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Storms are another disaster for Sonoma County farmworkers who call for more aid

Because of the work interruptions caused by the January storms, hundreds of farmworkers have turned to local nonprofit organizations and now the county for emergency financial aid and support.

For many farmworkers in Sonoma County, the early January storms — which weather experts attributed to an unusual string of atmospheric rivers that dumped massive amounts of rain across the region — have made their lives go from bad to worse.

“So we have to understand that farmworkers, the money they earn in a six-week period during the harvest, is what holds them over for November, December until the pruning starts in January,” farmworker advocate Zeke Guzman, president of Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma, said.

Much like the agricultural industry in recent years, farmworkers have endured a number of economic setbacks attributed to wildfires, the ongoing drought, and COVID-19.

But the weeks of drenching rain delayed the start of the local pruning season and workers then had to wait for many water-logged, muddy fields to dry out.

No work means no pay.

Rafaela, a single mother and farmworker from Cloverdale, said she hasn’t worked since October. She usually starts work the first week of January, but this year it’s been harder. And, by the last week of January, she still hadn’t been called back to work.

She worries that by talking publicly about the difficulties she is dealing with she’ll endanger her ability to get work, so she asked that her last name not be used.

“I don’t even have money for rent,” she said, adding that she’s been a farmworker for five years and is aware of the seasonal fluctuations. In the past, she’d been able to prepare for them.

“I used to save a little, but not anymore,” she said.

Her concerns are echoed by other farmworkers, as well as those who work with the social service agencies that provide financial aid and other support to farmworkers.

Everyone, they said, is asking the same question: How will we pay for rent?

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