Last week at our Fall Management Conference, some folks were wondering why we held our meeting in Bakersfield, instead of the usual locales. Aside from very affordable room rates, there are many good reasons why this southern hub of the Central Valley is a very appropriate place for WIC people to gather.
For one thing, it’s worth remembering that the fast-growing San Joaquin Valley is home to almost 7 million people and close to 350,000 WIC participants – about a quarter of our total caseload. WIC families who live in the Valley face some of the toughest barriers to good health in the state: much higher concentrations of poverty and unemployment, low-wage seasonal agricultural work, inadequate healthcare and housing, lack of play space, food deserts, and poor air quality.
For example, there are still no Baby-Friendly hospitals in any Valley county south of Sacramento. So it’s no wonder that Central Valley counties regularly show up in all the “worst” lists of health indicators like obesity, diabetes, teen pregnancy, low breastfeeding rates, asthma and heart disease.
In the face of these inequities, the people of the Central Valley have a rich history of struggle and change – and the growth of WIC is part of that history. Dust Bowl migrants, like the mother and children pictured here picking cotton near Bakersfield, came to the Valley looking for a new life. Their plight – and their activism – resulted in the New Deal programs which helped them find decent housing and new jobs.
Thirty years later, from his base in Kern County, Cesar Chavez led another generation of farm laborers on a campaign for better wages and conditions. Their voices led to another federal response: the War on Poverty programs, including Head Start and WIC, created to ensure farm worker families had nutritious food, better access to education, and legal rights.
Today, however, some in Congress want to dismantle what they call “Big Government,” and WIC is in their crosshairs. But we won’t go back to those days! Be a part of WIC’s proud history and join the Campaign!
Photos: Mothers and children in Bakersfield, California
ABOVE: 1935 (Dorothea Lange)
AT LEFT: 2011 (Meredith McGeHee)