CIRS Blog about Rural California
“Soil-profile art is not akin to classic paintings with themes; rather, it resembles abstract art: and if you are used to thinking of soil as dirt, which is customary in our society, you are not keyed to find beauty in it.” Hans Jenny, 1984
2015 has been designated the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. This designation has been embraced in the United States by the Department of Agriculture, the Soil Science Society of America and others. Many readers may be asking, “why?” This article will serve as an introduction to the topic and CIRS will post monthly submissions by experts on the particular value of soils. Our approach will focus on the rural but we will not limit our discussion to rural regions. There are many rich and productive soils being used in urban areas to sustain communities by providing space to grow food. And food production is our concern. Soil is the foundation of civilization and has been the key to human development over the past 13,000 years.
In this series of posts we will discuss soil formation, ecosystem functions of soil, soil loss, the economic value of soil, soils on pasture land, soils in crop production, soil and water, the politics of soil, soil and food security and carbon sequestration in soils. Expect a diverse and well regarded group of writers and look for them here the last Monday of every month.
By Michael Doyle and William Douglas
WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers from California’s San Joaquin Valley are now at the forefront of challenging party orthodoxy on immigration, a dissident position that brings both promise and peril.
On Thursday, doubling down at a party retreat, Rep. Jeff Denham kept the spotlight on sharp disagreements over immigration control. The move came one day after Denham joined fellow Valley Republican David Valadao and some others in the GOP in opposing strict immigration measures pushed by party leaders.
“I think it’s going to be a renewed debate,” Denham said in an interview Thursday. “It will give us an opportunity to come together on some good reforms.”
WASHINGTON — A tangled legal fight over grape patents ended Friday in a victory for the California Table Grape Commission.
Capping years of courtroom battling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the Fresno-based industry group has licensed valid patents for the Scarlet Royal and Autumn King grape varieties.
The unanimous, 13-page decision by the three-judge panel turned on technical questions, including what date the grapes came into public use. The appellate court rejected arguments from challengers that the grapes were already being generally circulated well before the patents were applied for.
“The evidence at trial was sufficient to support the district court’s finding that the patented plant varieties were not in public use prior to the critical date,” Judge William C. Bryson wrote.
Money is at stake, and maybe more.
The rainy season has finally arrived to California, and 2014 will end with one of the wettest months on record. Many of , , and some of the state’s most severely during recent weeks. However, , and needs a lot more rain in order for this historic dry spell to be declared over— according to NASA.
Water is (and always has been) a highly contentious issue in California; one that politicians have struggled to deal with in a way that appropriately balances the needs of urban and rural communities, industry, agriculture, wildlife and the environment. Thanks in large part to the multi-year drought, which intensified throughout 2014, some of California’s toughest water issues will be addressed at long last. State lawmakers and regulators stepped up to the plate by enacting a series of historic reforms including unprecedented (but still modest) fines for wasting water, drought relief packages, and increased enforcement of existing regulations.
Despite one of the most severe droughts in California history, the Coachella Valley's overall consumption of water largely held steady during much of this year.
A review of water agencies' data by The Desert Sun has found that the total amount of groundwater pumped during the first eight months of 2014 was down only about 0.8 percent compared to the same period last year.
The data show the area has made some progress in conserving water during the past five years: It used 5.5 percent less water in 2013 than it did in 2009. But the total amount pumped by all users — including water agencies, golf courses, farms and others — has actually increased since reaching a low in 2010 and has remained about the same since 2011.
From January through August this year, despite the drought, the area's total use of groundwater was up 3.9 percent as compared to 2010.
SB 1522, the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, was signed into law in September 2014. SB 1522 requires employers to give employees at least three sick days a year and will cover 6.5 million private and public sector employees in California beginning July 1, 2015. Employees accrue paid sick days at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, so that a full-time worker employed 40 hours a week would accrue 8.6 days of paid sick leave a year.
Employees who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement accrue three days of paid sick leave after being employed for 90 days to use to care for themselves or a family member such as a child, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild or sibling.
Bent Backs and Cheap Food
I grew a garden this year. I harvested pumpkins, summer squash, peppers, a few tomatoes, green, purple and yellow beans and melons.
My garden is pretty small but just to get these few fruits and vegetables, was back breaking. Keeping out the weeds—that was my least favorite and most time intensive job. My back and legs would be sore from bending over for less than a half a day. It made me think more than I usually do about the labor that goes into “our daily bread.” (I actually can’t even fathom the work that goes into a loaf of bread—from the decisions of which seed to buy and onward to planting, cultivating, harvesting, threshing, winnowing and milling—and that’s just for the flour. Getting to the bread takes even more thought, effort and skill.)
As I pulled out the exhausted vines from my summer garden and dreamed of my winter garden, I suddenly stopped and thought about all of those who work in the food chain to provision our Thanksgiving tables but who may not be feasting on this national day of celebration.
This led to my thinking about the word “chain” as it is used in “food chain.” It can symbolize both the linkages from farm to face and the bondage to poverty many of those who work in this industry live with.
Workers in our food chain are the poorest members of our society. According to The Hands that Feed Us, only 13.5% of workers in the food industry earn a livable wage. “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.”
Photo by David Bacon
Food workers are unable to afford food.
I know the data. CIRS has done two studies on farmworker food insecurity and we are beginning a third. Whenever I state the fact that many farmworkers go without food so that they can pay rent or medical costs, people simply can’t understand this.
IN FRESNO, 45% OF THE FARMWORKERS WE INTERVIEWED WERE FOOD INSECURE
AND IN SALINAS 66%.
The hard work that goes into growing food results in poverty for those who expend their energy in that task. We have created a system that only works if we agree that some of the workers in that system are treated unfairly. We have agreed that, because we want cheap food, there will forever be an underclass of workers who cannot even afford that cheap food we demand.
Usually on Thanksgiving week, CIRS issues a statement about thanking workers in the fields for producing food for our tables when they may not be able to eat these foods themselves. This year, we would like to promote a national concerted effort to turn the focus on food workers all across the food chain.
November 23-29, is the third annual International Food Workers Week, conceived by the Food Chain Workers Alliance. This is a week of events and actions designed to educate consumers about the many challenges facing food system workers from farm to fork—workers who participate in and shape the national food system. The focus of this year’s International Food Worker Week is on the individual Food Worker Heroes whom we depend on for our food every day.
High poverty and food insecurity rates among farm workers and food industry workers underscore the dire need to reevaluate and reform how food chain workers are treated and how they are compensated for their essential services to communities. These problems persist in California’s agricultural communities and across the nation. CIRS has published two studies on farmworker food insecurity in Fresno County and Salinas and is currently working on a third in Yolo County. Ironically, farmworkers growing food for our holiday feasts experience a much higher rate of food insecurity and hunger than the general population. The poverty rate for farm worker families is more than twice the poverty rate of all wage and salary employees combined, and far higher than that of any other occupation. Likewise, restaurant servers have three times the poverty rate and use food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the workforce.
The USDA’s climate change efforts are underway. Climate change is now officially embedded in the Department’s strategic goals, one of which seeks to make forests and working lands “more resilient to climate change." A 2011 Departmental Regulation requires USDA agencies to consider climate change impacts when making long-term planning decisions.
Meanwhile, USDA spending on climate change-related actions has grown in recent years – during FY 2013, USDA says it budgeted approximately $186 million across six of its agencies for climate change related research, outreach, and financial incentives.
USDA and the federal government have come a long way in starting to address the realities of climate change. But until the Department shifts its focus to existing, ‘shovel-ready,' sustainable agriculture solutions to climate change, we will not achieve the level of change that is needed.
Inordinate Focus on Biomass and Biorefineries
Over half of the $186 million in USDA’s FY 2013 climate change dollars were allocated to renewable energy programs —specifically biomass research and development.
According to a recent report, $88 million, or 47% of the USDA’s total climate change budget, went to just two biomass and biorefinery research programs. These programs seek to develop technologies for industrial-scale conversion of agricultural and forestry materials and by-products for fuels and electricity generation.
The inordinate focus of climate change funds on these projects—which will likely benefit only large agri-business interests, and few of them in California—is disappointing. Rather than throwing more millions into technology development, USDA should instead be focusing its efforts on ways to strengthen the resilience of all farmers and ranchers while also achieving on-farm greenhouse gas reductions.
By contrast, financial incentives for farmers to install renewable energy or improve energy efficiencies through the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program amounted to less than $13 million (7 percent).
Below is a keynote speech given by Eric Holt-Giménez at Terra Madre in Oct. 2014:
This year’s Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto is being held during the United Nation’s “Year of Family Farming.” This is a wonderful way to celebrate good, clean, fair food produced by family farmers, peasant farmers, smallholders, fishers and pastoralists from around the world.
This event is more than a celebration of food and family farmers. It’s a celebration of the millennial culture of peasant and smallholder farming and of their importance—not just in the world’s food systems—but in our societies, our economies, our politics and, we hope, in our shared future.
We are here to celebrate all the incredible things that smallholder, family farmers do: They:
- Produce 70 percent of the world’s food on 25 percent of the agricultural land;
- Still maintain the largest in situ reservoir of GMO-free agrobiodiversity on the planet;
- Are the practical knowledge base for agroecology—the people’s science of sustainable agriculture;
- Provide the food for an infinitely diverse, nutritious and delicious cuisine;
- Provide livelihoods for nearly a third of humanity;
- Help cool the planet by capturing carbon in naturally-fertilized soils
- And they do many other things both material and intangible that are too vast and diverse to list.
But we should also celebrate what small, sustainable producers don’t do: They,
- Don’t make record profits while people go hungry (I’ve never seen a farmer let anyone go hungry);
- Don’t spread superweeds and resistant pest populations by using GMOs (though their farms do get contaminated by GMOs and they get sued by Monsanto);
- Don’t contribute 20% of the planet’s GHG or use up 80% of its fresh water;
- Don’t invent or traffic in deadly agricultural poisons (though farmers and farm workers are systematically poisoned by pesticides and herbicides);
- Don’t produce antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria (though, like you and I, they are vulnerable to resistant bacterial infections);
- Don’t speculate with our food in global financial markets (though they suffer both when prices rise and when they drop);
- Don’t speculate with land in global financial markets, either (though they are the largest private investors in agriculture in the global economy);
- Don’t grab large tracts of land from others (though they have been massively displaced by the 86 million hectares of land grabbed in last 7 years by corporations and sovereign wealth funds—that’s an area five times the size of Italy).
- No, peasant and smallholder farmers don’t do any of those things (but I suspect you can guess who does).
Ever since the food crises of 2008 and 2011 that sent over a billion people into the ranks of the hungry—even at a time of record global harvests and record corporate profits—and ever since the global financial crash—suddenly, peasant and family farmers have captured the interest of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, USAID, Bill Gates, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, John Deere, Cargill, ADM, Bunge, Monsanto, Syngenta, WalMart, Tesco, Carrefour and other agrifoods giants. Even Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street financiers are paying special attention to family farmers—or at least to their land.
These are the big planetary players of what some of us call “the corporate food regime” those international institutions and oligopolies that dominate the global market in inputs, seeds, agricultural commodities and food.
In summer 2014, three major farm labor trends stand out: few labor shortages, many labor-saving changes, and segmenting farm labor contractors (FLCs.)
The California Climate and Agriculture Network's California legislative round up relevant to climate change for 2014.
Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (Stockton) authored the Farmland Conservation Strategy Act (AB 1961). The bill would have required counties with significant farmland resources to inventory their agricultural lands and describe their goals/policies to retain farmland and mitigate for its loss. AB 1961 passed through the Assembly Local Government and Agriculture Committees, but was held over in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May 2014, after seeing intense opposition from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA).
Despite this, California is moving forward with addressing farmland conservation and climate change issues. The Strategic Growth Council in partnership with the Resources Agency has proposed draft guidelines for a new agricultural lands conservation program [pdf] aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with sprawl development.
In less than two weeks, Californians will vote on a water bond (Proposition 1), which would allow the state to assume $7.5 billion of debt in order to fund major water projects throughout California. The 2014 water bond represents significant compromise by the state legislature. Assembly Bill 1471—The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014—was overwhelmingly approved in August, passing by a vote of 77 to 2 in the State Assembly and unanimously in the Senate. The legislatively-referred Proposition 1 is almost a third less expensive than the two previous water bond acts which were removed from the ballot in 2010 and 2012.
The 2014 water bond will not fund short-term projects related to the current drought; rather, it creates a funding mechanism for long-term, generally large-scale water projects that are deemed to be publicly beneficial in one or more ways.
WHAT IS A WATER BOND?
A bond is simply a form of debt: governments can sell them to private investors and pay them back with interest (assumed to be 5%). Water bonds have been the main vehicle to fund major water infrastructure in California for decades. The 2014 Water Bond reauthorizes $425 million in unissued bonds, and authorizes $7.12 billion in new general obligation bonds, all to fund water-related programs and projects throughout the state. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the 2014 water bond will require annual debt service payments of $491 million for 30 years for a total of $14.724 billion.
WHAT WILL THE WATER BOND FUND?
The seven categories of projects and programs, from most expensive to least expensive, are:
- Statewide Water System Operational Improvement and Drought Preparedness [$2.7 billion, continuously appropriated]
- Protecting Rivers, Lakes, Streams, Coastal Waters, and Watersheds [$1.495 billion]
- Groundwater Sustainability [$900 million]
- Regional Water Security, Climate and Drought Preparedness [$810 million]
- Water Recycling [$725 million]
- Clean, Safe, and Reliable Drinking Water [$520 million]
- Flood Management [$395 million]
There are several subcategories within each of these seven funding “buckets.” Although the language of the water bond is unspecific about connections to existing proposals like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) or individual dams and reservoirs, the proposed funding amounts reflect official cost estimates for existing proposals. Perhaps most notably, these proposals include raising the Shasta Dam and building two more: Temperance Flat on the Upper San Joaquin, and Sites Reservoir north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Colusa County. Approximately one third of the money authorized by Prop 1 will go toward increased water storage. The environmental organizations that have endorsed Prop 1 regularly point out that the water storage funds will not necessarily be used for new dams, as the most efficient and beneficial proposals (perhaps including increased groundwater storage rather than new dams) should prevail in the competitive funding process.
The BDCP has long been tied to potential funding from voter-approved water bonds. Although Governor Brown insists that the water bond is “BDCP neutral” and points out that Prop 1 specifically prevents the funding of the highly controversial “twin tunnels.” the BDCP proposal relies on funding from the 2014 water bond, and assumes even more funding from a future water bond. A November 2013 BDCP document estimating costs and funding sources states that [t]he BDCP is expected to secure a large portion of the funds allocated to Delta sustainability, as well as smaller portions of funds allocated to conservation and watershed protection. […] For the purposes of the funding program and assuming the water bond passes, the BDCP is expected to receive the conservative estimate of [$1.514 billion]. […] BDCP assumes passage of a second water bond to fully fund the state portion of the Plan. The total BDCP funding assumed for the subsequent water bond is $2.25 billion. The timing of any subsequent bond is unknown […].
WHAT IF THE WATER BOND FAILS?
Without new state funding, a wide range of water-related projects will be delayed, revised, and/or canceled. Federal funding, particularly for local water quality and infrastructure improvement in California, is already limited and is unlikely to increase in the near term given the current atmosphere in the U.S. Congress. The state could still sell previously approved bonds, but there is little doubt that less money will be available for major water projects during the coming years if Proposition 1 is voted down.
California’s specific programs and funds for drought-related assistance will continue regardless of the outcome of the water bond. Additionally, local governments and water districts may continue to fund and implement water projects independently.
WHO SUPPORTS AND OPPOSES THE WATER BOND?
The California Democratic Party, Republican Party, Governor Jerry Brown, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and U.S. Representative Mark Levine have all endorsed Prop 1. Various water authorities and organizations support the measure as well; including the Association of California Water Agencies, League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, California Chamber of Commerce, Western Growers, California Farm Bureau, Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union-Tribune, Palm Springs Desert Sun, and Modesto Bee have all published editorials voicing strong support for the 2014 water bond. Supporters of Proposition 1 emphasize that the long-term benefits of large water projects will outweigh the costs to taxpayers and any potential harm to ecosystems. Read more at http://www.yesonprops1and2.com.
Opponents to Proposition 1 include Restore the Delta, The Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, San Francisco Baykeeper, Food and Water Watch, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, and a long list of other environmental and ecological organizations and wildlife conservation groups. These groups emphasize that dams are environmentally harmful and the current water bond is writhe with thinly-veiled connections to existing dam proposals and the BDCP. Read more at http://www.noonprop1.org.
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Prop. 1 has the support of 58% of likely voters. The California Water Foundation launched a public education campaign on October 15 to increase access to information about Proposition 1. The Water Bond Education Project website can be accessed at www.waterforthelonghaul.com.
The drought dominated farm-related news in summer 2014. California's Lake Oroville was less than 40 percent of capacity and Nevada's Lake Mead was at its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s, less than 1,100 feet above sea level rather than the usual 1,200 feet.
California's State Water Resources Control Board in July 2014 instituted mandatory statewide water restrictions for the first time, allowing local water agencies to fine those who waste water up to $500. The new regulations by the SWRCB, which regulates only urban water use, limit outdoor watering to two days a week, largely prohibit washing sidewalks and driveways, and ban washing cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose.
A University of California at Davis study estimated that 429,000 acres or five percent of California's eight million acres of irrigated land would be fallowed in 2014 due to lack of water, including 10,000 acres that would normally be planted to vegetable and melon crops. About 40 percent of California's irrigated crop land, some 3.2 million acres, are planted to trees and vines, "hardening" the demand for water in the sense that perennial crops must be watered each year.
By Megan Beaman and Kevin Kish
Low-wage workers—regardless of immigration status—shoulder more than their fair share of workplace violations, including unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions, and discrimination and harassment. Immigrant low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable—working under constant fear that if they exercise basic workplace rights, they will suffer retaliation that could result in the separation of their families; loss of homes and property; or return to violence or extreme poverty in their home countries.
This fear of retaliation is based in fact. We as advocates have seen it happen time and time again—and it overwhelmingly leads to workers staying silent, leaving employers without even a slap on the wrist when they break the law.
Scofflaw employers do not and will not stop violating the law if they are not held accountable for their violations to all workers. Any other type of piecemeal enforcement, or lack of enforcement, encourages employers to hire vulnerable undocumented workers, disregard labor laws as basic as the minimum wage, and then fire them when they complain – all to the economic disadvantage of employers who do follow the law.
Earlier this summer, the California Supreme Court in the Salas v. Sierra Chemical Company case agreed, deciding that companies that hire undocumented workers (knowingly or not) do not get a free pass to discriminate against them.