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July 2005, Volume 11, Number 3

San Joaquin Valley: Tulare, Napa

If the seven San Joaquin Valley counties of Fresno, Kings, Merced, Kern, Madera, Stanislaus and Tulare were a separate state, the "San Joaquin Valley state" would be the largest farm state except for California and the 23rd largest in population. However, the "San Joaquin Valley state" would have the highest unemployment rate, the lowest per capita income and the highest poverty rate in the US.

San Joaquin Valley unemployment fell in April 2005, reducing Fresno county's rate to less than 10 percent, the lowest in 15 years for that month. San Joaquin Valley counties have some of the state's highest persisting unemployment rates, but federal funds provided to local Workforce Investment Boards are being cut. The Fresno WIB had a $23-million-a-year budget, and in 2003-04 assisted 1,600 adults, a time when unemployment averaged about 45,000, and expects a 10 percent cut in 2005-06. The California Workforce Association represents the state's 50 WIBs. Many training programs are provided in One-Stop centers that bring together several assistance agencies to assist the unemployed.

There has generally been little explicit association of immigration and unemployment, although Hanson's 2003 book worried about Mexican migrants turning California into "Mexifornia...not quite Mexico and not quite America either." Fresno Mayor Alan Autry in June 2005 called for a two-year moratorium on immigration until a viable system for selecting newcomers and enforcing immigration laws is in place.

Carol Whiteside, founder and president of the Great Valley Center, was profiled June 14, 2005 in the Los Angeles Times. The Great Valley Center, founded in 1997, aims to stimulate discussion of alternative futures for the 19 Central Valley counties. Beginning with farmland preservation, the Great Valley Center has expanded its agenda to tackle schools, health and air quality, with the mantra that the Central Valley should think of itself as a distinct region with unique challenges and opportunities.

USDA conducts an annual national household survey to determine food insecurity, defined as the lack of "assured access" to enough nutritious food. A survey of 12,000 California adults released in June 2005 reported that a third of low-income adults, some three million, said they had to make daily decisions about whether to eat or pay for other necessities such as shelter or medical care. Fewer than 20 percent reported receiving Food Stamps. Food insecurity was the highest in the Central Valley counties of Kern and Tulare.

Tulare. Tulare county, with 400,000 residents, typically ranks first or second among US counties in farm sales, vying for the top farm county slot with neighboring Fresno county, which has 800,000 residents (in 2003, Tulare's farm sales were $3.3 billion and Fresno's $4 1 billion; in 2004 Tulare's jumped to $4 billion). Tulare also has one of the state's highest unemployment rates, although the rate declined from an average 16-18 percent in the early 1990s to about 12 percent in recent years.

Tulare employment is dominated by agriculture. In 2004, the county's labor force averaged 181,000, including 160,000 employed and 21,000 unemployed. Wage and salary employment averaged 134,000, including 30,000 farm workers, 11,000 manufacturing workers and 57,000 private service sector workers. The number of government workers, 29,000, was slightly less than the average number of farm workers.

Farm worker employment is far less seasonal in Tulare than in other farming counties such as Fresno, averaging 25,000 between January and March and again at the end of the year. Farm worker employment in Tulare county peaks at 35,000 to 37,000 between April and July, but food processing employment is stable at about 4,500 throughout the year. Both construction and retail trade employment, which ranged from 6,200 to 6,900 and from 13,200 to 14,700 in 2004, were more seasonal than farm and food processing employment.

Tulare county agriculture has two major components. Milk and cattle have generated about half of the county's farm sales in recent years, and fruits and nuts, largely grapes and citrus, account for another 40 percent. Tulare county had about 600,000 cattle in 2004 and produced $1.4 billion worth of milk.

Most farm workers are employed in grapes and citrus. Tulare's table (27,000 acres) and raisin (24,000 acres) grapes are about equal in acreage, and workers typically hand-cut bunches of grapes and pack them for the fresh market or place them on paper trays to dry into raisins- grape picking begins in July and lasts until October, with a September peak. Navel oranges (75,000 acres) are picked in the winter months of December to March, and valencia oranges (24,000 acres) are picked in the summer months. There are also important tree fruit crops such as plums (17,000 acres), peaches (13,000 acres) and nectarines (15,000 acres) as well as olives (16,000 acres) that are largely picked by hand.

About half of Tulare county residents are Hispanic and a third are children. The county seat of Visalia, with about 100,000 residents, is about 60 percent white, while cities such as Dinuba and Woodlake are over 75 percent Hispanic.

One reason for the Tulare paradox of less seasonality and higher unemployment may be that the six-month grape or citrus seasons allow legally authorized workers who want to work and then have time off to draw UI benefits rather than switch between harvesting grapes and citrus.

Napa. Napa is among the smallest but best known of California's 58 counties, largely because of its vineyards and wineries. There were 40,439 bearing acres of grapes in Napa County in 2004, when the county had $357 million in farm sales, 98 percent from grapes. The average price of grapes in 2004 was $2,916 a ton. Napa county has 409 wineries, and 4,300 beds for overnight visitors, including 40 percent in the city of Napa.

There is a debate in 2005 over "hang time," which refers to how long grapes should be left on the vine to raise their sugar levels. Fermentation converts 56 percent of grape sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol, so grapes with 21.4 percent sugar (called brix) can produce wine with 12 percent alcohol. Grapes that remain on the vine longer have more sugar, up to 26 or 28 percent, and thus can produce wines with more alcohol.

However, grapes can dehydrate as they stay on the vine, so that grape growers paid by the ton can receive up to 20 percent less for high-sugar grapes. After grapes are crushed, yeasts are added to foster fermentation, but some high-sugar grapes stop fermenting, prompting vintners to add water to "un-stick" fermentation. Some growers allege that vintners are demanding longer hang times so they can pay less for dehydrated grapes.

Napa Housing. Over 90 percent of Napa county's land is devoted to agriculture, watershed and open space, it has been hard to find more parcels for affordable housing. Measure J, approved in 1990, requires a vote any time agriculturally zoned land is converted to a different use.

Farm worker advocates sued Napa county in July 2003, alleging that it did not identify places for low-income housing. In June 2004, the county identified four places to build more affordable housing: Spanish Flat, Silverado, Angwin and several parcels near Moskowite Corner.

The county also settled the suit by agreeing to conduct a census of farm workers and their families, distinguishing between migrant, seasonal and permanent workers. The county also agreed to determine how many farm workers would live in Napa if there were "affordable housing" available.

In 2002, voters approved Measure L to allow the construction of migrant farm worker housing for up to 12 workers on land zoned for agriculture. One parcel was donated, and the River Ranch facility for 60 single men was opened in May 2003 and soon filled; residents pay $11.50 a day for bed and three meals a day. Another 60-bed center in Calistoga was also full.

However, during the 2004 harvest, two of the Napa Valley Housing Authority centers did not fill (Mondavi with 53 beds and Beringer with 24 beds) even though there was no temporary camp on the at the St. Helena Catholic Church and there was no upsurge in workers camping along the Napa river. Two reasons have been cited for the apparent drop in visible homeless migrants: declining seasonal farm worker employment as the demand for labor in the vineyards becomes almost year-round, and more workers electing to move into local apartments, often with relatives who have settled in the Napa area.

Most of Napa's immigrant students are from Michoacan, a mostly rural state on the southwest coast of Mexico.

Other Housing. Housing for migrant workers is tight in Salinas, where many families who live year-round rent out rooms, garages and backyard sheds to migrants. The Casas Del Sol has six dorms for single, male farm workers who pay $265 a month. Each has his own bedroom, and kitchens and bathrooms are shared.

The Pomona Ranch Migrant Center opened in Madera for 50 farm workers with families.

The Coachella Valley Housing Coalition received $1.6 million in June 2005 to construct Las Mananitas III, a town house-like rental complex of three stucco and tile buildings with a total of 88 beds on a 3.8-acre site.

During summer 2005, economists debated whether the US housing market was in a bubble, with prices at unsustainable levels. The top five US housing markets, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Washington DC, have a quarter of US housing "wealth." The average California house increased in value by $40,000 in 2003-04.

Larry Parsons, "Cost for homes spirals for California migrants," Knight Ridder, June 12, 2005. Hanson, Victor Davis. 2003. Mexifornia: A State of Becoming. A State of Becoming. Encounter Books.

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