Posts Tagged: Jennifer Sowerwine
USDA awards UC and Karuk Tribe $1.2 million for collaborative research and education to increase tribal ecosystem resilience in a changing climate
As California and the nation grapple with the implications of persistent drought, devastating wildfires and other harbingers of climate change, researchers at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and the Karuk Tribe are building on a decade-long partnership to learn more about stewarding native food plants in fluctuating environmental conditions. UC Berkeley and the Karuk Tribe have been awarded a $1.2 million USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant for field research, new digital data analysis tools and community skill-building aimed to increase resilience of the abundant cultural food and other plant resources – and the tribal people whose food security and health depend on them.
Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the Karuk-UC Berkeley Collaborative, and Lisa Hillman, program manager of the Karuk Tribe's Píkyav Field Institute, will co-lead the xúus nu'éethti – we are caring for it research project.
UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Karuk Department of Natural Resources will support the project with postdoctoral researchers, botany, mapping and GIS specialists, and tribal cultural practitioners and resource technicians. The San Rafael-based nonprofit Center for Digital Archaeology will help develop a new data modeling system.
Project activities include expanding the tribe's herbarium (a research archive of preserved cultural plants launched in 2016 with UC Berkeley support), developing digital tools to collect and store agroecological field data, and helping tribal community members and youth learn how to analyze the results.
“For the xúus nu'éethti – we are caring for it research project, UC ANR's Informatics and Geographic Information Systems (IGIS) team will lead hands-on workshops and consultations to build Karuk Tribal capacity to assess, monitor and make management decisions regarding the agroecosystem,” Sowerwine said. “Workshop curricula for tribal staff and community members will include GIS training, 360 photospheres and drone images, and storymapping techniques. IGIS will also provide technical analysis of historical land use and land cover records to support researchers' understanding of agroecological resilience over time.”
“We are delighted to continue our connection with UC Berkeley through this new project,” said Hillman. “Through our past collaboration on tribal food security, we strengthened a network of tribal folks knowledgeable in identifying, monitoring, harvesting, managing for and preparing the traditional foods that sustain us physically and culturally. With this new project, we aim to integrate variables such as climate change, plant pathogens and invasive species into our research and management equations, learning new skills and knowledge along the way and sharing those STEM skills with the next generation.”
The research team will assess the condition of cultural agroecosystems including foods and fibers to understand how land use, land management, and climate variables have affected ecosystem resilience. Through planning designed to maximize community input, they will develop new tools to inform land management choices at the federal, state, tribal and community levels.
All project activities will take place in the Karuk Tribe's Aboriginal Territory located in the mid-Klamath River Basin, but results from the project will be useful to other tribes and entities working toward sustainable management of cultural natural resources in an era of increasing climate variability. Findings will be shared nationwide through cooperative extension outreach services and publications.
The new project's name, xúus nu'éethti – we are caring for it, reflects the Karuk Tribe's continuing commitment to restore and enhance the co-inhabitants of its aboriginal territory whom they know to be their relations – plants, animals, fish, water, rocks and land. At the core of Karuk identity is the principle of reciprocity: one must first care for these relations in order to receive their gifts for future generations.
This work will be supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate Challenge Area, grant no. 2018-68002-27916 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
For more information, visit the Karuk – UC Berkeley Collaborative website at https://nature.berkeley.edu/karuk-collaborative.
Mien farmers get advice for growing strawberries in Yolo County
(Woodland Daily Democrat) ANR news release, May 31
Abnormal Weather Takes a Toll on California Olive Crop
(Ag Net West) Brian German, May 30
The late winter freeze caused significant issues for several different commodities throughout the state and has been especially problematic for the California olive crop. The fluctuating temperatures have created substantial concern among the industry as bloom looks to be far below normal levels.
“Overall we're a little on the pessimistic side. The bloom, on the whole, has been pretty poor, many orchards actually have a very light, to next to no bloom at all,” said Dani Lightle, Cooperative Extension Orchard Systems Advisor for Glenn County. “There's an orchard here or there that looks pretty good, but on the whole, it is a little bit dismal.”
(LA Taco) Gab Chabran, May 29
…Eric Focht who is a staff research associate in the lab of Mary Lu Arpaia at UC Riverside through UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences tells L.A. Taco that the recent avocado economy boom is “similar to what we see today with something like bitcoin.” He helps run a breeding program at UCR studying different avocados varieties, focusing mostly on Hass avocados but also looking at other less known versions of the popular fruit.
In short, he is working on breeding the perfect avocado that tastes great and is easier, faster, and less water-dependent to grow. This year is shaping out to be a good one for avocados, but this issue is always one to keep in mind.
Focht states that in the future, there will likely be more variety available in the mainstream marketplace. One varietal that Focht gets excited about is the Reed avocado which has now been popping up in places such as Whole Foods. It's known for its round, dinosaur egg shape and is about the size of a softball. It has a relatively large seed but the edible flesh is sometimes double or even triple that of a Haas that can make a lot more people happier per individual fruit.
(Chico News & Review) Ashiah Scharaga, May 24
When drifting clouds dapple the sky and vibrant wildflowers—tickled pink buds, honey-hued petals and virent stems—awaken in the verdant fields of Table Mountain, explorers quicken their pace. They spot trickling streams and grazing cattle. Occasionally, they look straight down, turning anxious eyes to their mud-slicked heels—did they step in one of the fertile cow-pie mines littered across the landscape?
That may seem a nuisance, but it's a necessity. Tracy Schohr, a livestock and natural resources adviser for University of California Cooperative Extension, said the natural magic of the popular Butte County recreational spot is made possible because of a long-standing grazing program. “If cattle were not actually on Table Mountain Ecological Reserve,” she said, “essentially those invasive species would choke out those native plants, and they wouldn't be there.”
… In the past, grazing was misunderstood and primarily viewed as destructive, said Dave Daley, a fifth-generation Butte County cattleman and associate dean of Chico State's College of Agriculture. He credits changing perspectives to the development of grazing science, fueled by people such as Schohr and Kate Wilkin, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry, fire science and natural resource adviser for Butte, Yuba, Sutter and Nevada counties. (Schohr covers Butte, Plumas and Sierra counties.)
Sheep Shearing 101: Why Aspiring Shavers Flock to This California School
(KQED) Tiffany Camhi, May 23
…“We try to get the students shearing the first day because they make a lot of mistakes,” says John Harper, head of the UC Cooperative Extension Sheep Shearing School in Hopland.
Harper says if you can make the right moves with your feet, everything else falls into place.
“We're dancing instructors,” says Harper. “It's like 'Dancing With The Stars' on steroids, but with sheep.”
Around this time of year, hundreds of thousands of sheep in California need to have their wool shaved off. But Harper says there's a shortage of sheep shearers worldwide.
That's why he started the school in Hopland about 25 years ago.
Dan Macon of the California Wool Growers Association says the growing popularity of backyard flocks in California (usually just a handful of sheep) is adding to the demand for shearers, too.
“Infrastructure of the sheep industry is a key component,” says Macon. “Having people with that kind of skill and willingness to work hard is desperately needed.”
AUDIO: Hey, Salad Lovers: It's OK To Eat Romaine Lettuce Again
(NPR Morning Edition) Allison Aubrey, May 23
…After a big foodborne illness outbreak linked to baby spinach back in 2006, the leafy greens industry put in place a number of procedures to prevent contamination. "Prevention became the major focus after that outbreak," says Michele Jay-Russell, a food safety researcher at the University of California, Davis.
"They set up intensive testing protocols to monitor water quality," Jay-Russell says. The industry also agreed on standardized setbacks — or buffers — to separate growing fields from livestock operations, which can be a source of E.coli contamination. "You want a safe distance from where you're growing fresh produce and where you have concentrations of animals, like on a feedlot or dairy," she says.
Are avocados toast?
(Grist) Nathanael Johnson, May 22
…When Katherine Jarvis-Shean was a doctoral candidate researching the decline of cold winters a few years back, she thought more farmers should be freaking out. “I used to think, ‘Why aren't you guys more worried about this? It's going to be the end of the world.'”
After all, many fruit and nut trees require a good winter chill to bear fruit. But after spending a few years as an extension agent for the University of California — working directly with farmers and translating science into techniques they can apply on the land — she understands better. It comes down to this: Farmers have a ton of concerns, and the climate is just one of them.
“If you decide what to plant based on climate, but then can't make the lease payment, that's not sustainable,” Jarvis-Shean said.
Lanternflies Eat Everything in Sight. The U.S. Is Looking Delicious.
(New York Times) Zach Montague, May 21
…Native to Asia, lanternflies first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2014. Despite a quarantine effort, they have also been discovered in small numbers in New York, Delaware and Virginia.
… “Most pests deposit their eggs on their host plant, or very close, so they already have food available,” said Surendra Dara, an adviser at the University of California Cooperative Extension.
“Those that have the advantage of being able to lay eggs on non-plant material obviously have a better chance of surviving and spreading,” he added.
Garbanzos are catching on in Yolo County
(Woodland Daily Democrat, Ag Alert) Bob Johnson, May 19
…“The largest part of our crop goes to canning, maybe 90 percent,” said Paul Gepts, UC Davis plant sciences professor and legume breeder. “California can only compete with high quality products. We have other varieties with higher yields, but the seeds are too small. The growers get a premium for larger, high quality seeds.”
Gepts developed the two newest UC garbanzo varieties, Vega and Pegasus. Both have large, attractive seeds well suited for the canning market, and both have resistance to Ascochyta blight, a fungal disease that can devastate the crop.
… “I think growers are more interested in garbanzos because it's a winter crop, and wheat prices are low,” said Rachael Long, UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser in Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. Long is finishing up UC's first Garbanzo Production Manual, which should be available before the end of the year.
A French Broom smack-down
(Napa Valley Register) Elaine de Man, May 18
…If we all pull together and pay attention, we can eradicate French broom and send it packing. But it's going to take many, many hands and a concerted effort. It's going to take a village.
1. U.C. Agriculture and Natural Resources, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74147.html
Kale, Not Jail: Urban Farming Nonprofit Helps Ex-Cons Re-enter Society
(New York Times) Patricia Leigh Brown, May 17
Even by the standards of the Bay Area, where sourcing local, organic chicken feed is seen as something of a political act, the spectacle of 30,000 fruit and nut trees being tended by formerly incarcerated orchardists is novel.
…Jennifer Sowerwine, an urban agriculture specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension at Berkeley, said that Ms. Haleh and Mr. Raders have “shifted the conversation around food justice.”
“It's not just about food security, but the security of providing living wages,” she said. That's no mean feat in a foodie monoculture.
Tough winter weather devastates local cherry, blueberry crops
(Bakersfield Californian) John Cox, May 16
It's hard to say at this point just how much damage blueberry fields and cherry orchards sustained during the winter, said Ashraf El-kereamy, viticulture and small fruits advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Kern County.
Machines take over for people at Napa vineyard
(Capital Press) Tim Hearden, May 14
In the heart of the Napa Valley, a vineyard produces fine Cabernet Sauvignon with virtually no help from laborers.
The 40-acre “touchless vineyard” was established by Kaan Kurtural, a University of California Cooperative Extension specialist who has devoted much of his career to improving production efficiency in vineyards as labor shortages have worsened.
…When Kurtural started experimenting with vineyard automation 10 years ago, his primary goal was to save growers money in labor costs, he said. But since then, research has shown that grape quality is superior, largely because the tall canopy protects grapes from sun damage, he said. The system also uses less water than others, he said.
Dozens of strawberry growers gather in Santa Maria to learn latest industry advancements
(KSBY Staff) May 9
More than 100 farmers and growers took park in a meeting teaching them on the best way to grow a healthy strawberry.
The University of California put on the annual event which was free to the public.
Growers discussed improvements handling weeds, disease, and insects.
The Santa Maria Valley is the second largest strawberry growing area in California after the Salinas Valley.
The crop means a lot to people in Santa Maria.
"We've got a number of challenges to the California strawberry industry and we're doing are best to work together," said Steven Fennimore of University of California Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources. "I'm optimistic that we'll find some satisfactory solutions."
Growers talked about all kinds of different ways to boost their crop including ways of using images from aircraft to detect stress in plants.
Pesticide Use on California Farms at Near-Record Levels
(Fair Warning) Paul Feldman, May 9
…Some experts say long-term changes in the mix of items farmers produce in California, including increases in almonds and other high value crops, give the agriculture industry the incentive to use more pesticides. Such crops present “a larger economic risk if pests are not controlled,”said Brad Hanson, a weed specialist at the University of California, Davis, plant science department.
Jim Farrar, director of the University of California's statewide integrated pest management program, added that more pesticides are needed when “you move from something like alfalfa and sorghum for dairies, where cosmetic injury isn't a problem … to something like oranges where if there's a blemish on the rind you get downgraded even if the orange is perfectly healthy.”
Cherry growers expect lighter crop yields
(Ag Alert) Ching Lee, May 9,
…Kari Arnold, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Stanislaus County, said she's careful not to paint the 2018 cherry season as a disaster year "because it's really not." The crop may not be as robust, she said, but this was somewhat expected, because last year's crop was so big.
What wasn't expected, she said, was the freeze in the spring, which "did cause some damage to flowers." But the damage varied depending on the location of the orchard and whether growers were able to apply frost protection, she added.
"It's still going to be a good crop," she said. "It may not be the same as last year, but they're going to be good cherries. They're probably going to sell at a higher price because there'll be less of them."
She said she's concerned that word of it being a light crop may scare away field help, adding that "it's hard enough to get field labor in the first place anymore, because labor is becoming more and more difficult to come by and more difficult to keep."
Peak Avocado Is Yet to Come
(The Atlantic) Cynthia Graber, Nicola Twilley, May 9
…Its partners in evolution—the giant, elephant-like gomphotheres and three-ton ground sloths that dined on its fruit in return for transporting and then pooping out its giant seed—went extinct soon after the first bipedal apes arrived in the region. Rodents, jaguars, and eventually humans stepped in as dispersal mechanisms, albeit significantly less effective ones. The flourishing avocado forests that carpeted much of Mesoamerica dwindled and died out. And, as Mary Lu Arpaia, who runs the avocado breeding program at the University of California at Riverside, explained, the avocado became a backyard fruit, enjoyed by first the indigenous peoples and later the conquistadors, but rarely cultivated intensively—until recent decades.
Climate change ruining California's environment, report warns
(SF Chronicle) Peter Fimrite, May 8, 2018
“If I were going to look across North America, ground zero for climate change is the Arctic. It is just changing really, really rapidly,” said Steven Beissinger, professor of conservation biology at UC Berkeley. “But California is an important laboratory to understand the effects of climate change on biodiversity.”
More illnesses with later onset dates linked to romaine outbreak
(The Packer) Ashley Nickle, May 8, 2018
Richard Smith, a University of California Cooperative Extension advisor based in Salinas, also said the outbreak is hurting sales.
“It's having an effect,” Smith said May 7. “This is the problem — lettuce is pretty expensive to grow, and you've got to cover your costs. You can lose money, at this point the bigger growers can afford to lose for a period of time, but then they've got to make it up, and it just makes it hard. We're not sure how the year's going to go.
“I guess the good news is that the consumers are being sophisticated enough to be focusing on the romaine (versus all lettuce) ... The reality is I guess the FDA doesn't want to clear romaine yet because they think that the lettuce from Yuma might have a 21-day shelf life, so until the FDA clears it and then that news gets clearly articulated, I think it's going to be a damper.
AEI economists say farmers have ‘beef' with Trump
(Hagstrom Report) May 7, 2018
…Daniel Sumner of the University of California at Davis also told The Hagstrom Report that farmers hurt by the administration's trade policies have "a beef" with Trump.
Sumner said that even though the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum have not yet gone into effect, California farmers including wine and almond producers are already worried. "Even if the tariffs don't happen, the rhetoric has effects," he said.
Sumner also said that Mexican buyers of U.S. dairy products — "reasonable business people in Mexico" — began months ago to contact New Zealand dairy producers about becoming a supplier because the Mexicans are worried about the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation.
City Visions: Tech and the future of smart, sustainable farming
KALW, May 7, 2018
Host Ethan Elkind and guests explore the impact of new technologies on our agricultural industry.
What are the biggest challenges to our current food production system? And, how are Bay Area innovators meeting these challenges while promoting sustainability, efficiency and profitability?
- Charles Baron, co-founder and vice-president of product at Farmer's Business Network.
- Jaleh Daie, Ph.D., founder and chair of AgriFood Tech and partner at Aurora Equity.
- Glenda Humiston, Ph.D., vice president of University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Workshop planned on Napa fire prevention and best practices
(Napa Valley Register), May 7, 2018
A one-day seminar is planned for May 30 to look at the Napa ecosystem's recovery after the October wildfires and what policies are needed to reduce future fire impacts.
The workshop will be Wednesday, May 30, from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at Napa Valley College's Performing Arts Center, 2277 Napa Vallejo Highway.
Cost is $15 per person, with registration required at http://ucanr.edu/napafireworkshop2018. For more information, call 530-666-8143.
The program is sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension, Napa County Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Egg prices plunge as supplies rebound
(Capital Press) Tim Hearden, May 4
Commercial egg prices in California are plummeting, and a slow global economy combined with a rebounding chicken flock after last year's devastating avian flu outbreak are among the contributing factors.
…At first, Midwestern egg producers that didn't want to retrofit their barns simply avoided California. Those that did want to market to California found confusion in what actually constituted a Proposition 2-compliant cage, said Joy Mench, a University of California-Davis animal science professor.
“(T)he wording of Prop. 2 does not allow it to be regulated, so there is no official definition of what it means,” Mench said in an email. “That will have to be decided in the courts, either because there is a lawsuit or because someone is prosecuted.”
In enforcing the initiative, the CDFA uses the federal Shell Egg Food Safety rule, whose space requirement is larger than the United Egg Producer guidelines that most of the other states use, noted Maurice Pitesky, a poultry specialist at the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Farming takes center stage at Yolo County Fairgrounds
Woodland Daily Democrat) Cutter Hicks, May 4
Field trips to the fairgrounds led to a farming experience for students as the Yolo County 4-H and Farm Bureau hosted its 10th annual Farm Connection Day to kick off the Spring Show this weekend.
The four-hour event Friday featured more than 100 agricultural displays and hands-on activities for kids of all ages as nearly 2,500 visitors walked through the gates.
Farm Connection Day was open to the public and more than 200 4-H students teamed up to host the event — with a little help from adult volunteers. Their focus was to teach students of Yolo County the aspects of the organization before judging shows later that day.
DeAnn Tenhunfeld, a Farm Connection Day organizer, said that the attendance was the largest seen since she founded it in 2008.
Frost damage varied for California nut trees
(Farm Press) Robyn Rominger, May 2, 2018
Some almond growers experienced frost damage from recent freezing conditions, say University of California experts.
“There's really a lot of damage,” says Katherine Jarvis-Shean, UC Cooperative Extension orchard systems advisor for Sacramento, Solano, and Yolo counties. “The earlier varieties really took a hit. Some trees even dropped their nuts due to frost damage. It's pretty bad in some orchards.”
… Bruce Lampinen, UCCE almond and walnut specialist, measured temperatures in an almond trial at Davis, and notes that “Feb. 20 and 24 were the coldest days. It was very problematic because that's when the trees were in full bloom.” At full bloom, temperatures below 28 degrees F. can cause crop loss.
…Phoebe Gordon, UCCE orchard systems advisor for Madera and Merced counties, says, “From what I've seen and heard, the damage has been variable. Some orchards weren't hit that hard, and others were hit very hard. I think it depended a lot on micro-climate and what stage the trees were in. They become more susceptible to frost damage as they transition from dormant to full bloom, and to nut set. I don't think we'll really know until ‘June drop' is finished what the final load is.”
Dani Lightle, UCCE orchard systems advisor in Glenn and Butte counties, says, “Almonds were right in the middle of full bloom when the frost happened. Most of the orchards in my area seem to have escaped. We didn't seem to cross the threshold to where there was heavy damage. Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large we came out better in the end than we thought we would.”
New weapon in fight against walnut blight
(Farm Press) Robyn Rominger, May 2, 2018
Walnut growers have a new tool to help manage blight disease in their orchards — Kasumin 2L, manufactured by Arysta LifeScience, is the trade name for kasugamycin, and is available as part of a strategy to control the disease.
The new bactericide was discussed at a recent University of California Cooperative Extension breakfast meeting at Yuba City. “It's great to have another chemistry in the rotational loop for blight management in walnuts,” says Emily Symmes, UCCE integrated pest management advisor.
The East Oakland non-profit organization Planting Justice hires former inmates, many from San Quentin, and pays them a family sustaining wage to work on urban farms, orchards and nurseries, and offer environmental education, reported Patti Brown in the New York Times.
Of the 35 formerly incarcerated workers hired by Planting Justice since 2009, only one is known to have returned to prison. Employees must commit to staying sober and drug free.
Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, said that the organization's founders, Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders, have “shifted the conversation around food justice.”
“It's not just about food security, but the security of providing living wages,” she said.
Sowerwine said she learned about Planting Justice a few years ago in an urban farming focus group and worked with the program on many projects. She suggested the New York Times reporter do a feature story on Planting Justice, set up the interview and attended the site visit to support the introduction.
Planting Justice, in partnership with the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture, were recipients of a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Grant from USDA at the same time as Sowerwine.
"We collaborate and support each other's programs through providing mutual guidance, co-sponsoring events, and offering opportunities for shared learning for our participants," Sowerwine said. "We are exploring deeper partnerships with a MESA/PJ training program at the Gill Tract as well in an effort to raise the profile of urban farming, and amplify successful and innovative urban agriculture approaches."
Jennifer Sowerwine helps restore culturally relevant food systems to immigrant and Native American populations
The Karuk Tribe once lived on more than a million acres in remote Northern California. Legally, their ancestral land along the middle section of the Klamath River in Siskiyou County was in the public domain, as the Karuk did not have a reservation. But on May 6, 1905, when President Theodore Roosevelt created the Klamath Forest Reserve, the tribe lost any claim to its aboriginal territory.
Less swiftly but just as conclusively, the tribe also lost access to much of what the rivers and mountains provided: deer and elk, salmon, tan oak acorns, mushrooms, berries, medicinal herbs. And it lost its ability to manage the landscape through prescribed fire in order to ensure the survival of the plants and animals it needed. The Karuk's food system had been broken almost overnight, and has yet to recover. But Jennifer Sowerwine — UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources — believes it still can.
In direct collaboration with Karuk tribal leaders and community members, as well as with the nearby Yurok and Klamath Tribes, Sowerwine has helped put millions of dollars from USDA to work restoring food security — defined as access to sufficient, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods — among those from whom it was once taken.
While this is a challenge to which one could easily dedicate a career, Sowerwine's broader mission to support equitable food systems across the state has also led her to other projects and other communities. In the Central Valley, she has spent years working with Southeast Asian farmers. Closer to home, she recently began studying how community farms and gardens improve food security among at-risk populations in the urban East Bay.
Restoring ancient relationships to food
Sowerwine's body of work is a manifestation of the University of California Cooperative Extension's long-standing mandate to aid the “welfare, development, and protection of California agriculture, natural resources, and people.” CNR is the home of Cooperative Extension at UC Berkeley, which — now celebrating 150 years since its founding as a land-grant university — is intended to benefit all residents of our increasingly populous and diverse state.
That includes California's first residents: Native tribes like the Karuk, the Yurok (located along the lower stretch of the Klamath River), and the Klamath (upriver, across the border in Oregon). All three were traditionally non-agrarian, hunter-gatherer communities. Loss of ancestral lands that had sustained them for millennia affected not only their diet — leading to a reliance on institutional and heavily processed foods that have contributed to persistent health problems —but also their culture.
In working with the tribes, Sowerwine first had to listen.
“One of the main philosophical approaches in my work is to collaborate with the community to identify what the problems are, co-create research questions, and then support, on the extension side, the kinds of programs they need to attain their goals,” she said.
Among the Karuk, the tribe with which Sowerwine works most closely, “the community is actively engaged in exploring ways to revitalize their eco-cultural system,” she said. “That includes managing the landscape with traditional methods to improve the productivity and availability of cultural foods and fibers, and restoring some of the relationships around Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).”
Beginning in 2012, through a five-year, USDA-funded grant, Sowerwine partnered with all three tribes to help them reclaim control over their food systems using a holistic, community-centered approach. This took a variety of forms, including designing K–12 curricula for local schools around traditional food systems; opening two new herbaria to preserve and share specimens of native food plants; hosting workshops on subsistence skills like butchering, bread making, and canning; and finding appropriate ways of reintroducing sustainable local agriculture into communities for whom traditional farming is linked with colonialization.
This work now serves as a model for tribes across the country.
“There's a lot of interest in all of our programs,” says Karuk tribal member and Pikyav Field Institute program manager Lisa Hillman. In particular, the tribe created a digital library to offer easy access to information about traditional foods and ecological knowledge, which has attracted significant acclaim and earned Hillman invitations to discuss it at national conferences. “Working with [Jennifer] opened a whole lot of doors for our tribe,” Hillman says. The project's success also led to a second, three-year USDA grant that should continue to point the way forward and help mitigate some past harms for the Karuk Tribe.
Interventions for Southeast Asian refugee farmers
Sowerwine began her career studying food security among marginalized residents of a very different part of the world, who nonetheless have much in common with her current collaborators. As a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at Berkeley, she spent two years in the highlands of Vietnam learning how land-use laws and economic policies affected indigenous local farmers from the Mien minority ethnic group and their ability to sustain agrarian practices that were vital to their culture and food security.
After earning her PhD, Sowerwine continued at Berkeley as a postdoctoral researcher. A vibrant community of Mien immigrants exists not far away, in Sacramento, where refugees of the Vietnam War first arrived from Laos in the late 1970s. They were joined by fellow refugees from the Hmong ethnic group, many of whom settled in Fresno. Both groups had traditionally worked the land in Southeast Asia, and they soon developed robust farming networks here in California.
Using a proficiency with the Vietnamese language honed overseas, Sowerwine initially set out to assess the productivity and economic viability of these small farms operated by Southeast Asian refugees.
“I wanted to understand the barriers they were facing in terms of farming in the Central Valley of California, which is arguably the most industrialized agricultural landscape in the world,” she said.
Approximately 100 Mien farmers — part of a Sacramento-area Mien population of about 15,000 — work small plots of land, averaging about eight acres each, outside the state capital. They primarily grow strawberries to sell at roadside stands, but also produce a wide variety of traditional foods, like “sticky” corn, yu choy, gai lan, purple long beans, and bitter melon — mostly for home consumption.
Hmong farmers, who are concentrated in Fresno and Sacramento counties, grow conventional vegetables like cherry tomatoes, green beans, onions, and lettuce — in addition to their own cultural and traditional foods — to sell at farmers markets, Asian grocery stores, and wholesale markets.
The two groups' successes have not come easy, owing to such challenges as language barriers, differences between traditional and modern farming techniques, and informal labor practices that often clash with state regulations.
In response, Sowerwine designed and led an array of interventions to support the farms' continued viability. These included offering hands-on, native-language training to help Hmong and Mien farmers comply with complex labor and food-safety regulations; teaching farmers how to achieve organic certification or to make and sell “value-added” foods like jams; and providing assistance in accessing new markets for fresh produce, including schools, farmers markets, and wholesalers.
Throughout her career, Sowerwine has worked closely with UC Cooperative Extension advisors around the state, including Richard Molinar — a now-retired small farms and specialty crops advisor in Fresno County — and his successor, Ruth Dahlquist-Willard.
“We accomplished a lot, and we helped hundreds, if not thousands,” Molinar said.
Protecting farmers' livelihoods is only the start, Sowerwine notes. Positive outcomes ripple out to the broader immigrant community, which sees strengthened food security through a steady supply of affordable, culturally appropriate produce, and to the entire regional economy and food system, which benefit from a robust and diverse network of local food producers.
“The land-grant universities were founded for the ordinary people, and not just the elite,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “The original idea was to provide support and training for people in professions like agriculture. It's part of the health of rural communities.”
The power of small-scale urban agriculture
Yet as Sowerwine's work in the East Bay has shown, small-scale agriculture can also be critical to the health and well-being of urban residents — especially recent immigrants. In 2016, she and a team of 12 undergraduate research assistants surveyed more than 100 community, school, and for-profit farms and gardens between Hayward and Richmond. A dozen of the community gardens were included in a subsequent pilot study to learn more about how urban farms can provide immigrants with reliable access to affordable traditional foods.
Despite a combined area of just 10.5 acres, these plots were producing more than 300 distinct crops. Many of these plants have direct ties to specific culinary and medicinal traditions, including nine varieties of edible cactus used for nopales (cactus pads) and tuna (cactus fruit) in Mexican cuisine, and even as a diabetes remedy; gandana, also known as Afghan leek, a critical ingredient in the traditional dishes bolani and ashak; and chinsaga (Cleome gynandra), a plant used by Kenyan women for postpartum healing and infant health.
Late last year, in collaboration with the Berkeley Food Institute, Sowerwine received a grant from the national nonprofit Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to further promote and study Bay Area urban farming. Along with ESPM faculty members Timothy Bowles and Céline Pallud, as well as Charisma Acey from the College of Environmental Design, she'll delve even deeper into urban agriculture across the Bay Area.
The team plans to address a diverse and thought-provoking array of questions, most of which have never been studied so thoroughly in the Bay Area. For example, what is the role of urban farms in supporting beneficial insects and improving soil health? How does food from urban farms find its way to consumers and how can waste along the way be minimized? What cultural or structural barriers may prevent locals from accessing urban-farming products?
As with all of Sowerwine's work, from the Oregon border to the East Bay, the goal is not simply to learn more, but to make a difference.
“There's a need to elevate an understanding of the value and importance of these spaces to local, state, and national government, to figure out ways of securing them for the long-term benefit of our diverse California public,” Sowerwine said. “The goal is to inform policy and create opportunities for tribal communities and small-scale family and urban farmers, to maintain the continuity of their cultural food heritages.”
Training people to farm is successfully preparing them for careers, according to a new report from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Their report, “Cultivating the Next Generation,” evaluates the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which was funded in the 2008 Farm Bill.
According to a national survey, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program-funded project leaders estimated that over half of their participants are now engaged in a farming career, and that nearly three-quarters of them felt more prepared for a successful career in agriculture after completing the program.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program has also helped nonprofit and community-based organizations, along with their academic partners, to build their capacity and serve more farmers with better services.
In California, UC Cooperative Extension has been providing beginning farming and farm business planning training in Placer and Nevada counties for over a decade. In a 2016 survey of Placer and Nevada county producers, 72 percent of respondents said they had taken one or more business classes from UCCE and another 9 percent had taken other business training. The training appeared to make a difference in their success.
“In a survey of local producers, over 90 percent were profitable as compared to 25 percent on the last national ag census,” said Cindy Fake, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Placer and Nevada counties.
In Sonoma County, UC Cooperative Extension offers "FARMING 101" workshops on the second Tuesday of the month. Experienced farmers, ranchers, and business specialists share a broad range of practical skills that new farmers and ranchers need to know. They also have resources at http://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/New_to_Sonoma_County_Ag to help new farmers and ranchers create a business plan and connect with mentors.
“For me, the full-time job I received is the direct result of my participation in the class,” wrote one Sonoma County participant. “Our products there provide 20 dozen eggs to three restaurants weekly in Healdsburg, and an average of 60 tons of wine grapes to two wineries annually.”
Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, served on an advisory board for the USDA program's evaluation. The report gave her ideas for improving training for California's aspiring farmers and ranchers.
“There is an opportunity for UC ANR to take more advantage of Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program funding to increase our support for beginning farmers and ranchers,” said Sowerwine.
According to the report, more beginning farmer training programs are led by the nonprofit sector than by land grant universities – 56 percent of all programs were led by nonprofits, 40 percent were led by land grant universities and 4 percent were led by other universities.
“There is an opportunity to deepen UC ANR support for beginning farmers in accessing land, capital and farm business management training,” Sowerwine said. “In addition to UC ANR's valued expertise in providing technical assistance to beginning farmers, we can also foster more farmer-to-farmer mentoring and networking opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers to enhance their support systems.”
She also sees opportunities to incorporate more principles of adult education – such as engaging participants in the design and evaluation of the training and offering more hands-on, experiential learning activities using multisensory techniques – which were found to be highly effective practices in training beginning farmers.
Sowerwine is wrapping up a three-year beginning farmer and rancher project titled, "Growing Roots: Deepening Support for Diverse New Farmers and Ranchers in California.” Christy Getz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, and Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture advisor, and Sowerwine, together with their nonprofit partners, have trained 340 beginning farmers and ranchers in 10 counties to help improve the economic viability and ecological sustainability of their agricultural operations.
The training is offered in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and Yolo counties. Most of the participants are Southeast Asian, Latino and other immigrant farmers in urban, peri-urban and rural areas, along with low-income urban farmers.
By partnering with National Center for Appropriate Technology, Sustainable Agriculture Education, the Alameda County Resource Conservation District and UC Cooperative Extension colleagues in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the team has been offering in-depth, culturally and regionally appropriate workshops and technical assistance. They also developed materials about business planning and marketing, hosted field days and farmer tours to observe organic and sustainable farming and ranching practices, and provided opportunities for the new farmers to network with other farmers.
“Collectively our project has reached 5,050 participants to date,” Sowerwine said, noting that many are people who have attended multiple events. Of the 3,485 who filled out evaluations, 89 percent reported an increase in their knowledge of workshop and field day topics and 73 percent reported plans to change their farming or business practices based on what they learned.
“We are in the process of evaluating how many have adopted practices based on what they learned,” Sowerwine said. “Based on what we learned, we are developing culturally relevant training tools in various languages.”
To download the Cultivating the Next Generation report, visit http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/bfrdp.