My first year working at
California`s State Capitol in Sacramento was
basically a lot of guesswork. And more often than not, I
Western Growers Association was having a little
shindig at a restaurant just down the street from the
at the time was a member of the Assembly Committee
So naturally, we were invited.
had never been to a WGA party. But I assumed that it was
a fairly casual event because, well, they were farmers.
Yeah, not so much.
(That would be rap music, people.)
Oh yeah, I thought I was Ms. Thang in my favorite
Armani suit (with a subtle stripe). So I was
especially miffed to find the women were better
dressed than I —it just wasn`t fair…they were supposed
to be wearing
overalls and straw hats!
But these women looked like they fell off the
pages of Vogue!
had no idea that California farmers did so well.
As it turned out, they were by far the wealthiest
industry I ever encountered in Sacramento—and the most
powerful lobby (with the exception of the
California Teachers Association, worst by a wide
“Peter Rabbit Farms,
founded in 1950, is a 5,000 acre operation, including
2,000 acres of carrots, 600 acres of grapes, and 600
acres of lemons, grapefruit, and oranges. Peter Rabbit
has 120 year-round and 1,500 peak winter employees.”
"We Just Keep Growing." Yeah.
Underestimating the farming industry is a mistake that
many make—but none should.
In 1997, somewhat older and wiser, I was taking a couple
of Assemblymen and one Senator on a tour of the Central
Valley. We drove south on highway 99 and took an exit
near Selma, California.
One Assemblyman said the area smelled like
manure and fertilizer.
laughed and said “You mean it smells like
money and power.”
Western Growers Association, based in Irvine,
3000 farmers in California and Arizona.
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this industry.
These are good, hard working, conservative
people. Many of them became good friends.
They need more
water, they need more subsidies, they need more tax
exemptions and most of all…they need illegal farm
Uh huh…they need them.
Last week, they told us the lettuce crop will rot
because there is no one to harvest it. [Farmers
fear winter crops will rot in Arizona`s fields,
by Bob Christie, The York Dispatch, October 25,
According to the farmers in Yuma County,
tighter security on the Mexican border has created a
farm labor shortage in Arizona.
Arizona produces 90 percent of the country`s lettuce
during the winter months.
And, apparently, only Mexicans can pick lettuce too.
Last week, representatives from WGA met with Yuma
officials to warn them about the potential lettuce
disaster. According to the Arizona Republic (State
farmers lose workers, profits to border sweeps
by Susan Carroll, November 3, 2005) they also made a
formal request that border patrol agents pull back their
efforts during the harvest.
Western Growers is currently lobbying in Washington for
emergency legislation that would allow guest workers
from Mexico on a
temporary basis for this year`s winter season.
Tom Nassif, a lawyer and former ambassador to
Morocco, is the current President of WGA.
After his meeting with Yuma officials, he summarized the
plan during a press conference later in the day.
"We`re trying to find
a short-term solution until the Congress develops the
political will to come up with compromise legislation
that gives us a legal and stable work force.”
farmers fear worker shortage By Bob Christie,
Associated Press October 24, 2005]
This is all justified by a…labor crisis?
According to Western Growers itself, the lettuce
industry in Arizona has “exploded” over the last
“Arizona`s top fresh
produce commodity is lettuce with $356 million in cash
receipts for 2003, which has rapidly exploded to $590
million in 2004.”
Yuma County, Arizona also has a
24 percent unemployment rate.
Hmm…how can they have a 24% unemployment rate and a
labor shortage at the same time?
The farming industry does not fear a cut in the food
supply—it fears a cut in its profits.
But I`m not too worried about it.
Bryanna Bevens [email
her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff
for a member of the California State Assembly.