Ag health and safety center honors longtime partner Villarejo

UC Davis’ Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety is honoring a longtime advocate for farmworkers, Don Villarejo, who played a role in the center’s founding more than 20 years ago.


A reception and ceremony are scheduled for Monday, Dec. 10, as part of the center’s monthly seminar series. The seminar that evening features John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, addressing the topic: “Passionate Partners Are What Makes Government Work (At All).” The program is free and open to the public.

Villarejo taught physics at UCLA from 1968 to 1975 before becoming a full-time advocate for social justice, something with which he had long been involved as a volunteer for the farmworkers movement.

He founded the California Institute for Rural Studies in 1977 and served as its executive director until retiring in 1999; the institute concerns itself with farm labor practices, food systems and rural health, among other, related issues.

Subsequent to the institute’s founding, he taught at UC Davis for several years, and, in 1990, he began working with Marc Schenker and other UC faculty members on an initiative devoted to occupational health risks in farm work. That effort led to the founding of the Western Center for Agriculture Health and Safety, in which he participated as a researcher for many years.

He has served as a consultant on agricultural labor for numerous public and private agencies, including the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, California Department of Industrial Relations, California Rural Legal Assistance, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Locals 601 and 890) and the Migrant Legal Action Program.

In 2000, he received the National Service Award from the Office of Migrant Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for “exemplary commitment, dedication and service to the nation’s migrant farmworkers.”

The Ecological Farming Association’s first Advocate of Social Justice Award (the Justi) went to Villarejo in 2005.

He received an award of a different kind when the California Endowment cited Suffering in Silence: A Report on the Health of California’s Agricultural Workers (November 2000) as the primary motivating factor for the endowment’s $50 million commitment in new grants to expand health services for hired farmworkers in California. The endowment sponsored the report and the California Institute for Rural Studies did the research; Villarejo was among the authors.

Schenker, professor of public health sciences and director of the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, is among the speakers on the program for the Villarejo ceremony. The others are Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm; Luis Magaña of the American Friends Services Committee; and Guadalupe Sandoval of the California Farm Labor Contractor Association.

The reception, ceremony and lecture are scheduled from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Auditorium.

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Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,

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