Ag at Large: Farm worker families unite for better lives

Delano-based Central Valley Farmworker Foundation (CVFF) serves and supports Central Valley farmworkers and helps them develop personal and professional skills by providing programs and services in Personal Development, Professional Development, Health and Wellness, Community Engagement, and Immigration and Citizenship. Pictured here are farm workers taking part in a health workshop offered by CVFF in partnership with Self Help Enterprises and Family Healthcare Network. (Photo: Central Valley Farmworker Foundation)

Farm workers in California’s Central Valley have created a new organization that helps them expand and strengthen their health, social and civil responsibilities. Benefits are accruing rapidly for them and their employers.

The organization called Central Valley Farmworker Foundation (CVFF) began to take shape in 2015, and was incorporated in October 2016. Its members take part in local group meetings where health, education, community service, financial stability and social and civic responsibilities are discussed and shaped. Goals of the meetings include greater community responsibility, citizenship and increased participation.

Headquarters for the organization are in downtown Delano, but the goals of its leaders are for a positive influence in farm workers’ lives from Shafter to Earlimart across Kern County. They acknowledge that its potential growth is unlimited and might extend statewide eventually. A similar organization has been operating for several years in Napa Valley, establishing successful procedures and practices that CVFF can use as examples.

Although he prefers to remain behind the scenes, Delano farm labor contractor Joe Garcia has been instrumental in CVFF’s formation, and serves as its president. Day-to-day leadership and program specifics are the responsibility of Hernan Hernandez, a Delano native and Cal State Bakersfield graduate with impressive social, political and human relations experience.

Much of Hernandez’s youth was spent in Richgrove, the small agricultural community a few miles east of Delano. His farm worker grandparents still live there and work in the fields. After college, an early job for him was with the Internal Revenue Service in Fresno, after which he worked for the Tulare County Health Department and later in political campaigns in Monterey County.

The work of scheduling and conducting group meetings in the outlying communities is shared by CVFF volunteers, county health, education, law enforcement, business and immigration workers who share their knowledge with groups of farm workers. A question-and-answer format is popular, and refreshments are a staple.

A kind of endorsement for CVFF’s development-centered curriculum comes from the Delano School District, which has embraced the organization’s formation of tutoring sessions for students. Started recently, more than 30 students are enrolled, with instruction afforded by parents trained in specific curriculum subjects and by school district personnel.

Because obesity leading to diabetes is widespread among their constituents, the CVFF leaders have instituted Zumba classes in all the locations they serve. The nationally-known exercise/dance program has been extremely popular with foundation members of all ages. Classes are led by experienced instructors.

Last fall, CVFF sponsored an all-day gathering at a public park in Delano. Members and friends brought their children for free ice cream, bounce houses and a free taco lunch for adults. The spirit of camaraderie was pervasive.

Farmer-employers are noticing an improved spirit and closer cooperation among their workers. Several have asked how they can support the foundation’s work. CVFF is registered with state and federal authorities as a non-profit organization, capable of receiving contributions.

Opportunities are unlimited for this organization to improve the lives of its members and the entire farm worker community. The opportunities extend to all the communities where CVFF members reside as they accept greater responsibilities for maintaining stability and taking part in community affairs.

Without support or interference from government agencies and bureaus, this grass roots organization seems capable of becoming a widespread movement. If farm workers have not been part of local, even statewide and national affairs, it has not been by choice. CVFF is opening a door to citizen reality for farm workers, many of whom are of Mexican heritage.

At the next big CVFF gathering, “The Star-Spangled Banner” may be played by a mariachi band.