strawberry fieldBy Elizabeth Zach, staff writer

While Californians are fond of locally grown produce, communities around the state are increasingly filing lawsuits to keep farmworkers from living near the fields where they work.

“They love the strawberries, but they don’t like the farmworkers,” Lucas Zucker, policy and communication director for Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, a labor advocacy group in Ventura, told the Los Angeles Times.

Rejecting affordable housing for the workers exacerbates a labor shortage in this state, which grows so much of the nation’s food, and worsens the long-term housing crisis for farmworkers. A Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data shows that California this year recruited more than 11,000 guest workers for its agricultural sector, a 25 percent increase from a similar period last year. Employers must pay to house these guest workers under the visa program known as H-2A.

Federal records reflect the economic distress in California. For example, more than 1,400 guest workers have squeezed into the Central Coast town of Santa Maria, where one in five live below the poverty level. Santa Maria has plans for about 1,818 affordable housing units, but only one grower—Bonipak—has proposed building farmworker housing in the valley.

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