California Institute for Rural Studies

California Institute for Rural Studies

Author: Edith Jessup

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The poverty of the Central Valley of California and the abundance of the region’s agriculture is a conundrum. Even though there has been a decrease in community-based access to healthy food, and a rise in chronic disease in the heartland of the state of California, and the nation, we are beginning to see people and agriculture coming together for the good of both.

The exciting change arising in the Central Valley, honoring our agricultural roots and reinventing our regional economy, has been led by the smart growth investments of Smart Valley Places, with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation. These buds of change are blossoming into a new triple-bottom-line Central Valley economy that honors the environment, equity and economics. Environmentalists, supporters of the organic movement, and advocates for social justice, are not the only ones talking the regional food system talk anymore. The Fresno Business Council, the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley and regional cities are choosing smart growth and healthy communities and realizing that the Central Valley, a place with the capacity to feed the nation, can also feed our region. Institutions (such as schools, hospitals and city and county governments) are looking at their ability to access healthier, affordable local food, and the ability for local purchasing to drive their economies home.

This new food regionalism has been a long-term process. Organizations like the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP), the eight County Public Health Departments in the Central Valley, and the statewide food movement organized through Roots of Change, have spearheaded bringing healthy people and healthy farms to the forefront of intentional community policy and systemic changes. Fresno will be the host to the next Urban-Rural Roundtable, resulting in a food policy council. This will ensure that the values are in place to focus on regional food. The Fresno Food Systems Alliance has been working across the food system for over a year, and has committed to a Farm to School effort in Fresno County this year. 

CCROPP will coordinate with innovative rural school systems to expand the new Central California cooperative of rural school districts that buy local food in Tulare County (Earlimart and Exeter). Farmers markets and produce stands are targeting low-income food deserts, creating the ordinances and zoning options that allow local small farmers to vend today’s fresh produce, in communities where people do not have access to healthy food, and struggle to make a living.

None of this is magic, but times have changed. Demand for healthy fresh food is up, and somehow a tipping point has been reached in an area that before could not see itself as a market for its own goods and produce.

This revised self-image of the Central Valley of California as a valuable region in the state has changed the participation of collaborations grounded in “Valley ways,” and now the region is taking its place in forging a new state future. Because most of the growth increase in California is projected to be where the food is grown, some rethinking of the food system is natural, and potentially the Central Valley can lead the state in assuring that prime farmland does not become parking lots, that our urban places grow up instead of out, and that investment in our rural communities can assure that the environmental degradation of past agricultural practices will be reversed. 

In this scenario, the Central Valley becomes the place where the food commons, a regionalization of food and farming, will be piloted with the support of the business world. A new vision for our values and ability to grow healthy food here is emerging, and based in the communities that have historically been left behind by change instigated in urban centers.

In April, at a Fresno City Council meeting, the proposals for the city’s future general plan (that included forward thinking transit corridors, infill preferences, and green building rewards) were presented to the city. Over 87 community residents (of 300 in attendance), with interpretations in Spanish and Hmong, spoke to their preference for smart growth and a plan to revitalize the city center. Then, on April 19, the Fresno City Council voted 5-2 to approve this version for infill, not sprawl, leading the region in smart growth planning, and denying expansion of the city’s sphere of influence.

Cities are passing Healthy Eating Active Living Resolutions. The state is committed to Health in All Policies, and traditional community-based organizations are looking to whole food systems that will create health and access to good food for all, through policy changes and changes in the built environment.

Our grassroots community leaders are asking their schools to implement healthier meals, sourced more locally. They are demanding access to clean, free water for students all day, and requesting safe neighborhoods in which residents can be active.

CCROPP, in eight counties, graduated another 80 new leaders in April (from a year-long leadership curriculum) and the Smart Valley Places’ community leadership institutes are bringing in new members, to 14 separate communities, who care about where their food comes from. These residents also seek ways for their communities to be walkable, bikeable, and have more access to open space and parks. These new leaders from low-income communities of color want community gardens, local produce in their corner stores and the ability to be entrepreneurs in the new food system.

I cannot put my finger on exactly when the economic driver of our region (Agriculture with a Capital A) began to notice that despite a record production of exports, the people here, harvesting that bounty, were hungry. Or, when our elected leadership began to realize that their constituents were consumers, and could be part of an economic stimulus. But for this to occur residents needed access to, and the ability to purchase, local produce. If the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps, and is called CalFresh in California) were fully utilized by eligible families to buy local food, and if Central Valley institutions could purchase from local farmers rather than purchase local produce that had been shipped away, (then shipped back again and processed) the local economy could benefit. I also do not know when local businesses realized that the Central Valley is predicted to be the highest growth area of the state in the next 20 years, and that there are jobs to be created in value-added foods. But this realization is beginning to emerge.

I would not say that things have to get worse before they get better. I would say though, while we are waiting for future general plans, or an infusion of much needed resources from the federal and state government, we are recognizing what we have, and how we can use what we have, to better the health of our communities. The remaining question is: How can we take existing pilot projects and successful models to scale? Here, where healthy food is grown for the nation, and our residents live in poverty, we want to create a place where access to healthy food is the norm for all our neighbors, especially those who are the experts in growing our food.

The reversal of the current fact of hunger and ill health in the land of plenty is what I am watching for this year.

Author: Lindsey Lusher Shute

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The National Young Farmer’s Coalition recently released a report showing that the nation’s young and beginning farmers face tremendous barriers in starting a farming career. Building a Future With Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help Them Succeed surveyed 1,000 farmers from across the United States and found that access to capital, to land, and to health insurance present the largest obstacles for beginners. Farmers rated farm apprenticeships, local partnerships and community supported agriculture (CSA) as the most valuable programs to help beginners.

“If Congress wants to keep America farming, then they must address the barriers that young people face in getting started,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, Director of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition. “We need credit opportunities for beginning and diversified farmers, land policies that keep farms affordable for full-time growers and funding for conservation programs.”

Some of the findings in the report include:

  • 78 percent of farmers ranked “lack of capital” as a top challenge for beginners, with another 40 percent ranking “access to credit” as the biggest challenge.
  • 68 percent of farmers ranked land access as the biggest challenge faced by beginners.
  • 70 percent of farmers under 30 rented land, as compared to 37 percent of farmers over 30.
  • 74 percent of farmers ranked apprenticeships as among the most valuable programs for beginners.
  • 55 percent of farmers ranked local partnerships as one of the most valuable programs, and 49 percent ranked community supported agriculture (CSA) as a top program.
  • Lack of capital was found to be the biggest challenge for beginners. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) offers loans to beginning farmers, current loan rules often disqualify even experienced farmers with good credit and small loans are hard to come by. For real estate transactions, FSA loans take too long to process — up to thirty days to qualify and up to a year to receive funds – and the $300,000 loan limit does not go far in many real estate markets.  

Land access was the second biggest concern. Farmers under the age of 30 were significantly more likely to rent land (70 percent) than those over 30 (37 percent). Over the last decade, farm real estate values and rents doubled making farm ownership next to impossible for many beginners.

“In Nebraska the main barrier to new and beginning farmers is access to land. Unless an aspiring farmer inherits land, it is very difficult to have access to it,” said William A. Powers, farmer and Executive Director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.

The National Young Farmers’ Coalition recommends action at the local, state and federal level to help beginning farmers. At the local level, communities can create market opportunities for farmers by starting CSA groups and shopping at farmers markets, as well as protecting existing farmland through zoning and the purchase of development rights. States can preserve farmland and even offer tax credits for farmers that sell their land to beginners. At the federal level, Congress can include the “Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Opportunity Act” in the next Farm Bill, which supports many of the specific recommendations in the report.

Photo: Regina Fitzsimmons

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is calling for hundreds of thousands of new farmers nationwide. Over the past century, the total number of American farmers has declined – from over six million in 1910 to just over two million today. For each farmer under 35 years old there are now six over the age of 65 and the average age of farmers is 57 years old. The USDA expects that one-quarter (500,000) of all farmers will retire in the next twenty years.

The ‘good food’ movement is inspiring many young people to farm, both from farming and non-farming backgrounds. These farmers have the potential to offset the numbers of retiring farmers and keep family farms active, but land tenure and lack of capital are getting in the way.

“Young farmers are poised to redefine the American landscape along with our food scene”, says Severine von Tscharner Fleming, Director of The Greenhorns, “We are strong of will, and determined to make farming sustainable in this country.”

“With the release of reports such as this one, the agrarian revival, this influx of young and beginning farmers, gains status – we are not just a few people spread across the country, we are a well organized, politically active group that can be documented,” says Tierney Creech of the Washington State Young Farmers Coalition. “We know who our senators and representatives are, we vote, and our friends and families vote. We need USDA and government support to succeed and we are going to let the nation know that.

Author: Gail Wadsworth

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There is a contradiction of US interests opposing child labor in the international context while allowing agricultural exceptionalism to undermine child labor protections here in the US. Agriculture is the largest employer of children worldwide.  According to the UNFAO, “Poverty and child labor interact in a vicious cycle and are mutually reinforcing. In rural areas, there is need to fight poverty and hunger in order to fight child labor.”

In November of 2011, Nestle was publicly criticized for purchasing cocoa from farms using child labor in the harvest.  In fact, there was international outcry over this discovery. The US Government issued a report in which it found that more than 1.8 million children worked in cocoa farming in West Africa.   The report stated that more than half of the children living in agricultural households worked in agriculture.  It goes on to refer to child labor in agriculture as a human rights issue that needs to be addressed.  In fact, it said outright that sustainable agricultural practices cannot include child labor and that children involved in cocoa production need to be protected. Green America organized a rally and national campaign against child labor in chocolate production. Petitions were mounted in the US to boycott Hershey, Mars and Nestle to encourage them to stop using child labor on cocoa farms.

In November of 2011, Human Rights Watch published a report on child labor in US agriculture exposing the fact that children as young as seven are working on farms, often 10 or more hours per day at the peak of harvest.  This same report noted that agriculture is the most deadly industry open to children.

International fair trade organizations all agree that child labor is not acceptable in the production of our food.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has been working for many years to end child labor in agriculture around the world.  The United States and Somalia are the only countries in the world who have not ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A recent study showed that the economic downturn and global conflicts have led to an upturn in the use of child labor.  As poverty increases internationally, so does the tendency to use child labor.

In November 2011 during his campaign for president, Newt Gingrich stated that poor children should clean their schools for money and then went on to explain that current child labor laws are “truly stupid.” The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees immediately wrote and circulated a letter of protest explaining why the US enacted labor laws outlawing child labor.  It states that allowing children to work denies them the chance at a real education and allows employers to exploit children.  It goes on to explain that in the past children were often injured or killed on the job.  There was universal outcry over Gingrich’s suggestion.

Agriculture: The Exception to the Rule?

Interestingly, concurrent with these incidents and reports there was a debate in America over children working agriculture. Agriculture is excluded from child labor laws in the US. Currently, children as young as 10 can legally be employed as farm workers.  Many who are younger than this are working.  The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs estimates close to 500,000 children work in American farm fields. Lack of enforcement of current laws means there are likely even more kids in the fields than estimated, especially young children who accompany their parents to work. These are not all children of farmers.

Photo from Media Voices for Children

Just the facts, ma’am

There are various levels of employment for children on farms.  Any farmer may hire a worker who is 16 or older for any work – hazardous or not.  Children aged 14-15 can be hired for any non-hazardous job outside of school hours, 12-13 year olds can work in non-hazardous jobs with written parental consent outside of school hours and 10-11 year olds can work if the Department of Labor has granted a waiver to the farm owner.  These 10 year olds can only be hired as hand harvesters for no more than eight weeks a year. And finally, the children of farmers can work at any age and any job for their parents.

Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor has introduced legislation to change child labor laws regarding farm and ranch work. Many in the agricultural community believe these changes would seriously impact farmers, ranchers and rural communities. The three primary agents responsible for deaths and injuries to children on the farm are: tractors, farm machinery, and livestock. The proposed regulations would prohibit anyone under the age of 16 from operating power equipment like tractors and augers, from working in grain elevators and from handling pesticides. The goal of the changes is to prevent serious or fatal accidents involving young people. 

There are exemptions to the regulations for children who work on farms owned by their parents. Parents will continue to have the freedom to work children as much or little as they want without interference from the Department of Labor. But the changes would exclude them from working on neighbor’s or other relative’s farms or ranches. The changes to current law also exclude children from working with livestock, but this does not include the showing of cattle, hogs and sheep at county fairs or at other 4-H competitions.

Solis suggested amending these laws based on the facts below.

  •  An estimated 300 children die each year in farming accidents
  • Farm children are twice as likely to die from an accident than their urban counterparts
  •  An estimated 30,000 children under 20 years of age are injured each year in farming accidents
  • If children who visit or work on non-family farms are added the total is estimated to be close to 100,000 injuries
  •  Nearly 950 children suffer some type of permanent disability because of farm accidents annually
  •  Children under the age of 16 comprise 20% of all farm fatalities

Since the introduction of these proposed changes to labor law, the airwaves and ether have been full of articles about how harmful to agriculture (and to children) these changes will be.  The American Farm Bureau Foundation (AFBF), and members of farm bureaus across the country have spoken out against changes to agricultural child labor laws.  Included in the objectors are the National Pork Producers Council, the American Sheep Industry Association and the National Turkey Federation.  AFBF believes that the Department of Labor is overstepping their authority.  In comments submitted to the DOL on the proposed changes, AFBF urged the department to “maintain the integrity of the family farm exemption approved by Congress.”

Thirty senators signed on to a letter put forward by AFBF asking Secretary Solis to abandon the proposed rules changing on-farm labor by children.  Their stance is that limiting the ability of farmers and ranchers to hire children will threaten our ability to train future farmers.  

The question that arises is: if a farm is unable to survive without child labor (which is in many cases free), is that a good enough reason for circumventing international labor standards?  Do we want to subsidize farms by continuing laws that imperil children?

Tainted History of the Agricultural Exclusion

The National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) enacted during Roosevelt’s New Deal included all workers with the exception of agricultural and domestic workers.  Some authors have concluded that this was done in response to pressure from southern legislators who wanted to maintain control over a non-white, submissive workforce. The National Agricultural Law Center has several legal arguments available online that explain the history of the NRLA.  The arguments state that there was a desire among southern agricultural interests to preserve an exploited, economically deprived non-white labor force to the benefit of growers who were essentially still working within the model of southern plantation agriculture.  Compromises with southern congressmen resulted in the exclusions in labor law for agriculture, including the exclusion of child labor law enforcement. The color of the work force has changed but the effects of the exclusion from labor laws have not.  They have perpetuated a population of poor, exploited workers.

The lack of attention to this issue domestically underscores how farm labor issues are obscured more because of an exploited, economically deprived immigrant workforce. By proposing changes to US labor law, the Department of Labor is signaling a change in perspective.  In the US, the agrarian ideal has perpetuated a myth that has led to the exclusion of agriculture from fair labor laws, including the use of children in the fields.  The myth exalts life on the farm including the virtues of farm life and the rural work ethic.  Farmers are viewed as a unique and enviable, independent-minded group who value family and community while dealing with daily hardships to provide us all with delicious fresh foods.  This idyllic pastoral image obscures the reality of rural poverty and labor abuses. The changes proposed by Secretary Solis take the first step to shining a light on the rural reality by asking us all: do we want to support an industry reliant on the labor of children? 

Author: Philip Martin

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The information in this post is from Rural Migration News, a publication on rural issues at University of California, Davis. Rural Migration News summarizes and analyzes the most important migration-related issues affecting immigrant farm workers in California and the United States during the preceding quarter.  This post focuses on poverty, water, labor shortages, health and current state laws.


Fresno County had the state’s highest farm sales and the state’s highest poverty rate in 2010.  Fresno County had farm sales of $5.9 billion, and almost 27 percent of Fresno County’s 935,000 residents had incomes below the poverty line.  Over 36 percent of Fresno County’s school-aged children were poor, also the highest rate in the state.

Neighboring Tulare County had the second-highest farm sales, $4.9 billion, and the second-highest poverty rate, 25 percent.

About 16 percent of California residents had incomes below the poverty line, which was $22,113 for a family of four in 2010, and 21 percent of California’s school-aged children were poor.

High farm sales and high poverty rates often go together.  Agriculture offers many seasonal jobs, so that even if farm workers earn more than the state’s minimum wage of $8 an hour, many do not have sufficient earnings to lift their families above the poverty line.  Economic development efforts aim to preserve the San Joaquin Valley’s economic engine, agriculture, while diversifying the economy to create more high-paying year-round jobs.

The Congressional Research Service in 2005 found per capita income in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley was lower than in the 68-county Central Appalachia region.  Both regions are anchored by one natural-resource based industry, agriculture and mining.

The San Joaquin Valley continues to attract migrants from Mexico despite double-digit unemployment rates.  With conditions even worse in rural Mexico, many rural Mexicans are drawn to the San Joaquin Valley for opportunity for themselves and their children.  Some observers fear that the central San Joaquin Valley will eventually resemble Appalachia, with young people leaving for education and not returning.  Residents who remain may not be attractive to job-creating investors because they lack education or are retired.

Children of farm workers who do not move away for education or to join the military sometimes bolster the ranks of gangs.  The state mounted an 18-month operation, Operation Garlic Press, that resulted in over 100 arrests in October 2011 of suspected Nuestra Familia gang affiliates in farming towns such as Dos Palos and Los Banos.

Napa grape growers who do not provide housing for their workers pay a $10 per acre fee to support affordable housing for their farm workers; growers must re-approve the levy in June 2012.  The county is conducting a $110,000 study of farm worker housing needs to be conducted by Bay Area Economics and California Human Development Corporation.

California attracts people from other countries, but fewer from other states.  In 1950, over 53 percent of California’s almost 11 million residents were born somewhere else in the US and moved to California; in 2010, less than 20 percent of over 37 million California residents moved to California from other states.  In 2010, almost 55 percent of California residents were born in California (another 28 percent are immigrants).  With fewer educated newcomers moving from other states, educating the children born in California becomes more important for economic success. 


In 2003, San Diego County signed a 75-year agreement to buy Colorado River water from the Imperial Irrigation District.  The IID water is transferred to San Diego via the Colorado Aqueduct owned by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The IID-San Diego water transfer agreement has come under pressure because of declining run off from Imperial Valley farms into the Salton Sea, the 360-square mile lake created in 1905 by flooding and levee breaks that has been sustained by run off from Imperial Valley farms.  The Salton Sea has 50,000 parts of salt per million parts of water, more salt than the Pacific Ocean, which has 35,000 ppm.

There are 480,000 acres of farm land in the Imperial Valley, and about 5,800 have been fallowed to make water available to San Diego.  The amount of fallowed farm land is projected to rise to 30,000 acres as water transfers increase, which could decrease run off and increase salinity in the Salton Sea.

Imperial Valley farmers get about 20 percent of the Colorado River’s water under the “first in time, first in right” principle of water use. 

California in 2003 offered to help fund restoration of the Salton Sea to finalize the 2003 IID-San Diego agreement, but budget deficits mean the state has not provided restoration funds.  Some farmers, who fear that they will eventually have to fallow more land or make payments to maintain the Salton Sea, sued to end the IID-San Diego agreement.  However, the California’s 3rd Appellate District Court upheld the agreement in December 2011.

Labor Shortages

Some California farmers complained of labor shortages in fall 2011.  Dan Fiorio said he found it hard to find reliable workers to harvest bell peppers paying $8.50 an hour; California’s minimum wage is $8.  Fiorio said that the total cost of picking a bucket of banana peppers rose from $1.25 in 2010 to $1.75 in 2011 because he had to use more expensive labor contractors to provide picking crews.

Grower Joe Aiello of Uesugi Farms said: “We can’t get American people to do these jobs.  They won’t do it.  They can stay home and draw unemployment, and they’re just not gonna do this type of work.”


Cal/OSHA announced several fines for violating heat-safety regulations in January 2012. Labor contractor C. Clunn Consulting of Holtville was fined $74,125 because a 47-year old farm worker died of heat-related illness July 7, 2011, and C. Clunn did not provide training on how to recognize and deal with heat-related illness.  

Cal/OSHA finedAgPrime Corporation of Los Banos $61,425 for not treating a 16-year old picking bell peppers for heat-related stress on July 6, 2011.

Methyl iodide, a fumigant used to sterilize soil before planting strawberries and other crops, was approved for use in California after methyl bromide was banned for destroying the protective ozone layer around the earth.  In January 2012, a suit filed by farm worker advocates against the state is scheduled to go to trial.  The plaintiffs argue that the state did not adequately consider the dangers of methyl iodide to farm workers.

Western Growers Assurance Trust opened the Cedars Health and Wellness Center in August 2010 to serve workers insured by its employer-members in the Salinas area.  About 1,800 of the 3,000 grower members of the Western Growers Association provide health insurance for some or all of their employees.

Driscoll’s Berry in 2009 opened three low-cost clinics that serve 18,000 seasonal farm workers and their family members in Watsonville, Santa Maria and Oxnard.  Healthstat provides care in these facilities at the subsidized rate of $6 a week per family.


AB 243, signed into law in October 2011, requires farm labor contractors to disclose on employee pay statements the name and address of all farm employers where the worker was employed during the payroll period.  AB 469 requires employers, at the time of hire, to provide a notice with employer contact details, the rate of pay and the regular payday.

AB 1236 is a new law that prohibits California and its cities and counties from requiring employers to participate in E-Verify unless they are required to participate by federal law.  Federal contractors, for example, are required to participate in E-Verify.

SB 459 is a new law that increases penalties on employers who willfully misclassify employees as independent contractors from $15,000 to $25,000 per violation effective January 1, 2012.  According to supporters, employers avoid payroll tax, health care benefits, and other compensation and benefits when they hire workers as contractors, saving at least 30 percent on labor costs.

Author: Jonathan London

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California’s San Joaquin Valley is a place of contradictions. It has some of the most productive and wealth-generating agricultural lands on the planet, but many of the people who live in this region live in poverty, confront environmental contamination, and face serious health risks. Despite efforts to alleviate these problems, the region’s poor air and water quality, concentrated poverty, and uneven access to educational and other opportunities continue to afflict the Valley. Additionally, sustainability of the Valley’s economy is increasingly dependent on the health and well-being of the all of the region’s residents across its diverse rural and urban communities.

“Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity,” a report produced by researchers from the U.C. Davis Center for Regional Change, is a new, comprehensive approach to addressing problems in the San Joaquin Valley. Over a three-year investigation, researchers identified and analyzed the places and populations that are being adversely affected by elevated and extreme environmental hazards and social vulnerabilities.

The Research Innovations

  • The report provides an innovative way to understanding the region’s challenges: Researchers created the Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability Assessment (CEVA) – a tool that measures the correlation of environmental risk and social vulnerability for individuals living in the San Joaquin Valley. To assess a community’s environmental risks, the study compiled data on the prevalence of toxic facilities, hazardous waste, refineries, pesticides, and health risks due to air toxicity. To assess a community’s social vulnerability, the study accumulated data on the poverty and English language fluency rates as well as demographics on age and ethnicity. The report also documents uneven distribution of poor health, including low birth weight, childhood asthma hospitalization, and premature death.
  • CEVA can be used to improve environmental protection and public health policies: The report outlines comprehensive and innovative environmental protection and public health policies for the San Joaquin Valley and beyond, through the use of CEVA.
  • CEVA empowers leaders and community members: CEVA allows policy makers, agency leaders and communities to create innovative strategies to address these problems for the good of the region and the state.

The Findings

  • Over 31% (1.2 million) of San Joaquin Valley residents face extreme cumulative environmental and social vulnerability. An additional 20% of San Joaquin Valley residents face elevated cumulative environmental and social vulnerability.
  • More environmental hazards exist than are publically documented: Residents identified many more environmental hazards than are documented or addressed by the state and federal regulatory inventories.
  • Not all vulnerability is equal: The combination of environmental risk and social vulnerability is not randomly distributed across the region, but rather concentrated within particular communities.
  • More focused attention is required by regulators and policy makers: These areas of high vulnerability deserve special attention from regulators and policy makers to protect the health and well-being of area residents.

The Path Forward

The report provides policy makers, agencies and community leaders with a comprehensive, innovative, approach to developing environmental protection and public health policies that ensure the health and well-being of San Joaquin Valley residents and beyond. The report recommends the following steps:

  • Integrate CEVA into existing policy and planning frameworks. The state of California should create an annual Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability Report Card overseen by a coordinating body.
  • Move from analysis to coordinated action. California should designate Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability Action Zones (CEVAZ) that require enhanced protection, increased interagency coordination and investment.
  • Improve Community Participation. Public agencies should engage with affected communities in ways that both builds and incorporate community knowledge.
  • Enhance resources for continued improvements in CEVA. California governments should invest in continued improvement of the data sources relevant to CEVA, such as bio-monitoring, water quality, and longitudinal analyses.

Author: Lisa Kresge

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The Salinas Valley, in Monterey County, with dark, rich soils highlighted by contrasting rows of greens invokes a picture perfect image of California agriculture. It has been nicknamed “the salad bowl of the United States,” and grows an abundance of fresh greens and fruit. Despite this seeming abundance, the Salinas Valley is not a stranger to poverty and hunger. 

To gain insight into the current level of food security among farmworkers in the Salinas Valley, the California Institute for Rural Studies, in collaboration with the Agriculture and Land Based Training Association (ALBA) and the Monterey County Health Department, conducted the Salinas Valley Food Security Assessment and Planning Study. The study also assessed the feasibility of increasing food access through community gardens and other related activities.

Agricultural workers are the backbone of California’s $37 billion-dollar agricultural industry and are responsible for producing many of the fresh fruits and vegetables that feed our nation and the rest of the world. Nonetheless, many agricultural workers are food insecure and suffer from hunger and poor diet and nutrition.

Food insecurity is a major public health concern in the United States. At some point during 2008, 14.6% of American households suffered from food insecurity. This translates to 17 million households, or 32.4 million adults and 16.7 million children. The leading risk factors associated with food insecurity include: earning a below-poverty income level, living in a Hispanic or African-American household, and residing in households run by single mothers.

This project’s objective was to identify strategies to increase food security among agricultural workers in the Salinas Valley (Monterey County). We began by administering a survey to farmworkers to assess food security status, fruit and vegetable consumption, interest in raising their own food, preferred locations for raising food, and interest in nutrition education.

Additionally, we interviewed key informants to determine the feasibility of different approaches to improving food security among agricultural workers, including developing community gardens, providing access to land on farms where they can grow food for personal consumption, establishing gardens in apartment complexes, and providing free or low-cost inputs. The following report outlines the survey results and findings from the key informants along with recommendations for the future, including next steps for implementation.


Farmworker survey

  • The participating Salinas Valley farmworkers reported high levels of food insecurity. Only 34% of farmworkers participating in this study were food secure.
  • Sixty-six (66%) percent of respondents were food insecure. Fifty-three percent (53%) of participants had low food security while 13% had very low food security.
  • About one-third (39%) of respondents had used food stamps in the past year, which is slightly higher than the percent of the food stamp eligible population who receive food stamps in Monterey County.
  • Of the survey respondents with children younger than five years of age, 78% participated in the WIC program.
  • Four in ten (42%) of farmworkers surveyed reported that their employer “always” or “almost always” allowed them to take fruits and/or vegetables from the farm for personal or family consumption.
  • However, 38% of respondents were “rarely” or “never” allowed to bring home fruits or vegetables from the farm for personal or family consumption.
  • Thirty-seven percent (37%) of respondents indicated that they already grow fruits and/or vegetables for personal or family consumption, while only 7% reported raising chickens or other small animals for the same purpose.
  • Seventy-one percent (71%) of respondents not currently producing their own food were interested in growing fruits and/or vegetables for personal or family consumption.
  • Nearly half (47%) of farmworkers not currently raising chickens or other small animals for personal or family consumption were interested in doing so.
  • Fifty-five percent (55%) expressed interest in growing fruits and/or vegetables to sell and 45% indicated that they were interested in preparing food to sell.
  • Survey findings indicated that participating farmworkers ate an average of 4.1 servings of vegetables per day, with a median of 3.8 servings.
  • Seventy-one percent (71%) of survey participants ate less than five servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day,
  • One-third (33%) of the respondents consume less than three servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day, with 16% of the respondents consuming less than two servings per day.
  • A very high percentage (93%) of participants would like to eat more fruits and vegetables than they currently eat and the vast majority (96%) of farmworkers participating in this study expressed a strong preference for eating natural or organic foods, if they were more accessible.
  • Farmworkers demonstrated a strong interest in a wide array of nutrition education topics including balanced portion sizes, nutrition for children, how to eat/prepare healthy food, types and quantities of healthy beverages, how to prepare healthy food inexpensively, how to eat to prevent and control diseases, and health benefits of specific foods.

Key Informant Interviews:

  • Key informants, including stakeholders and public officials, were overwhelmingly supportive of increasing access to food for farmworkers by setting up gardens (whether it be a community, school, or apartment garden). Several indicated interest in collaborating on the implementation of this idea. Stakeholders identified several possibilities for establishing or expanding gardens.
  • Because we were only able to speak to a few growers, we are unable indicate the feasibility of the potential for growers to provide land for farmworkers to raise food for personal consumption. However, several concerns were presented in the few interviews conducted including limited amount of land not already in production, risk to organic certification, impact of seeds or weed pressure on adjacent crops, issues with liability, added expenses due to water, tools, and equipment.
  • Employee gardens may be one potential strategy for growers to help with improving farmworker food security. While this approach may only provide access to farmworkers who work on specific farms offering this benefit, this strategy does provide a potential avenue to increase access to food and increase employee satisfaction at the same time.
  • Key informants also pointed out the importance of including farmworkers in the planning and implementation of the project, locating the gardens in a convenient place for gardeners, including the larger community (elderly, children, non-farmworkers, students, experts, etc.).
  • Finally, key informants emphasized the additional benefits that community gardens can provide the community at large including crime reduction, neighborhood beautification through cleaning up and functionally using dumping grounds or vacant lots, community building, leadership development, and youth engagement.

Author: Alannah Kull

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Although most of us have probably participated in agritourism at some point in our lives, not everyone may be familiar with the meaning of term agritourism.  One source defines agritourism as “a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors, and that generates supplemental income for the owner.”  Agritourism encompasses a diverse range of activities such as farm tours, festivals that celebrate regional crops, farm stands, school group field trips, on-farm weddings, farm stay bed and breakfasts, vineyard wine tastings, picking fruit at a u-pick operation, culinary events, and farm classes etc. In addition, agritourism can include attractions that have little or nothing to do with food production but that offer entertainment such as hay rides, petting zoos, pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms, and concerts.

Some regions feature “farm trails,” where agritourism opportunities are made available to visitors to help to contextualize and promote the diversity of events available in a region.  One example is The El Dorado County Farm Trail that offers a published guide to the region’s wineries and on-farm recreational activities.

Agritourism can benefit the region in which the operations take place in a variety ways.  Agritoursim can help supplement on-farm revenues and profitability through charging fees for entertainment and allowing visitors to buy products while visiting the farm.  Agritourism also serves as a mechanism for bridging the rural urban gap by exposing both rural and urban residence to agriculture and food production, introducing non-farmers to various aspects of farming.  Participation in agritourism helps to increase the demand for locally produced foods and farmers are using agritourism to leverage direct marketing.  Farm stands allow farmers to sell food grown on the farm as well as value added food products made with ingredients produced on or near the farm, thus enhancing the production and consumption of locally produced foods.  In addition, hosting on-farm events ables farmers to extend their earnings across seasons by capitalizing on their most valuable asset: their land.  It is estimated that approximately 2.5 percent of farms nationwide receive income from agritourism operations, totaling about $955 million and there exists immeasurable value in the opportunities that arise from famers engaging with the public to promote an awareness, appreciation and understanding of agriculture.  With rising production costs farmers are increasingly in need of additional sources of income to be economically viable and it is important to consider agritourism tradeoffs when assessing the benefits that agritourism can bring to a region.

There are a variety of challenges associated with agritourism.  Establishing these operations can interfere with time allotted for farming and initially there can be a low financial return.  Farmers aren’t always equipped with the necessary skill set for maintaining a successful operation.  In addition to managing the farm, an agritourism business entails personnel management, accounting, marketing, retailing, accommodations, entertainment, etc.  Farmers can also be faced with a regulatory environment that might not be conducive to developing effective operations.

Table Provided by Sacramento Area Council of Governments Rural Urban Connections Strategy

There are barriers that have emerged around agritourism regarding the policies and regulations that affect the rules for zoning ordinances and managing a legal operation.  Agritourism operations could potentially be governed by several of California’s 29 statewide codes, and operators need to understand current regulations covering land use, public health and safety, environmental health, direct-marketing and general business.  This is a complex issue because many regulations are considered to be positive developments and there exists an unclear regulatory process and frustration with regulations that aren’t feasible for small farmers.  The lack of support and knowledge sharing around agritourism regulations can make starting an agritourism enterprise an intimidating endeavor and compliance with regulations is often viewed as cost prohibitive and excessive for seasonal operations and small-scale farmers.

Agritourism opportunities hold the potential to expand the broader tourism industry.  Farm associations, other rural advocacy organizations, and state and county governments are making these connections across the country.  Increasing connections to the rural enhances the economic viability of both the farm and the surrounding region.  There is a market demand for local food and agritourism exposes participants to local food products.  One survey showed that 89% of Americans would like to see food stores sell more fruits and vegetables that come from local farms and 69 % would pay slightly more for such produce.  According to the National Agricultural Law Center, twenty-three states in the United States have enacted statutes that address agritourism.  The center has formed a compilation to provide the researcher with easy and free access to a state’s regulatory procedures covering issues such as liability protections for agritourism operators, tax credits and zoning requirements. 

Agritourism holds opportunities for rural California communities and economies by encouraging sustainable local businesses and by exposing the public to agriculture. There is also a need for a central source of regulatory information and more flexible policies for individuals interested in developing agritourism enterprise.  The economics of agritourism remains an area that requires further research for on-farm profitability statistics on agritourism can be difficult to gather given that these activities are rarely tracked separately and some farmers are reluctant to admit revenues generated from agritourism.  Some counties have a robust agritourism sector and these counties have organizations and associations that promote agritourism.  For example, Yolo County has a website called A Taste of Yolo that directs visitors to many agritourism operations and also highlights local restaurants and other food purveyors that feature local produce.  The Central Coast Agtourism Council is another resource for agritourism promotion in California’s central coast.  Using the council’s website and publications, visitors to the Central Coast can find agriculture-based adventures.  California farmers, ranchers or vintners wishing to establish operations have a variety of resources available to them.  These include UC Davis’ Small Farm Center, agricultural marketing departments located within county agricultural agencies, The USDA NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Services), county economic development offices, and county Chamber of Commerce departments.  The UC Small Farm Program provides resources for agritourism operators and hosts California’s directory of agritourism operations.

Author: Glenda Humiston

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Definitions of “rural” are not standardized – some programs use definitions such as “communities under 50,000 that are rural in nature,” “areas of less than 2,500 not in census places,” or “Nonmetro County.” In addition to the confusing nature of the definitions, they generally do not relate well with realities of western states and mountainous topography – greatly impacting the eligibility of communities and individuals to access programs. The negative impact of these definitions is especially true for rural communities that have been experiencing inordinately high in-migration from other areas; growth not necessarily due to increased economic opportunity within the region, but rather from lack of affordable housing for low- and middle-income people in nearby areas.

Much of this is due to the historical practice of relying on counties as the jurisdiction for USDA’s field-based agencies.  While this has generally worked well in the east and Midwest, it does not make any sense for the western U.S. for the simple reason that our counties are extremely large. For example, San Bernardino County is larger than nine U.S. statesand is one of the THIRTY California counties that are larger than the state of Rhode Island.

This is not only a problem with current USDA definitions but can be found throughout the federal government in any program utilizing the definition of “Metropolitan” counties administered by the White House Office of Management and Budget.  As you can see from the map below, the vast majority of California is considered to be metropolitan – including the entire San Joaquin Valley and Shasta County! However, according to USDA calculations urbanized areas and urban clusters comprise only 5.1% of California’s total land mass2.

During a series of Town Hall Forums held throughout California in 2010, local elected officials, service providers and other stakeholders repeatedly raised this issue.  When asked for solutions, key recommendations included

  • Utilize census block group data instead of county level data to determine areas of persistent poverty and calculations for all programs.

Several USDA programs maintain set asides for persistent poverty counties3.  As can be seen in the map below, California has many areas suffering from persistent poverty – yet not one single county in California is considered to have persistent poverty by USDA!   This contrasts sharply with states that have much smaller counties and are able to qualify those areas (easily seen in the previous map).  Calculating persistent poverty – as well as eligibility for other programs and allocations – by census tract would improve targeting of finite resources to areas of most need.

Map provided by California State University, Chico, Center for Economic Development
  • Enable Rural Development programs to support essential community facilities in areas considered non-rural but that serve rural populations.

Hospitals, health clinics, food banks, and social facilities are often located in non-rural areas.  The rural definition should be “flexible” to support at least the portion of essential facilities that serves rural people and communities.

  • Ensure viability of agricultural support industries regardless of location.  

Although agricultural production occurs in rural areas, California’s agriculture is highly diverse and many types of processing and marketing facilities are required in non-rural areas to prepare and deliver products to various domestic and international markets. Program rules need to allow maximum flexibility in ability to support enterprises and facilities that support agriculture in non-rural areas.

  • Permanently change the grant calculation of Median Household Income (MHI).

Percentage of grant eligibility for several Rural Development programs is partially dependent on the MHI of the community as a percentage of the state non-metropolitan median household income. Using this criterion in California eliminates most of the rural population from the calculation of the state’s non-metropolitan median household income and includes only the most remote areas that tend to have lower incomes.

  • Funds should be allocated to states based on the percent of the population that lives in eligible communities.

Fifty percent of the weight allocating funds under Water and Environmental Program and Communities Facilities Program is based on rural population. This population data comes from census definitions of rural (less than 2,500 population). However program eligibilities under the actual statutes are much higher. Aligning allocations with actual population that is eligible would allow for a much more equitable allocation of funds.

  • Programs targeting small and underserved farms must clearly define the target, taking into account the many categories of small and underserved farmers not addressed in current ERS definitions.

The USDA definition of Limited Resource Farmer compares a farmer or rancher’s income to the average within a county so if you are poor in a poor county you are not qualified for priority funding.

  •  Consider terrain and topography where distance is included in the definition.

The Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and Coastal Mountains are all major land forms and the California coastline is 840 miles long.  The distances between two points may seem close if a lineal (as the crow flies) measurement is used; however, actual travel between two points can be much greater distance and quite onerous.  California’s land features and road routes must be considered in any definition for rural.

These issues are all part of the ongoing debate as the 2012 Farm Bill is being negotiated.  It is important that all citizens become more aware of these challenges and the consequences of any policy enacted.

1 Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island

Urban land is based on population density and was delimited using the United States Census definitions of urbanized areas and urban clusters.

USDA’s Economic Research Service defines counties as being persistently poor if 20 percent or more of their populations were living in poverty over the last 30 years (measured by the 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses). While this map only shows data available electronically, it is estimated that additions of the 1980 and 2010 Census data will have little effect on areas shown.

Author: Philip Martin

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How would US fresh fruit and vegetable producers respond to higher labor costs?  Case studies suggest that there would be labor-saving mechanization in commodities such as raisin grapes and higher prices in strawberries.  Weather is the single most important factor affecting fresh fruit and vegetable trade, but labor and transportation costs also shape trade patterns.  Affluence created a demand for fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, and new seeds and better storage enabled producers to supply commodities year round.  Rising wages can prompt labor-saving mechanization instead of rising imports.  Vegetables are far more mechanized than fruits— about 75 percent of US vegetable and melon tonnage is machine harvested, but less than half of the fruit tonnage.  There was significant interest in mechanization in the 1960s and 1970s, when the end of the Bracero program and the rise of unions led to rapid increases in farm wages.

Publicly supported labor-saving mechanization, perhaps best symbolized by the development of the mechanical tomato harvester, waned in the 1980s as federal, state and industry contributions to university-based labor-saving researchers ended, immigration increased, and real farm wages fell.  USDA Secretary Bob Bergland said, “I will not put federal money into any project that reduces the need for farm labor,” and California Rural Legal Assistance filed a lawsuit against the University of California alleging that federal research funds were used unlawfully to develop the tomato harvester and displace small farmers and farm workers. 

Federal funding for mechanical harvesting research increased with the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which included “efforts to improve production efficiency, productivity, and profitability over the long term (including specialty crop policy and marketing) and new innovations and technology, including improved mechanization and technologies that delay or inhibit ripening.”  

The federal minimum wage was $5.15 an hour between September 1, 1997 and July 24, 2007, when it rose to $5.85 an hour.  In 2008 minimum wage rose again to $6.55 and then to $7.25 in 2009.  The federal minimum wage fell by 30 percent in real terms before the 2007 increases.  The California minimum wage was also $5.15 an hour on September 1, 1997, and rose to $5.75 in 1998, $6.25 in 2001, $6.75 in 2002, $7.50 in 2007, and $8 an hour in 2008.

The following case studies illustrate possible adjustment scenarios to higher wages…

Harvesting raisins has traditionally been the single most labor-intensive activity in US agriculture, requiring 45,000 to 50,000 workers for six to eight weeks.  Traditionally workers cut bunches of grapes and place them on paper trays to dry into raisins; however the rising minimum wage and concerns regarding a steady supply of harvest workers encouraged many growers to mechanize.  By some estimates, up to half of California’s raisin grapes were picked with at least some mechanization in 2010.  This trend towards mechanization has reduced the peak raisin harvest work force to perhaps 25,000 and is expected to continue.  Wages, the availability of labor and the prices that growers get paid are factors that impact mechanization.  

There are labor-saving alternatives for raisin growers, but they require investments that may not pay off for several years.  Growers who plant earlier-ripening varieties can cut the canes on which grapes grow and allow grapes to begin drying into raisins while on the vine, the so-called Dried-on-the-Vine (DOV) method of harvesting.  DOV harvesting shifts the demand for labor from the September harvest to the winter pruning season, since canes must be trained to grow in a manner that makes it easy for a wine grape harvesting machine to knock them off the vine.  Machines reduce raisin harvesting costs dramatically, but require an upfront investment in early ripening grape varieties, careful pruning, and harvest machinery. 

The major factors that slow the mechanization in raisins include: (1) the structure of the industry, including a large number of older growers with small acreages; (2) stable or declining US raisin consumption and rising imports and (3) the significant investments required for replanting and machines.

Strawberries are a success story for growers, with production and prices climbing for California growers who produce almost 90 percent of US strawberries.  California growers hope to sell their berries fresh to consumers, but send them for processing into frozen berries when there are more berries than can be sold fresh.  Imports of fresh strawberries are less than 10 percent of US fresh strawberry consumption, but imports of frozen strawberries account for over 60 percent of US frozen strawberry consumption and are rising. 

Strawberry fields are picked by hand multiple times, often every three days.  An average 1,000 hours of harvest labor is required to harvest a typical acre of strawberries, representing half of the $19,000 cost of production.  The best strawberry pickers earn $10 to $12 an hour during the peak season, but most earn less.  In surveys of farm employers, strawberry workers have the lowest average hourly earnings, an average $9.13 an hour in 2007, lower than the average $9.31 for employees of labor contractors and the $10.27 average of all crop workers.  Reasons for low strawberry wages may include the long season, the ability of families to work together and, because the work involves bending rather than climbing trees, more older workers and women, which increases the pool of workers available to harvest berries, holding down wages.  

Many southern California strawberry growers use a Harvest Pro (a slow-moving conveyor belt onto which pickers can place trays of harvested berries) mechanical aid to increase worker productivity.  The belt reduces the need for pickers to carry full trays to the end of the row and reduces the slips and falls that sometimes occur when piece rate workers rush to deliver full trays of berries to waiting trucks so that they can return to picking.  There were 250 of the $115,000 mechanical aids in operation in 2008, most in Ventura county, where they were used to harvest at least half of the area’s strawberries on relatively flat land.  Far fewer Harvest Pros are used in the Salinas region. 

Strawberries are fragile and perishable, complicating mechanization.  Most mechanization efforts involve a two-machine process, with the first machine scouting the field making a map of the ripe fruit, and a second machine using this information to harvest the fruit.  Because of falling computing costs, this two-machine strategy is more economical than a once-over harvester that would lower harvesting costs and yields of useable fruit.

US lettuce consumption and production is growing, but the major types of lettuce have changed.  Head or iceberg lettuce is now just 60 percent of the US crop, reflecting the rise of leaf, romaine, and other lettuces.  The US produces lettuce year-round.  Very little lettuce is imported or exported.  

A handful of large producers dominate the production of lettuce.  They produce lettuce year-round, normally operating in Salinas seven months a year, around Yuma, Arizona for four months, and a month in the San Joaquin Valley in spring and fall.  Large lettuce producers have a history of innovation.  They developed vacuum tubes that cool heads of lettuce quickly and bagged salads, or cut-up lettuce in refrigerated bags. 

Most head lettuce is harvested and packed in the field.  Crews of about 40 workers walk behind slow-moving conveyor belts, cut heads of lettuce and place them on the belt, where they are conveyed to packers who wrap them with film and pack them into cartons.  The first harvest typically accounts for about 75 percent of the yield; most fields are picked twice. 

Even though an increasing share of iceberg lettuce is used in bagged salads, most growers are reluctant to use a once-over mechanical harvester because heads of lettuce do not ripen uniformly, so that up to a quarter of the crop could be lost with a harvester.  Baby-leaf lettuces, whose share of the market is expanding, are usually harvested by $250,000 machines that use a band saw to cut up to seven tons an hour, replacing 140 hand workers. 

Lettuce has been called green gold because of its profitability.  Unions were quick to target large and profitable lettuce growers in the 1970s.  By the late 1970s most of the large growers had union contracts that offered entry-level wages that were twice the minimum wage as well as benefits that were rare for seasonal farm workers, including health insurance and pensions.  In the 1980s rising illegal migration reduced the number of union contracts and today non-union workers produce the majority of lettuce. 

The production systems of labor-intensive commodities vary, as will the reactions of producers to increases in labor costs.  Rising wages can prompt labor-saving mechanization.  For some crops, mechanical harvesters may be available in a range of configurations appropriate for farms of different sizes.  Even when a mechanical harvester is available, not all growers will adopt the new technology.  Hand-harvested produce is usually of better quality, since it is hard to replicate the skill and care of hand harvesters.  Producers who hire mostly unauthorized workers face several challenges, including immigration enforcement or reforms that could raise labor costs at a time of increased trade.  Producers’ reactions depend on factors that include the availability of mechanical alternatives, the degree of import competition, and the feasibility of aids that increase worker productivity.

Author: Edith Jessup

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California’s Central Valley is where much of the nation’s produce is grown and where the greatest diversity of farmers live and work, but it is also a region where some of the most concentrated and entrenched poverty exists (Brookings Institute Report).  Some of these rural communities have over 40% unemployment and the current economy is driving the fact that here in the Central Valley, the poorest congressional districts in the nation are suffering greatly from a lack of steady work.  The Central Valley’s primary asset is the agriculture industry that feeds the nation and world; however, the Valley has 40% food insecurity and 67% of adults are obese, while children suffer from chronic disease, hunger and poverty.

California’s enrollment in CALFresh (food stamps) is at the bottom of the 50 states, and the Central Valley has significant barriers to using federal nutrition programs that could improve food workers and farmworkers health.  Health outcomes in the Valley are poor, and much of this can be linked to diet.  The entrenchment of food deserts and food swamps, sporadic emergency food distribution, multiple ‘pilot’ solutions to hunger, and a lack of connections between infrastructure make food access in the Central Valley a social justice issue that needs remedy.

Fresno County is iconic, and typical of all the Central Valley counties.  It is the richest agricultural producing county in the nation and the poorest congressional district in the USA, with poverty and hunger at about 40% according to the California Health Inventory Survey.  This paradox results in an abundance of food leaving the region, broken local produce distribution systems, rural corner stores that only sell cheap junk food and soda, fear of ‘la Migra’ (racism), compromised healthcare, and a lack of potable water and transportation access.  In Fresno, 85% of school children qualify for free lunch, and 33% grow up in extreme poverty.  One-third of children are obese, and 2/3 of adults are obese with a compendium of chronic diseases directly related to diet.  Our food deserts are frequently food swamps, where there is ‘food’ available but it is often unhealthy and cheap.  Fresno City and the surrounding metropolitan area have a population of over 500,000 and the outlying 14 incorporated cities and over 50 unincorporated areas total over 900,000 people.  Significantly, Fresno County produces nearly $5.3 billion from agriculture; however with only one large urban area, most of the county is very rural, as is the entire Central Valley.

Demographics in the Central Valley are changing due to the presence of new immigrants who come from agrarian lives in places such as the Punjab, Russia, Africa, etc. Less than 37% of the population identifies as being white and over 100 languages are spoken in our schools, while we farm in as many languages.  Our residents are poor, undereducated, culturally diverse, and wanting to work hard to support their families.  The economy and woes with water and air quality degradation in our agricultural areas have created a microcosm here in the Valley of the ecological, economic, and social issues that challenge our world.  These statistics are supported by a decade of research from the California Health Inventory Survey (CHIS), the targeted reports of The California Center for Public Health Advocacy by legislative district, California Food Policy Advocates and yearly county nutrition profiles.  Things are not getting better, but we know more about what is happening to people, particularly the disparities of health outcomes that impact people of color (reports from the Central Valley Health Policy Institute on Place Matters).  The Valley’s African American, Hispanic, Punjabi, Hmong farmers, and over 100 immigrant and agrarian peoples, highlight the sustainable ways we are growing food alongside great heritage farms.  However, these farmers and farm workers are most impacted by poor wages throughout the food worker chain.  The foundation for building neighborhoods where fresh food access is the norm for impoverished food workers, will be found in re-localization: re-creating regional food hubs and local purchases of healthy food by existing markets and institutions, and innovative entrepreneurial food work for emerging leaders throughout the eight counties.  In the center of California we produce the ‘goods’: the food, necessary to create a sustainable, healthy and just food system.

What are we doing to solve some of these problems?

Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP) cares deeply about advocating for and creating the food system that we want here in California based on the organized leadership of those without access to healthy food.  CCROPP is working in the eight Central California counties as a regional initiative on public health through supporting healthy eating and active living for low-income residents.  CCROPP fosters policy and environmental change so that low-income community members have access to healthy food and physical activity opportunities.  CCROPP works on improving access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food for low-income people and for all of us.  The Central Valley raises enough food to feed the nation, yet the very people who harvest our bounty are hungry and over the next decade the Valley is anticipating the greatest population growth in the state.  Due to a lack of infrastructure, the current and future problems of poor health and environmental degradation in the place where most of our food comes from makes addressing Central Valley agriculture critical for the food security of our state and nation.

There is no scarcity of food, rather we have created a food security issue as we have lost local access to local food, and as a result, food workers are the first to be hungry and obese.  If we do not change the policies and systems that create an increasingly obese population inflicted with chronic disease from diet, we all will pay for the costs of increasingly ill neighbors.  Twenty communities in each of the eight Central Valley Counties do not have potable water and this is an agriculture related issue that has gained the attention of the United Nations.  Eventually we will pay for the loss of farmland from unsustainable land use polices and risk losing the knowledge of how to produce our food, as development usurps broken farms.  The conservative Central Valley political landscape defines attitude toward workers, access to wealth and water and land, and short term planning priorities.

The promise of new regional food access by the Regional CCROPP initiative working directly with low-income Spanish language leaders has produced 160 new advocates for change.  The change CCROPP works for includes access to the healthy food they harvest, in their neighborhoods.  Re-inventing regional food systems here in the Central Valley, and taking to scale new enterprise that aggregates and distributes healthy food to rural and low income urban neighborhoods will permanently change health in the Central Valley.  The newly emerging Fresno Food Systems Alliance is a prelude of what is possible at the state and national level.

CCROPP is convinced that as new farmers’ markets, farm stands at schools, and existing corner stores begin to carry local fresh produce, the health of the Central Valley will be impacted for the better.  As the food landscapes in our own organizations, communities, and neighborhoods change through equitable policy, health will improve.  The issues of equity and health of all our neighbors has to be a major focus of re-binding a broken food system.  If the outcome of our current food system is unhealthy people, then we have made huge mistakes, and we must set them straight.  We must restore a healthy food system to restore healthy communities.  Those most impacted by malnutrition in the Valley are those working in the food system and it is these individuals that also have to become involved in repairing the region’s food system.

CCROPP’S citizen job project is creating community support and leading the change in food environments for the nation through fostering environmental and policy change for those most in need.  In an effort to develop strategies towards healthy kids and healthy communities, CCROPP is involved with Leadership Development funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.  I urgently request that you invest in relationships, resources and common values with neighbors, farmers and all sectors of the food system to create a robust regional food system in the Central Valley to create a ‘State of the Plate’ that ensures our good health!

We can agree, I believe, in these food system values:

Justice and Fairness

Strong Communities

Vibrant Farms

Healthy People

Sustainable Ecosystems

Thriving Local Economies

The Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP) is the Central California Public Health Partnership’s initiative to create environments that support healthy eating and active living in the San Joaquin Valley.  The regional obesity prevention program is administered by the Central California Center for Health and Human Services and is housed under the College of Health and Human Services at California State University, Fresno.  CCROPP is funded by The California Endowment and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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