How the Central Valley Tour Changed My Life - Women's Foundation California

By Ellen Sloan

It has been over a month now since I returned from the Women’s Foundation of California tour of California’s Central Valley, Sowing Change 2010. As a result of having my consciousness expanded to include the world I saw 100 miles from my home in LA, I am much more aware of what I eat and drink because most of it comes from or through the Central Valley. I want my 12 and 14 year old daughters to understand the injustice that is happening to the residents of our state, of our country.

Here are specific actions I have taken or will take:

  • Rededicate myself to buying organic produce, especially for the dirty dozen*:
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Spinach
  • Cherries
  • Kale and collard greens
  • Potatoes
  • Grapes
  • Plant more strawberries, potatoes, blueberries and sweet peppers in my garden next year.  I sometimes cringe at the cost differential between organic and conventionally grown produce, so now I will find alternatives including growing more of my own and stocking my freezer when I find organic berries on sale.
  • Not eat any of the dirty dozen in restaurants or at buffets unless I am guaranteed they are organic. I feel it is my duty to educate others in buffet lines, which happens about once a week, about the hazards of eating grapes and strawberries in the fruit salad and spinach and bell peppers in the salad. I have found this a great way to start a discussion with others in line. They seem genuinely interested in what I have to say and also choose to avoid those foods.
  • Only buy organic raisins. I won’t eat raisins in restaurants or at Starbucks with the oatmeal, because they’re not organic. In fact, I won’t buy any dried fruit that is not organic.
  • Pay more attention to the quality of the water that comes out of my faucets.  I recently saw that the aqueduct that carries our drinking water is routed through the fields where pesticides are used and diesel trucks regularly pass by. Los Angeles has equipment to remove contaminants but does it get them all?  I don’t want to find out the hard way so I will:
  • Read, not scan, the next annual water report from the City of LA
  • Change my water filter to reverse osmosis to make sure most of the possible contaminants are removed
  • Install filters on the shower heads
  • Watch educational movies with my girls. We recently watched the movie about Erin Brockovich. Julia Roberts is great in her Oscar winning role.  The language is colorful (which is why it is rated R) but it was worth it for the girls to see what happened in Hinckley.  Seeing this true story come to life made it easier for them to understand how toxins are affecting the people of the Central Valley. As part of the Special Features, we learned that Erin got quite sick from all the toxins she was exposed to on her visits to Hinckley, CA over the two years she worked on the case.  (Mind you, she was just visiting, not living there, and she got sick.)  The closing credits say that their next case was against PG&E in Kettleman Hills, which is 6.5 miles from Kettleman City that was discussed in my last blog. The movie also helped my girls better understand power dynamics and imbalances in places like Hinckley, California and the communities we visited in the Central Valley.
  • Spread the word to let others know about what is going on in our state where so many people are treated as though they are disposable.  I don’t believe that we would see the same things happening in LA or San Francisco that we see in the Central Valley. But when the power lies with a few powerful industries like agribusiness, energy and waste treatment and the rest of the populace is made up of workers – many  of whom are immigrants with little income and education — the local governments usually listen to those with the money and the loudest voices.
  • Work on several ideas to allow others (including teens) to experience the Central Valley like I did. So stay tuned!

Several of you have told me you have been moved by my blogs and/or our conversations and have asked how you can help. So here is how you can help:

  • $50 – Provides mileage reimbursement for activists to drive long distances to educate community members
  • $100 – Offers translation services to help non-English speakers understand the variety of toxins and chemicals in their water
  • · $150 – Supports training for women leaders to learn how to deliver persuasive testimony at critical town hall meetings
  • $1,000 – Covers the cost of fundraising training for grassroots organizations to build support for their efforts

Between now and December 31, 2010, every gift over $150 will be matched dollar for dollar.

  • Spread the word. Pass my blog posts on to your friends.
  • Here are the links:
  1. Community Change in the Central Valley – Pixley, California
  2. Clean Water: A Right or  a Privilege
  3. Kettleman City: Mothers Demanding a Healthy Future
  • Sign up for the Women’s Foundation of California enews so that you can learn more about the connections between what’s going on in the Central Valley and the rest of California.
  • Realize that we are all connected and not just through the produce and water we consume but as human beings.  What is happening in the Central Valley is unjust and the residents need our support as they strive to gain what most of us take for granted – safe drinking water, relatively clean air, and access to affordable fresh produce.

*Environmental Working Group – for full list go to


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