KCBS Cover Story Series: Central Valley Farm Jobs Dry Up With California Drought
MADERA (KCBS) – The effect of the drought on California’s agriculture industry has eliminated jobs for many farm workers, both migrants and people who call the Central Valley home year round.
A line of people outside an elementary school in Madera has been getting longer as the dry summer sets in. Reynalda Martinez and dozens of others are waiting for free groceries from the Madera County Food Bank.
Relatives from Mexico who would normally work the fields this time of year have not been working because farmers decided to plant fewer tomatoes.
“They didn’t plant as many tomatoes because there isn’t the water,” Martinez explained through an interpreter.
So the farm workers scour a nearby bulletin board for any sort of job they might qualify for. And jobs away from the fields are in short supply too.
At a packing house in Orange Cove east of Fresno, Alfredo Lopez is concerned that fewer oranges this year will mean fewer hours at the plant.
“I am kind of worried, because I’ve got a lot of bills to pay,” he said.
Madera and other drought-ravaged farm towns are getting some help from the state. California has delivered more than 5,000 boxes to the Madera County Food Bank through its Drought Food Assistance Program.
“You’ve got three pounds of rice. You got three pounds of beans,” said executive director Ryan McWhorter, cutting open one of the boxes and helping to unpack.
The DFAP program is part of a $27 million commitment from the state. McWhorter said the bigger challenge has not been finding government money, but getting those who need it most to accept.
“When they have to sign a name to something, or sign an address to something, it’s not the pride issue. It’s just them not really trusting the state.”
The unemployment rate in Madera County is still above ten percent, having never fully recovered from the recession.
“The need is so great,” McWhorter said. “Now we’ve got a drought that’s hit so hard it might take a couple years to recover from this.”
In Part 4 of the KCBS Cover Story series, reporter Matt Bigler explores how Central Valley businesses are being affected by the drought.