Tuesday afternoon I headed to Des Moines to participate in the Borlaug Dialogue and World Food Prize events. After my customary travel delays, I rose early yesterday, with only a couple hours of sleep, to attend a breakfast meeting/discussion with the 2018 Borlaug Laureates on the topic of agriculture and nutrition. The statistics presented were alarming, in both positive and negative ways:
A $1 USD investment in nutrition leads to an economic return of $8 to $138 due to improved health outcomes
According to the director of nutrition at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a person in Nigeria in the 4th income quintile, would spend 44% of their income to purchase an egg every day, and
For the third consecutive year, global hunger has not declined. In fact, it has increased the last 2 years.
If you're not familiar with the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, it is an annual meeting to honor Norm Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution' and his work to end world hunger. I've attended regularly since my days at Iowa State. A couple of things have always surprised me. One is the small number of scientists that I have recognized over the years. The other is the lack of presence from California. These are changing, a bit. The Feed the Future Innovation Labs meet at this event now, increasing the presence of scientists. And this year, the California presence was a bit stronger. Beth Mitcham was present, perhaps due to her connection with an Innovation Lab. Also, Helene Dillard is a panelist tomorrow, talking about women leading food and agriculture research. A.G. Kawamura is here as well and was a panelist during yesterday's morning session.
I really enjoyed A.G.'s comments. He talked about his farming operation, pointing out that he is in his 40th year this year and referencing Howard Buffet's book, which I would highly recommend even for non-readers like myself. A.G.'s comments were really focused on the feasibility of farming small parcels of land owned by airports, churches, cities, etc., pointing out efforts in the area of built environments. A.G. also talked about opportunities to farm specifically for food banks, in his case working with an FFA chapter. I noticed he attended one of the side events this morning. The topic was vertical agriculture and the speaker was the owner of Skyscraper Farm. The speaker shared the company's work with Virginia Tech on an NSF INFEWS project. The company holds 2 utility patents on the building design, focused on getting light in. They envision as tall as a 52 story building (200' x 200') with 5 floors of condos, 5 floors of commercial space, a ground floor farmers market and 41 floors of growing space. An interesting concept and clearly vertical, compared to other indoor agriculture units that still have a large footprint because they don't build up.
What interested me most in the conversation was the concept of ‘speed breeding' to achieve desirable traits much faster than traditional breeding allows and even further acceleration in indoor growing environments. I need to read up on this a bit but definitely something where CA should be at the forefront.
Still more to learn before I head back.
Last week I visited the last of the counties, at least for my ‘initial' visit. It took a bit longer than I had hoped but California is a big state and things always seem to crop up on my calendar. Then there's a list of ‘standing meetings' like Program Council, VP Council, REC calls, CD calls, Executive Council not to mention staff meetings in 2 offices, Core Leadership, Senior Leadership, Ethics and Compliance meetings. So when I realized this morning that I have no open days in November and very few in December I really shouldn't be surprised. Even some of the UCOP holidays seem to get booked over (Veterans Day, for example).
Also of no surprise is the comment I've heard all around the state that our visits are a rare opportunity for all of the county team to come together and learn about the programs and accomplishments of their peers. I suspect that was the case for the Yolo, Solano, Sacramento group we met with last Thursday as well as the Placer-Nevada team that we saw on Friday. I heard from many that peer networking was one of the highlights of the 2018 statewide conference as well; an opportunity to see each other in an environment that had both structured and unstructured time. Time, maybe more so than funds, is what prevents all of us from connecting more. Everyone is running in many different directions in order to contribute to the greatest extent possible.
Contribution by UC ANR has also been a regular theme of my conversations around the state. In Placer-Nevada I learned that, in part due to the work of the team:
- 86% of orchard growers now mulch their orchards (up from 18% in 2005)
- 90% of orchard growers now prune
- 90% of the repeat business training participants are profitable compared to only 24.8% of respondents to the 2012 Ag Census,
- UCCE has an economic multiplier effect of 1.86 and helps contribute to the 29.2 jobs produced for every $1 mill in ag production
The first two bullet points, above, contribute to the change in conditions that are conveyed in the last two bullet points. So how does one gather the information to document change in practices/behaviors? These questions came up during our visit to the Capitol Corridor team as well as during visits with other areas of the state. Cindy can share how she collected the data, above. For similar programs, periodic survey data to growers or grower groups, or even observation by a CE Advisor may work when the grower group is small. Gathering data from CCAs, PCAs or a commodity organization are another means of gathering data. Note that the change in behaviors for mulching reflect a 13-year timespan, suggesting that one doesn't want to collect data monthly or even quarterly. In this case, there was likely research that took place over years to document effectiveness followed by communication (meetings, newsletters, blogs, one-on-one consultations) to promote adoption. That all, collectively, and with likely additional influences (price of mulch, availability of mulch, testimonials from grower colleagues, etc.) has resulted in behavior change. Likely, the science supports use of mulch as a strategy to reduce input costs, improving overall profitability. If the grower also participates in the business training classes, they are even more likely to be profitable (class surveys compared to Ag Census data) and result in more jobs to stimulate the local economy.
As we discussed in Woodland, I think there would be real value to having a chance to have unstructured time to brainstorm how we document our contribution to improved conditions. And then there's the added benefit of that chance to just network.
You might think that Tu Tran is smiling because this week is his birthday and he's expecting a big surprise party. Nope. He's smiling because he and Greg Gibbs were part of a ceremony to celebrate a UC ANR Presidential Endowed Researcher at the Lindcove REC, made possible by a generous donation from the Citrus Research Board and matched by the President's office. Great work everyone! I'm looking forward to identifying the first holder of the endowment.
That's not all that Beth Grafton-Cardwell has to smile about. Her webinar-based training was called out by Western Farm Press and then re-run in UCOP's Daily News Clips yesterday. Thanks to Jeannette for sharing this information with the media! This group is doing things differently to meet clientele needs. According to Jim Farrar, this is the first of three pest management webinars available to clientele for continuing education credits required by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Beth Grafton Cardwell is conducting two of the trainings (citrus thrips in October and Fuller rose beetle in December). Ben Faber is conducting the third, avocado diseases, to be offered in November.
In addition to the 46 position proposals, I've done a little bit of reading this week. Adina Merenlender shared an article about ‘boundary organizations', such as Extension, and how to evaluate the work of these organizations (Pitt et al., 2018 in Conservation Biology). From the paper: "... boundary organizations face the challenging task of demonstrating their value to diverse stakeholders...Although no off-the-shelf solution is available for a given boundary organization, we identified 4 principles that will support effective evaluation for boundary organizations:engage diverse stakeholders, support learning and reflection, assess contribution to change, and align evaluation with assumption and values." These all sound familiar, with at least two of the 4 principles, core to what I think we regularly consider indicators for UC ANR. That's something to smile about.
The other reading I've done was a document someone left on my desk that provided 4 strategies to avoid overworking high performing employees: 1) Refrain from asking high performers to help on small efforts, 2) Let high performers occasionally pick their projects, 3) Create high-performing pairs of employees at similar levels, and 4) Keep track of additional demands on their time and consider micromanaging what high performers are allowed to say ‘yes' to. Given no context I don't know what to read into the anonymous gesture although I do wonder if the sender questioned whether or not they should enter my office, uninvited, versus leaving the document in Joan's box with my name on it.
Here's hoping that next time someone leaves me lottery tickets or a dark chocolate mint truffle (smile)!
I think most of us, if not all, have realized that we need to do things differently in order to really achieve the intent of the Morrill Act; improving the lives of all state residents by providing access to formal and informal education. We're not alone. In talking with the Extension directors from a number of states last week, it seems to be a common theme. One of our Western neighbors has an upcoming annual conference where the theme is ‘fail fast'. This refers to the concept of ideation where you develop ideas and quickly test them on a small scale so that you can determine what may and may not work before making a large investment of time and/or money only to find that the idea doesn't work. UC ANR will be trying this out at an ideation workshop in late November. I look forward to seeing what ideas emerge to help us think about how we continue to provide the impactful programming and research we always have in a changing environment. To get a glimpse of some of the innovative approaches to Extension that are going on around the U.S. take a look at the current issue of the Journal of Extension.
I talked with the director in Iowa as well. I knew that Iowa had a standardized formula for county support of Extension, unlike many states, including CA. The formula is that each of the 99 counties directs 2.7% of collected property tax to Extension. That equates to $830k in support from Polk County (Des Moines) for FY18/19. The Polk County budget is $276M for FY18/19. Compare that to the numbers I heard when we were in LA a week+ ago ($475k for Extension out of a $28B county budget). I don't think LA is unusual for counties in CA. But Iowa is considering change. Following a 2009 budget reduction, all of the county contributions remained with the counties and all employees paid from those funds became county employees. As a result, the sense is that there is a weakened connection between the county and campus. That then weakens the ability to connect the general public to science; a pillar of what led to the creation of Extension.
I thought of LA County, among other counties, during conversations last week about urban extension. The general sense was that Extension is well positioned to do this around the country because we are grounded in our mission to serve the people of the state, aligned in vision and values with urban populations, and positioned to lead locally. Sound familiar? It should as these are the elements of the UC ANR promise. A key topic identified as relevant to an urban audience was green infrastructure was a focus. I envisioned Darren's demonstrations at the Orange County UCCE/SCREC that illustrate the principles of green infrastructure well. And, having just been back to the LA UCCE office I thought about Siavash and his program that works closely with the LA Housing Authority. My take away - we've got this as it's been a part of UC ANR for quite some time now. That doesn't mean we couldn't do it better. Given that continuous improvement is one of our core values, we must constantly seek better ways to do more, more efficiently and more effectively.
Now I really need to get to the position proposals.
I hear that one of my colleagues who also resists homework assignments is now well ahead of me in reviewing positions. Now I could justify the fact that I haven't reviewed them yet by stating that I am traveling or I have too many other demands on my time, but the bottom line is that I haven't made it a higher priority than doing other things (writing a blog post, for example). No harm in just owning my actions. It will get done on Monday night, with time to spare before the Program Council meeting starts on Tuesday. After all, I don't really want to come into the meeting with my mind made up (that is not an invitation to contact me and lobby for your favorite positions) and I feel like I understand the 24 CE Advisor positions. Across all positions, I feel like I am better prepared to review than I was 2 years ago. That, alone, buys me some time. The other factor is that no matter what the final decisions are, all of the 46 positions, and at least 46 others that aren't in the pool, are needed. This doesn't make the decision-making process ‘difficult' or ‘hard', it just makes it less than ideal and unpopular because there are winners and losers.
The truth is that while we may not be able to move forward with all of the positions we would like to have, we are fortunate to have all of the talented and devoted people that are already on board. It's easy to lose perspective and get caught up in what we lack. It takes effort on my part to stay calm at times. I recall a conversation with an Educator at Michigan State University Extension where that didn't happen. He was lamenting how ‘hard' it was to enter his information into the reporting system. Finally I told him that he needed a reality check. ‘Hard' is not knowing where your next meal is coming from. ‘Hard' is living in a war zone. ‘Hard' is having a life-threatening or debilitating disease. I've never known ‘hard'. That's not the case for many, even some amongst us. I am so fortunate that it's things like budget shortfalls, personnel actions, REC charges, and a long ‘to-do' list that keep me up at night rather than things I really can't do anything about.
One of the speakers this week commented that “we're all just interim”. His approach is to just do the very best he can each day, doing what he knows is right and for the good of the broader organization and not worrying about what impact it has on his specific unit, much less him, in the long run. His comments were in the context of having collective, broader impacts as a result of Extension's work. It's something to think about for our new types of partnerships. Those approaches may not realize their potential success if either party gets too hung up on who gets credit, whose logo is on the shirt, and which sub-brand is depicted on the paperwork. I left that session wondering what the world would look like if the UC brand was critical in everything we do, the UC ANR brand was considered essential where possible, and the sub-brand became nice to have but not the focus. I think we know that if UC loses, we all lose. Would it be hard to take a leap of faith, even if only on a small scale, and test whether or not we all win if UC wins?