By Slow Food Portland, Oregon Committee Member Patrick Leonard
On an early Saturday morning, along with a group from Slow Food Portland, I drove down the familiar I-5 corridor to visit a large, local community that few Oregonians have ever considered. It is a community in which 7 languages are regularly spoken, and where residents hail from multiple countries. It is also a community that was built with sweat equity and has struggled over the years for support. And yet, for as complex and as little understood as this community is, we are dependent on its work. Nuevo Amanecer is a farmworker community and its residents are the people who harvest our food.
We met up with the staff of the Farmworker Housing Development Corporation at their Cipriano Ferrel Education Center in Woodburn. Along with the FHDC team, we were joined by a number of their community organizers and property managers, as well as by Ramon Ramirez, President of PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste), who is also the FHDC founder and board Chair. Created in 1990 by a coalition of farmworker advocacy groups, FHDC began operations with the construction of 50 affordable housing units at Nuevo Amanecer. The participating organizations realized that in order to fully address worker rights, they needed to also confront housing injustices. As Ramirez explains it, “Health conditions are directly related to working and living conditions – this led us to housing.”
Jerry Ambris, the Community Development Coordinator led us on a tour of the Nuevo Amanecer complex while explaining their current construction projects. Since the first phase of the development in 1992, FHDC has expanded their management to over 200 units in Marion and Polk Counties. In their current rehab projects and upcoming construction, FHDC has begun to embrace eco-friendly building materials, rainwater harvesting, community gardens, and culturally-sensitive construction. As an example, Ambris told our group how they’ve updated the units’ ventilation systems to accommodate the Latino residents’ dependence on boiled and steamed foods.
These choices are informed by FHDC’s incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic staff, most of whom have personal or family experience with more typical farmworker housing. Additionally, the group relies heavily on the work of their resident property managers to help make decisions about facilities and new projects. On our tour, we were introduced to one of these managers, José Alvarez, who explained the community recycling initiative that he began for Nuevo Amanecer. This kind of positive resident involvement truly sets FHDC’s developments apart from other subsidized housing.
After exploring Nuevo Amanecer, FHDC and PCUN led us out into the surrounding fields to visit two farmworker camps – one caneberry operation and one nursery. From reading and hearing about labor conditions, I thought I knew what to expect, I thought I was prepared for what I would see. There was nothing that could have readied me for the conditions that exist in these camps.