marketed.
The majority of dollars in the bill primarily support the production of agricultural commodities (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton) and food programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], formerly called Food Stamps) for low-income Americans.