BY FRAN MILLER | PHOTOS COURTESY OF NAPA VALLEY FARMWORKER FOUNDATION
Arnulfo Solorio ventured to Napa from his native Mexico at age 14 to follow his dream of attending school. In Mexico, he was told by his rancher family that “books do not feed you; land and animals do.” But from an early age, Solorio felt education was the key. In Napa, he began working in the fields at Charles Krug while studying hard to receive his high school degree. The first in his family to attend school of any kind, he went on to receive an associate’s degree at Napa Valley College while working as vineyard manager for some of the Valley’s most storied wineries. Today, he is a partner and vice president of operations at Silverado Farming Company, where he is part of the team developing training, education, personal growth, and employee reward programs.
With firsthand knowledge of how education can change lives, Solorio helped to found the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation (FWF) in 2011 while serving as the first Hispanic board member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Foundation (NVG). FWF supports and promotes Napa Valley’s vineyard workers through education and professional development, and it was the first organization of its kind in the United States. FWF provides educational opportunities, advanced training programs, leadership and management classes, English literacy programs, and much more – all free of charge. Significantly, most programs are offered during the workday, and Napa Valley employers support their teams to attend. To date, FWF has served more than 25,000 vineyard workers and their families.
FWF also offers multi-day conferences, such as the upcoming Leadership, Management, and Best Practices conference, November 16-18. The comprehensive 3-day program is dedicated to leadership and communication skills, education on viticultural best practices, safety in the workplace, and financial literacy. In addition, Spanish language seminars will be presented by industry experts from UC Davis, Napa County RCD, Pan American Insurance, AgSafe, Nicola Health and Safety, Napa County Ag Commissioner’s Office, and more. Highlights include programs such as Multigenerational Communication-Fostering a Culture of Respect, Healthy Soils-Best Practices and Why We Do Them, Road Security & Safety, Water Management in the Vineyard, Top 10 OSHA Violations, and Personal Budgeting for the Year Ahead.
“While FWF was a team effort from the beginning, the idea came to me from my own experience,” said Solorio, whose humble demeanor and strong work ethic are admired throughout the Valley. (He was honored this year as the NVG’s Napa Valley Grower of the Year.) “Education is power, and it’s one of the best ways to improve our farmworker baseline. I know firsthand how difficult it is to be supervised by someone who means well but does not know how to manage people. It is important to me that other farmers not go through what I went through with mistreatment, confusion, and the challenges that come along with managing people.”
As a director on the FWF Board and chair of its Farmworker Education Committee, Solorio is making sure that his fellow farmworkers are well apprised of the free programs available to them through FWF, such as the English Literacy Program from which Roberto Juarez is a proud graduate.
“When FWF started the program, I immediately signed up to take this great opportunity to improve my English,” said Juarez, vineyard manager for Moulds Family Vineyard, where he serves as an unofficial FWF ambassador, encouraging others to take advantage of the opportunities that the organization offers. “It took me about five years to be able to write, read, and speak the language and to stop asking for Spanish-speaking people when making phone calls. I believe the English Literacy Program allows for better opportunities and a better life.
Juarez also took advantage of FWF’s evening computer classes, despite the time commitment which took him away from the family and friends who served as his inspiration. “I worked very hard, and it was very difficult, but it was worth it! Today, I can help my children with homework, and I know what they are saying when they speak in English.”
FWF also offers financial literacy courses, providing those interested with the tools and necessary knowledge to make important financial decisions in their professional and personal lives. Bertha Rodriguez, director of human resources and employee development at Joseph Phelps Vineyards (and also a FWF Education Committee member), has witnessed firsthand how these courses make a difference in her employees’ lives.
“The Farmworker Foundation has been a blessing for many of our vineyard employees and an invaluable resource for employers,” said Rodriguez. “We have so many vineyard employees in the Valley who have a keen desire to continue to expand their knowledge and abilities but don’t always have the resources or means. FWF provides a solid foundation for anyone who wants to further their education or may want to learn a new skill.”
Meanwhile, Solorio continues his quest to assist the community considered the heart and soul of Napa Valley. “The dream for most winemakers is to make 100-point wines,” said Solorio. “My dream is to make 100-point farmworkers.”
FWF is funded by government grants and private donations.