The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program is launching a project to address California farmworkers’ living and working conditions. Through one-on-one interviews with members of local organizations that serve farmworkers, the researchers intend to learn how the university can best help with research, education and outreach.

“A sustainable food system is healthy and safe for everyone, including all those who work the land,” said Tom Tomich, director of SAREP. “As SAREP continues to support sustainable agriculture research, we look forward to identifying research opportunities that will improve farmworker conditions.”

California farmworkers face many challenges at work and in their communities. Nearly a quarter of California farmworker families live in poverty, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. While farmworkers play a crucial role in feeding Californians, food insecurity is among the many challenges they face daily. Farm work is one of the most hazardous occupations in the state, but nearly 70 percent of California farmworkers have no health insurance, according to a California Institute for Rural Studies report.  

SAREP aims to help researchers add context to these numbers by interviewing members of organizations that work with farmworkers and other stakeholders. Participants will be asked to suggest the types of research, education and communication projects they would find most helpful as they work to improve farm laborers’ working and living conditions. The research agenda is scheduled to be completed by September 2012.

“Projects such as this – creating a research agenda with the participation of people who will ultimately use the information for their work – is inspired by the University of California’s land grant mission to serve society,” said Gail Feenstra, SAREP food systems coordinator. “SAREP was founded to help ensure all California agricultural interests, particularly the underserved voices, are supported through scientific research, education and outreach.”

Research regarding California farmworker issues has been conducted, but there is more to do. SAREP aims to assist both researchers and farmworkers by identifying research that workers and community organizations would find most useful.

In addition to identifying research topics, key stakeholders and potential partners and funders, SAREP is forming an advisory committee to guide its farmworker research and outreach efforts.