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By Eric Johnson
Published May 15, 2023

A farmworker takes a break from picking raspberries inside a hoop-house in the Salinas Valley. A farmworker takes a break from picking raspberries inside a hoop-house in the Salinas Valley. Image credit: Photo by David A Litman, Shutterstock

California Agriculture & Immigration: Member Newsletter, May 15

As the decades-long immigration crisis makes headlines once again, with tens of thousands of desperate people amassing at our southern border, I want to spend a few minutes considering one maddening statistic.

There’s a disturbing fact buried in Jon Vankin’s explainer about California’s agriculture industry, which is truly one of the Golden State’s great gifts to the nation and the world: Fully 75 percent of the people who work in our most valuable industry (measured in gross revenue) are undocumented immigrants.

Let’s put that fact in context. 

We have known that our immigration system is out of alignment with our economic needs and our values for a long time. And we have known what to do. 

In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush called for comprehensive reform of our immigration laws. “We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis,” he said. “As a result, they won’t have to try to sneak in, and that will leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists.”

That idea still makes sense, and it’s at the heart of President Joe Biden’s reform proposal. When the House of Representatives last week passed a doomed bill with no such provision, it was opposed by every Democrat and two Republicans. One of those was Rep. John Duarte of Merced, who witnesses the pain caused by the federal government’s failure on this topic in his district.

Duarte’s opposition to the punitive bill, authored and carried by Texas congressmembers, was that it is not a good-faith effort to solve anything, because his colleagues chose ideological posturning over legitimate problem-solving. He said he would have preferred a bill that could “bring some Democratic support and have a chance in the Senate.”

There is still hope that this will be the year that the US Congress will get something done. As the stories below show, the situation’s history is long and the stakes are high.

Doing the Work that Feeds the Nation

California’s ag industry does not have the glitz of Hollywood or Silicon Valley, but it feeds the nation. And as has been the case since the Gold Rush, much of the value is created by immigrants.

How California Feeds the Country

They help feed the whole country, but life for California’s farm workers remains a struggle.
California stands as America’s agricultural powerhouse, growing half of its fruits and vegetables. Here’s how California farming has shaped the state, from the early missions to today’s “factories in the field.”

California’s History of Immigration: How Immigrants Built the State

Immigrants continue to shape the face of California today.
From long before it became a state, to the present day, immigration has shaped California—but they have often been treated poorly. Here’s how immigrants helped build California, through the state’s mixed history with immigration.

Farming Amidst Climate Crisis

California farmers are adapting to drier, hotter weather by turning to crops not seen here before. 

Mangoes and Agave in the Central Valley?

Gary Gragg examines buds on one of the mango plants he's growing in the Sacramento Valley.
The future of farming in California is changing as the planet warms, altering the rain and heat patterns that guide which crops are grown where. “We’re adjusting for survival,” one grower said.

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Recent News

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• Placerville’s Christmas Tree Placed on the Disabled List

Placerville’s landmark redwood, at the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Main Street, will have to sit out its traditional role as the city’s Christmas tree this year, the City Council decided.

(05/15/2023) → Mountain Democrat

• Keep Tahoe Blue Gains Support for Education Center

The League to Save Lake Tahoe's plan to redevelop an aging office building into a new environment and education center, as well as the organization's headquarters, is building momentum.

(05/15/2023) → Tahoe Daily Tribune

• City Begins Dark Sky Lighting Retrofits on US 50 Corridor

The city of South Lake Tahoe has begun phase one of converting pedestrian lights along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor to fixtures that minimize light pollution in the night sky.

(05/12/2023) → Tahoe Daily Tribune

• South Tahoe PUD to Discuss Recycled Water Strategies

The South Tahoe Public Utility District is developing a strategic plan for recycled water to analyze options and establish a roadmap for the future. The district will host a public meeting from 6-8 p.m. May 23.

(05/12/2023) → Tahoe Daily Tribune

• Bobcat Sightings on the Rise at Lake Tahoe

Photographs have been flowing into the Tahoe Tribune email featuring bobcats that have been spotted around the region, leading the newspaper to explore whether there are more of the felines in the area.

(05/12/2023) → Tahoe Daily Tribune

• Project Frontier Applicant Withdraws

El Dorado County received notification that the application for Project Frontier—proposed on a swath of land south of the El Dorado Hills Business Park on the west side of Latrobe Road—has been withdrawn. The 208-acre property is owned by Winn Ridge Investments LLC.

(05/11/2023) → Village Life

• Caldor Fire Suspects Have Date Set for Pretrial

David Scott Smith of Somerset and Travis Shane Smith of Folsom—the father and son accused of igniting the Caldor Fire in 2021—are set to make an appearance at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 22 and 23 in El Dorado County Superior Court Department 1.

(05/11/2023) → Tahoe Daily Tribune

• Projects Create Local Markets for Forest-Clearing Biomass

Area jurisdictions move forward with biomass facilities to put to better use excess green waste. In exchange, we get heat and electricity.

(05/11/2023) → Moonshine Ink

• Boeger to Run in District 3

El Dorado County Planning Commissioner Lexi Boeger has announced she plans to run to El Dorado County’s District 3 supervisorial seat. The Placerville resident is a volunteer and advocate representing agriculture, small business and arts and culture development.

(05/08/2023) → Mountain Democrat
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Upcoming Government Meetings

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Event sponsor logo City of Placerville / Cannabis Community Benefits Committee Meeting
Tuesday May 16 2023   3:30 PM
Event sponsor logo City of Placerville / Planning Commission Meeting
Tuesday May 16 2023   6:00 PM
Event sponsor logo City of Placerville / Recreation and Parks Commission
Wednesday May 17 2023   6:00 PM
Event sponsor logo City of Placerville / Placerville City Council Meeting
Tuesday May 23 2023   5:00 PM