Page 4


on the grant. Atty. Gen. John Hill has filed suit to block distribution of the funds. But the controversy really doesn’t concern procedure, but rather politics and economics. La Raza Unida, a third party that sometimes deprives Democrats of crucial votes during important elections, has enjoyed good relations with the last two Republican administrations. Last year Zavala County got $10 million in federal grants. Yes, the problem is part politics. Why else would the Democratic governor wait so long to raise his objections to the Zavala grant? The development corporation received $200,000 in grants during the past year from one source, the Community Services Administration, to plan the $1.5 million project. Briscoe could have criticized these grants earlier, but how much more effective it was to accuse the Republican Party of financing a Little Cuba right before the presidential election. Briscoe also has economic reasons to be concerned about what’s happening in Zavala County. The governor is from Uvalde County, directly north of Zavala. He has at least 330,000 acres of ranchland in Uvalde, Zavala, and surrounding counties. In addition, he is the major stockholder in the largest financial institution in the area, First State Bank of Uvalde. As the reigning rancher/banker in the area, Briscoe is naturally upset to discover a model of collective farming right under his nose. Texas newspapers have given significant play to Briscoe’s remarks. The following conversation with Jesus Salas, executive director of the Zavala County Economic Deto give Observer readers an idea of what La Raza is trying to accomplish in this longneglected South Texas county. Salas is a college-educated chicano in his thirties. He grew up in South Texas and in Wisconsin, where his migrant family followed the crops. He wants to use the $1.5 million, in part, to buy 1,000 acres for a cooperative farm that will be owned by a subsidiary of the development corporation. “We’re going to farm at least half those acres in vegetable crops for the market,” he explained. “And about half of those are going to be in labor-intensive crops like cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli. The other half will be in vegetables that don’t require so much labor in the field but which can provide jobs in the processing plant we’ll have. “The other 500 acres will be put in a good rotation system so we can reduce our fertilizer costs. We’ve identified grain crops we can sell, even though we won’t get as much money as with the market vegetables. These grain crops will also help stabilize the farming operations because they don’t have the same risk as the, vegetable crops,” Salas continued. “The operation of the farm is going to be the base for all the other operations. We have money to invest in import-export with Mexico and for commercial developmentbut, out of the money we have, we’re putting more than half into the farm. So you can get an idea really where our priorities are: employing people and having them participate in their own labor. “We think we can employ immediately, by this next spring, fifty fulltime employees in all aspects of the agricultural cooperative. We think there will be a need for two hundred more on a seasonal basis, and when I say seasonal I mean six to eight months. Those people are going to get a guaranteed income, whether there are crops or there aren’t crops. There’s no other way to do it. We have to say to these fifty families that we will provide a living wage for them 52 weeks a year, whether we’re planting in the summertime or whether it’s too hot to plant. “Initially, what we plan to do is develop a system of wages, fringe benefits, and participation by the members in directing the operation of the farm. We accept as a given fact that no one . will get less than the minimum wage, and more at the beginning. We’re already contemplating $2.50 an hour as a base pay for everyone,” he said. “We’re also talking about having hot meals in the fields, about day-care centers, someplace where the children can be with the familiesthe little children, I don’t mean the school children. They go to school. And we’re talking about sanitary facilities. “We’re also talking about a fringe-benefit package. We have a planning consultant right now setting up life insurance, good health-hospitalization coverage, and an employer-employee investment plan where, depending on the vote of the membership, we’ll set up a financial mechanism, a scholarship fund, a housing development program, or whatever the membership wants.” Salas explained that the EDC presently consists of about 200 members \(some indiily. They attend meetings, elect a board of directors, and pay $10 a year dues. About 80 percent of them fall under federal poverty guidelines, most of them migrant workers or unemployed. The membership as a whole will select the workers for the farm and other EDC projects. According to Salas the main problem in Zavala County is unemployment, which often goes as high as 30 to 40 percent of the adult population during the summer months. “We think a lot of other things go with not being employed,” he said. “Not just the lack of money, what it does to families in terms of health and food and all that, but also in terms of the general conditionof apathy and social pathology, if you want to call it that. “We’re planning a complete Manpower Development Program within the farm itself, from the actual planting, the hoeing, the thinning, and the utilization of whatever herbicides and insecticides are necessary, to the harvesting, processing, packaging, marketing, and quality control necessary to deliver our produce to the hospitals or chain stores or wherever we sell it. It’s a whole integrated operation, and we see establishment of some kind of job program so that there can be mobility, so that people are not relegated to working in the fields the rest of their lives,” Salas said. “Another thing about working in the fields is a thing that goes on amongst usI don’t know if it’s just chicanos or if it’s all poor folkthat working in the fields is inherently wrong. You know, like parents saying to their kids, ‘I’m doing this so you won’t have to.’ The only reason we see it as being demeaning is because we’ve been oppressed and they haven’t paid us and we’ve lived in horrible conditions for terrible wages. Part of the development of the cooperative farm has to be involved with putting dignity back into the work of raising food.” The export-import function of the EDC has less immediate importance than the farm, but it is tantalizing nonetheless. Salas described this aspect: “Just very briefly, what we want to do is integrate some of the Tad Hershorn fruits and vegetables already coming in from Mexico into our own production so that we have a more diversified product for the market. Our studies show that diversification of this sort is our best way to October 15, 1976 3 Community farm .