CIRS Blog about Rural California

This article is adapted from a presentation on Food Justice given to the American Planning Association California Chapter meeting in Visalia, CA in 2013.

When addressing food justice, there are several issues farm workers deal with. The two to be discussed here are: access to food and cost of food. When addressing planning issues for rural regions in the context of food justice, we need to review what the barriers are to farm worker justice in the built environment and develop ideas for improvement.


PLANNING ISSUES TO KEEP IN MIND
•    Where do laborers work and where do they live? 
•    How does this affect housing, transportation and food access?
•    How do we balance farmland preservation and affordable housing for workers?
•    What does transit oriented development mean in creation of affordable and accessible transport in rural regions?


FOR THE FARMWORKER POPULATION, WHAT DOES FOOD JUSTICE MEAN?
In 2007, CIRS completed a study in Fresno of farm worker food security. We found that 45% of the workers interviewed in the most productive agricultural county in the US, are food insecure. We conducted a similar study in the Salinas Valley (America’s Salad Bowl) and found a staggering 66% of workers interviewed were food insecure.

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It has been 23 years since workers at a massive farming company in Fresno, Calif., led by labor icon Cesar Chavez, organized and voted to have the United Farm Workers union represent them.

Certifying a union does not guarantee a contract, and in the decades since the UFW came to Gerawan Farming, laborers have picked and sorted peaches and grapes without one. As the years have passed, many of the Gerawan workers who worked to unionize have moved on.

It has been so long that, just as a contract finally appeared to be forthcoming this year, some workers clamored to strip the UFW of its right to represent Gerawan workers. While union officials contend workers were prodded by management, the workers who repudiate the UFW ask where the union has been all these years.

"We got surprised because we never knew the union" represented us, said Silvia Lopez, a 15-year employee who has organized the UFW decertification campaign. "So many years working here, and then they show up and say they have a union there."

The situation at Gerawan is raising questions about whether California's landmark agricultural labor law, a signature achievement of Gov. Jerry Brown's first tenure, is working as intended to expedite contract disputes.

 

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"Her skin became red and itchy. Her eyes burned. Her hair started falling out. Her family had the same symptoms ... [others] were dying, " California Watch reports. This sounds like a tragic nightmare, but it was a reality for Sonia Lopez, a farmworker who lives in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley area.

She and thousands of other farmworkers in this area have been unknowingly drinking nitrate-contaminated water, which has led to these severe symptoms.

These and other farmworkers have been neglected and allowed to suffer on their own. The state government needs to intervene and offer them some relief.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California is responsible for about 15 percent of the United States' fresh produce.

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San Joaquin Valley

The eight-county San Joaquin Valley had four million residents in 2012, a labor force of 1.8 million, and an unemployment rate of 15 percent. There are 62 cities in the 25,000-square mile San Joaquin Valley.

Most San Joaquin Valley counties and cities have economic development agencies to speed the creation of middle-class jobs that pay at least $15 an hour or $30,000 a year. Several types of industries are targeted for "good jobs," including food processing, logistics, manufacturing and renewable energy. Living costs and wages are lower in the San Joaquin Valley than in coastal California, but many San Joaquin Valley workers lack the education needed to perform jobs offering higher wages, which deters some of those looking to relocate from moving their operations to the San Joaquin Valley.

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Every year at Thanksgiving I am reminded of the people who grow and harvest our food. I am constantly immersed in research on the food system and the people who work in it but thinking about the food on my table and how it got there is especially poignant at feast time. In California we are blessed with abundant year round locally grown nuts, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables. The farmers and hired workers who labor to produce this food that feeds our nation do so under challenging conditions.

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By Marty Graham

The 14-acre certified organic farm at the south edge of the San Pasqual Academy is surrounded by commercial farms, orange and grape trees on three sides.

It’s a rich metaphor for the academy itself, an organic local effort that’s meant to anchor its community to healthy food, one that’s grown jobs and centered the way the students live.

And it has been more than a farm. According to San Diego organic farmer Scott Murray, who helped launch the farm, it is a hands on part of what the academy tries to teach its residents, teenagers in the county foster care system who have run out of housing options and are within a few years of aging out of the system.

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PALM DESERT —The Coachella Valley Water District voted to scrap its at-large election system on Tuesday after a complain­t by a group of voters that argued the system violated the California Voting Rights Act and was unfair to Latin­o residents.

The water agency’s five-member board voted unanimously to make the change, joining a growing list of cities and school districts across California that have similarly altered how elections are held in response to legal challenges.

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How many times have we heard it?

"Organic food is great for those who can afford it, but not an option for most of us."

This simplistic adage is applied to most proposals that question the cheap, processed food that is the cornerstone of this country's epidemic of diet-related diseases. Arguing in favor of organic, a movable feast of foodies tells us that we simply have to learn to pay more if we want to eat local, organic, sustainably- produced food. In the United States that leaves at least 49 million food insecure people (and much of the middle class) out of luck.

Sorry, no healthy food for you.

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Below is a speech given by Val Dolcini, the State Executive Director of California for the USDA Farm Service Agency, to the Woodland Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 24, 2013. The event was the 46th Annual Farm-City Harvest Awards Luncheon at the Hotel Woodland.

Thank you for that kind introduction.  I kind of feel like the kid returning to school after a long summer vacation. I’m sure you all remember the first assignment of the year? Writing an essay on what I did on my summer vacation. In my case, it’s what I did during the government shutdown!

Well, I certainly stayed busy. The garage has never been cleaner, the dog has never been walked more, and there’s not a single blade of grass out of place in my yard. But at the end of the day, I’m certainly glad to be back at work!

When the chamber invited me to address you today, I went back and forth over what I should discuss. Coming from my vantage point, there are certainly many worthy topics to choose from. I could talk about the overall importance of California agriculture to the national and international economy … or the value of the world class ag research being done at UC Davis everyday and its impact on global agriculture.  We could discuss the cutting edge innovations pioneered by Yolo County’s many seed and bio sciences companies and their positive impact on our regional economy … or perhaps I could talk about the increasing importance of local and regional food systems, farmers markets, community supported agriculture operations, and other farm to fork direct marketing operations in this region.

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COACHELLA — Responding to a complaint by a group of Latino voters, the Coachella Valley Water District board will study whether to change its election system.

The water district’s board took up the issue Tuesday after civil rights lawyers representing several voters notified the agency in a letter that they believe the at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and “dilutes the ability of Latino constituents to elect candidates of their choice.”

MORE: At-large Coachella Valley Water District elections violate state law, group says

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THERMAL — Fed up with the lack of water and sewer service in their rural communities, a group of Latino voters is demanding that the Coachella Valley Water District change its election system to give them greater influence on an elected board that doesn’t have a single Latino member.

Civil rights lawyers Robert Rubin and Megan Beaman, who represent the group of several voters, told the water board’s president in a letter on Monday that they believe the agency’s at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and “dilutes the ability of Latino constituents to elect candidates of their choice.”

The letter, the first step toward a possible civil rights lawsuit, highlights wide disparities between income and influence in the predominantly Latino eastern portion of the Coachella Valley and the predominantly white and wealthier west valley.

(VIDEO: East valley wants CVWD services and access)

 

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The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently released a new report outlining recommendations for agriculture’s ongoing adaptation to climate change. The report was based in large part on the input of a Climate Change Consortium comprised of stakeholders from the California agriculture community, including the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN).

In a related and broader effort, the California Natural Resources Agency is preparing to release an update to their 2009 Climate Adaptation Strategy, which covers several sectors including agriculture. They are conducting a series of public workshops to gain public input on the updates; a schedule can be found here.

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By Lynn Graebner

Counties all over California are cheering the state’s decision to expand Medi-Cal to more than 1.4 million low-income adults – and bracing for the $1.3 billion the state expects to take away from county health services over the next four years.

Counties should see savings on January 1, 2014, when Medi-Cal expands to include childless adults under the age of 65 with incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level or $15,856 for an individual annually. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs for new enrollees from 2014-2016 and 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

“On paper, you’d think there would be savings,” said David Luchini, Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health. But the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research predicted in a Sept. 12, 2012 report that three to four million Californians would remain uninsured in 2019. Counties say it is way too early to count on savings from the ACA and to chop away at county health care safety nets.

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The University of California magazine California Agriculture recently published a report that measured soil carbon levels in three perennial cropping systems across Northern California. This study, which was funded by the USDA, brings California one step closer to realizing programs for agriculture that could incentivize sustainable soil management practices and provide financial benefits to farmers.

With a focus on the lesser-understood “high-value specialty perennial crops,” such as walnuts, almonds and wine grapes, researchers in the study sought to develop baseline soil carbon estimates for a variety of agricultural land types and management systems. They gathered data by implementing long-term monitoring networks in perennial crop soils, using a research methodology that could serve as a model for future carbon storage studies.

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By Leslie Griffy

Agricultural businesses and the insurance companies that serve them are scrambling to prepare for the changes that health care reform will bring over the next few years.

Many smaller farmers struggle with the details of the Affordable Care Act, such as how to count seasonal farmworkers to determine who they must insure. Employers of more than 50 will face fines if they don’t insure eligible workers.

Meanwhile, three of California’s agricultural-focused health insurance providers required waivers from ACA rules to continue operation. Those waivers expire next year.

“There is a lot of confusion,” said Norm Groot, president of Monterey County Farm Bureau. “I think everyone is really put off with the amount of complexity, particularly for agriculture.”

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Farmers’ congressional allies are pressuring the Obama administration to ease up on some immigration work-site enforcement, underscoring a conflict at the heart of a broad-based immigration bill.

This week, spurred by complaints from farmers in California’s Central Valley, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly urged the Department of Homeland Security to “redirect” immigration enforcement efforts toward “serious violent crimes” instead of “legitimate agricultural employers and their workers.”

“The reality is that the majority of farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign-born and unauthorized, which is well-known,” Feinstein wrote Tuesday, adding that she’s “afraid that this aggressive worksite enforcement strategy will deprive the agricultural sector of most of its workforce.”

Worksite monitoring has definitely heated up.

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As you walk into the Casa del Migrante (a migrant shelter) in the historic center of Guatemala City, you will see a sign to the right that reads: “To migrate is not a crime. Crime is that which causes migration.” One way to read this sign is that the factors that provoke migration are so severe they could be considered criminal.

MigrationBoza1

 1997 calendar in the Casa del Migrante that continues to have relevance in 2013

People migrate to be with their families, to provide for their families, and to escape violence. In essence, people migrate to have their human rights met.

Is it a crime that children in Guatemala grow up without their parents because their parents live in the United States and can’t afford to reunite with them? Is it a crime that parents of U.S. citizens are deported to Guatemala and may never see their children again? Is it a crime that Guatemalan children are obliged to join criminal gangs and must flee their towns to escape death? Or, is it a crime to emigrate under these circumstances? Increasingly, the United States is prosecuting would-be migrants found along the border, and placing them in private prisons. Is it a crime to profit from other people’s desperation?

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By Leah Bartos

With all Americans required to enroll in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, will the existing safety net clinics become a thing of the past?

For generations, grassroots-style community clinics have worked to fill the coverage gap. Their mandate: to treat any patient who walks in the door, regardless of ability to pay.

But by January of next year, all those patients should have health insurance. In theory.

Despite the requirement  — and penalty fee for noncompliance — a projected 3 to 4 million Californians will remain uninsured through 2019, according to a UC Berkeley Labor Center study. Of the remaining uninsured, the report projects that nearly 40 percent still won’t be able to afford coverage, and that three-fourths will be U.S. citizens or lawfully present immigrants. More than half will include households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

For many, California’s safety net clinics will continue to be their best — or only — option for care.

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Cover crops don’t look like much. To the untrained eye, these vast fields of green grasses, clovers, and legumes might be reminiscent of a long-neglected lawn gone to seed. For acres. On the contrary, these in-between crops are anything but the product of neglect.  And they’re growing in popularity as a relatively easy way for farmers raising commodity crops at an industrial scale to show some care for the environment. In fact, the rapid growth in their use can be seen as one of the more hopeful things to come along in the world of big commodity corn and soy farming in a long time.

An important report released last month by the USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program found that the 750 Midwestern farmers surveyed planted 350 percent more cover crops in 2012 than they had just four years earlier. And SARE expects even more of these crops will be put in the ground this fall.

Why do these numbers matter? As Rob Myers, one of the University of Missouri scientists behind the SARE survey, sees it: “From a sustainability standpoint, one of the best things a farmer can do is plant cover crops.”

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The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) released earlier this month a unique report on the effects of climate change that the state is experiencing now.  The report comes as a recent public opinion poll finds a record number of Californians want immediate state action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many climate science reports project into the future what we may experience as greenhouse gases accumulate and heat up our planet.  Such studies are critical to our understanding of climate change, but can make its impacts feel far and distant from our day-to-day.

But the most recent CalEPA report documents current climate change impacts that Californians are living with now. And the news has implications for all of us and especially for farmers and ranchers who are among the first to feel the effects of a changing climate.

Wildfires are increasing in intensity and frequency. Since 1950, annual acreage burned in wildfires statewide has been increasing.  The state’s three largest fire years occurred in the last ten years.

 

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