Explore the founding of the California Women for Agriculture with photos, newspaper clippings and newsletters from the organization’s history.
The California Women for Agriculture (CWA) is a nonprofit, volunteer, and exclusively women’s organization that formed in 1975 to advocate on behalf of California farmers and the agricultural industry, and to educate consumers about the agricultural industry.
One of the catalysts that led to the creation of the CWA was the accounts of violent acts, intimidation and vandalism toward Coachella Vineyard laborers, allegedly committed by the United Farm Workers Organization Committee (UFWOC) between the mid-to-late 1960s. Coachella Valley laborers worked for Coachella Valley farmers as laborers independent of union organizations. The CWA documented accounts of UFWOC organizers attempting to recruit Coachella Valley laborers, particularly during the summer grape season, persuading laborers to demand that their employers give them rights to unionize, This was a significant goal of the UFWOC during the labor movement of the mid-twentieth century. Additionally, Coachella Valley laborers stated that the UFWOC promised Coachella Valley laborers green cards for residency in the United States if they complied. When laborers denied interest in partaking in the UFWOC’s proposals, Coachella Valley laborers were harassed in the fields and at their homes. As a result, Coachella Valley farmers found their packing sheds burned, tractor tires slashed, and vineyards demolished, presumably by the UFWOC. When this was reported to authorities, little action was taken because allegations against the UFWOC could not be proven legally. Furthermore, when farmers and the UFWOC were discussed in news media, Coachella Valley farmers were enraged by what they characterized as misinformed media coverage of farm-labor relations as the media presented the UFWOC favorably, Cesar Chavez as a hero, and farmers in a negative light.
In response to harassment toward Coachella Valley laborers, Beverly Sfingi, a former pro-golfer and ultimately a founding member of the CWA, pioneered the Committee to Relieve Organized Pressure, commonly known as CROP, an organization comprised entirely of women from the Coachella Valley farming community. CROP members were concerned about Coachella Valley laborers’ safety and advocated for laborers to exercise a free choice to join or decline union membership.
The CWA was formed in the aftermath of the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 and in the midst of the UFW’s Proposition 14 Farm Labor Initiative campaign. Observing the success of CROP, Patricia “Corky” Larson, a thermal grape grower, contacted Beverly Sfingi to discuss the possibility of organizing supporters of agribusiness in order to develop a grassroots, exclusive women’s group that spoke on behalf of the busy farmer, and educates consumers and legislators about the agricultural industry. As a result, CROP evolved into the Coachella Valley chapter of the CWA, the first chapter of the CWA. During the summer of 1975, Beverly Sfingi, Cherry Ishimatsu, Patricia “Corky” Larson, and Jeri Taylor became the founding members of the CWA as they met regularly over the summer to create a constitution, bylaws, and a logo for the CWA organization. The founders began recruiting members to the organization during the CWA’s first official meeting on November 17, 1975.
The history of the CWA from 1975 – 2005 is the subject of the Women’s Museum of California’s digital exhibit, which can be viewed here.