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Posts Tagged ‘california’

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Photo: Tony Avelar/Special to the Christian Science Monitor
The secret pop-up food bank for indigenous farmworkers in Santa Cruz County is promoted by word of mouth. A typical farmworker here lives under the poverty line and has few protections from unjust practices.

As we were saying, a living wage is preferable to charity. But for some people, charity is the only hope. Consider the farmworkers in this story.

Patricia Leigh Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “The early winter storms gathering in the Pacific bring welcome rains to California’s tinder-dry landscape. But for farmworkers picking strawberries for less than minimum wage, the rains signal the end of the harvest season and regular work, and deliver a downpour of hunger and worry.

“That’s why about 170 indigenous Mexican women from Oaxaca line up for hours in an alley to obtain sacks of produce, diapers, and other essentials from a secret food bank once a month. For those who spend grueling days harvesting America’s bounty, this surreptitious pop-up – organized solely by word of mouth – provides a safe place for accessing free, nutritious food and supplies without fear of deportation. …

“[Watsonville] is home to some of the country’s most vulnerable – the thousands of indigenous farmworkers in California, an unknown number of unauthorized residents, who live in severely substandard conditions and speak a variety of pre-Columbian languages rather than English or Spanish.

“The stealth food operation … is organized by Ann López, in conjunction with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County. An emerita professor, ‘Dr. Ann’ as she is known, started a nonprofit called the Center for Farmworker Families after interviewing numerous agricultural laborers for her Ph.D. dissertation.

‘There was a family with four little girls crying for food,’ she recalls. ‘I opened the refrigerator and they had a head of lettuce, one third of a gallon of milk, and two Jell-O cups. That was it. What I found was a population inordinately poor and suffering.’

“Ernestina Solorio, who has legal status to work in the U.S., spends 10 hours a day, six days a week in the fields during the season. Strawberries are among the most labor-intensive crops, known as la fruta del diablo, or the devil’s fruit, for the hours it takes hunched over low-to-the-ground berries to pluck them without bruising.

“Ms. Solorio earns $20,000 in a good year, well above average for a farmworker but also well under the federal poverty rate for Ms. Solorio’s family of four children. … The math is grim: about $200 a month after rent to pay for everything else.

” ‘The work won’t pick up again until mid-April, depending on the weather,’ Ms. Solorio explains. ‘That’s why so many of us are stressed.’

“From a makeshift staging area in a garage, her compatriots file past tables piled high with diapers, laundry detergent, and toilet tissue, all while juggling toddlers in pajamas and babies nestled in blankets or shawl rebozos (traditional baby carriers).

“Some dig through piles of donated clothes before moving on to the main event – repurposed onion bags heavy with sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale, and other fresh vegetables and smaller white plastic bags filled with rice, lentils, and canned goods from the USDA. Strollers double as grocery carts. …

“ ‘You would never see this concentration of Oaxacans,’ says Ms. López, dressed for the season in a bright red sweater and snowman earrings. ‘They are always hiding in the fields or their apartments.’  …

“A monthly phone tree alerts people to the food bank’s hidden locale. ‘I never dreamed it would expand to the whole community,’ says Dominga, who is an unauthorized resident and fears for her family’s safety. …

“Her landlord refuses to provide a rent receipt, and a friend who was recently evicted similarly had no paper trail. Dominga worries the same thing could happen to her own family. [And according to Gretchen Regenhardt, regional directing attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance,] wage theft – not paying overtime, making people work beyond the clock, or under-recording hours worked – is common. …

“The underground food bank joins 30 established food distribution sites scattered around Watsonville at churches, health clinics, and charities. A hefty portion of the vegetables come from local farms and packing houses, much of it privately donated, says Willy Elliott-McCrea, CEO of Second Harvest Watsonville. …

“For the holidays, a local church [gathered] up coats and shoes while the Friends of Farmworker Families, which depends largely on private donations, supplies the toys. But for those patiently waiting, the most important gift is having enough food to tide the family over.” More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

If anyone knows of a way to ensure that the fruits and vegetables I buy are picked by farmworkers who are being treated fairly, I’d sure like to know what it is. Is there some kind of label farms can earn? Send it along.

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Photo: Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District
Some California dairy farmers, concerned about their farms’ effect on global warming,
are working on long-term carbon sequestration.

My recent post “Farmers Turning Waste to Energy” described an effort to combine food waste with cow manure and convert methane gas to electricity. But as Earle noted in Comments, burning methane ultimately means more global warming. He recommended helping farmers put carbon back in the ground in ways that also improve the farm’s bottom line. It’s happening in California.

I went online and found this report at the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District (RCD) website.

“As much as one-third of the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere driving climate change has resulted from land management practices on agricultural lands.

Carbon farming, an array of strategies designed to promote long-term carbon sequestration, holds the potential to significantly reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases by capturing carbon in the soil and plant material, while enhancing soil health and productivity.

“The RCD and its LandSmart partners are working to develop a carbon planning component to the comprehensive conservation plans developed through the LandSmart program, identifying practices that would … provide multiple benefits for climate change resiliency, by reducing atmospheric CO2 levels while improving soil health, water holding capacity, and crop and forage production. …

“Practices such as hedgerows and windbreaks [also] work to both sequester CO2 while enhancing on-farm wildlife and pollinator habitat. …

“With the use of a wide variety of beneficial practices, Sonoma County farmers have the ability to reach our County’s goal for greenhouse gas reductions. … In the words of our Executive Director, Brittany Jensen, carbon farming is a regional tactic to address a global problem.

“ ‘By helping farmers make carbon farming a part of their daily operations, we have the opportunity to work on a global problem – climate change – and make a local difference.’ …

“The Ocean Breeze Dairy has been operated by the producer Jarrid Bordessa, a fifth-generation dairy operator, since 2003. In those last 16 years, his business model has shifted to grass-fed, certified organic milk production, and he is the right place to do just that. The Valley Ford dairy covers 310 acres of coastal grassland and over 4,500 feet of perennial stream.

“In the 2018 annual newsletter, we shared an article about Ocean Breeze Dairy, their distributor, Organic Valley, the Carbon Cycle Institute and the RCD developed a Carbon Farm Plan for the property, identifying opportunities to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, the RCD was successful in securing a California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program Demonstration Project to implement two of the practices identified in the plan and to engage with local farmers and ranchers through public workshops.

“The two practices being implemented are the application of compost and the restoration of riparian habitat along lower Ebabias Creek, the primary tributary of Americano Creek, whose watershed estuary, the Estero Americano, drains into Bodega Bay and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Considered one of California’s most unique coastal wetland types, the Estero Americano contains a diverse assemblage of wetland communities and estuarine habitats.”

Read more here.

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Goats to the Rescue

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Photo: Phil Klein
Goat farmer Bob Blanchard tends to his flock above Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, California.

Can you take another story about goats as lawnmowers? (Click for an example.) Today’s update shows how goats are not only a good way to cut your grass but are an important wildfire-fighting tool.

Susie Cagle writes at the Guardian, “As the western US braces for another wildfire season, following its most devastating on record, public officials and private landowners are turning to an unlikely, rustic tool to manage increasingly incendiary lands. Goats.

“They’re currently munching away at summer-dried, fire-ready grasses in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and across California. In some places that outlaw livestock within city limits, officials have even changed local ordinances. …

“In California, where wildfires have long been a threat, goats have worked for decades to protect coastal communities from creeping conflagrations. But worsening, deadly fire seasons across western US have inspired more communities to try managing their lands not with machines and chemicals, but with hungry animals.

“More extreme, climate-changed weather cycles could make fuel management a more important part of wildfire mitigation, as more intense rainy seasons lead to huge spring sprouts in grasslands, that are in turn dried out in the hotter, drier summer sun. …

“ ‘There’s a lot more awareness just because of the horrific fires we’ve had lately,’ said [Mike] Canaday, who runs a company called Living Systems Land Management. ‘If people want goats, the sooner they can get on somebody’s waiting list, the better.’

“He believes goats are a superior form of fuel management, more sustainable and less risky than herbicides or fuel-powered mowers. ‘And they’re a lot more fun to watch than people with weed eaters.’

“Grazing goats are far from the newest wildfire prevention tool, but they have a comparably tiny footprint. They’re efficient, clean eaters, nibbling away at weeds and grasses and leaving far less damage than an herbicide. They’re nimble climbers, able to scamper up steep flammable hillsides and into narrow canyons that humans would struggle to reach. They’re impervious to poison oak, and they don’t disrupt natural ecosystems or scare away indigenous animals. Where conspicuously carved fire breaks on verdant hillsides might upset homeowners, goats are welcome seasonal cuteness.

“In its 2019 wildfire safety report, released in July, [Laguna Beach] officials estimated a human crew costs roughly $28,000 to clear an acre, while a goat crew costs an average of $500. …

“The west cannot survive on goats alone, in part because of the limited labor pool, and in part because fuel management isn’t enough to abate wildfire impacts. Goats are effective, but they can’t do anything about flammable wood shingle roofs or cedar siding on ageing buildings that are not subject to new fire safety codes.

“ ‘We have a lot of tools in the toolbox,’ said [fire marshall Jim] Brown. And when it comes to clearing the fuel that could send flames rushing toward those old, flammable homes, ‘the goats are just the best tool we have in the toolbox to do that – there’s just nothing better.’ ”

More here.

Speaking of goats, I happened to run into one today at the library. The young lady with the leash told me that the goat’s name is Hermione.

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Photo: John Francis Peters/The Guardian
The super bloom of wildflowers in tiny Borrego Springs, California, is wonderful to behold. Good planning is ensuring that the chaos of 200,000 visitors in March 2017 is not being repeated.

My friend Kristina is headed off to a family reunion in the Southwest, and she’s excited that she’ll be there when the desert is in bloom. Have you ever seen that amazing phenomenon? It doesn’t happen every year. You need just the right amount of rain at just the right time.

Katharine Gammon writes at the Guardian, “It’s lunchtime at Kesling’s Kitchen in Borrego Springs, and the line is out the door and down the block. It takes about 20 minutes to get inside to order food. The rush isn’t surprising: Borrego Springs is a small town that swells in size when people flock to see wildflowers around Anza-Borrego, California’s largest state park.

“Plentiful winter rain and precise conditions have led to a bonanza of spring wildflowers this season. And while that can be a great thing, it also raised fears that Borrego Springs could once again face what locals have dubbed ‘flowergeddon.’ …

“The last time the region experienced a wildflower bloom was March 2017, when some 200,000 visitors flocked to the super bloom. … Borrego Springs (population 3,000) was unprepared for the avalanche of visitors coming from nearby Los Angeles, San Diego and even farther afield. The town ran out of food, hotel rooms, gas, and money in the ATMs. Traffic backed up for 20 miles; restaurant employees quit on the spot. When bathrooms filled up, visitors began using the fields to relieve themselves. …

“This year, the town wanted to be prepared. [An] all-community committee has been meeting regularly for months, since the winter rains foretold a bountiful flower year. They established a website with downloadable maps, manned information booths, and set up port-a-potties in Borrego Springs and near the flower areas. ‘This year, we are prepared and our restaurants stocked up – as are the gas stations and ATMs,’ [says Betsy Knaak, the executive director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association].’ …

“The early rains made it easier to predict that the bloom was coming, and it looks set to last over a longer period, meaning that even busy weekends don’t feel as packed with people. On a recent Sunday cars lined the road but there was no crush of people on the trails or in the flowers. Still, hotel rooms in Borrego Springs and nearby Julian were fully booked for two weekends straight. …

“This year, an extraordinary proliferation of painted lady butterflies and sphinx moth caterpillars are part of the natural spectacle too. The butterflies are the result of a phenomenon known as an ‘irruption’ – the strong rains brought a population explosion, a billion strong, in northern Mexico.” Read more at the Guardian, here.

In Massachusetts, we are feeling spring in the air, but the huge snow piles in the supermarket parking lots tell us we have a way to go before seeing an array wildflowers like those in California.

 

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Photo: Thomas Turner/Reuters
This hoodwinker sunfish, a species discovered only in 2017, has washed up on a California beach. Scientists believe it belongs in the Southern Hemisphere.

As much as I love learning about new species like this giant sunfish from the Southern Hemisphere, I can’t help feeling concerned that it ended up on a beach where it doesn’t belong. Is this another sign of global warming? Not likely. This fish likes temperate water and would have had to pass the hot Equator. A mystery.

Christina Zdanowicz has the story at CNN. “This is the extraordinary tale of how a massive, strange-looking fish wound up on a beach on the other side of the world from where it lives. The seven-foot fish washed up at UC Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point Reserve in Southern California [in February]. Researchers first thought it was a similar and more common species of sunfish — until someone posted photos on a nature site and experts weighed in. …

“It turned out to be a species never seen before in North America. It’s called the hoodwinker sunfish.

‘When the clear pictures came through, I thought there was no doubt. This is totally a hoodwinker,’ said Marianne Nyegaard, a marine scientist who discovered the species in 2017. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I nearly fell out of my chair.’

“Nyegaard … works in the marine division at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. … ‘We know it has the temperate distribution around here and off the coast of Chile, but then how did it cross the equator and turn up by you guys?’ …

“An intern at Coal Oil Point Reserve alerted conservation specialist Jessica Nielsen to the dead beached sunfish on February 19. When Nielsen first saw it, the unusual features of the fish caught her eye.

” ‘This is certainly the most remarkable organism I have seen wash up on the beach in my four years at the reserve,’ Nielsen said in a UC Santa Barbara press release. She posted some photos of the fish on the reserve’s Facebook page. When colleague Thomas Turner saw the photos later that day, he rushed to the beach with his wife and young son. …

“He snapped some photos of what he thought was an ocean sunfish, a rare sight up-close, he said.

” ‘It’s the most unusual fish you’ve ever seen,’ said the UC Santa Barbara associate professor.

‘It has no tail. All of its teeth are fused, so it doesn’t have any teeth. It’s just got this big round opening for a mouth.’

“Turner posted his photos on iNaturalist, a site where people post photos and sightings of plants and animals. A fish biologist commented and alerted Ralph Foster, a fish scientist and the fish curator at the South Australian Museum.

“It was Foster who first said this may be a hoodwinker sunfish and not an ocean sunfish in the comments on iNaturalist. …

“Foster excitedly emailed Nyegaard, the woman who discovered the species, and told her what he was thinking. …

“It had been two days since Nielsen had first seen the fish. When Turner and Nielsen went back to the beach [to get sharper photos], the creature was no longer there.

“They started two miles apart from each other on the beach and kept looking, walking toward each other until they found the missing fish. It had refloated on the tide and washed up a few hundred yards away, Turner said. …

“All of the features in the photos matched up with the hoodwinker. When Nyegaard saw the photos, she knew she had a hoodwinker case on her hands. …

“Both Nyegaard and Turner marveled at how social media and the iNaturalist site can help bring researchers closer to an answer. …

“Turner said it was exciting for him to help identify the first recorded sighting of a hoodwinker sunfish in North America — and only the second in the Northern Hemisphere.

” ‘I’m a professor, I’m a biologist but I didn’t actually know what was special about this fish,’ Turner said. ‘I just posted a picture and that connected me with the world’s expert and the discoverer of the species.’ ”

Super photos at CNN, here.

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Photo: Monica LeRossignol
After a devastating wildfire, Bob Wilson, a Southern California real estate developer, gave $1,000 to each of Paradise High School’s 982 students and 105 employees. He is pictured here with student Trevor
LeRossignol.

Compassionate people pop up everywhere. I try to keep my attention focused on that as much as possible. In this example, a wealthy developer was moved to put money behind his compassion after the devastation of the 2018 wildfires in Paradise, California.

In November, Brianna Sacks wrote at BuzzFeed News, “Monica LeRossignol and her son are still stunned by the freshly printed $1,000 check, a gesture that’s brightened the difficult, surreal reality of rebuilding their lives after losing their home and most of their community in Paradise, California.

“On Tuesday night, her 17-year-old son, Trevor LeRossignol, and hundreds of other students, parents, and faculty members from Paradise High School gathered at Chico High School, as they have every week since the Camp fire leveled their town, to catch up, give hugs, rifle through donations, and eat some warm food. But this gathering had a major bonus.

“Bob Wilson, a Southern California real estate developer, was there giving out $1,000 to each of Paradise High School’s 982 students and 105 employees, totaling about $1.1 million in donations.

” ‘I gave him a hug,’ LeRossignol said. … Like thousands of others, the 46-year-old lost everything in the catastrophic wildfire, which has killed 88 people, torched more than 153,000 acres, and destroyed 14,000 homes. The mother, her son, fiancé, two nephews, and six other family members fled for their lives and are now crammed into two bedrooms at a friend’s house in the nearby city of Chico. …

“A few weeks earlier, as the Camp fire continued to burn around Paradise, Wilson came across a story in the Los Angeles Times about the students of Paradise, most of whom lost their homes. It delved into the uncertainty facing Paradise Unified School District and its class of seniors who were readying to graduate.

“The 89-year-old told BuzzFeed News that Paradise High School’s plight stuck with him, reminding him of his own ‘carefree’ days as a teenager. …

‘I made up my mind in five minutes,’ the businessman said Wednesday morning from Chico. ‘I had some of the most profound experiences in my life in high school because I was still able to be a kid, and it broke my heart to think of the experiences these kids were missing.’ …

“About two weeks later, Wilson was flitting between about 10 tables set up inside Chico High’s hallways, handing out envelopes containing a letter and personal check addressed to each student, teacher, and custodian, which he had personally stuffed from one of his offices in Los Angeles. …

” ‘It was a really unique, cool way to give,’ [Paradise High Principal Loren] Lighthall said of Wilson’s donation. ‘It’s been rough, especially for high schoolers who need their friends and there’s no way to get together.’ …

“Two days after the fire tore through their close-knit, rural California town, Lighthall, who has been principal for two years, started a GoFundMe for Paradise High, a ‘high-poverty”‘ school where 67% of students qualified for free lunch last year. Almost every one of the nearly 1,000 students lost their home and ‘everything they own,’ he said. …

“For now, Lighthall explained that their main goal is getting the kids their credits however they can. More at BuzzFeed, here.

By the way, it’s sad that BuzzFeed and other news outlets have had to lay off so many reporters lately, people who come up with good local stories like this one. The news model is changing nationwide and we need to pay for journalism in new ways. My husband and I pay to read the Boston Globe online, the New York Times, and the Guardian. I also have a membership in the investigative news site Talking Points Memo. Online ads are not enough to keep these vital services going.

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Photo: Moximox

After a year of waiting impatiently for summer, we always wanted to squeeze in every memorable summer activity we had ever done: crabbing, seining with a net, riding waves, building sand castles, walking to the Sunken Forest, digging for mole crabs, painting shells and selling them outside the house (what my father called teasingly “gypping the public”), roasting marshmallows at night. We did not want to miss one thing because we knew we’d have to wait a whole year for another chance. And in those days, a year seemed like an eternity.

One of the more iconic things I associate with summer is sea glass, and I recently was intrigued to learn from @chasonw on instagram that there was a place you could have the sea-glass experience any time of year. It’s called Glass Beach, and it’s at Fort Bragg, California. As pretty as sea glass is, you will not be surprised to learn that the abundance at Glass Beach is the result of years of dumping garbage.

From Wikipedia: “In 1906, Fort Bragg residents established an official water dump site behind the Union Lumber Company. … When [a second dump was] filled in 1949, the dump was moved north to what is now known as ‘Glass Beach,’ which remained an active dump site until 1967. …

“Over the next several decades, what was biodegradable in the dump sites simply degraded and all the metal and other items were eventually removed and sold as scrap or used in art. The pounding waves broke down the glass and pottery and tumbled those pieces into the small, smooth, colored pieces that often become jewelry quality and that cover Glass Beach and the other two glass beaches. …

erysimummenziesiieurekPhoto: Gordon Leppig & Andrea J. Pickart
Menzie’s Wallflower, an endangered species that grows at Glass Beach in California.

“About 1,000 to 1,200 tourists visit Fort Bragg’s glass beaches each day in the summer. Most collect some glass. Because of this and also because of natural factors (wave action is constantly grinding down the glass), the glass is slowly diminishing. There is currently a movement by Captain J.H. (Cass) Forrington to replenish the beaches with discarded glass.”

If you saw yesterday’s post, you know that replenishing the beach would be hard. There is a shortage of glass everywhere. Sea glass is moving into a category closer to semiprecious stones than its embryonic form as trash.

More at Wikipedia, here.

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