Farm workers in Ventura County

Ventura County’s farms and ranches employ 36,000 men and women. These farm workers are critical to Ventura County’s $2 billion-a-year agricultural industry. Without them, crops would not be harvested, and the lush local landscape of green fields and orchards would go untended.

The average income of those workers is about $22,000 a year. Yet the average apartment rent in Ventura County is more than $20,000 a year. This combination of low wages and high housing costs means farm workers often must pool their resources to live in overcrowded apartments, motel rooms or houses. Sometimes they live in garages or sheds neither intended nor fit for human habitation.

Check out the facts in our infographic

Our work is not always visible,
but it is critical.

We do not build farm worker housing; we make it possible for others to do so by building a conducive political and regulatory environment. This means alerting the general public and our elected representatives about the need for safe, decent and affordable farm worker housing.

Since 2004, House Farm Workers! and its partners have been doing just that. Thanks to these efforts, more than 500 homes have been completed or planned in Ventura County, giving new opportunities and new hope to hundreds of families.

Much more remains to be done. House Farm Workers! invites everyone who cares about farming and farm workers to join it in its mission to “support safe, decent and affordable housing for all farm workers through advocacy and education.”

Why it matters

Families benefit: When farm workers and their families live in safe, decent and affordable housing, their children are healthier and do better in school. Families experience less stress, and can devote more resources to food, clothing, health care and other needs.

Agriculture benefits: Employees in secure housing provide a more stable and dependable work force for one of the county’s most important industries.

The community benefits: Neighborhoods are improved when substandard, overcrowded housing is replaced by well-designed, properly maintained homes that provide adequate parking and dedicated play areas.


Board of Directors

Leslie Leavens, Chair
Vice President of Finance and Operations, Leavens Ranches

Leslie is Vice President of Finance and Operations for her family’s farming company, Leavens Ranches LLC, growers of lemons and avocados in Ventura and Monterey Counties, and wine grapes in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey County. As a member of the Ag Futures Alliance, she became involved in the critical issue of farm worker housing and is now chair of House Farm Workers! Leslie also chairs the Ventura County ACP-HLB Task Force and serves on the board of Saticoy Lemon Association, as well as several water company boards. She is a past president of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. Leslie is a graduate of the California Ag Leadership Program (Class 34) and the University of California, Los Angeles.


Linda Braunschweiger, Vice Chair and Camarillo City Chair
Chief Executive Officer, Ventura County Housing Trust Fund

Ms. Braunschweiger has spent close to thirty years in finance, affordable housing development, non-profit management and business. Early in her career, Ms. Braunschweiger worked in Washington D.C. for the White House and U.S. Senate. She spent many years in public affairs and lobbying at the federal, state and local levels. Then after years in the corporate environment, Ms. Braunschweiger launched Braunschweiger & Associates (B&A) in 1999. Her firm assists clients with affordable housing policy strategies, affordable housing financing, and nonprofit management. Braunschweiger & Associates has represented financial institutions, non-profits, local municipalities, housing authorities, and industry trade organizations. Ms. Braunschweiger is the contract CEO of the Ventura County Housing Trust Fund. In her role, she orchestrated the formation of VCHTF, raised over $4,000,000 in Revolving Loan Fund, and funded $3.8 m in loans. In addition, Ms. Braunschweiger owns Market Research Ventura County a company that assists clients with focus group research. Ms. Braunschweiger has a BA in Speech Communications and Industrial Psychology, and an MBA with a focus in Public Policy. She lives in Camarillo with her two children.


Ellen Brokaw, Treasurer and Founding Chair
President, Brokaw Ranch Company

Ellen has lived in Ventura County for 62 years, raising five children and working with her husband Hank to establish Brokaw Nursery. She was a founding member of the Ventura County Ag Futures Alliance which produced a report on the dire need for farm worker housing in 2002. In 2004 she helped organize the first Farm Worker Housing Summit which launched the House Farm Workers! education and advocacy program. Leading that program was her labor of love for the next 10 years and she continues to advocate on behalf of farm workers.


Karen Flock, Secretary and Ventura City Chair
Senior Developer, Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura

Karen Flock is a Senior Developer with the Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura, a member of the development group renovating and developing new affordable homes in Ventura. Previously she served as Real Estate Development Director for Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, overseeing the development of over 1,500 affordable homes for farm workers and others in Ventura County. She is committed to creative community development projects. She is an active member of the Midtown Ventura Community Council, Homes for All Alliance, Soroptimist International of Ventura, and Ventura First United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of Reed College.


John Krist, Communications Chair
Chief Executive Officer, Farm Bureau of Ventura County

John Krist is the chief executive officer of Farm Bureau of Ventura County, an independent, non-partisan organization that serves as an advocate for the county’s agricultural industry. As CEO, he is responsible for managing the nonprofit organization’s staff, daily operations and finances. He recommends policy to the organization’s Board of Directors, implements board directives, and represents the interests of the membership at legislative and regulatory hearings. He also serves as the organization’s liaison with the news media, as well as with numerous community organizations and groups. Before joining the Farm Bureau in February 2008, Mr. Krist worked as a reporter, editor and Opinion-page columnist at the Ventura County Star for more than 24 years.


Gail Weller Brown, Oxnard City Chair and Fundraising Chair

Gail Weller Brown is a retired program director for the Ventura County Community Foundation, (VCCF). She chairs the Oxnard House Farm Workers! and the Fundraising Committee, overseeing “From Field to Fork” for seven years. She is on the Board of Ventura County Women’s Political Council, in charge of Membership Outreach. Gail has also been on the Board of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo, and volunteered with the Social Justice Fund on their Board of Directors and Signature Events. Prior to working for VCCF, Gail was Director of Major Gifts for WMHT Public Television and Radio covering upstate New York, parts of VT and MA, (based in Schenectady, NY). Preceding that, she was Director of Development and Public Affairs for Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, centered in Albany, New York.


Donna Hamer, Santa Paula City Chair

Donna Hamer, now retired, taught high school English and paralegal classes, worked as a university administrative assistant, executive and legal secretary and as a paralegal. Donna holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Social Studies from Mills College and attended the University of Southern California for post-graduate study in Applied Linguistics. She served as Education Director for Focus on the Masters in developing its Creative Center and delivering its educational arts classes to Ventura County schools and the community. Her past service as a board member includes California Arabian Racing Association, Natural Colored Woolgrowers Association, California Association for the Gifted, Ventura County Professional Women’s Network, Ventura County Paralegal Association, and Gold Coast Concert Chorus. Donna lives in Santa Paula and enjoys leisure time with her family, choral singing, writing, cooking, and exploring the Channel Islands.


Susan Johnson, Fillmore City Chair
Former Chief Deputy, Agricultural Commissioner Ventura County

Susan is the former Chief Deputy Agricultural Commissioner for Ventura County. She spent 12 years with Ventura County and a total of 34 years with various agricultural agencies. Susan is a long time supporter and former Board Member of Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County. She currently sits on the Board of the One Step A La Vez (OSALV) Center in Fillmore. Susan is the Chair for the Fillmore/Piru House Farm Workers! city committee. She has been advocating for housing and better conditions for agricultural workers for the last 25 years, in both the Central Valley and Ventura County, and is a founding member of the Ag Futures Alliance. Susan was born in Orange County and grew up on a citrus ranch in Placentia, when Orange County really had acres of citrus and avocado orchards. She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Agricultural Biology. She obtained a Masters Degree in Public Administration from California State University Bakersfield, while working as an inspector for the Agricultural Commissioner in Kern County.


Bernardo Perez, Moorpark City Chair

Through the years, Perez has served his community with House Farm Workers!, Ventura County Civic Alliance, Clinicas del Camino Real, United Way of Ventura County, El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, Children’s Health Initiative Steering Committee, HOME Housing Task Force, Justice and Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Ventura County Living Wage Coalition (Co-Chair), and he has assisted the Moorpark Unified School District as a classroom volunteer/reader. Bernardo Perez has been on the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees since 2010. Previously, he represented his community on the Moorpark City Council, including serving as Mayor of the City of Moorpark. In addition, Perez currently holds positions with the Workforce Investment Board, the Moorpark Foundation for the Arts, and the Simi Valley Hospital Foundation. Perez previously was employed as the Project Manager for the Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation in Ventura since 1999. He previously was employed with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for over 30 years.


Staff

Alondra Serna

Alondra is a Ventura County native who grew up in the beautiful community of Moorpark. Issues facing farm workers and migrant populations was always of personal interest to her, especially since her grandfather spent time working in agriculture. In her capacity as coordinator for House Farm Workers!, Alondra supports the city committee’s local advocacy and education efforts, builds and strengthens partnerships with like-minded organizations and universities, and aims to engage a new generation of advocates through the Young Advocates program. Alondra has previous experience serving migrant populations with the United Farm Workers in Salinas, CA and with the International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles, a refugee resettlement agency. She holds a BA in International Politics from the University of California, San Diego and a MA in International Policy from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.