The county is finding that it pays to advertise.
It’s still spring and Napa County’s three farm labor camps are already full — the earliest that has happened since the county took over management of the three Upvalley camps three years ago.
All 180 beds are full at the Calistoga Farmworker Housing Center, Mondavi Farmworker Housing Center and River Ranch Farmworker Housing Center. In years past the farm centers have struggled to operate at between 60 to 75 percent capacity at this time of the season.
Nancy Johnson, Napa County’s Housing and Community Development program manager, gives much of the credit to the improved outreach by the California Human Development Corporation, which the county contracts with to manage the three facilities.
In the past, authorities say many seasonal workers have chosen to stay in cars to save money or crowd into apartments rather than go to the camps and live by the rules regarding proof that they are agricultural workers and prohibitions against drinking alcohol.
A strategic effort has been made to advertise the amenities of the camps, where the $12 daily cost includes access to meals and showers.
Itinerant workers from elsewhere in the state and those who follow the fruit harvest in the Pacific Northwest as well as working in wine country are finding out about the camps via word-of-mouth, flyers and other means.
“I hope we are seeing a turnaround,” Johnson said of the increased occupancy at the three farm centers.
Ultimately, the county would like to see these farmworkers remain in Napa Valley through the duration of the winegrape season, instead of moving north to Washington state and Oregon for the apple and pear season.
If the occupancy numbers remain strong for the farm centers, Johnson said the county envisions some day building a future farmworker center in the Carneros.
Napa Valley grape grower Pat Garvey said a golf tournament on May 7 raised $40,000 to $45,000 for the three farmworker centers. The money is used for upgrades and repairs to everything from kitchen appliances to landscaping.
He said it is important to let the farmworkers know what is available here. Garvey said many farmworkers are attracted to the Napa Valley because of the “nice accommodations, availability of work and for paying better wages than in the Central Valley.”
“We are known for our accommodations,” he said. “The farm centers are top notch. And everyone takes it upon themselves to make sure workers earn a fair wage.”
Garvey said it is not unusual to see employees return every year.
“I’d say 80 to 90 percent of the workers here are with us nearly year round.”