By Sasha Khokha
California’s San Joaquin Valley is one of the most productive farm regions in the world. But many farmworkers struggle to feed their families fresh and healthy food because they can’t afford to buy the produce that grows all around them.
The Ortiz family in Raisin City, Calif., faces this very problem.
While Oscar Ortiz is out working in an almond orchard, his wife, Jessica Ortiz, is trying to figure out what to feed their five kids tonight. To get to Ortiz’s kitchen, you have to step over some rotting floorboards in the crowded living room, peel back a curtain and wait for your eyes to adjust to the dim light. You can see Jessica Ortiz’s face better when she cracks open the refrigerator door.
She has a few eggs, some potatoes and half a bag of breakfast cereal.
“We don’t have milk. Their bologna, ham, all their sandwich stuff, bread — we don’t have. Our freezer is totally empty,” she says.
Raisin City is a town of about 400 surrounded by vineyards. Many field workers here are from Mexico. But others, like the Ortizes, were born and raised in California.
Jessica Ortiz dropped out of high school her senior year after getting pregnant with their first child. The family’s job prospects might be better in a bigger city. But here the only work is seasonal, often part-time field work. Oscar Ortiz averages $170 a week.
Jessica Ortiz pays the rent with cash aid from the government that varies depending on Oscar’s income in the fields.