California farmworkers face high rates of food insecurity, obesity

Nearly half of the farmworkers in Yolo County, California, face food insecurity, three times the rate of farm workers in the rest of California and in the United States, says a new report out by the California Institute for Rural Studies (CIRS). Earlier CIRS surveys found that 66 percent of farm workers in Salinas, Monterey County, and 44 percent of farmworkers in Fresno County are also food insecure.

Of Yolo County’s 6,900 farm workers, 47 percent lack sufficient access to food, despite the fact that they live in a predominantly agricultural community with some 1,000 farms. Yolo County is located just west of Sacramento and includes the University of California, Davis, a well-known ag research campus, as well as headquarters for 30 international seed research companies. And yet, the local food bank provides food to 25,000 residents a month.

“Despite the demanding physical nature of agricultural labor, in general, indicators for diet related conditions among farm workers are worse than both the Latino and the general populations of the US,” says the report. “Stanford University researchers found that for every five years of residence in the US, male migrant workers in the Salinas Valley showed a 35 percent increase in fast food consumption and a 50 percent increase in alcohol consumption. Over a ten year period, the same researchers found the prevalence of obesity increased 47 percent among male farm workers in general, and 91 percent for men living in migrant housing facilities.”

One farmworker told CIRS: ‘I’m disappointed in this country, which is supposed to be the best in the world. Here it’s not true that if you work hard you’ll have health and housing. I’ve been working day and night, and no, in this country there is no health.’”

The report, which was funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, notes that farmworkers are prone to food insecurity because they lack a stable, year-round income, often don’t have transportation to get to a grocery store and underutilize food assistance programs like SNAP. Some 17 percent of CA farmworkers also lack kitchens, according to CIRS.