Asthma epidemic hits Latinos kids

Francisco Ramos, 13, of Firebaugh, was born with a collapsed lung, and is destined to be a chronic asthmatic.

He is one of the many Latino children in the San Joaquín Valley who are impacted by the region’s asthma epidemic, my co-worker Daniel Cásarez writes in this week’s edition of Vida en el Valle. His story was produced as a project for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships.

In Fresno County, about 19.2 percent of children ages 1 to 17 have been diagnosed with asthma, according to Statewide, about 14.2 percent of kids have been diagnosed with asthma.

Even with the huge number of asthmatic children in the region, Latino parents – especially those living in rural communities - lack information about the condition, Cásarez reports. He spoke with Drs. Óscar and Marcia Sablán, who have operated the Sablán Medical Clinic in Firebaugh for more than 25 years.

He writes:

Too often, parents rely on humidifiers and Primatene mist and don’t realize it is just a short-term fix. A doctor’s examination is necessary.

“Basically people would not treat asthma; just opt for an ER visit,” said Marcia Sablán.

“They would put a lot of Vicks (vapor rub) on their chest. For someone who has not seen a physician, those are the things they do. They don’t realize they could feel better, and actually have a lot more energy when their asthma is controlled,” adds Óscar Sablán.

“If you’re not aggressive in treating the asthma, then the asthma persists into adulthood, and in a more malignant form.”

Not facing the exacerbations of asthma, another term for asthma attack, could lead to more frequent attacks, if early treatment is not sought.

“If you have a lot of attacks, you are at risk to have another one, but if you can get it under control for an extended period of time, then you have less of a chance of recurrence,” said Óscar Sablán.

To learn more about asthma, check out ‘Latinos lack asthma info’ by Vida en el Valle reporter Daniel Cásarez. Photos, both of Francisco Ramos, also by Cásarez.

Sharing paletas – and our concerns about health and the environment

Last Friday, we celebrated Harvesting Health’s second birthday with paletas from La Reina de Michoacán.

But the event was more than a chance to dig into Fresno’s best ice cream. It was also an opportunity for friends of this blog, and health and environmental advocates, to come together, in real life, to discuss how community health and environmental justice issues impact their daily lives.

To foster this discussion, I wrote simple, personal questions about health and the environment on index cards. After savoring their paletas, party guests picked a card, and then wrote their answers on a white board.

Below are their answers, in their own words.

What community health issue makes you tick?

Paleta: pineapple

Paleta: stawberries and cream

Paleta: pistachio

Paleta: stawberries and cream


Name one change you would like to see in our community health or environment.

Paleta: mango and chile

Paleta: mango


Camille, Phoebe and Angelica
Paleta: coffee, cookies and cream

How does the environment impact your health?

Paleta: guayaba

Paleta: coconut

What have you done to improve your health, or the health of our community?

Paleta: strawberry

Paleta: chocolate


Paleta: yogurt and fruit

What have you done to improve our local environment?

Paleta: pistachio

Thanks to everyone who made it to the party, and thanks for supporting health blogging in the San Joaquín Valley! And thanks to La Reina, for providing the sweet treats. If you missed the party, drop me a note, and we’ll meet up for a paleta in the future!


EVENT: Discuss our ‘Valley of Shadows and Dreams’ at Arte

There is a moment – when I am driving over the Grapevine from Southern California, and begin the descent into Central California – when I see the entire San Joaquín Valley expand before me.

Despite the regional issues I often write about – like air pollution, contaminated drinking water, health disparities, and poverty – my heart fills with joy at the sight of the abundant Valley.

I haven’t yet picked up ‘Valley of Shadows and Dreams,’ a book of essays and photographs about the Central Valley by Ken and Melanie Light, but I suspect it captures some of these contradictions.

On their website, the Lights’ project is described as a “five-year photography journey of a region known for its agricultural plenty – and the marginalization of its people.” The book, “digs deep into the harsh truths of farm workers’ daily experience in California’s Central Valley and takes a hard look at the legacies of politics, bureaucracy and control in the region.”

Interested in learning more?

Ken and Melanie Light will be at Arte Américas tomorrow (June 2) for a reception, conversation and book signing. The reception, featuring musical guests Patrick Contreras and Steve Ono, begins at 4:30, and the conversation starts at 5:15, with the book signing to follow.

More about ‘Valley of Shadows and Dreams’:

Spotlight on: Farmersville

This week, I met three Farmersville High School students who will attend four-year universities this fall, despite the odds that have been stacked against them. They are also among the high school’s four Horatio Alger scholarship recipients.

During the interview, I asked them what about Farmersville – a Tulare County city of 10,588 people, 83.8 percent of whom are Latino – had made it possible for four students to win the prestigious award. In the city – where the median income is $32,886, and 31.2 percent of people live below the poverty level – just 2.4 percent of residents over age 25 have a bachelors degree.

Brenda Rodarte Lira, the class valedictorian who earned a full scholarship to UC Merced, said this:

“We’ve been so used to seeing on the news, ‘this Farmersville teen arrested for gang violence,’ or ‘this shooting happened’ or ‘this girl got pregnant.’ We were so used to the stereotype of boys getting in gangs, girls getting pregnant, or shootings, or death. We just wanted Farmersville to be recognized for amazing academics and students, or just something positive, to eliminate that whole negative stereotype of Farmersville.”

Anney Leyva Luquín, a national award winner who will attend Cal State Monterey Bay, shared this:

“We want Farmersville to be known for so much more. We have a really tight knit community, and that’s really what we want it to be known as: A tight knit community where everyone can count on everyone to be safe, to have a safe place to succeed.”

Next time you drive past Farmersville – or another small San Joaquín Valley community – challenge yourself to reflect on the positive aspects of those places – like their inspiring youth.

From top, Vida editor Juan Esparza photographs three of the school’s Horatio Alger scholarship recipients. Farmersville High School’s class of 2011 celebrates after their graduation ceremony.

You’re invited: Help me celebrate Harvesting Health’s 2nd birthday!

Can you believe it has already been two years?

In June 2010, I launched Harvesting Health, as part of my community health reporting fellowship at Vida en el Valle. Since then, I have written 117 posts – more than one a week for two years.

Through this blog, readers have:

Now I want to hear from you. What have you enjoyed reading about on Harvesting Health? What would you like to read more about?

In keeping with tradition, I will be celebrating Harvesting Health’s second birthday next Friday, June 8, at 3:30 p.m., at Fresno paletería La Reina de Michoacán.

Come for the fantastic paletas (did somebody say strawberries and cream?) and stay for the informal discussion about community health and environmental justice. It’s on me – especially if you are open to sharing your health and environmental goals, for an upcoming Harvesting Health feature!

RSVP by leaving a note in the comments section below – or by sending me a tweet!

Bill Watch: Asm. Perea on the 2012 Human Right to Water package

It will take both short-term and long-term solutions to ensure that all San Joaquín Valley residents have access to clean and affordable drinking water. The 2012 Human Right to Water bill package, which is currently making its way through the legislature, could establish some of those long-term solutions.

Last week, I spoke with Assemblymember Henry T. Perea, who is the author of two of the bills in the package.

“It took decades of bad policy and poor oversight for these communities to get where they are today, and it is going to take some time to fix those problems,” Perea told me.

One of Perea’s bills, AB 1669, would create a ‘Nitrate At-Risk Area Fund,’ which would be used to develop and implement solutions for low-income communities that are at risk of nitrate contamination. These communities would be identified by the state Department of Public Health and the state Water Resources Control Board.

The bill would prioritize funding for areas contaminated with nitrates, and reduce the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent smaller communities from taking advantage of existing funds, Perea said. It targets an ongoing challenge to implementing drinking water solutions, Perea said: there is “always more need than there is resources,” he said.

A recent University of California, Davis study found that about 254,000 people in the southern San Joaquín Valley and Salinas Valley are at risk of nitrate contamination of their drinking water.

Another bill, AB 2238, would promote consolidation of small water systems or infrastructure extension, when these actions can help improve access to safe and affordable drinking water in disadvantaged communities.

Specifically, it would improve the ability of Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) to identify and study opportunities for consolidation and service extension. It would also require the state department of health to promote consolidation, prioritize funding for projects involving consolidation of small water systems, and prioritize funding for consolidation projects that promote safe and affordable drinking water.

Instead of having small water districts serving nearby communities, “we would like to see the larger water districts take in those service areas to create greater efficiency,” Perea said. This, he said, would save taxpayer money, and would create economies of scale, so one community does not get left behind.

Both of Perea’s bills are expected to reach the Appropriations Committee in mid-May.

Other bills in the Human Right to Water package include:

  • AB 685, by Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park,) which would establish the human right to water as a statewide policy priority;
  • AB 2334, by Assemblymember Paul Fong (D-Cupertino,) which would require the Department of Water Resources to conduct an analysis of water affordability every five years;
  • AB 1830, by Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella,) which would authorize the Public Utilities Commission to order restitution to mobile home park residents where it finds that the park owner charged unjust or unreasonable water rates.

Drinking water, previously on Harvesting Health:

Will you tune in to HBO’s obesity films, ‘Weight of the Nation?’

On Monday (May 14) HBO will premiere the first two parts of its documentary series, ‘The Weight of the Nation.’

The films – presented by HBO and the Institute of Medicine, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente – feature case studies, interviews with health experts, and the stories of individuals and families struggling with obesity, according to the film’s website.

Here’s a trailer for the films:

Will you be tuning in? And do you think this film can make an impact in the San Joaquín Valley, where 70.9 pecent of Latino adults are overweight or obese?

If you don’t have HBO – or if you are interested in watching the films again with other Valley residents – consider attending a partial screening at the John W. Wells Youth Center in Madera on May 30 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event, hosted by Central Valley Health Network’s HEAL Zone and Kaiser Permanente, will also include a panel discussion intended to inspire ideas about how to make Madera a healthier place to live.  

Pictured above: There are already some great obesity-prevention efforts in the San Joaquín Valley, including the Community Food Bank’s food demonstrations, and a walking path at the Selma flea market.

EVENT: Why is the Valley sick?

During a Zócalo Public Square event on Monday evening, an outstanding panel will tackle a huge question: Why is the Central Valley sick?

By now, we all know the statistics:

  • Despite its agricultural bounty, the San Joaquín Valley is one of the poorest regions in the country. And despite growing the food that nourishes the nation, the region has high rates of food insecurity and obesity.
  • Our environment is also sick, and that doesn’t help people’s health. Many low-income communities have contaminated drinking water. We have some of the dirtiest air in the nation, and an epidemic of asthma. Rural communities are exposed to harmful pesticides.
  • We have a critical shortage of primary care doctors and specialists. But simply adding more doctors to the region – without addressing the other social, economic and environmental factors – could prove nothing but a Band-Aid.

So, what can be done to improve the health of Valley residents?

In the post, ‘This Place is Sick,’ now on Zócalo’s website, I suggested that low-income residents need better access to the healthy fruits and vegetables grown in this region:

The prescription to improve the health of the San Joaquín Valley must begin with the area’s greatest asset: agriculture. I have covered great initiatives intended to make locally grown produce more accessible—including school farm stands, flea markets that accept EBT for produce, conversions of neighborhood liquor stores into corner stores featuring fresh produce, and the development of school gardens, where families can grow the products they are culturally accustomed to.

These efforts require little government funding, yet could improve the health of San Joaquín Valley residents. There is also an opportunity for innovative collaboration between the agriculture industry and health organizations.

I’m very interested to hear how panelists Sarah Reyes, Central Valley Program Manager of The California Endowment, John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute, and Edward Palacios, CEO of San Joaquín Valley Rehabilitation, answer the question.

And I’m interested to hear your ideas! Join the discussion on Monday (May 7) at 6:30 p.m. at Arte Américas, 1630 Van Ness Ave., in Fresno. Or add your suggestions in the comment section below.

Zócalo, previously on Harvesting Health:

Latinos y la Tierra: One last look

During the month of April – in recognition of Earth Day - Vida en el Valle ran a four-part series called Latinos Protecting la Tierra.

The five people featured in this series are true environmental advocates. They are proof that California residents can make an impact on the environmental health of their communities.

Three of the five people were farmworkers, or children of farmworkers. Two of the five have college degrees. They have organized people to fight for health and environmental justice; demanded health-protective laws and actions; and created policies that protect health and the environment for the long-term.

Here is one last look at the people featured in the series.

Lupe Martínez

Organizes residents around environmental justice, as the Assistant Director for Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in Delano

“Our communities here have been forever told they can’t do anything… and they don’t have the power. That’s not true. When people come together, things happen.”

- ‘His cause is well grounded,’ April 4

Celia García

A community leader in Mecca, where a horrible smell from a nearby facility sickened kids and residents

“This is where I live, and this is where my kids live, and this is where I want my kids to grow up. I want to make sure that my kids and my community and I have the same opportunity to live in a place where we have the chance to be happy and healthy, just like the people on the west end of this Valley do.”

- An advocate blooms in the desert, April 11

Verónica and Joanna Mendoza

Culter residents and community leaders in the San Joaquín Valley’s fight for clean drinking water

“It is unjust that people pay twice for water.”

- Mamá e hija luchan por agua potable, April 11

Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez

Representing Eastern Riverside and Imperial counties

“I just hope that when this is all said and done, and I look back at this, I can say that we did some great work, and we brought our work and our community closer to justice. I can die with that. I’d be fine with that. I’d be cool.”

- Assemblymember is driven by justice, April 18

Annie Loya

A youth leader in the fight to shut down a facility in East Palo Alto, and now executive director of Youth United for Community Action

“We were the underdog community of color, fighting this multi-million dollar company that was pretty much nationwide. Here we were, highschoolers, trying to bring down this company, and finally after so much advocacy, so much press, so many meetings, so many technical documents — we won.”

- Annie Loya’s environmental journey, April 25

Have you followed Latinos Protecting la Tierra? What did you think of the series?

Argentine mom honored for ‘grassroots environmentalism’


Sofía Gática, of Córdoba, Argentina, was one of six people honored with the international Goldman Prize today. The award, which comes with a prize of $150,00, bills itself as the “world’s largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalism.”

Gática’s story will resonate with San Joaquín Valley residents who have fought for years for health-protective laws regarding pesticides.

About 13 years ago, Gática’s baby daughter died of kideny failure. She soon noticed that residents in her working-class neighborhood of Ituzaingo were also suffering from alarming rates of leukemia, lupus and other diseases, according to this San Francisco Chronicle article.

Gática, who had only a high school education and no organizing experience, formed the group Mothers of Ituzaingó. They went door-to-door in their neighborhood, which is surrounded by soy bean fields, and discovered that pesticides were having a disastrous impact on the health of their community.

They found that only two households had not suffered from illness, according to the Chronicle. That spurred them to begin protesting the use of weed killers with a “Stop Spraying” campaign.

Their efforts eventually led to a ban on aerial spraying of agrochemicals within 2,500 meters of homes. (In comparison, some Valley counties have pesticide buffer zones of 400 meters.)

The short movie below captures Gática’s inspiring story.

When I spoke on the phone with Gática on Monday, I asked her if she had advice for Valley residents who were also concerned about the health impacts of pesticides. Valley communities have also experienced pesticide drift, and inexplicable health problems.

“I recommend demanding the rights to health and the environment,” she said.

She also recommended demanding the right to information – about what types of pesticides are being used, how they are being applied, and close to schools and homes they are being used.

Tracey Brieger, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, said Gática’s story and advice is an inspiration to Valley residents fighting for health-protective pesticide laws.

Gática’s story, “would be a reminder that communities across the world are facing the same problems with pesticides, and it is very important to learn from each other,” Brieger said.

“The regulations and the rules are stronger in Argentina than they are here in California. We need to learn what it actually looks like to be health-protective.”

 Pesticides, previously on Harvesting Health: