FOCUS ON PHILANTHROPY: The California Farmworker Foundation’s Pillars of Support Serve to Build a Community

By Ann Donahue F or Hernan Hernandez, everything begins and ends with family. As the Executive Director of the California Farmworker Foundation, he understands that family comes in two forms: the one you’re born into, and the one you choose. “I grew up in a town called Richgrove, California, population 3,000,” he said. “I grew up to farmworker parents, immigrants, who came to this country seeking a better future, who worked in the table grape industry throughout their lifetime. Me, all of my siblings, we all worked for the same company. We grew up in the fields. Whenever there was time, in the summers, in the winters, in the evenings or on the weekends, we were in the fields where our parents were working.” Hernandez said his parents wanted their children to witness their labor, not

just to see how they were able to support the family, but so they understood what it meant to be self-sufficient. “The perfect example of how you evaluate the importance of education was by working in the fields—so you can see a better future,” he said. “That was their philosophy.” Hernandez took the lessons to heart. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the California State University, Bakersfield, then worked in politics for several years, managing campaigns and advocating for ballot measures. It was during this time, working at what he thought would be his dream job, that he had a realization. “You know, the Salinas Valley is nice—it reminded me a lot of home,” he said. “But it wasn’t home.” He returned to the Central Valley, and then in 2016 he got a call that

would change his life. He was asked to join what would become the non-profit California Farmworker Foundation, an organization that was founded to give back to farmworkers and to empower them to have a voice so they can be advocates for themselves. “I didn’t think twice,” Hernandez said about taking the job. The CFF works to provide what Hernandez called the five pillars of support to farmworkers: education, workforce development, health & wellness, immigration services and community engagement. After starting operations in the Coachella Valley, the organization has grown to include service centers in Fresno, Delano, and, in 2022, an expansion into Santa Maria with a total of more than 35 staffers. In 10 years, he hopes the CFF will have services available statewide. The CFF has partnered with numerous Western Growers members, including Grimmway Farms and Mountain View Fruit Sales, with Hernandez stating the engagement with growers and shippers is vital to the non-profit organization’s success. Driven by data and surveys conducted in the field, CFF has an Ambassador Program, which allows agriculture companies to learn from key, respected decision-making farmworkers as to what programs, services and professional development can best serve to improve the quality of life of their skilled workforce. “We said: ‘We want to be held accountable, we want to hold you accountable—how can we work together?’” Hernandez said. There is no doubt that the work being done by CFF is vital. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Hernandez and CFF Outreach Specialist Arnaldo Gonzalez spoke about their work dispelling social

Hernan Hernandez (right) with Mike Thurlow of Mountain View Fruit Sales



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