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Hector Ramirez worked in a tomato field in Huron, Calif.

Los Angeles Times,

California drought chases workers away

  • Article by: Diana Marcum
  • Los Angeles Times
  • June 3, 2014 - 7:49 PM

– The two fieldworkers scraped hoes over weeds that weren’t there.

“Let us pretend we see many weeds,” Francisco Galvez told his friend Rafael. That way, maybe they’d get a week’s work.

They always tried to get jobs together. Rafael, the older man, had a truck. Galvez spoke English. But this was the first time in a month, together or alone, that they’d found work.

They were two men in a field where there should have been two crews of 20. A farmer had gambled on planting drought-resistant garbanzo beans where there was no longer enough water for tomatoes or onions. Judging by the garbanzo plants’ blond edges, it was a losing bet.

Galvez, 35, said his dream is to work every day until he is too bent and worn, then live a little longer and play with his grandchildren. Most of all, he wants to stay put.

But the slowly unfurling disaster of California’s drought is catching up to him. Each day more families are leaving for Arizona, Washington — anywhere there are jobs.

Even in years when rain falls and the Sierra mountains hold a snowpack that will water almonds and onions, cattle and cantaloupes, Huron’s population swells and withers with the season.

These days in Huron — and all the other farmworker communities on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley — even the permanent populations are packing up.

“The house across the street from us — they all left yesterday,” Galvez said. “Maybe this town won’t be here anymore?”

Before the drought moved into its third year, Galvez paid the rent and bought his children school supplies. When he left for the fields, his wife, Maya, would send him off with a lunch of tortillas, beans and fruit. It was late afternoon on this day. He hadn’t eaten since the night before.

Long before sunrise, Galvez went to the parking lot in front of a bakery. He waited with other laborers for a contractor to drive up and bark an offer.

The week before the going rate was $8 an hour. So many people have fled town that farmers were hurting for workers and the offer on this day had gone up to $8.50 an hour. Still, Galvez wasn't hired.

In May, when Huron’s population of 7,000 once doubled with workers planting and picking, Galvez found three days of work in two weeks.

Galvez and Maya called a family meeting. They told the children they would probably be moving to Texas soon.

© 2014 Star Tribune