Historic Partnership for Desert Tribal, Farmworker Communities Announced

TEHACHAPI, CA – A federally-recognized Native American tribe and an organization founded by Farmworker Leader Cesar Chavez announced a historic agreement to form a joint venture with a private land owner that will generate water, jobs and economic development in tribal and farmworker communities in California. The collaboration is the first known strategic business partnership between a Native American tribe and farmworkers in the U.S.

Under the agreement, the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians (TMDCI), a federal sovereign tribe; the Farmworkers Institute of Education & Leadership Development (FIELD); and Cadiz, Inc., a California water solutions company, will form a joint venture partnership to develop 11,000 acres of land in the Eastern Mojave Desert. Water and proceeds from the project will be shared equally among the parties and is expected to accelerate workforce and infrastructure development, economic diversification and generational wealth building benefiting mainly tribal and farmworker communities in California’s Coachella Valley and underserved areas in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Imperial and Kern Counties.    

“For Native Americans, water is life – physically, economically and spiritually,” said Tribal Chairman, Thomas Tortez. “This unique partnership gives our tribe financial and technical resources to be stewards, not only of our Native lands, but of our future.”

“Cesar Chavez’ ultimate vision was to inspire farmworkers and others in poor, minority communities to gain self-sufficiency,” said David Villarino, President of FIELD. “This unique business partnership will give farmworkers the tools to adapt to the grave threat of climate change, and the means to build a self-sufficient future for themselves and their families.”

“This is a historic venture,” said Susan Kennedy, Executive Chair of Cadiz. “There has never been a public-private partnership like this before. What the TMDCI and FIELD are creating is a roadmap for how to turn water scarcity into a secure and sustainable future.”

The joint venture envisions developing 11,000 acres of land owned by Cadiz, separate and independent from the company’s 35,000-acre Cadiz Valley property, to sustainably manage the groundwater basins and make surplus groundwater available for beneficial uses, including farming, housing, and economic development in less fortunate communities. The lands include 9,000 acres in the Piute watershed near Needles, CA, and 2,000 acres in Ward Valley near Danby Dry Lake. Portions of the land may be maintained as conservation easements for Desert Tortoise and other wildlife or utilized for renewable energy development. Under the terms of the agreement, TMDCI, FIELD and Cadiz will work to cooperatively to identify opportunities to utilize the properties for beneficial uses.

Cadiz will contribute the land to the joint venture and provide technical and financial support for development efforts; FIELD will develop technical education programs to train farmworkers and tribal members in sustainable groundwater management and adaptive agricultural practices for extreme arid climates; and TMDCI will utilize water and revenue generated from the venture for sustainable economic development that benefits tribal and farmworker communities in and around the Coachella and Imperial Valleys.

This is the second collaboration between FIELD and Cadiz. Last September, Cadiz and FIELD announced an agreement to create a state-of-the-art Innovation Campus at Cadiz Ranch to provide work-based training, education and business opportunities for farmworkers. As part of that initiative, FIELD launched an English as a Second Language program at Cadiz for Ranch staff in support of the Career Technical Education (CTE) program operating within FIELD’s EPIC de Cesar Chavez High School.