Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Central Valley? - Women's Foundation California

By Michelle Chandra, Communications Associate, Women’s Foundation California
All photos by Nader Khouri.

As a long term resident of California, I would be the last to willingly admit any ignorance of my home state. Having grown up on the Central Coast, attended a UC (University of California school) and become a resident of the Bay Area, I consider myself well-versed on my favorite place in the world. Yet, my knowledge of the Central Valley, one of the bread baskets of the world, is sorely lacking. I only recently drove through the Central Valley on Interstate 5, a highway coworkers warned me about because of its reputation for car accidents. Mainly, it was hot. The land flat, with the only signs of life an occasional gas station and fast food joint―markers in between vast stretches of fields.

What I couldn’t see while passing through those 400 miles on my way to LA were the 6.5 million people that call the Central Valley home. One-quarter of the food Americans eat is grown in the Central Valley, which leads the nation in agricultural production. But the area also has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. And the San Joaquin Valley ranks high on the list of counties with polluted air.

For the past 30 years, the Women’s Foundation of California has funded community organizations in the region―organizations dedicated to transforming the Central Valley into a healthier and safer place to live. The Central Valley has a long tradition of community organizing since those days when Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta joined forces and created the United Farm Workers of America.

Last year, the Foundation launched Sowing Change, a tour that introduces funders to some of the most pressing issues facing the Central Valley, and gives funders a chance to meet and learn from the leaders tackling these problems. Funders met the women walkers of the Greenfield Walking Group who reclaimed their park from gang leaders, making it clean and safe for the residents to exercise and play.

They met members of the  Dolores Huerta Foundation, which has been integral to organizing for basic services for the unincorporated communities in the area, many of which lack access to clean water. Another organization important to this work is the Community Water Center. These are just a few of the organizations who met with attendees last year to share their work, vision and victories.

This year, the tour will cover a variety of interconnected topics affecting communities in the Central Valley including women’s leadership in community and policy settings, sustainable agriculture, healthy lifestyles and healthy communities, reproductive health and environmental toxins and the development of a green economy appropriate for rural communities.

Visit our website for more information about the tour, including highlights of this year’s program and the full list of topics we will be addressing. Check out video of last year’s tour.

Central Valley in the News:

Pick up a copy of Mother Jones magazine this month. Reporter Jacques Leslie, who attended Sowing Change 2009, profiles the effect of pollution on the community of Kettleman City. On news stands now!

Check out the extensive coverage of the San Joaquin Valley in Newsweek’s special report: The Valley of Shadows.

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