- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Aspiring farmers are invited to apply for Urban Edge Sustainable Farming, a program that will expand the range of opportunities for beginning farmers in California by leveraging 550 acres of prime, protected East Bay farmland for training, farm business incubation and long-term leasing.
As baby boomer farmers retire, a new generation of farmers is needed to carry on the work.
“Small and mid-size farmers are vital to the strength of our local communities and the security of our food supply,” said Alli Cecchini, First Generation Farmers executive director. “If there are no farmers to keep fertile land in production, it will be sold to developers and we'll never get it back.”
First Generation Farmers received a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program to launch Urban Edge Sustainable Farming as a formal training and incubator program that combines classroom-style instruction with hands-on field training. The program is designed to provide beginning specialty crop farmers with the core agricultural production skills, business knowledge and the confidence they need to establish viable farm businesses.
“It's a very nice mix of practical application and applied science,” said Janet Caprile, who recently retired after 30-plus years as a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor. “It's very hands-on approach to education – more like an apprenticeship program. I've signed on to present.”
Urban Edge Sustainable Farming is a full-time, nine-month residency. In 2018, the course will run from Feb. 5 through Nov. 5, with a one-week break in early July. Beginning farmers will live on site in dorm-style housing for an immersive, cooperative learning experience. The curriculum is designed and delivered by First Generation Farmers and professional instructors from the National Center for Appropriate Technology and UC Cooperative Extension. Participants will also learn from working alongside the Cecchini family — successful, fourth-generation farmers who are bridging agricultural tradition with adaptation to 21st century practices and market demands.
The training covers a wide range of topics, including composting, organic practices, greenhouse management, pest and disease management, healthy soil management, cover crops and crop rotation, biodynamic farming, crop planning, food safety and handling, marketing strategies, financial record-keeping and business planning. First Generation Farmers will introduce participants to regional direct and wholesale markets.
“What UESF [Urban Edge Sustainable Farming] offers beginning farmers is unique in California: an opportunity to farm on historic farmland, in close connection with a traditional farm family, in a changing farming community on the edge of a major and expanding urban market,” said Poppy Davis, independent ag business and policy consultant and research professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
Urban Edge Sustainable Farming is open to all applicants, but the program prioritizes admission for beginning farmers with limited resources, military veterans, and those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, including women, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, immigrants and refugees. Because a diverse population of farmers makes for a stronger and more resilient farming community, the program aims to support farmers who often experience significant systemic barriers to starting their enterprise.
Up to 15 beginning farmers can be accommodated in the first cohort and applications will be accepted until the cohort is full. Applicants must be 18 years old and previous farm experience is not required. Tuition for the program is $4,000 and includes food and lodging. For more information and to apply, visit https://firstgenerationfarmers.org/uesf.
In the pre-dawn chill, UC CalFresh nutrition educators were at McNally Park in Madera Oct. 4 preparing for dozens of kids who were invited to come early for fresh fruit, active outdoor games and the opportunity to walk to school as a group. The event marked International Walk to School Day, part of a year-round movement for walkable communities and safe routes to school.
Walking (or bike-riding) to school provides benefits to the children and the community. Safe pedestrians and bicyclists start the day with physical activity, reduce traffic congestion around schools, and cut pollution.
UC CalFresh educators walked with students heading to Virginia Lee Rose Elementary School, Madera's newest elementary school, which opened this fall. The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, offered by UC Cooperative Extension in Madera County, works in partnership with schools and teachers to provide a comprehensive nutrition education program to students. Since Virginia Lee is new, the walk-to-school event offered an opportunity for UC CalFresh educators to meet students and interact with teachers.
Teaching healthful eating habits is just one of the UC CalFresh goals in local schools.
"We provide a comprehensive approach for healthy schools, focusing on policy, systems and environmental changes as well as teaching healthy eating," said Karina Macias, UC CalFresh manager for Fresno and Madera counties. "Access to a save route to school gives students an opportunity to increase physical activity. It is a component of a healthy lifestyle that we encourage."
Madera's annual Walk to School Day event was organized by UC CalFresh and the Madera County Public Health Department SNAP-Ed Program.
An important aspect of positive youth development is engaging youth in meaningful activities, building youth capacity, and helping youth develop leadership skills. As older students on their elementary school campuses, fifth- and sixth-grade student leaders can have a significant role in inspiring peers to make positive and healthy lifestyle choices. Student leaders can also have great impacts on their own families and communities by sharing what they know about nutrition and health in culturally relevant and accessible ways that inspire those around them.
The 11-week photovoice project started with students and project leaders getting to know one another and building trust with icebreakers, energizers and games. The students came together weekly to discuss barriers and opportunities for healthy play, physical activity and healthy food in their schools. Next, students learned to define important terms like “advocacy” and “photovoice.” Through these meetings and discussions students continued to explore what it means to “have a voice” or “a platform to advocate for change” from within their youth perspective.
Over the course of several weeks, students took walking field trips around their school campuses and photographed images of their school environment that they found significant. Although each student took a number of photographs, they each selected one image that was the most significant to them. Each student shared with the rest of their club why that image was significant and how they felt when they looked at it. Students then wrote a short description about their photograph, why they selected that image, what the image meant, and how that meaning was important to them as a student leader and to their school community. The project culminated with the youth sharing their collective voice with other students, school administrators, teachers and parents.
After the months' long project, it was rewarding and humbling to see the student leaders sharing their unique youth perspective. The youths' communities found value in their photographs as well. Images were framed and displayed alongside their interpretative narratives at local school sites, the school district office, the county fair, and other community sites as testaments to youth vision for healthy and thriving school communities. The school district displayed several of these photovoice stories in the halls of the central district building. Three students entered their photos at the Santa Barbara County Fair. This is notable because none of these students had previous experience entering their work at a county fair and they were able to gain wider exposure and recognition for their work. One student won first place and another received an honorable mention in the county-wide youth photography competition.
The UCCE Youth, Families and Communities Program in Santa Barbara County focuses on deepening engagement in nutrition education with youth and families in low-income settings while increasing positive youth development outcomes.This photovoice project was funded through local grant awards from the National 4-H Council in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, which is a joint agreement among the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Food and Nutrition Service (USDA/FNS), the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) CalFresh branch, and the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).
Even as the digital revolution has changed the world, there are thousands of California residents in rural areas that do not have an internet connection adequate for engaging in modern technology.
With offices in all California counties and several research centers located in remote locations, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Vice President Glenda Humiston and UC ANR Chief Innovation Officer Gabe Youtsey believe UC ANR is in a position to forge partnerships with government, industry, and other academic organizations to connect rural Californians with high-speed internet.
Youtsey testified at a rural broadband informational hearing in Sacramento on Aug. 28 held by the Assembly Select Committee on Economic Development and Investment in Rural California, chaired by Rep. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), and the Communications and Conveyance Committee, chaired by Rep. Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles.)
In his testimony, Youtsey characterized the presence of UC ANR in California for the lawmakers.
“We are a network, not a place,” he said. “We have more than 1,500 very applied academics; I call them academics with muddy boots because our job is really to turn science into on-the-ground solutions.”
While it is potentially expensive to bring broadband internet connectivity to every resident of California – from the far reaches of Modoc County in the north to remote desert communities near the Mexican border in the south – those communities' lack of high-speed internet is also exacting a high medical, social, and educational cost.
“High-speed connectivity is needed in rural communities not just for entertainment,” Youtsey said. “It's about online education, medical care, banking and businesses. Digital inclusion is an issue of economic justice.”
Youtsey likens the spread of broadband internet to a successful initiative in the 1930s to promote rural electrification in the U.S. The program was managed by the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration, one of the agencies created under the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt's sweeping legislation that helped lift the United States out of the Great Depression.
The government's role in “internetification” could be an investment in infrastructure, Youtsey said.
“It is very expensive to bring wired internet connectivity to places where it has never been before,” Youtsey said at the hearing.
At one UC ANR location, the UC Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center, laying a wired connection was cost prohibitive.
“The internet provider had to beam a signal from Marysville, up to the top of the Sutter Buttes, and then beam 26 miles across the valley to our location. That was about a $150,000 one-time set-up cost. That's just not realistic in many cases,” he said.
Youtsey said UC ANR would like to leverage its remote locations as launch points for public-private partnerships for rural broadband, a plan that dovetails an initiative now being considered by state legislators.
Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) has introduced AB 1665, known as the Internet for All Now bill, which aims to ensure social and economic equity for all Californians in the digital age. This bill would approve funding by Dec, 31, 2022, for infrastructure projects that would provide broadband access to no less than 98 percent of California households.
“We support passage of the bill, but we're not going to stand still,” Youtsey said.
Already, UC ANR is creating partnerships with rural communities to provide shared internet connectivity. One project underway is located at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Centernear Parlier, a 15,000-resident community in rural southeast Fresno County that has one of the state's highest percentages of Latinos. After connecting the center with fast one-gigabit speeds, UC ANR is planning to outfit all 330 acres with outdoor wireless coverage to support research and innovation. The next step will be to pilot a public-private partnership with the local community to work with the center and a vendor to share costs and make affordable broadband upgrades for both the residents in the community and UC researchers.
Another project is located at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center at the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley near Exeter, an agricultural city of 10,000 near the Sierra Nevada foothills.
“We don't have this site lit up yet. We're working hard on beaming a signal from Visalia, 25 miles away,” Youtsey said. “Once we have it here, we're in the heart of the state's citrus region. We're surrounded by commercial citrus farmers who all struggle immensely with getting broadband. We hope to be part of the solution.”
Late in August, the Helena Fire closed six schools in Trinity County and forced 2,000 people out of their homes. Ultimately, 70 houses were destroyed and Gov. Brown issued a state of emergency in the mountain community.
In the midst of the tragedy, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education specialist Margarita Alvord and program supervisor Janessa Hartmann quickly developed a plan to serve the children they couldn't reach during the school closures and organized activities to support local families. Alvord brought together several organizations, including Human Response Network, First 5 Trinity County, and Weaverville Parks and Recreation District to address the needs of the fire-stricken community.
The agencies developed a plan to provide youth activities, including physical activity, nutrition education, arts and crafts, and games. They served healthy lunches and provided three days of programming at the Local Assistance Center in Weaverville.
"We received significant positive feedback from parents, teachers and community members, showing Trinity County's strength, resilience and solidarity," Hartmann said. "The staff at UCCE Trinity County seized the opportunity to ensure the students, families, and community displaced during the fires were offered opportunities to learn and have fun in a safe place."