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Sonoma County Grape Growers provide funding for new farmworker housing complex

Sonoma County grape growers have stepped up their commitment to improve the social plight of their workforce by contributing almost $100,000 for construction of a farmworker housing complex.

The Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation raised the money from donations from companies such as Balleto Vineyards and Winery, Rodney Strong Wine Estates, the Rubin Family of Wines, Sangiacomo Vineyards, Vino Farms and Jackson Family Wines.

The money helped cover a funding gap that would have delayed construction of Ortiz Plaza, a 30-unit complex for farmworkers west of Larkfield. Federal, state and local agencies have provided $11 million for the project. Rents will be capped at 30 percent of families’ incomes. Farmworkers spend about half of their estimated $18,000 to $22,000 annual income on housing, according to Chris Paige, executive director for California Human Development, a nonprofit agency that assists farmworkers.

The nonprofit growers foundation was relaunched earlier this year as an initiative by the Sonoma County Winegrowers to focus on the needs of the workforce, citing the fact that the labor supply is tight due to stricter immigration restrictions and a dwindling supply of qualified workers.

It also came after a 2015 survey of the estimated 5,000 county farmworkers, primarily Latinos working mostly in the $600 million local grape industry. Among other findings, the survey noted 30 percent of farmworkers received housing support from their employer, with 14 percent living on their worksite. About one-third lived in overcrowded residences, meaning that they shared a bedroom with two or more roommates.

Karissa Kruse, president of the growers and executive director of the foundation, said growers have held two meetings so far to elicit input from farmworkers and plan more after harvest. Workers were all concerned with immigration, but noted other issues such as the lack of preventative health care and child care options, she added.

For example, she noted that childcare for farmworkers does not typically match up with their schedules, given that they come to work early and are typically off by later afternoon, or face days where inclement weather may keep them home.

“For any business, your employees are the competitive advantage you have,” Kruse said. “It’s no different in agriculture.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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