Without farmworkers, Ventura County wouldn’t be the fertile, agricultural paradise it is.
And those workers need low-cost housing, John Krist, CEO of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, said Thursday at the From Field to Fork dinner in Moorpark.
“If farmworkers were expelled from the country, Ventura County would dry up and blow away,” Krist said. “Without those workers, there is no farming, and without farming, this isn’t Ventura County anymore.”
Now in its sixth year, the event raises money to promote affordable housing. It celebrates both farmworkers and the food of Ventura County with a gourmet meal created from locally grown produce. Not only was all of the food donated, but so were the services of the local chefs who put the dinner together under the supervision of Tim Kilcoyne, a local chef and restaurateur who runs the Scratch food truck operation.
Money raised goes to the House Farm Workers organization, a nonprofit that works to promote affordable housing. Krist is on the group’s board of directors.
Also during the dinner, three $1,000 Ellen Brokaw scholarships were awarded to local college-bound students. This was the second year the scholarships were awarded.
Krist said House Farm Workers grew from a group that has been advocating affordable housing since 2002. The organization officially formed in 2004 to bring together volunteers to advocate for housing for the approximately 36,000 people who plant, pick and pack fruits and vegetables in Ventura County.
“We have two or three families crammed into apartments or people living in converted garages” because housing is so expensive in the area, Krist said.
Ancenio Lopez, executive director of the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project in Oxnard, said he and others from his organization were on hand to support housing for farmworkers and the scholarships.
“I came here to support Ellen Brokaw,” he said. “She works to put farmworkers’ children through college, and a college education is important. I admire her altruism. Anything we can do to support farmworkers and their families is valuable for all of us.”
He agreed that finding affordable housing is a challenge.
“The need for housing for farmworkers is huge,” he said.
The dinner started with appetizers prepared by Executive Chef Ernie Borjas of the Waterfront Catering Co. He made roasted vegetable tamale lollipops, or paletas, with produce from Rio Gozo Farm in Ojai.
There were also stuffed squash blossoms filled with chopped squash and served with pesto made from the tops of spring onions and tomato jam. Gabe Garcia, executive chef at Tierra Sur in Oxnard, said he was disappointed he couldn’t do more for the dinner, but he had to cater another event afterward.
“There are so many reasons I like this event,” he said. “This is what we do best: locally sourced, kosher food. We do it up.”
The main course, made by Kilcoyne, was slow-roasted pork shoulder with barbecue sauce, creamed corn, coal-roasted cabbage and stone fruit.
Eric Reiter of Reiter Affiliated Cos., which grows strawberries in Oxnard among its many operations, said his company strives to help its workers.
“We’re committed to everyone in our company. Our philosophy is honesty, fairness and respect, and we live those values,” Reiter said, adding, “without farmworkers, Reiter would not exist.”
Dinner was served by the Santa Paula FFA, and the event was set up by students from One Step a La Vez, a youth organization from Fillmore.
Brokaw said the scholarships were intended to go to two people this year, but when reading the applications and essays, “We could only narrow it down to three. The stories were so compelling.”
The three students receiving $1,000 each were:
Juan Magaña, of Santa Paula, who will be attending UC Irvine, studying mechanical engineering.
Daniel Garcia Rodriguez, of Oxnard, who will be attending UC Riverside, where he wants to study psychology. He came to the dinner on a bus from Salinas, where he is working in fields this summer.
Viviana Avelar, of Santa Paula, who will attend UC Santa Barbara, where she hopes to study Spanish with the goal of being a translator.