Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Agriculture in Ventura County 101

A little over one month ago, I moved onto this farm (if unfamiliar with the farm, see www.jointhefarm.com), which is located in Ventura County, CA, an area that I knew next to nothing about when I arrived here from Mariposa County, CA. My college major, anthropology, taught me to know the "cultural context" of the place and people with whom I work. Yet I am often a person who is mainly just curious about the "Culture" of a place when I am in a foreign country or living among people whose skin is darker than mine. It's difficult to notice my own cultural environment, since it seems so normal. I've noticed this same tendency to overlook my native state's (CA) land culture: what is cultivated there, the issues surrounding its cultivation, and the people who directly cultivate the land. Because of my internship with the Abundant Table Farm Project, though, I'm trying to become more attentive to my new "Agri-Cultural Context."

Some "fact sheets" given to me by the supervisors of my side internship with House Farm Workers (HFW) and Ventura County Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (VC CLUE) clued me in on some of the must-knows of this county, like the fact that strawberries are the major crop around here (well, just looking out the car window informed me of this. "Hello, Neighbor Driscoll, Neighbor Dole."). So for this post, I thought I'd share with you some of the useful information that I've found both online and through the previously mentioned fact sheet. That way, we can all learn more about the agricultural context in which we are working.

Here's a little Q&A*:

Q. What’s the total value of crops grown in Ventura County?
A. For 2008, the estimated gross value was $1.6 billion.

Q. What were some of the most valuable crops?
Take a look at the following graph:

Source: http://www.venturacountystar.com/photos/2009/jul/21/70953/

Q. How does the area in farms compare to the area in cities?
A. According to the state, Ventura County has 102,873 acres of urban and built-up land. So, for every acre of shopping mall, city street and housing tract, there’s approximately an acre of celery, strawberries, lemons, peppers, flowers and other crops.

Q: How does the area in agriculture compare to the county’s total land area?
A. The county’s total land area is 1.2 million acres. Using the Department of Conservation data, 28.1 percent of the county is agricultural land. (About half the county’s land area lies inside Los Padres National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and other protected areas.)

Q. Is farmland being lost to development?
A. Yes. Even though voters have approved laws intended to protect farmland and open space from development, the county continues to lose about 600 acres of farmland to development each year.

Q: Where are the farms located in relation to the towns and cities in Ventura County?
Take a look at this map that shows where our county's major crops are growing, and the concentration of each:

Q: How many jobs does agricultural work provide in Ventura County?
Altogether, farming and farm-dependent businesses provide an estimated 31,000 jobs in Ventura County, more than any other sector of the economy except services. Agriculture and agriculture-related businesses account for about 4.4 percent of overall economic activity in Ventura County, generating $2.1 billion in revenue and $76 million in indirect business taxes annually. One in 10 county residents relies to some degree on income derived from farming.

Q. How many field workers are employed on Ventura County farms?
A. It’s difficult to get a reliable count, but there are believed to be about 20,000 Ventura County farm workers. The number ranges seasonally from a low of 15,000 to a high of 25,000 during the peak spring and summer harvest of strawberries, lemons and avocados.

Q. Where are they from?
A. If they are like the rest of California’s farm worker population, an estimated 95 percent were born outside the United States, and 91 percent were born in Mexico.

Q. What percentage are undocumented immigrants?
A. Precise local figures are not available, but statewide surveys suggest at least 57 percent of California’s field workers are undocumented.

Profile of farm workers**
Number of farm workers 17,000 – 24,000
Percentage born in Mexico 91%
Permanent Ventura County residents 67%
Migrants 33%
Employed year-round 20%
U.S. citizens 10%
With resident green cards 33%
Unauthorized 57%
Percent earning less than $15,000/year 75%

* Most q&a facts from http://www.farmbureauvc.com/crop_report.html#
** Work Force Investment Board, The Future of Ventura County Agriculture: Issues and Opportunities for Workers and Growers, from: http://www.wib.ventura.org 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Good research, and a good presentation of your data. Getting facts out in a digestible manner is tough - you seem to have a good feel for it.