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farmworkers

Jose Munoz, on-site manager at the Mondavi Farm Workers Center in St. Helena, shows a bedroom at the center.

Jose Munoz woke up well before dawn so he could be at work by four in the morning. He is the on-site manager at the Mondavi Farm Workers Center in St. Helena. Everyone at the center is usually still asleep when he arrives.

He wasted no time starting on one of his many tasks; preparing breakfast for the 60 men who live there. And his breakfasts are never mundane. Munoz has worked in the food industry for most of his professional life in Napa County.

Munoz works for California Human Development, the non-profit organization that runs three centers in the county to house migrant farm workers: the Mondavi Center, River Ranch Farm Workers Center, which is also in St. Helena, and the Calistoga Farm Workers Center.

Each center provides housing and three healthful meals a day. While the men ate breakfast, Munoz and his staff of two made healthful lunches for the workers. After breakfast, the men head off to work in the fields of wineries across the county. And after a long day of working, they come back to the Center and enjoy another healthful, homemade meal.

This scenario plays out at all three centers every week day. The centers’ aim is to not only feed migrant farmworkers, but also feed their souls. “We provide living, loving, conditions for the workers,” said Pat Garvey, Cinco de Mayo Farmworkers Golf committee chairperson. He is also a partner of Flora Springs Wine Company in St. Helena. The annual tournament just celebrated its 21st year of operation.

“The tournament,” Garvey said, “puts the spotlight on farmworkers society.” The tournament was held this monh at Silverado Resort & Spa, and netted about $60,000 in donations, the latest figure available. The proceeds help keep the centers open.

Along with revenues from the annual golf tournament, California Human Development also receives funding from the Napa County Farm Bureau and the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association. Plus, every winery in the county voted to tax themselves to help migrant farm workers. They donate a specific amount of money for every acre they own.

“This is unprecedented,” said Nancy Johnson, Napa County’s housing and community development program manager. “We are the only county that does this in the nation.”

Johnson said it takes a village to keep the centers running. “There is grave concern for farmworkers. The pay is better in Napa than most anywhere else.” Workers at the center earn $16.50 to $35 an hour, depending on what job they perform. A picker will make $16.50 and a crew supervisor will make $35 an hour.

Money raised by the tournament is used to supply items like commercial kitchen equipment, beds, repairs, and health and social services — services the county does not pay for.

It costs $28 a day to provide all of the centers’ services to each worker. Yet the centers charge each man only $14 a day. This allows migrant workers to send money back to their relatives in Mexico.

“$14 a day is a good deal. It’s safe, sanitary, and includes three meals a day,” Garvey said. The centers are filled all year long, he said.

“This all works thanks to the marriage between Napa County, the Farm Board, Napa Valley Growers Association, the Vintners Association, and the community at large,” Johnson said.

Garvey added, “We don’t check the legal status of the workers. There is no deposit. We only ask for confirmation that the men are working.”

Garvey also said California Human Development is now looking for land to build on for a fourth site. “We are looking for land in Carneros,” he said.

He said anyone with suitable land should get in touch with him. “We are hoping to house another 60 workers.”

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