We Are Not Strangers Here: African American Histories in Rural California

We Are Not Strangers Here is shining a light on African Americans in the history of California agriculture and rural communities, and black people’s relationship with food, farming and land. This Cal Ag Roots story series has been in the works for quite some time and we're thrilled to announce that you can now tune in.

We Are Not Strangers Here will be released weekly-- click the links below to listen:

Thousands of African Americans participated in the California Gold Rush. Some were still enslaved when they did like 49er Alvin Coffey. Join us for Episode 1 to learn more about Coffey's fascinating tale. 

One of the most impactful ways we come to know about places is through the stories we tell about them. Discover how Black people in rural California have been remembered--and forgotten--in the stories and landmarks that tell the beginnings of the Golden State.

Black people have long cultivated the land in rural California. And in doing so, they’ve contributed to what we grow and how we grow crops in the state. Discover how early African American farmers and ranchers didn't just grow crops and raise livestock throughout the Golden State. They also cultivated societal change that helped make California what it is today.

Starting as early as the 19th century, Black communities--large and small, loosely organized and formal took shape across rural California. Discover the undertold history of California’s Black rural settlements including how these communities represent the tension between the promises and the challenges of living in the Golden State. 

In 1908, African American pioneers established the town of Allensworth forty miles north of Bakersfield as part of the broader Black Town Movement. Discover how these settlers not only built buildings, established businesses, and planted crops--they also inspired the imagination as they tested what was possible in rural California. 

Relationships to the land can be seen throughout African American history and culture. However, Black Californians haven't just long been connected to the natural world in the past.

You can listen online, or better yet, you can subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss an episode.

Photo credit: Farmhand and horse standing next to shed in Tulare County, Roberts Family Papers, African American Museum and Library of Oakland

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Water Is Gold: How Central Valley Communities are Still Fighting the Drought


Ahorita lo que estamos viviendo, es que antes pensaban que el oro valía mucho. No. El agua es oro ahorita- ahorita si no tienes agua no puedes producir lo que tienes. 

What we’re learning right now is-- before we thought that gold was worth a lot. No. Water is gold now. If you don’t have water you can’t produce what you have. 

--Tomas, resident of East Porterville and water justice advocate

California, the golden state, is known for many things, chief among them is its status as the breadbasket of the nation and the world.  Yet, the ability to sustain agriculture and support the communities is limited by access to water. This podcast examines how access to groundwater is influenced by drought and climate change, but also, how the persistence of drought conditions can be tied to histories of human decision-making and structural racism within the Central Valley. 

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Looking Back to Look Forward: How the US Forgot about Farmworkers' Right to Retire

Looking Back to Look Forward asks why in California-- which has been the home of farm labor movements-- aging farm workers are not guaranteed any help in their retirement. The story centers farmworker voices and provides a historical approach to understand why little progress on this important right has been made. We dig into the history of how farm workers were excluded from key protections granted other kinds of workers in the New Deal-era National Labor Relations Act.

This show was co-produced by Jennifer Martinez, in collaboration with Cal Ag Roots. Thanks to the 11th Hour Project for supporting Cal Ag Roots!

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Podcast 13: All My Relations-- Tending the Land on California's Central Coast

Stories of California farming history often start at the Gold Rush. Sometimes, they reach back in time to include the Mexican or Spanish eras. But very rarely do we hear about the ways indigenous Californians were tending the landscape to produce food for thousands of years before contact with colonizers. The story of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and their stewardship of the land along California’s Central Coast is a crucial part of the history of how humans have interacted with this landscape. What they and other native people across the state have historically done here was NOT farming, they tell me. And yet their stewardship practices literally laid the groundwork for the existing farming industry. It turns out that this story not only stretches the standard timeline of California history back by thousands of years, but it asks us to expand our very definition of agriculture. Which is why it feels like a critically important place to dig in. 



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Meet the 3 New Cal Ag Roots Co-Producers!

Meet the New Cal Ag Roots Story Co-Producers!

In July, 2019, three new storytellers joined the Cal Ag Roots team in response to a spring call-out for stories from rural California. Hektor Calderon, Jennifer Martinez and Erika Ramirez-Mayoral are co-producing stories and will be adding their voices to our podcast stream at the end of the year. We received many response to our call for storytellers and these three new audio producers were selected because of their compelling story ideas. Be sure to subscribe to the show-- on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen-- to catch their stories.





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Podcast 12: Digging Deep with Nina Ichikawa

Nina Ichikawa has many identities. She's the Interim Executive Director at the Berkeley Food Institute, a member of the Farmer Justice Collaborative, a fourth generation Japanese American, as well as a writer about Asian-American food histories. And she’s one of the most insightful thinkers about current issues in California food and farming. Tune in to this Cal Ag Roots episode to find out why Nina wants us all to be telling many more stories about California.


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Podcast 11: Digging Deep--A Conversation with Antonio Roman-Alcalá

Antonio Roman Alcalá has a lot of ideas to share about power-building in the food movement. He’s an organizer, and a thinker, a theorizer and a farmer. Antonio strikes me as someone who manages to have his hands in the soil AND his eyes on the horizon at the same time. In our conversation at his kitchen table in his tiny Berkeley apartment, I got the impression that he’s often dreaming of possibilities for a collectively-owned, radically diversified farming future, but that he’s also deeply rooted in and actively drawing from history. Which is why, of course, I was excited to talk with him for this podcast.


This podcast is part of our series is called Digging Deep: Conversations with Food Movement Leaders about the History of Farming. Tune in to these episodes to learn how food movement leaders’ understanding of the past, and how what they learn from Cal Ag Roots stories, has shifted their thinking about their work.

Antonio refers to a few Cal Ag Roots stories that you might want to listen to, if you haven't caught them yet. Those are Podcast 1: There's Nothing More Californian than Ketchup, Podcast 2: Can Land Belong to Those Who Work it? and Podcast 10: Política del Mole/ The Politics of Mole. Check those out wherever you get our podcast!

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Podcast 10: Política del Mole/The Politics of Mole

For centuries, people have been telling other people what to eat. The paleo diet fad might be new, but the idea that some people know what food is best, or healthiest, or cleanest and that other people need to be educated about that is definitely NOT new. It might be one of the oldest ideas we’ve explored on this show.  

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Podcast 9: Tamales, Pambazos & Braceros

This is a Thanksgiving podcast, featuring three tasty audio pieces that celebrate family food traditions and workers who have given their lives to fill our tables. As we lay our tables with feasts this week and gather around them to count our blessings, I wanted to offer you all a bit of a treat. It’s been a long, hard fall for many. So, maybe now more than ever, it seems like people need to take a little care, enjoy a few tasty audio tidbits.

Tune in to this 4th episode in our Borderlands of the San Joaquin Valley series to hear two student-produced audio pieces by Cindy Cervantes and Omar Gonzalez and a powerful performance by roots-blues musician and Central Valley native Lance Canales.

Thank you to Cindy Cervantes, Omar Gonzalez-- and to Lisa Morehouse and Mario Sifuentez who helped produce their pieces.If you liked what you heard, you can check out other stories like this one at www.agroots.org, or on iTunes if you subscribe to this podcast. And by the way, if you rate the Cal Ag Roots podcast on iTunes, it will help other people discover it. We couldn’t have produced this story without the generous support of the 11th Hour Project and the Food and Farming Communications Fund.

Thank you! And Happy Thanksgiving!

(Photo Credit: Lillian Thaoxaochay)

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Podcast 8: Digging Deep-- A Conversation with Mario Sifuentez

Dr. Mario Sifuentez is an Associate Professor of History at UC Merced who's done a lot of thinking about the past and future of California's Central Valley. He's been involved with Cal Ag Roots since the very start of this project, both as an advisor and as an interviewee. (You can hear his voice on our third podcast, where he gives us real insight into the Bracero Program.) Mario has deep knowledge about the history of food production, and his current research digs up some interesting new stories about an activist group featured our Can Land Belong to Those Who Work It? podcast, which is why I wanted talk with him for this Digging Deep episode.

You'll hear that Mario is also a delight to talk with-- he's real and genuine and doesn't pull any punches. The Cal Ag Roots story we discuss is, admittedly, kind of obscure, and deals with some complicated federal laws about water subsidies and disputes over who should own farm land . But Mario is really clear on why people should know this story. He told me, "For corporations [farming Central Valley land] is part of their portfolio, right? They are not stewards of the land. And there’s no interest in protecting the land if it’s not profitable. They can let 20 thousand acres fallow, not because they think its good for the soil, but because of the market. When you have people who are stewards of the land, they are looking at it generationally. Thinking about it 100 years from now. Corporations just don’t have that kind of foresight."

This is the second episode in our new Cal Ag Roots podcast series--Digging Deep: Conversations with Food Movement Leaders about the History of Farming-- which will be released every other month. I’m talking with people who are working to shift farming right now, bringing California farming into the future. And we’re talking about how their understanding of the past, and how what they learn from Cal Ag Roots stories, has shifted their thinking about their work. Each of the conversations will draw on Cal Ag Roots stories, so if you haven't heard them all yet, take a listen on our Story Hub (or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher) !

Particularly relevant to today’s podcast is the last one we released—#2, Can Land Belong to Those Who Work it. We’ll keep on producing that style of podcasts and releasing them here—there are so, so many more histories to unearth. The two different kinds of podcasts are going to be in constant conversation with each other, so we're hoping that you’ll tune into both and that each episode will be more meaningful that way.

Big THANK YOU goes out to Dr. Mario Sifuentez, of course, for the wonderful interview, to Nangdo for the use of all the music in today's episode, and to Cal Ag Roots Funders including the 11th Hour Project and the Food and Farming Communications Fund.

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