- Author: Hanif Houston, The VINE
The Farms, Food, Future Initiative celebrated its first anniversary with an All Gears meeting on Dec. 5 at Fresno State University. This meeting was not just a commemoration, but a forward-looking forum, addressing the vital components of agrifood technology and workforce development. The gathering brought together key stakeholders from across the initiative's three gears — F3Local, F3Innovate and F3AgTEC Workforce Development — to discuss progress and strategize for the coming year.
The Food, Farms, Future Initiative, or F3, is a program focused on revitalizing California's Central Valley economy through agrifood tech innovation. A recipient of a Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant by the Economic Development Administration, F3 aims to develop and commercialize climate-adaptive food production solutions, thereby creating high-quality jobs across various skill levels. F3's approach not only drives economic growth and equity but also actively engages small farmers and entrepreneurs, constructs a seamless talent development pipeline, and catalyzes local market growth in the small-scale farm and food industry.
“As we reflect on the first year of F3, I'm deeply inspired by the strides we've made,” said Ashley Swearengin, president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation. “Our journey has been about more than just technological advancements, it's about ensuring that these innovations are in harmony with the needs and skills of our diverse workforce, from those in year-round positions to seasonal workers. This initiative represents a concerted, collaborative effort to bring tangible, positive change to the Central Valley, blending tradition with innovation for a sustainable and equitable agricultural future.”
Milestones in Local Farm and Food Innovation
Helle Petersen, regional director of Local Farm and Food Innovation, spoke on the progress made on the F3Local gear, led by UC ANR, which addresses the economic and technological challenges faced by small-to-large scale farmers and food entrepreneurs in California's Central Valley. Key accomplishments include:
- Empowering Small BIPOC Farmers: A remarkable $433,000 worth of produce was sold by small Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, farmers, 44% above the year-one goal, with a third of these sales within the F3 Region. Fresno BIPOC Produce, involving over 200 farmers, played a pivotal role, including bridging connections to Merced Community College's student food pantry.
- Innovation and Technology Support: The Small Farm Tech Innovation Challenge saw an impressive 43 entries, with tailored one-on-one technical support provided to farmers.
- Food Recovery Efforts: Approximately 1.4 million pounds of food were distributed to 28,000 residents in Fresno, with the St Rest + Food to Share Hub project being a cornerstone.
- Small Farm Tech Expo: The Kearney Agricultural Research & Extension Center hosted the expo, attracting more than 200 attendees and showcasing more than 20 technologies for small farms.
Commercialization support to agtech startups
Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer and founder of the VINE, provided an update on the contributions of the VINE, which is a critical partner for both the F3Local and F3 Innovate. Youtsey discussed how the VINE is helping to identify, commercialize and scale agricultural, food and biotech innovations, particularly in the complex domains of agriculture and food technology, through its various programs and events. Notable achievements included:
- Nurturing ventures from research to market: Guided four companies from research to venture by a team of industry specialists and UC experts through The VINE Studio program.
- Facilitating industry engagement and validation: Accepted 20 companies into the VINE VIP program, ensuring industry engagement and field validation.
- Fostering student innovation in agriculture: launched the inaugural Farm Robotics Challenge, where 150 students from 12 universities competed to develop robotic solutions to address real agricultural challenges.
- A global platform for agricultural robotics: Co-hosted the second annual FIRA USA in Salinas, attracting over 1,700 participants from 30 countries to explore the future of agriculture with a focus on robotics and automation.
Shaping education for agriculture
A key achievement of the initiative over the course of the last year was the collection of over 12,000 surveys from farmworkers, the largest survey of its kind. This survey is a cornerstone of the F3AgTEC Workforce Development initiative, offering vital insights into the aspirations, educational backgrounds and needs of farmworkers. These findings have been instrumental in shaping the AgGED certificate program, ensuring that it is tailored to the real-life requirements and ambitions of those at the heart of agriculture.
This data-driven approach exemplifies a commitment to making educational offerings in agriculture more relevant and accessible, aligning with the evolving needs of the sector and empowering those who form its backbone.
Government's role in economic development and inclusivity
The meeting also featured remarks from Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, Alejandra Castillo, who underscored the importance of economic development and inclusivity. She discussed the role of government as a catalyst rather than a complete solution, and acknowledged the transformative period the U.S. is undergoing with substantial federal investments in various sectors, including agriculture. She emphasized the importance of inclusivity in these efforts, ensuring that economic growth encompasses all communities and industry types. The dialogue included perspectives on the challenges and evolution of work in academia and community colleges, emphasizing the difficulty of implementing change within established institutions and celebrating the efforts of those pushing through these barriers.
Discussions also touched on various initiatives and projects, highlighting the integration of technology in agriculture and the crucial role of innovation in the region's economic and societal progress. There was a focus on ensuring that technological advances do not lead to displacement, but rather inclusive development where everyone has a seat at the table.
The meeting concluded with an open forum for questions and a showcase of research projects, emphasizing the collective effort and interdisciplinary collaboration that the F3 initiative embodies. As it enters its second year, F3 remains committed to advancing agrifood technology and workforce development in the Central Valley, with a focus on inclusive and sustainable growth./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
Editor's note: This new monthly feature provides an opportunity to recognize UC ANR colleagues and teams. Send your shout-outs to email@example.com.
Long honored by Yolo County supervisors
Yolo County Supervisor Angel Barajas presented Rachael Long, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, with a resolution recognizing the valuable research she has contributed to Yolo County farmers over her 37-year UC ANR career. Supervisors Jim Provenza, Lucas Frerichs and Oscar Villegas joined Barajas in thanking Long for her service. Susan Ellsworth, UCCE Capitol Corridor director, and UCCE advisors Morgan Doran and Margaret Lloyd attended the ceremony on Sept. 26.
Read about Long's career at https://bit.ly/3rkowlR.
Humiston receives Excellence in Leadership Award
Vice President Glenda Humiston was honored with the 2023 Experiment Station Section Excellence in Leadership Award for the Western Region. The award is presented to leaders who personify the highest level of excellence by enhancing the cause and performance of the regional associations and ESS in achieving their missions and the Land-Grant ideal.
The award, which was announced in April, was presented to Humiston on Sept. 26 at the Ag Innovation Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
FIRA attracts more than 2,000 participants
UC ANR Chief Innovation Officer Gabe Youtsey and the team at The VINE did a phenomenal job partnering with Western Growers and Global Organization for Agricultural Robotics (GOFAR) to organize the second annual FIRA USA. More than 2,000 people attended the three-day event in Salinas.
ANR celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month
Kudos to the Latinos and Friends Affinity Group for organizing three fantastic virtual events for Hispanic Heritage Month. Ricardo Vela, Miguel Sanchez, Arianna Nava, Doralicia Garay, Angela Johnson, Adela Contreras and Lisa Rawleigh put together these wonderful learning opportunities that are recorded and available at http://ucanr.edu/hhm2023.
Bea Nobua-Behrmann, UC Cooperative Extension urban forestry and natural resources advisor for Los Angeles County, will be on an episode of Things Green with Nick Federoff. Nobua-Behrmann will talk about shothole borers and not moving firewood to prevent the spread of the pests. Her segment on the half-hour sustainable lifestyle show with a heavy emphasis on home, garden, ag, ranching and farming is scheduled to air on Oct. 21. You can watch it at 9 a.m. on Saturday on KLCS-TV 58 or see the simulcasts on Facebook and YouTube.
- Author: Mike Hsu
The Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation Initiative (F3) – of which UC ANR is an anchor institution – took a big step forward during the UC Regents meeting May 18.
The Regents unanimously approved the formation of F3 Innovate – a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit that will raise funds for the partnership initiative that also includes the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF), California Department of Food and Agriculture, UC Merced and CSU Fresno.
Largely funded by a $65 million Build Back Better grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, F3 aims to advance innovation and entrepreneurship in agrifood technology, strengthen food systems, bolster local and regional economies, and bring greater prosperity to the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.
The new F3 Innovate nonprofit will focus on agrifood systems research and commercialization, services for micro-enterprises and small businesses in under-resourced communities, ag-tech innovation seed funding, and building a talent pipeline to sustain these efforts.
“This 501(c)(3) is critical to all of that, because it really lets us bring together the public and private partners, and ensures that broader stakeholder participation and benefit,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, during her presentation to the Regents (view recording of the meeting).
UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz and CVCF President and CEO Ashley Swearengin also spoke passionately during the meeting about the need to form the nonprofit as a key connector and catalyst for the F3 initiative.
F3 – and the new F3 Innovate – will continue to take shape through the work of Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer; Josh Viers, associate dean for research of UC Merced's School of Engineering; and many other academics and staff across UC ANR and UC.
"Establishing F3 Innovate as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is a strategic move designed to unlock and accelerate agriculture technology from lab to market. It will pave the way for a wider range of collaboration opportunities between the UC and industry, and ensure the inclusion and representation of all our stakeholders, from small and socially disadvantaged farmers to startups and corporates," said Youtsey, who is also founder of The VINE, UC ANR's Innovation & Entrepreneurship program that is co-leading F3.
"The UC Regents were enthusiastic about this partnership as it aligns perfectly with our mission of transforming cutting-edge agricultural research into practical, market-ready solutions while doing the hard work of engaging our local workers, communities and farmers to adopt these new technologies," Youtsey added. "It enables us to foster deep and meaningful collaborative relationships with industry partners, advancing technology commercialization that is inclusive and truly beneficial to all involved."
“There's a massive interest in young people who want to be part of these issues about how one should think about food,” said Rachel Surls, discussing farming for a better food system on a panel with Jenny Ramirez of California Harvesters Inc., and Neil Nagata, president of the San Diego Farm Bureau.
Surls, a UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor in Los Angeles County, and Gabriele Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer, joined more than 30 speakers and panelists from the food and agriculture world to discuss “Growing the Food Movement,” at Food Tank's inaugural summit in San Diego on Nov. 14. The event was co-sponsored by the Berry Good Food Foundation, UC ANR and the San Diego Bay Food and Wine Festival.
“We need to reintroduce this type of farming to them [young people]. Storytelling really makes a difference. A lot of them are disengaged and not a part of the conversation,” said Ramirez, who works to improve working conditions for farm workers.
Stressing importance of hearing farmers' voices, Nagata said, "If we don't have farmers, we don't have agriculture."
"I'm excited to be on the 'Farming for a Better Food System' panel, and hope to share how urban farms are strengthening local food systems,” Surls had said before the event. “They are often managed by nonprofit organizations with varied missions, from food justice to job training to youth development. It's exciting to see how these emerging projects around California and the U.S. get everyday Americans in cities and suburbs engaged with farming and food systems."
On the Science, Agriculture and Technology panel, Youtsey discussed how UC ANR and The VINE are working with entrepreneurs to accelerate innovation in rural communities.
Rose Hayden-Smith, UCCE advisor in Ventura County, who encouraged Food Tank to hold a summit in Southern California, live-tweeted the event for UC Food Observer.
The event was live-streamed and the video is archived on Food Tank's YouTube Channel.
Farmers, food entrepreneurs, researchers and technology professionals can now find the resources they need to build, launch and grow agricultural innovations at the VINE's new website at https://thevine.io.
UC ANR created the Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, or the VINE, to accelerate the development and adoption of technologies that advance food, agriculture and natural resources in California.
The new website features links to accelerators, educational resources and places to test products and services. It also lists upcoming events for innovators to meet and network with people who can help advance their businesses.
The VINE recently co-sponsored FOOD IT, attended by more than 300 people at UC San Francisco. Panelists discussed the “digital full stack solution” – the physical layer, data, application and user interface/user experience. In 15 small groups, participants took a deeper dive into topics, ranging from financing alternatives for food/ag tech to bio-informatics and gene editing tech. Read more in the VINE blog at http://bit.ly/2v0zVWW.
On July 9, the VINE invited technology companies and farmers to the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to learn how the installation of a wifi tower will enable researchers to collect real-time data with access to high-speed wireless internet in the fields.
“The VINE brings together academia across UC, the Cal-State University system, and community colleges with innovators in technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, indoor agriculture and others,” said Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer. “We want to create rural testbeds to develop technology. UC ANR's research and extension centers are well set up to do that.”
The project grew from the partnership with the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) that brought ultra-fast (100Gbps) broadband capability to Kearney offices and laboratories two years ago. UC ANR collaborated with Orange Silicon Valley and BlueTown to extend the connectivity via wireless transmission to every corner of the research fields. Read more about the broadband expansion at http://ucanr.edu/?blogpost=27775&blogasset=99473.
Youtsey and the VINE partner John Selep, president of AgTech Innovation Alliance, are seeking more partners with expertise across the business spectrum.
For more information about the VINE, visit its website https://thevine.io.