Cornucopia’s Take: Affordable housing is rare in Salinas Valley, where much of the country’s lettuce is grown. Some larger companies are beginning to build worker housing in order to guarantee a workforce large enough to harvest the crops.
How a Farmworker ‘Company Town’ Is Taking Shape in the Salinas Valley
by Lisa Morehouse
If you’ve read your John Steinbeck and listened to your Merle Haggard, or if you grew up in a farmworker family, you know that farm laborers in California have struggled to find decent housing for decades.
Except in a few cases, growers have no legal obligation to house employees, and there’s not a lot of state and federal money earmarked for farmworker housing. In the Salinas Valley — the fifth- least-affordable place to live in the country — there’s just not enough decent housing for all the people needed to pick crops like lettuce and strawberries.
If you’re a farmworker in the Salinas Valley, odds are, you’re living in the neighborhood of East Salinas. When I visit 18-year-old Rocio Tafoya at her apartment here, one of the first things she shows me is the bathroom. It has water damage and mold, and a tiny shower she can barely turn around in.
“This is how we open the cold water.” She grabs a wrench, and yanks on what’s left of the knob. “We don’t have hot water right now, it’s just cold.”