Grassroots organization helps Contra Costa farm workers

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Marivel Mendoza found her vision, when most of us could barely see our hands in front of our faces.

It was the summer of 2020 when wildfires sent choking smoke throughout the Bay Area. The haze turned the sky a bright orange and health officials warned against going out in the dark.

Mendoza had errands to run one day during the worst of the smoke, and her trip from her home in Oakley took her past the bountiful farms of Brentwood, where she saw farm workers, some with scarves wrapped around the mouth and nose, toiling in the fields.

They reminded her of her own family history and made her want to do something to help. Over the next two years, Mendoza teamed up with three other women – daughters of migrants and farm workers – to form Hijas del Campo, a nonprofit organization based in Contra Costa to help seasonal workers find housing, food, medical care and an education.

Q. What are the roots of your band?

A. We wanted to be advocates and shine a light on the people who work the land, highlighting the life and work of a campesino and a campesina and their families. Even in Contra Costa County, there are a lot of people who don’t know that there are very vibrant farms here in East County.

Hijas del Campo was born out of our response that summer to the tons of fires. The air quality was horrible. It was minimal exposure for us, but these people were working on it.

I posted a message on a local Facebook group, trying to research which organization was working with the campesino community. I got a lot of responses from people who didn’t know, but said they would like to help. They couldn’t do the job, but they were willing to donate.

Dorina (Moraida, co-founder and now vice president of the group) reached out and we connected. We quickly found others.

Q. What was your next step?

A. We received donations, got permission to set up a table at a farm, and took food, PPE, school supplies, anything we could think of and could get. We wanted to give them those things, but we didn’t want it to end there. We wanted to continue to support them.

Q. What are some of the challenges or issues facing agricultural workers in this region?

A. These are the same things we all face – housing, paying for food, healthcare – but more. If they are undocumented, they don’t get stimulus money. If they get sick, they don’t have access to health care. If their children get sick, they have no support.

During the pandemic, they started asking us about COVID, so we got involved in vaccine equity through Contra Costa Health Services. Our brown and black communities have been most affected by sickness and death.

We were the first to deploy a vaccination clinic on a farm, vaccinating farm workers and their families. We always want to make sure we meet them where they are. They don’t have much time to do extra things and gas is expensive, so we always want to go to them. At this point, we basically did one clinic a month.

It’s kind of how we grew up.

Q. Do you find a lot of community support for the programs?

A. We’ve been lucky enough to partner with some pretty amazing farms – Frog Hollow being one of them – that allow us to bring resources to farm workers.

Without farms, we have no work. Without work, we have no food on our tables. If we build relationships, everything else falls into place – better working conditions, better pay, better life.

We have partnered with many different organizations to help with schooling, food, and health care. We’ve tried to build trust with the workers – many of whom are full-time residents here – so when we see a need, we try to find ways to meet it.

Q. You mentioned that you have a family connection to farming.

A. Yes, my parents moved from Mexico and were farmhands at Hollister. They were both from Michoacan, Mexico, a small little town. My mother was 17 and my father 19. They came to find their dream, and they found it. They eventually moved to Oakland, where I was born. My father got into roofing and my mother stayed home to take care of us six children.

The story is the same for the majority of people who come here in search of a better life. That is why it is important to help campesinos and their families. Tilling the land is important work, and it’s very necessary, but it doesn’t have to stop there.

Being a farmhand is amazing. This is how we can feed our community, our state, our country. But he is dying. We have fewer farms due to development. Farmers can make a lot of money selling their land, but we need people who know the land, how to work it. How do we take care of the earth so that it is viable and we can plan for the years to come?

Q. What is the future of Hijas del Campo?

A. Slowly we are tapping into the community, sometimes one person at a time. What we hope is to organize a job fair later in the year. We have a lot of ideas and a lot of things in motion. We always ask “what else?” What else can we do, what else can we help with?

We bring all of our children with us. They help us bring food to people, and when we organize an event, they are there with us. We want to be able to convey all of this with them. We teach them to take care of the members of our community and to remember where we come from.

It’s the seeds you plant along the way that count. Even if they don’t bloom today, they will in the future.


MARIVE MENDOZA

Age: 38

Title: President, co-founder of Hijas del Campo

Residence: Oakley

Education: perpetual student

Family: Married with two sons, aged 3 and 8

FIVE THINGS ABOUT MARIVEL MENDOZA

Didn’t find the time to complete college, but took a wide variety of courses and, as a promise to her mother, plans to get that degree eventually

Never played sports as a child, so she’s determined to keep her two sons playing

Her favorite activity outside of work is watching her eldest son compete in swimming

Originally planned to be an architect

Worked with his father to install roofs

Learn more at www.facebook.com/groups/hijasdelcampo, and donations can be made via https://linktr.ee/hijasdelcampo.

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