Day has deep roots in Tulare County. He was raised on a Dinuba farm established by his grandfather in 1906, where he farms peaches and nectarines to this day.
With bachelor's and master's degrees from Fresno State, Day launched his UC career in 1985 at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier as a staff research associate, working with UC Davis plant physiologist Ted DeJong. With DeJong, Day participated in the development of the “Kearney Perpendicular V,” a high-density tree training and pruning system that brings peach and nectarine orchards into full production at an earlier age.
Determined to climb the career ladder under his own terms, Day waited for the ideal position to be offered by UC in his beloved home county of Tulare. In July 1991, Day joined the Tulare County academic staff as pomology advisor with years of hands-on research experience and established relationships with Kearney- and UC campus-based specialists.
Day is highly regarded as an expert in stone fruit cultural practices. He conducted research to manage light exposure within tree canopies, pruning and training systems, irrigation, fertilization and pest management. He wrote the first published research on summer pruning of stone fruit trees in California and introduced a revolutionary tree fruit orchard establishment practice he termed “benign neglect.”
“Benign neglect changed the way farmers looked at pruning trees in new orchards,” Day said. “We don't prune fruit trees at all in the first year or two. This saves the cost of labor, and brings the tree into production years before new orchards that have been trained and pruned conventionally.”
In addition to many stone fruit growers, almond, walnut and pistachio farmers around the world have been able to cut costs and increase profitability by following this production practice.
In all, Day has written more than 500 papers on tree fruit management, including peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, magazine articles in popular publications and research reports. His specialty is in presenting practical information to farmers in accessible language, which helped him earn notoriety in national and international stone fruit circles. In 2012, he became the first county advisor or agent to be honored with the National Peach Council's Carroll R. Miller Award, which recognizes “noteworthy research relating to improved marketing and utilization of peaches.”
Day said he greatly appreciated the flexibility his career has afforded, being able to work with growers to respond to problems as they arose and adjust his focus when circumstances changed.
“I could work on a new disease that popped up. I could study developing insect issues,” Day said. “When people were planting apples in the (19)80s and 90s, I was able to study pruning, training, light management and fruit quality in apples.”
In 2015, Day was promoted to director of Cooperative Extension in Tulare and Kings counties. In this role, he has helped shape academic staffing decisions for the local area and mentor newly hired advisors.
Day has been honored with emeritus status by the University of California. In addition to tending his own tree crop farm in Dinuba, he plans to continue work on a sweeping project at Kearney that is being managed as the “orchard of the future.”
With dwarfing rootstocks and pruning advances developed over decades, the orchard has been designed to minimize the need to use ladders for pruning, thinning and harvesting. Keeping farm workers on the ground is safer, and reduces labor costs by 40 to 60 percent, Day said.
In retirement, Day said he also is looking forward to spending more time reading, pursuing his musical interests, fly fishing, hunting and playing with his six rescue dachshunds, a diminutive dog breed that captured his heart 30 years ago.
California-grown alfalfa seed – a crop valued at nearly $1 billion annually – is shipped around the globe, where farmers use it to grow high-quality hay for dairy cows, horses, beef cattle and other livestock.
“Words cannot express the gratitude the industry has for Shannon,” said JD Allen, manager of the Alfalfa Seed Production Research Board. “Her incredible dedication and commitment to the alfalfa seed industry over the years manifested itself in many ways.”
Mueller, who earned a bachelor's degree in plant science at UC Riverside, worked on alfalfa during her studies at Cornell University, where she completed a master's degree and Ph.D. She was educated about alfalfa seed production by expert farmers producing the crop in Fresno County.
Information is widely available to guide production decisions for alfalfa hay, but seed production is more complicated. There is a delicate balance to achieve with irrigation, pest management and pollination. All factors influence each other.
“If you don't align the variables, there are real consequences in terms of yield and seed quality,” Mueller said.
Having learned the complexity of seed production, Mueller conducted research to find solutions to challenges farmers faced. She studied alfalfa seed pollination with leafcutter bees, dodder control, optimizing plant spacing, gene flow and many other topics.
“Shannon Mueller was a strong advocate for California alfalfa seed producers," said Jonathan Reich, global alfalfa breeding lead at Alforex Seeds. "Throughout her career she engaged with alfalfa seed industry stakeholders to identify research priorities aimed to deliver solutions to problems which had the potential to improve productivity, profitability, and sustainability.”
Mueller's work also focused on dry bean, alfalfa hay and honeybee management.
Mueller said she valued the opportunity to choose her own academic path as a UC Cooperative Extension advisor and work on issues that were of importance to the industry.
“I was able to address critical matters, and make changes over time,” Mueller said. “What I started out doing bore little resemblance to my more recent research.”
In 2011, Mueller was named co-director of UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno and Madera counties with viticulture farm advisor Steven Vasquez. Two years later, after his departure, she took the reins herself.
“I've been lucky,” Mueller said. “We have very intelligent, hardworking academics, program professionals, nutrition educators and staff in Fresno and Madera. I've had the opportunity to learn about our nutrition, 4-H and Master Gardener programs. Along with our agriculture and natural resources programs, I see the tremendous value they bring to Cooperative Extension.”
The University of California has honored Mueller with emeritus status. She plans to focus on expanding the Davis-based California Master Beekeeper program to additional sites in San Diego and Fresno. The new program has received a start-up grant from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and will begin training volunteers to disseminate science-based information about the importance of honey bees, preserving bee health and responsible beekeeping.
Mueller also plans to travel during retirement, beginning with a month-long trip to Ireland this summer. Upon her return, she plans to take up quilting, get back into painting, and spend more time in the Sierra Nevada.
Despite these achievements, Wright said he counts the relationships he developed with local farmers, pest control advisers, consultants, private industry, university researchers, students, UC and county staff as his greatest career accomplishments.
“When I think over my career, I think of the people who I was privileged to work with more than the projects,” Wright said.
A native of San Diego, Wright earned a bachelor's degree in plant science at Fresno State in 1972. Upon graduation, he and his wife joined the Peace Corps, spending three years working with Guatemalan native farmers.
“I did research and extension work on corn, wheat and potatoes,” Wright said. “That's what motivated me to come back to California and do graduate work at Fresno State. I wanted to work in extension.”
He praised the opportunities afforded to him during his college days at Fresno State.
“They had all kinds of farm projects we could do,” Wright said. “I had grain, cotton and vegetable projects as a student. I was doing everything from planting to harvesting. In addition to working for the school farm and private farms, I owe a lot to the professors there, who offered the applied aspects of farming along with their teaching programs.”
While completing his master's degree in agronomy in December 1980, Wright began work with UC Cooperative Extension in Tulare County. His education and work experience was immediately applicable on the job, where he was hired to work with cereal crops. Two years later, when the UCCE weed science advisor retired, Wright's research and teaching experience with weed management allowed him to take on this additional responsibility in Tulare County. When the UCCE cotton advisor retired, Wright stepped up and began to also work with cotton. Wright was later given the opportunity to cover cotton and cereal crops work with Kings County farmers.
Besides focusing much of his research on all aspects of cereals and cotton production, he also worked on weed control projects in rangeland, irrigation districts, the first herbicide-tolerant crops and later herbicide-resistant weeds in both annual and permanent crops.
“The job got bigger and changed all the time,” Wright said. “I enjoyed working in different disciplines, from controlling yellow starthistle in the foothills, to working with large- and small-acreage farmers in Tulare and Kings counties. I thrived on that.”
Wright was involved with administration and committees, serving as president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Academic Assembly Council, UC ANR Program Council member, and president and honorary member of California Weed Science Society. He also coordinated the building and management of California Youth Soccer Association soccer fields in Visalia.
In retirement, Wright said he plans stay in Visalia and spend time taking long walks with his young chocolate Labrador retriever. He is seeking emeritus status with UCCE and plans to work part time continuing with a few research projects that are underway. He is planning on pursuing his passion for international volunteer work and recreational outdoor activities, including camping, snow skiing, going to Morro Bay, and enjoying three grandchildren.
When Johns was first hired, she taught agencies how to use a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) curriculum called “Money Sense.”
“Since I had just completed 10 years working with the Kern County agency on aging, I was very familiar with the 25 senior centers in the county,” Johns said. “I started a train-the-trainer program with the Money Sense program. We trained 150 agency staff throughout the county and, through them, reached thousands of low-income individuals and families. It was very successful.”
In 1995, funds became available from the USDA to offer the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Kern County. Johns hired the staff and made community connections to offer the education to low-income Kern County families, and she continued to push life skills education for her clientele.
“I have changed more people's eating habits teaching goal setting and financial literacy than I ever did in nutrition,” she said.
Johns shared an example of one woman who lived in a low-income housing project and wanted to buy her own house. When she sat down with a curriculum that outlined budgeting and goal setting, she realized she was spending $300 per month on fast food.
“So the woman stopped eating fast food, cooked at home and in time was able to save enough money for a down payment,” Johns said. “She bought a house and lost 30 pounds! When you set a goal, it's your own choice. You're not being told what to do. If I had told her to stop eating fast food, I'm not sure she would have done it.”
This philosophy shaped another curriculum Johns helped write when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (welfare reform) was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. A team of 25 UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists from around the state agreed that compliance with the law would require former welfare recipients to learn life skills and financial literacy. “Gateway to a Better Life” was developed.
Completed in 2000, the curriculum taught people with little or no work experience the skills for getting a job, staying employed and balancing the demands of work and home. In time, an abbreviated, lower literacy version of the training – “Making Every Dollar Count” – was created by members of the team and offered as an online, self-paced tutorial. A separate program – “Money Talks 4 Teens” – was another team effort. Called Money Talks for short, the program was designed to teach money management to the younger set using colorful graphics, interactive computer games and professional videos. It is available online at MoneyTalks4Teens.org.
All of the programs were honored with distinguished service awards from UC ANR. Money Talks was also recognized by the Western Extension Directors Association, and continues to be used for training teenagers about financial literacy today.
Johns is seeking emeritus status and, during retirement, plans to serve as a volunteer advisor to a UC Master Food Preserver program to be offered to Native American tribes in Inyo and Mono counties. She said she also looks forward to having the time for her creative pursuits, including scrapbooking, sewing, making jewelry and other crafts.
“I have a Pinterest page with thousands of ideas I want to make,” she said.
As manager of UC ANR News and Information Outreach in Spanish (NOS), Grajales-Hall has worked with California's Spanish-language news media, produced radio and video programs, and adapted newsletters, curricula, scripts, brochures and press releases to inform the community on obesity and diabetes prevention, ecologically sound pest management, farmworker safety, emergency preparedness and youth development.
When Grajales-Hall was a teenager studying English in her native Bogotá, Colombia, she set her sights on working at the United Nations. She asked her parents for their permission to travel to the United States for intensive language instruction, never believing they would allow their shy daughter to venture so far from home. But permission was granted.
While studying languages at California State University, San Bernardino, she was hired to do clerical work at a Spanish language radio station in Redlands. The staff soon recognized the pleasant tonal quality of her voice.
“I started doing commercials. Then they asked me to do public affairs,” she said. “I began working on news. That's how it all started.”
A radio station colleague went to work for UC Cooperative Extension, and five months later recruited Grajales-Hall to be his part-time assistant. Two years later she came on full time and six years after that, Grajales-Hall was named the manager.
“I wanted to work for the UN, and ended up with the UC,” Grajales-Hall said. “One letter changed my life. And it couldn't have been any better.”
When Grajales-Hall came to the university in 1982, the Latino population in California was about 5 million. Today, the population has more than tripled.
“I am so impressed that 35 years ago, the University of California and Cooperative Extension had the foresight to establish an outreach service to the Spanish-speaking population,” Grajales-Hall said. “I've had the privilege to work with dozens of dedicated, brilliant UC academics and educators, and to assist them with their outreach efforts. I've learned so much from them.”
The program began with a monthly radio feed to 20 Spanish-language radio stations. As technology advanced continuously over the years, NOS, under Grajales-Hall's leadership, kept up with the times.
Reel-to-reel tapes gave way to cassettes, and then CDs. Now radio spots will be shared in MP3 format. The media needs also changed. In the early 1980s, radio stations welcomed 30 minutes of programming from UC. But in today's world of shortened attention spans, the team made adjustments.
“We still do radio. It's a viable way to get information out to the Latino community. But today we are lucky to get one minute of air time,” Grajales-Hall said. “Some stations only want 30-second spots.”
More information is shared via the program's website, and feeds on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Through the years, Grajales-Hall and her staff made sure timely and practical information from the UC Cooperative Extension reached Spanish-speaking Californians.
“Coming from a different country, as an immigrant, I see the great value in the information and education we can provide to other immigrants in California,” Grajales-Hall said. “I understood their issues and concerns, their difficulty in navigating the system. To be able to make a difference, whether large or small, was always exciting.”
In retirement, Grajales-Hall envisions change, but will continue to serve her community.
“I came across a word doing translation research: ecdysis. That's when an insect sheds its skin and transforms. It's a time of great promise, of renewal, of transformation, and of vulnerability. That's how I feel about retirement,” Grajales-Hall said. “When you retire, you find yourself without the constraints of time and space. I'm looking forward to the time and space to redefine my life.”
In addition to traditional retirement pursuits of travel and relaxation, Grajales-Hall has esoteric endeavors on her to-do list.
“I want to be mindful. I want to see the sunrises and sunsets. I want to walk more on the beach,” she said. “I want to learn Italian, volunteer, scrapbook, spend time with family and friends and teach ESL (English as a second language). I want to serve, I want to give back.”