California Drought Leaves Farm Workers Unemployed


The unprecedented drought in California’s Central Valley is the worst drought the state has seen in 500 years, according to Lynn Ingram, professor of paleoclimatology at the University of California Berkeley. Water allocations for farmers has dropped to zero in a valley that typically produces nearly 30 percent of the country’s fresh fruit and vegetables (check out Fusion's previous report on how farm workers can't afford fresh produce themselves).


President Obama visited the area in February and promised economic support for farmers and ranchers. But little attention has been given to the impact the drought is having on migrant farm workers who depend on fieldwork to provide for their families.

Thousands of acres have been fallowed in the past month, and farm worker unemployment has skyrocketed, forcing migrants to depend almost entirely on a network of nonprofit food banks. Andy Souza, CEO of the Community Food Bank based in Fresno, believes the impact will continue to worsen over the next few months. Currently, his organization is serving 6,000 people a month, but says that will increase to 20,000 people per month before the year is over. “We’re going from supplemental food assistance to primary food assistance. Really, we’re becoming the main source of food for many of these families,” he said.

Planting season typically begins in April, but with no water for the fields, many migrant workers will be left with little to no employment for the year.

Steve Fisher is the Univision News Fellow at UC Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies <> and is currently studying at that university’s Graduate School of Journalism.