Rural community advocates and academic researchers came together at UC Merced on Wednesday for a daylong seminar aimed at improving the lives of people living in farming regions.
The summit, “Working for Justice in the Valley: People, Food, Land & Water,” touched on a range of topics such as cooperative farming, improving access to food and to farmland, rights to clean drinking water and public health, including pesticide drift and use of pesticides around schools.
Work presented at several of the sessions, attended by scores of people, analyzed environmental and social justice for people living in lower-income communities.
During a session on food justice work, the Pesticide Action Network reported that an estimated 55,000 children in Merced County go to school within a quarter-mile of a farm using pesticides known to have ill effects on people who ingest it. About 66 percent of those children are Latino and, statewide, Latino children are twice as likely to be affected by pesticides, according to Paul Towers, media director for the Oakland-based network.
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Clearly this is about environmental justice and social justice.
Paul Towers, the media director for Pesticide Action Network
“Clearly this is about environmental justice and social justice,” Towers said.
Many of the roughly 900 fumigants used on large factory farms are linked to health issues like cancer and wreak havoc on a child’s hormones, Towers said.
Sarah Aird, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, said advocates have had some success such as banning methyliodide, a carcinogenic pesticide once used on strawberries. Nevertheless, there continue to be cases of people being sickened by pesticides, she said, including reports of about 50 people falling ill in Kern County in August.
“This is an ongoing issue,” she said.
Advocates are pushing for legislation and other incentives that would encourage farmers to adopt more environmentally sound practices. But Kevin Hall, a consultant with the San Joaquin Valley Sustainable Ag Collaborative based at UC Davis, said achieving such change can be difficult.
There couldn’t be a better place to do this kind of work.
Mario Sifuentez, a UC Merced professor
Hall noted that the Central Valley’s farming industry made $35.6 billion in 2013 and has substantial lobbying strength in Sacramento. Some 94 percent of that revenue is generated by just one-fifth of the state’s roughly 25,000 farms, giving that small group disproportionate power. Furthermore, farmers make up 15 of the 40 county supervisors in the San Joaquin Valley, he said, and four of its six U.S. congressional representatives.
The seminar, which was organized by the California Institute for Rural Studies at UC Merced, touched on a number of other agricultural issues. Mario Sifuentez, a UC Merced professor, noted the university is relatively young and needs such events to bring researchers and agriculture advocates together.
“There couldn’t be a better place to do this kind of work,” he said.