Serving Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado and Tuolumne counties, UC Cooperative Extension advisor Lynn Wunderlich was formally assigned to focus on viticulture and integrated pest management in the region. But her innate curiosity – as well as her dedication to meeting the wide-ranging needs of local communities – led her to develop expertise in a remarkable array of topics.
“That was both the challenge and the opportunity of being a foothill farm advisor – lots of small farms, lots of diverse agriculture, so I got to do some cool things,” said Wunderlich, who is set to retire on July 1. “To serve the needs of the clientele up here was very gratifying and interesting.”
Wunderlich earned her bachelor's degree in bacteriology and plant pathology from University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master's in plant protection and pest management from UC Davis. After several years as a UCCE staff research associate in Ventura and Monterey counties, Wunderlich began as a UCCE farm advisor in 2000 for El Dorado and Amador counties.
Although initially tasked with supporting tree fruit and specialty crop growers in topics such as researching alternative methods for managing codling moths, Wunderlich soon found herself studying organizational dynamics and bylaws to help the Placerville Fruit Growers Association cooperative transition to become a Limited Liability Company.
“It was really different than anything I'd been trained in before,” Wunderlich said.
That early experience set the tone for the rest of her career, as she continued to seek out – and share – knowledge across the expansive breadth of her work. In 2007, Wunderlich took on the viticulture role in Amador and El Dorado counties, where grape growers sought counsel on controlling a newly discovered pest.
“Every farm advisor has some quintessential moments of their career, and Gill's mealybug was one of mine,” Wunderlich recalled. “It's really unique; it's not found in very many places in California and it had never been described as a pest on wine grapes.”
In addition to developing effective management tactics for Gill's mealybug, Wunderlich worked with growers and the late Doug Gubler, UCCE specialist emeritus, to set up seven powdery mildew stations and rain gauges across the foothills. The stations filled a great need in the region by providing accessible, applicable pest and disease forecasting and precipitation data.
Crediting her colleagues' tutelage, Wunderlich also deepened her understanding of the diverse soils in the foothills and the latest research on evapotranspiration on wine grapes – all in the name of delivering the most current and useful information to growers.
When Christmas tree growers in the foothills found their white firs decimated by a phytophthora pathogen, Wunderlich helped them switch to Nordmann and Turkish firs, which were naturally resistant. She became one of only a few experts in the UC system on these conifers, and, in one of her last accomplishments as farm advisor, organized the International Christmas Tree Research and Extension Conference in California earlier this month.
Another late-career highlight for Wunderlich was developing training materials on the proper calibration and use of air blast sprayers. Alongside Franz Niederholzer, UCCE farm advisor for Sutter, Yuba and Colusa counties, and UC IPM colleagues Lisa Blecker, Petr Kosina and Cheryl Reynolds, Wunderlich developed, delivered and evaluated a curriculum that included both in-person classes and online components. Their efforts were recognized with an IPM Achievement Award from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and the online course continues to be used today.
“It's nice to be able to leave something like that behind; its principles are still valid, no matter what type of sprayer you're using,” said Wunderlich, citing it as one of her enduring legacies.
In retirement, Wunderlich plans to continue her lifelong learning and also spend more time with friends and family – especially on camping trips on the east side of the Sierra.
And, as for growers such as Chuck Mansfield, they hope Wunderlich will stay connected.
“While we are all very happy for Lynn, her presence will be sorely missed,” Mansfield said. “We hope Lynn remains a regular fixture and friend in our community.”
In commemoration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, you are invited to attend a special virtual presentation, "Stories in Seeds: Asian American Identity as Rooted in Heirloom Crops," by Kristyn Leach of Namu Farms and Second Generation Seeds.
The link to the online talk on May 25, 2022 (12:30 to 1:30 p.m.) can be found below.
Kristyn, a Korean American farmer in Yolo County, will share her personal story of activism for food and environmental justice, as well as her passion for nurturing connections between Asian American communities and the unique crops and foodways that are deeply rooted in their heritage.
In addition to growing Korean and East Asian produce using traditional methods, Kristyn is active with Second Generation Seeds, a collective of Asian American growers dedicated to offering heirloom seeds and resources that help communities of the Asian diaspora reclaim and revitalize their diverse food cultures.
Meeting ID: 917 4050 2032 | Passcode: 007206 | +1 (669) - 900 - 6833
When agricultural advisors came to the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico during the 1940s, they lined the irrigation ditches with concrete, in the name of boosting efficiency and productivity. But in single-mindedly focusing on water delivery, they neglected to consider how the previously inefficient seepage sustained nearby fruit trees.
Their actions, as well-intentioned as they might have been, disrupted the local ecosystem and killed the trees that had fed many generations, according to A-dae Romero-Briones, who identifies as Cochiti and as a member of the Kiowa Tribe.
“In my language, we call the extension agents ‘the people who kill the fruit trees,'” said Romero-Briones, director of the Food and Agriculture Program for the First Nations Development Institute, a nonprofit that serves Tribal communities across the mainland, Alaska and Hawaii.
The historically tense relationship between Indigenous peoples and government-affiliated programs is one of the many complex dynamics discussed in a six-part webinar series, “Racial Equity in Extension,” facilitated by UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.
Making communities of color in the agricultural sector more visible is a priority for Victor Hernandez, a sociologist and outreach coordinator for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Hernandez, who has organized “Growing Together” conferences for Latino and Black farmers, is trying to get more farmers of color to participate in the upcoming 2022 Agricultural Census.
“If we cannot quantify the demographic, we cannot justify the need,” emphasized Hernandez, explaining that his office uses the data to direct resources that advance equity in service, program delivery and distribution of funds.
A legacy of mistrust
At the same time, however, Hernandez also acknowledged the challenges in registering growers of color for the census, conducted by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. (According to Brodt, USDA's most recent agricultural census, dating to 2017, counts approximately 25,000 producers of color among 128,535 total producers in California.)
“Many of us that are considered socially disadvantaged or historically underserved…a lot of times our peoples come from [nations with] oppressive governments,” Hernandez said. “And so when you come to the United States and you begin to build your life here, to go and engage with the federal government is not the first knee-jerk reaction.”
On top of government mistrust and fears of deportation or detention, other immigrant groups have seen mainstream agriculture – borne by the “Green Revolution” wave across the globe – replace deep-rooted cultural practices, said Kristyn Leach of Namu Farm in Winters.
“It just makes these small farmers distrust our own knowledge, the knowledge that's existed for centuries – before the kind of current iteration of agriculture that we're situated within right now,” said Leach, who works to preserve the agricultural heritage of her Korean ancestors, and facilitates a farmers' collaborative called Second Generation that adapts Asian crop varieties to climate change.
According to Romero-Briones, a collective memory of supplanted culture also lingers in Indigenous communities. In the Cochiti Pueblo, “primarily a subsistence agriculture community” with a long history of corn cultivation, their practices are distinct from those in the mainstream – including regenerative and sustainable agriculture.
Building relationships takes commitment
Given that legacy of cultural displacement and appropriation, how do extension professionals and other agricultural advisors slowly rebuild trust with communities of color? For Romero-Briones, it begins with a genuine respect for Indigenous practices, and she urges interested people to contact their local tribal historic preservation officer to begin strengthening those connections and understanding – beyond a couple of phone calls.
“As someone who works with Indigenous people all day, even I need to recognize sometimes I have to meet with people up to 12 times before we actually start talking about the work that I initially wanted to talk to them about,” Romero-Briones said.
In a similar vein, Chanowk Yisrael, chief seed starter of Yisrael Family Farms, encouraged listeners to reach out to members of the California Farmer Justice Collaborative – an organization striving for a fair food system while challenging racism and centering farmers of color.
“To use a farm analogy: we've got this ground, which is the farmers of color who have been neglected for a long period of time,” said Yisrael, who has grown his farm in a historically Black neighborhood of Sacramento into a catalyst for social change. “It's not just going to be as simple as just throwing some seeds and things are going to come up; you're going to have to do more – that means you got to get out and do much more than you would do for any other community.”
Investing time in a community is one thing – and backing it up with tangible resources is another. Technical expertise is only the “tip of the iceberg,” Leach said, as historically marginalized groups are also seeking land access and tenure, more affordable cost of living, and access to capital.
“All of those things are actually much bigger burdens to bear for most communities of color than not having the knowledge of how to grow the crops that we want to grow, and not knowing how to be adaptive and nimble in the face of climate change," Leach explained, highlighting California FarmLink as an essential resource. (“Understanding Disparities in Farmland Ownership” is the next webinar in the SAREP series, set for Nov. 19.)
Bringing diverse voices to the table
Another key is ensuring that farmers and farm workers of color are represented in management and decision-making processes. Samuel Sandoval, a professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in water management, develops outreach programs in English and Spanish for everyone from farm workers to the “boss of the boss of the boss.”
“It has to be changed,” he said, “because at the end, the person who is going to operate the irrigation system and turn on or off the valves, the person who is looking if there's a leak or not – that's the person who's not being informed, or has not been informed on purpose.”
That exclusion of certain groups can lead to a loss of invaluable knowledge. Leach said there is a real danger in ignoring the wisdom of communities that have contributed so much to the foundation of food systems in California and around the globe.
“These really kind of amazing, sophisticated and elegant agroecological systems that we don't often legitimize through the scientific language and perspectives aren't seen as being really technically proficient – but, in many ways, they're more dynamic and more resilient than the things that we're perpetuating right now,” she said.
As a concrete example, Sandoval said that while extension advisors and specialists conduct studies to remedy a plant disease, farm workers might be developing – separately and in parallel – their own solutions by asking for advice from their social networks via WhatsApp, a phone application.
A reimagining of collaboration, Sandoval said, would include (and compensate) people working in the field for sharing their perspectives – bringing together academics and farmers, integrated pest management experts and pesticide applicators, irrigation specialists and those who do the irrigation.
A need to look within
Concerns about inclusion and validating alternate sources of knowledge apply also to the recruitment process in extension. Leach said that she has seen listings for advisor jobs that would require, at a minimum, a master's degree – which would automatically disqualify her, despite her extensive knowledge of Asian heirloom vegetables.
“When you look at a job description and you see ‘Asian crop specialist,' only required qualification is a master's degree, and then somewhere down the long list of sort of secondary desired, recommended things is some knowledge of Asian crops or communities…you know that just says a lot in terms of what has weight,” Leach explained.
Before organizations can authentically connect with communities of color, they should prioritize diversity in their own ranks, said Romero-Briones. First Nations Development Institute had to ensure that they had adequate representation across the many Tribes that they serve.
“Before we start looking out, we have to start looking in,” she explained, “and that means we have to hire Indigenous people who know these communities.”
For extension professionals and other members of the agricultural community in California, the UC SAREP webinar series has helped spark that introspection and a meaningful reevaluation of institutional processes and assumptions.
“These discussions have been tremendously illuminating and eye-opening,” Brodt said. “But hearing and learning is just the start – it's incumbent on us, as an organization and as individuals, to take action to ensure that farmers of color and their foodways are truly respected and valued.”/h2>/h2>/h2>/h2>
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Dahlberg, also the director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE) in Parlier, invoked his 35 years of sorghum expertise to increasing interest in growing the crop in California and to better understanding plants' ability to tolerate drought. Dahlberg retires Jan. 8.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the early 1980s, Dahlberg was intrigued by sorghum, a staple food being cultivated by the country's vast population of subsistence farmers.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “Nigerien farmers relied solely on rain for their sorghum and millet crops.”
Upon returning to the U.S., he earned a master's degree at the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. at Texas A&M, where his research focused on sorghum. He worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Puerto Rico for 7 years and then spent the next 10 years as research director with the National Sorghum Producers in Lubbock, Texas.
When Dahlberg took the helm of the 330-acre UC agricultural research center in 2010, he and colleagues at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center and at UC Davis began conducting sorghum forage variety trials. Sorghum wasn't new to California. In the past, it had mainly been used for animal feed. But Dahlberg believed the crop's adaptability – excellent for forage, biofuels and gluten-free human food – offered the grain a rosy future in the Golden State.
"With our research, we have provided California farmers who are thinking about growing sorghum access to locally generated, research-based information to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.
In 2015, Dahlberg and UC Berkeley specialist Peggy Lemaux launched a sweeping drought research project at KARE. The five-year study, funded with a $12.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, researched the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum and how soil microbial communities interacted with sorghum roots to battle drought stress.
A journal article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 presented the first detailed look at the role of drought in restructuring the root microbiome. The plant switches some genes on and some genes off when it detects water scarcity and access to water.
“That has implications for feeding the world, particularly considering the changing climate and weather patterns,” Dahlberg said.
In recent years, Dahlberg helped reestablish tea research at Kearney, initiated nearly 60 years ago in a study funded by Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. At the time, Lipton was seeking to grow tea for the instant tea market. When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney.
Those shrubs became the basis for a new tea research trial planted at Kearney in 2017 with UC Davis professor Jackie Gervay Hague to determine whether drought stress impacts the production of phenolics and tannins in the tea.
“We know we can grow good tea here and we can grow high tonnage,” Dahlberg said. “We want to determine if we can do that on a consistent basis and whether we can improve tea quality through irrigation management.”
In retirement, Dahlberg plans to relocate to Lake Ann, Mich., to be close to family. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali will serve as interim director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Rachel Elkins, UC Cooperative Extension pomology farm advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties, plans to retire from UC July 1 after 36 years, 33 years in her current position.
“Rachel has been invaluable to the pear industry in Mendocino and Lake counties,” said Bob McClain, California Pear Advisory Board's field and research director.
The Richmond native's first UC job was as a typist at UC Berkeley. Elkins was introduced to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources after earning a bachelor's degree in international studies at University of the Pacific and bachelor's degree in agricultural pest management at UC Berkeley, then landing an internship with UCCE integrated pest management advisor Bill Barnett in Fresno County in 1982. After earning two master's degrees, in pomology and plant protection and pest management at UC Davis, Elkins joined UC Cooperative Extension as a farm advisor intern in 1986 and was hired as a farm advisor in Lake and Mendocino counties in 1987.
She co-edited and co-authored the 2007 UC Pear Production and Handling Manual, 1999 UC Integrated Pest Management for Apple and Pear, and UC IPM Pear Pest Management Guidelines. Her most recent co-authored article on predatory phytoseiid mites, detailing work completed in 2008 was just published in California Agriculture journal.
Elkins is well-known for her research to control codling moth populations by interfering with the insect's sex life instead of using insecticides. In 1996, she worked with UC Riverside researcher Harry Shorey to introduce the pheromone ‘puffer,' fashioned after the devices in public restrooms that intermittently emit a fragrance. Releasing pheromones confuses male moths seeking mates. The method proved successful and ideal in large-scale management because as acreage increases the number of units needed per acre decreases. As a result, organophosphate insecticide use for codling moth control in many pear orchards has almost entirely ceased.
“She was instrumental in developing pheromone puffers for codling moth control,” McClain said, noting that pheromones distributed in orchards on plastic ties were hung by hand 200 per acre. “With the puffer, you needed two per acre, which saved on labor costs.”
A 2003 UC cost study showed that the pheromone puffers saved growers $9 per ton or nearly $200 per acre, based on 20 tons per acre. The cost savings came from reduced insecticide use – due to fewer outbreaks of secondary pests such as mites and pear psylla – and less need to operate spray equipment, which was becoming increasingly expensive.
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation honored the pheromone puffer project with its 2000 IPM Innovator Award. The puffer is now used on nearly all the pear acreage in Lake County. This success in pears led to its use in apple and walnut orchards.
“The most gratifying part of the puffers' success is that I put myself out of the codling moth control business and was able to devote more time to horticulture,” she said. “For example, developing modern orchard systems amenable to mechanization, finding alternatives to antibiotics for fire blight control, and joining multistate efforts toward breeding size-controlling rootstocks.”
In 2002, Elkins was named Agriculture Person of the Year by the Lake County Farm Bureau.
Although pears are her specialty, she has worked with growers on more than 25 fruit and nut crops, mainly walnuts, but also apples, kiwifruit, olives and wine grapes.
“My walnut research program has greatly increased in the past decade as higher prices and organic markets have led to new Lake County plantings,” she said. “I established four long-term rootstock trials in 2011-2012, which are providing local growers with important data to decide whether to replace seedling Paradox with newer clonal selections.”
In 2015, she received the American Society for Horticultural Science award for Outstanding Extension Education Materials for producing the video “Budding, Grafting and Planting Walnut Trees in the Field,” a labor of love honoring renowned Lake County nurseryman Alex Suchan.
She has also covered environmental horticulture and, in 1993, started the UC Master Gardeners Program in Lake County, which is still going strong today.
In addition to her research, Elkins has served as UCCE director in Lake County, from 2002 to 2006 and again from 2018 to the present, maintaining excellent relationships with local government officials and partnering with county departments.
Elkins has been granted emeritus status by UC ANR and will continue ongoing research trials. She will return part-time funded by the California Pear Advisory Board and Pear Pest Management Research Fund to continue assisting the statewide pear industry, including as UC ANR commodity liaison.
“I am very glad to work part-time doing pure farm advisor work, which is what I love and why I entered this profession,” Elkins said.