An Equitable and Resilient Californian Food System: Protecting our Essential Farmworkers

Posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2021 by
Farmworkers harvesting in Salinas, CA.

AB 125, the Equitable Economic Recovery, Healthy Food Access, Climate Resilient Farms and Worker Protection Bond Act (Rivas, AD 30), invests in 4 pillars of the food system: sustainable agricultural solutions to the climate crisis,  farmworker safety and well-being, combating hunger and increasing healthy food access, and regional food economies. We will share more details about each pillar in this blog series, this first installment discusses the investments in farmworker safety and wellbeing. Read more about AB 125 here.

This week is National Farmworker Awareness Week, a week to honor the work and vital contributions of California’s farmworkers and raise up the persistent  challenges farmworkers face. Farmworkers are essential frontline workers for our food system and are disproportionately impacted by crises – both public health and climate.

During the pandemic, farmworkers have risked their health by working in the fields through both a public health crisis and record-breaking wildfires. One study found that Monterey County farmworkers were three times more likely to contract the coronavirus compared to other workers in the county. Needed personal protective equipment (PPE), like N95 masks, already in short supply for protection against the coronavirus, were even harder to come by when wildfires season hit early.

Farmworkers face these safety challenges in the field and at home.  A 2018 study found that 67 percent of farmworker households experienced severe overcrowding in the Salinas and Pajaro Valley. This overcrowded housing compounds coronavirus stressors as it makes self-isolate after exposure to the coronavirus even more challenging, if not impossible.

While the pandemic highlighted the enormous and disparate challenges farmworkers face, these are not new issues and in the case of housing in particular, models do exist. Established in 2015, a zero net energy affordable housing project in Woodland, CA provides housing exclusively for farmworkers. More farmworker housing development is underway in different areas of the state, but more is needed.

AB 125 to Invest in Essential Workers

As we shared last week, AB 125 is a $3 billion bond to build back a more resilient and equitable food and farm system that would protect and house our essential workers. Introduced by Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair, Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D – Hollister), AB 125 would put a bond before the voters on the 2022 ballot that would include $637 million in investments in the safety and wellbeing of California farmworkers.

“The pandemic has exposed the ongoing vulnerability of our farmworker communities, especially indigenous immigrants who are so critical for growing and harvesting food for California and the nation, “ says Sarait Martinez, Executive Director, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO). “To take care of everyone, we need to take care of our farmworkers, and this bill will go a long way by providing them with safe housing, workplace protections and move us closer to a more resilient and equitable food system.” CBDIO supports Indigenous immigrant farmworker communities and is one of the co-sponsors of AB 125

AB 125 would provide critical investments in affordable housing for farmworker families, funding for stockpiling PPE for workers, and investments in existing farmworker housing to improve indoor air quality and better connect farmworker housing with services.

Specifically, the bond includes:

  • $450 million available in grants for the development of multi-unit, family housing for farmworker families and households
  • $50 million available in grants for improved energy efficiency, indoor air quality, renewable energy use, and community greening for farmworker housing, either single family homes or multi-unit buildings
  • $25 million for the creation of a stockpile of personal protection equipment for farmworkers to be used in cases of emergencies such as wildfires or disease outbreaks
  • $100 million available in grants to provide safe drinking and promote public health for farmworker families who lack access to safe and reliable drinking water sources
  • $12 million available to expand the California State Warning Center to include targeted alerts for public health dangers.

Learn more and take action now. Stay tuned for more blogs that share more about the other three areas of the bond; investments in sustainable agricultural practices; investments in anti-hunger and food access; and investments in regional and local food infrastructure.

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