UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance
University of California
UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance

Fall 2012: News and Resources Related to Ag Labor

Regional Report Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties by Julie Newman

Ag Labor Shortage

There is an increasing agricultural labor shortage in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. In response, some growers and labor contractors have been forced to raise pay and benefits. Rene Van Wingerden, a greenhouse grower who produces cut flowers and cucumbers, had to raise beginning wages in Nipomo so he could compete with local vegetable growers. Richard De Leon, who runs a labor contractor business in Ventura County and Mexico, raised wages 5 percent annually over the past few years to entice work crews. He currently pays $11.50 to $12 an hour, but still finds that he cannot obtain sufficient labor when it is needed.

Santa Barbara County flower and nursery growers report that it is more difficult to replace employees who leave and that work pool applicants are not as qualified as in previous years. They have partially addressed the problem by hiring high school students for summer work and on Saturdays. The students are typically relatives of employed workers. Other growers are coping with the labor shortage by sharing harvest crews. Tom Ikeda says that growers in his Central Coast vegetable cooperative have found that crew sharing has been a “win-win” for workers who have more steady employment and for farmers who can get their crops harvested during critical peak periods.

The labor shortage problem is tied to the unwillingness of most Americans to do agricultural work and reliance on a mostly Mexican workforce. The size of the Mexican workforce has dwindled due to declines in immigration that began about five years ago. For the first time in two decades, flows of unauthorized Mexicans into the United States have significantly slowed, according to recent findings by the Pew Hispanic Center, which is a nonpartisan research organization that is part of the nonprofit Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. Experts contributing to this report surmise that immigration has declined because of fewer U.S. jobs, tougher border patrols, more dangerous border crossings, increased deportation, lower Mexican birthrates and Mexico's improving economy. There may now be more people leaving the United States and going to Mexico than vice versa.

Agricultural labor shortages are a common problem throughout California, particularly in agricultural areas farther north of the Mexican border. The state Department of Food and Agriculture reported in 2010 that “labor instability” has caused some growers to stop growing high-value crops or move production overseas. Other farming states are also experiencing a decrease in agriculture workers.

Sources: “Agriculture producers face dropping supply of harvesters” by Carol Lawrence, Ventura County Star, 25 August 2012; “Farmers report early signs of labor shortages” by Steve Adler, AgAlert, California Farm Bureau Federation, 9 May 2012; discussion with Santa Barbara County Flower and Nursery Growers Association Board members, 2-4 October 2012.


Carpinteria Farm Worker Housing Renovation Project

The Chapel Court Apartments, a farm worker housing project built in Carpinteria nearly 40 years ago, is undergoing extensive renovation. The project includes new roofing, gutters, double-pane windows, doors, exterior lights, fire sprinkler systems, and interior and exterior painting of the 28-unit facility. New hot water heaters and appliances will be installed in each unit and the kitchens and bathrooms will be renovated. More than 40 volunteers participated in a kickoff community event last June to paint the property fence. Construction will begin in November and is slated to be completed in approximately 6 months.

Chapel Court apts

Renovation begins this November of the Chapel Court Apartments in Carpinteria, a 28-unit farm  worker housing project originally constructed nearly 40 years ago (Photo courtesy of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing).

The project is spearheaded by Peoples’ Self-Help Housing  (http://www.pshhc.org/), a nonprofit organization that helps provide housing for low-income, special needs, elderly, and previously homeless residents in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Peoples’ Self-Help Housing secured more than $1 million in funding for the project from the Joe Serna Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant Program  (administered by the Housing and Community Development Division, State of California)  and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information call Peoples’ Self-Help Housing Executive Director Jeanette Duncan at (805) 540-2454 or Rochelle Rose, Resource Development Director, at (805) 699-7227.


Fillmore Farm Worker Housing

House Farm Workers! (http://aginnovations.org/projects/housefarmworkers/) was founded in 2004 by the Ventura County Ag Futures Alliance Farm Worker Housing Task Force to promote and support the development of decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing for farm workers through community education, dialogue and advocacy. Accomplishments include facilitating the planning and development of 357 farm worker housing units in Ventura County. One opportunity they are working to promote is low-cost room and board currently available in Fillmore at one of a few operational labor camps left in Ventura County. Details are provided in downloadable flyers in both English (http://aginnovations.org/images/uploads/Fillmore_Labor_Camp_Flyer_English.pdf) and Spanish (http://aginnovations.org/images/uploads/Fillmore_Labor_Camp_Flyer_SPANISH.pdf).

Of the more than 20,000 farm workers in Ventura County, two thirds are permanent county residents who must pool their resources to live in over-crowded apartments and houses or in structures not intended for human habitation. This is because the Ventura County’s housing market is among the least affordable in the United States and farm workers in Ventura County only average approximately $17,000 annually.


Migrant Education Programs

Regional migrant education programs for students in Kern, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are designed to strengthen the school, community and family experiences of children and their families. The programs are supplemental and assist migratory students to succeed in their academic course work, improve staff's ability to teach migratory students effectively, and build a support network for educators, students and their families.

Three programs are available to all eligible migratory children and parents throughout the Region: Migrant Education Even Start (MEES), Portable Assisted Study Sequence (PASS) and MiniCorps. MEES provides family literacy and parenting programs for parents and their preschool children, PASS provides supplementary courses towards graduation in English and Spanish for migratory students in grades nine to twelve, and MiniCorps college students from migrant family backgrounds provide academic tutoring and social support for migratory students.

The Ventura County Education Office is the local education agency for migrant education programs in Ventura County. The programs are operated by 13 school districts with approximately 100 schools. For more information, contact Joe Mendoza, Director Special Populations Educational Support, at (805) 437-1520,

The Santa Barbara County Education Office is the local education agency for migrant education programs in 18 school districts in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties that provide services to 3,000 migrant students and families. For more information, contact Maria Garcia-Cacique, Director Migrant Education, at 805-922-0788, mgcacique@sbceo.org.


Ventura County Publications

Farm workers face many challenges including low wages, seasonal work, high occupational hazards, lack of adequate housing, lack of medical and retirement benefits, poor transportation, insufficient training, illiteracy and language barriers, physical and cultural isolation, lack of respect, illegal residence and lack of documentation. There are also external factors that affect farm workers including immigration and trade policy and state and national legislation. The following papers and reports discuss various topics that affect farm workers in Ventura County and/or present statistical information related to agricultural labor issues.

“Ag Worker Health Access: A Comprehensive Local Solution.” Ventura County Ag Futures Alliance, Issue Paper No. 5, 2008.

“Farm Worker Housing: A Crisis Calling for Community Action.” Ventura County Ag Futures Alliance, Issue Paper No. 2, June 2002.

“The Future of Ventura County Agriculture: Issues and Opportunities for Workers and Growers.” Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County,  2006. http://farmbureauvc.com/pdf_forms/WIB_report.pdf.

“Ventura County's Agricultural Future: Challenges and Opportunities.” Ken Kambara, Dan Hamilton, Kirk Lesh, Chuck Maxey, Bill Watkins, and Susan Weaver, May 2008.

Julie P Newman
Floriculture and Nursery Crops Advisor
UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County
669 County Square Drive, #100
Ventura, CA 93003-5401
(805) 645-1459 phone, (805) 645-1474 fax


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