Written by Gabrielle Vignone |  Edited by John Krist

What does the end of the year mean to you? Is it a time of joy and celebration, a moment of pause, reflection or a busy-busy wrap-up making sure all knots have been tied before the Earth completes its yearly circle of the Sun? Here at House Farm Workers! it is a combination of all.

In gratitude, we begin this newsletter with a reflection on what 2021 has provided us. First, we enjoyed an amazing virtual turnout for our yearly tradition of “From Field to Fork.” Thank you to all of you who continue to support this crucial HFW! fundraiser. We are happy to say it will be back next year and in person! Yes, we miss you and want to see the smiles “From Field to Fork” brings to your faces and maybe take a few selfies too.

Approval of the Somis Ranch Farm Worker Housing project was more than we could have dreamed of and exactly what we will continue to ask for. City groups and HFW! board members used their advocating voices to influence this decision. Among them was our Communications Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, John Krist, whose letter to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors was quoted in the VC Star: “Far too many of these essential workers live in crowded, substandard conditions due to the difficulty of finding affordable housing in a very expensive region.”

Speaking of our wonderful volunteer board members, we are grateful for our 2021 addition of two newcomers:

  • Veronica Garcia, who currently serves as our Oxnard City Group chair and is the chief real estate development officer for People’s Self-Help Housing Corporation (PSHH). At PSHH, Veronica oversees homeownership and affordable rental real estate development activities in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Before joining PSHH, Veronica oversaw and/or managed the development of more than 800 homes located primarily on the Central Coast. Veronica says, “Being a part of HFW! means prioritizing the health and well-being of farmworkers and their families who are an essential aspect of the fabric of our community, a place we love to call home.”
  • Joe Ramirez, Fillmore City Group chair, who worked in the field of education for more than 40 years. In 1976, he began his career in education as a counselor/instructor for an alternative high school that also included an Upward Bound Program. It was at the School of Many Cultures in Oxnard that Joe found his love and passion for working with students. During his years in education, there was always one thing at the forefront of Joe’s motivation: students came first.

We also thank our other recent arrivals, who joined the board between 2018 and 2020:

  • Chris Stephens, former director of the county Resource Management Agency, who has mbeen with HFW! since 2019.
  • Lauren Nichols, owner of Local Bath Box, with HFW! since 2019.
  • Priscila Cisneros, Program Committee and Camarillo City Group member, with HFW! since 2018. Priscila is also a principal consultant at Priscila Cisneros Consulting and a Human Resource Generalist at Raypak, Inc.

Priscila had the following to say about HFW!: “HFW! is such a great experience. I have learned so much from fellow board members, and it’s been great to see Ellen Brokaw in action as she creates innovative programs to help support the farm worker community overcome challenges. I was so focused on community engagement when I worked at CEDC (Cabrillo Economic Development Corp.) that when I came to HFW! it gave me exposure to the other side of affordable housing, the process of creating the housing itself. HFW! allows for a community member like myself who does not have a policy background to engage in the process and spread the word to others about how they can take action to advocate for affordable housing. I am excited about how we at HFW! are engaging communities with proper translation, especially our Spanish and indigenous language-speaking communities.”

“HFW! es una gran experiencia; He aprendido mucho de los otros miembros de la mesa directiva y ha sido muy grato ver a Ellen Brokaw en acción mientras crea programas innovadores para ayudar a la comunidad de trabajadores agrícolas a superar los retos. ¡Estaba tan concentrada en el enlace de la comunidad cuando trabajaba en CEDC que cuando llegué a HFW! me toco conocer el otro lado de la vivienda asequible, el proceso de creación de la vivienda misma. HFW! permite que un miembro de la comunidad como yo, que no tiene experiencia en políticas, participe en el proceso y corra la voz a otros sobre cómo pueden tomar medidas para abogar por viviendas asequibles. ¡Estoy emocionada de cómo estamos en HFW! involucrando a las comunidades con la traducción adecuada, especialmente a nuestras comunidades que hablan el español y lenguas indígenas.” (Spanish translation by Priscila.)

There is so much talent on the HFW! Board. We have tons of gratitude for our veteran directors all of whom have served for many years:

  • Leslie Leavens, chair, former vice president of finance and operations, Leavens Ranches
  • Linda Braunschweiger, vice chair and Camarillo City Group chair, chief executive officer, Ventura County Housing Trust Fund.
  • Karen Flock, secretary and Ventura City Group chair, Senior Developer, Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura.
  • John Krist, Communications Committee chair, Chief Executive Officer, Farm Bureau of Ventura County
  • Bernardo M. Perez, Moorpark City Group Chair, member of Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees.

Saving the best for last might be favoritism, but who can honestly say Ellen Brokaw is not their favorite advocate?

Ellen Brokaw, co-founder of HFW! current treasurer and Santa Paula City Group chair, has had a productive 2021 per usual and has been awarded both a Housing Opportunities Made Easier 20- year platinum anniversary award and the Philanthropist of the Year award from the Santa Barbara/Ventura chapter of the Society of Fundraising Professionals. Go Ellen, way to ring in 2022 by finishing yet another flawless year of education and advocacy that is wildly recognized!

The same Brokaw recognition is seen in Ellen’s namesake scholarship awarded annually in the amount of $3,000 to college-bound or current college students whose parents are farm workers in Ventura County. To date, $19,000 in scholarships have been awarded.

Bryan RodriquezScholarship recipient Bryan Rodriguez was installed this year as Student Trustee on the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees this year. As a Ventura College student, Bryan will represent and advocate for the approximately 31,000 students who attend Moorpark, Oxnard, and Ventura colleges. A political science major, Rodriguez serves as president of M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx De Aztlán). He is also an active member of the Political Science Club at Ventura College, which focuses on the interests of students aspiring to enter politics. “I believe all students should have input on the policies that affect their lives and education, and, subsequently, their futures,” said Rodriguez. “I am thrilled and honored to represent the students in the District and look forward to working with the VCCCD board of trustees to help ensure the academic — and personal — success of the student population.” Photo from : @OfficialVCCCD Applications for the 2022 Ellen Brokaw Scholarship will be accepted on our website starting in January.

With every jurisdiction in Ventura County currently working on their Housing Elements, HFW! has been beyond involved. That involvement includes help from consultant Jennifer Coile. Jennifer has more than 25 years of experience in planning, affordable housing, management, and public engagement in California. She has worked primarily in and around local government, “on both sides of the counter,” either as consultant or staff member. Her areas of expertise include Housing Elements, community engagement, affordable housing development and management, redevelopment, and administration of state/federal community development and housing programs. Her work in housing policy is informed by hands-on experience as a community development planner and project manager. Fluent in Spanish, she earned a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a bachelor’s degree in history and Spanish from the University of Maryland. She was a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners for 30 years. A resident of the Monterey Bay area, she appreciates Zoom for facilitating her collaboration with HFW! in the Ventura region.

Here is what Jennifer has done so far, in her own words: “HFW! began its advocacy work on the “6th cycle” (2021-2029) process to update Housing Elements (HE) in the Ventura County area in early 2020. Staff contacted the county and six cities to express interest, seek schedules of community engagement events, and review farmworker housing sections of the existing 2014-2021 Housing Elements. In the summer of 2020, the chairs of the City Committees began regular meetings by Zoom to review the HE update process in their respective cities. In October 2020, HFW! contracted with me as strategic advisor to assist with coordinating strategies for HFW! to submit comments, in writing and spoken at public meetings, that would have an impact on farmworker housing in the Housing Elements.”

What are Housing Elements? Jennifer explains: “The Housing Element is a chapter of the General Plan of every city and county, required by California law to be updated every four to eight years. The city or county must describe programs that will address housing needs and identify the resources to implement those programs. In addition to the Housing Needs analysis and Goals/Programs, the HE includes an inventory of potential housing sites where housing could be developed to meet numeric targets in the full range of affordability categories. Constraints to housing development must also be reviewed with policies or programs to eliminate or minimize those constraints.”

How was HFW! involved? Jennifer again: “ The City Committee chairs and I monitored the schedule of release of drafts, community engagement events, and public meetings/hearings. In some cases, we were able to submit comments in advance of public release that became part of the public draft. Given the complexity of the HEs, the City Chairs focused attention on the description of farmworker housing needs in the needs analysis section and promoted two specific programs with this suggested wording:

  • Countywide Farmworker Housing Study: The City will (1) work with the County of Ventura, advocacy groups, and agricultural organizations to plan, seeking funding through grants or other sources, for the implementation of a countywide survey of farmworkers, employers, and housing providers to further define housing conditions, needs and barriers to farmworker housing and (2) utilize the survey results to develop targeted programs and strategies to address the identified housing needs of farmworkers and to support agricultural businesses with a stable and healthy workforce.
  • Funding for the Housing Trust Fund Ventura County and permanent source of funding for affordable housing: The City/County shall continue to support the efforts of the Housing Trust Fund Ventura County, a local nonprofit organization that provides short term, acquisition and pre-development funding to developers of affordable housing. In addition, the City/County will coordinate with local agencies and community stakeholders on the creation of a countywide dedicated source of funding for affordable housing.”

The Committees worked closely with allies such as Santa Clara Valley Together, Santa Paula Affordable Housing Task Force, Homes for All, Ventura Social Services Task Force, Vulnerable Populations Affordable Housing Network, and Ventura County Affordable Housing Coalition. HFW! representatives signed their comment letters and they included HFW! program proposals in their letters.

Early in the year, Ventura County added the countywide Farmworker Housing Study to its list of programs in the Draft HE and volunteered to coordinate the study. HFW! was then able to leverage the county’s commitment to persuade other jurisdictions participate in the study. By mid-November, Camarillo, Oxnard, Santa Paula and Ventura had included the study in their draft or final HEs, and several others are poised to include it between now and February 2022. HFW! also secured grant funds to supplement the county’s contribution, bringing total funding for the study to $100,000.

All this means that 2022 is going to be an exciting year! County Planning Director Dave Ward, county planning manager Ruchita Kadakia, Jennifer Coile, Ellen Brokaw, Debbie Brokaw of Brokaw Jackson Consulting and HFW! Executive Director Gabrielle Vignone have been working behind the scenes to create an Advisory Committee to oversee the Farmworker Housing Study. We will be sending out links and more information very soon so you can keep up to date.

Are you trying to figure out who Gabrielle is? We warned you at the start of this newsletter that recent months have been a combination of celebration, busy-busy and pause. Gabrielle is our new House Farm Workers! Executive Director and has defined busy by jumping right in to the day-to-day, year-end, next-year prep, committee groups, city meetings, coalitions and attending numerous events. In October and November alone, Gabrielle hosted the HFW! booth at the HOME conference, visited the Limoneria Pumpkin patch with her family, won first place in the Dolores Huerta Golf Tournament fundraiser, and hopped between Prancers Santa Paula Farm and VAAC Senior Farm during Ventura County Farm Day. You can read more about Gabrielle, HFW! staff and board members on our website: https://housefarmworkers.org/about-us/.

Gabrielle and HFW! are excited to bring back some in-person events in 2022, such as the Immersion Program and Bus Tour, in addition to keeping virtual versions of our city group monthly meetings and hybrid versions of events you have missed, such as our famous Task Force Forum.

The Santa Paula Art Museum is home to our HFW! office, as well as a collection of magnificent art work. Between now and March 6, 2022, it is hosting the 13th Annual Art About Agriculture exhibition, featuring 66 fresh works of art by 61 distinct artists. Art About Agriculture is a group art show presented annually by the Ag Art Alliance, a collective formed in 2007 by Santa Paula artists John Nichols and Gail Pidduck. The purpose of the exhibit is to promote awareness of agriculture by exploring its many facets through art — from workers to water, from machinery to fields, to the food that goes on our plates.

Included in that exhibition is “Waiting for Rain,” this photograph by John Krist, HFW! board member, award-wining writer, photographer, former journalist and chief executive officer of Farm Bureau of Ventura County.

We end this newsletter the way it began, with gratitude. We thank all of our donors, volunteers, supporters and collaborators for all of their help in this year, past years and future years. If you are new to HFW! and are looking for a way to get involved, we have listed a few options below.

Want to join one of our City Group Committees?
These are seeking new members:

Oxnard House Farm Workers Committee
Second Wednesday of the month at 8 a.m. via Zoom

Ventura House Farm Workers Committee
Fourth Tuesday at 4 p.m. via Zoom

Email events@housefarmworkers.org to be added to the mailing list.

‘Tis the time to give!

Amazon Smile: Donate while you shop on Amazon, without having to spend additional money! Before your next Amazon purchase go to: https://smile.amazon.com select House Farmer Workers of Santa Paula as your charity.

Gift Donations: Don’t know what to get your loved ones this year? Make a donation in their names: https://housefarmworkers.org/donate/.