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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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UC’s SAREP Launches Initiative to Improve California Farmworkers’ Living & Working Conditions

October 28, 2011 |

The University of California’s Sustainable Agriculture and Education Program (SAREP) has launched a new initiative to promote research, education and outreach that aims to address the problems and challenges faced by farmworkers’ regarding living and working conditions.

Though they play a critical role in producing food for California, the US and international markets, nearly 25% of state farmworkers live in poverty, according to the US Dept. of Labor, SAREP notes. Ironically, these farmworkers and their families regularly face insecurity when it comes to their own ability to put sufficient, nutritious food on the table.

Moreover, farm work is one of the most hazardous occupations in the state, yet nearly 70% of California farmworkers do not have health insurance, according to a report from the California Institute for Rural Studies.

“A sustainable food system is healthy and safe for everyone, including all those who work the land,” said SAREP director Tom Tomich stated in a press release. “As SAREP continues to support sustainable agriculture research, we look forward to identifying research opportunities that will improve farmworker conditions.”

California farmworkers’ median family income may be lower than $10,000 a year. Amplifying their insecurity, “they are very poorly connected to U.S. safety net institutions,” according to a California Institute for Rural Studies (CIRS) report that advocates undertaking specialized studies and programs to address their unique needs.

CIRS also conducted case study research examining the role incentive-based “variable pay systems” used by some farm employers promote “employee satisfaction and retention and increase farmworker incomes” when properly implemented. These include employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), bonuses and profit-sharing plans.

SAREP’s new initiative will take additional steps to address and improve living and working conditions for California’s farmworkers.

Aiming to help improve farmworkers’ working and living conditions, SAREP researchers will survey farmworker groups and other stakeholders to help find out the types of research, education and communication projects they would find of greatest use. SAREP aims to have the project completed by September 2012.

Building a new agricultural social research program from the ground up to assist the under-served draws inspiration and is in the spirit of the mission of the UC land grant colleges to serve society, said SAREP food systems coordinator Gail Feenstra.

“SAREP was founded to help ensure all California agricultural interests, particularly the under-served voices, are supported through scientific research, education and outreach,” she said.

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