This year, the 4th of July holiday seemed surreal. From the record-setting days of COVID-19 cases to the alarming speeches, I would be fine if we don't repeat one like this anytime soon. Great to see that some were able to get away and maintain physical distancing.
Last week was a short week. This week is anything but a short week. Each day is full of meetings from morning to late afternoon. No time for work on any project this week. Today, we held the County Director monthly meeting. The customary 2.5-hr meeting seemed long, likely due to the afternoon timing. Having had no break since my first meeting of the morning didn't help. The Strategic Initiative Leaders meet Tuesday afternoon before Program Council begins. Program Council runs through midday Wednesday, followed by a meeting of the Vice Chancellors for Research. Thursday includes, among other sessions, several hours set aside to makes some needed budget decisions, despite the fluid budget situation. On Friday, the week winds down with a full day of strategic planning for the REC system. Zoom fatigue is a real thing!
To prepare for a Thursday meeting, I watched a few videos over the weekend that focused on farming with data to address how we will build on precision agriculture to increase food production by 40% while reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. The meeting addresses USDA's Agriculture Innovation Agenda. If you are interested in participating in this Western listening session, please register here. Note this is a working session where participants will select a breakout topic for contributing their ideas.
The UC Regents meet this week. Rumor has it we will learn who will serve as the next UC President. We are eager to help the new President learn about UC ANR and the great work that goes on all around the state. Our recent retirees are acknowledged far and wide.
Some good news is that the UC ANR 4-H planned giving site is now live! Planned giving is a new topic for UC ANR. Hopefully, a more general site that promotes planned giving for all programs will follow.
Enjoy your week. I know many were able to take a 4-day weekend, making this a short week.
Where did June go? It is hard to believe that July 1st is already upon us.
Congratulations to JoLynn Miller, Kendra Lewis (now at the University of New Hampshire), and team members of the Youth Retention Study, a Multistate Project. The National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Program (NAE4-HYDP) selected YRS as the national winner for the Susan Barkman Award for Research and Evaluation. This recognition represents a tremendous recognition for a multistate project that is still early in its lifespan. Please congratulate JoLynn for her accomplishment!
Amanda Crump is the recipient of the Western Region New Teacher Award. Many of you remember Amanda from her time in the 2nd Street building as Director of the Western IPM Center. Amanda received her award during a virtual ceremony that Glenda and I both attended. She continues to impress and amaze us, giving a wonderful ‘thank you' speech where she talked about her plans to have no less than 75% of her course readings written by Black authors or members of other marginalized populations to empower her students. Please take the time to drop Amanda a congratulatory note!
This week is a week of firsts for me. Yesterday I gave my first haircut. After four months without one, my husband thought it was a good idea. I assured him I was pretty good at shearing sheep. How different could this be? After all, the equipment is reasonably similar. The key to shearing sheep is positioning them so they can't wriggle around. I failed to consider that. Furthermore, sheep don't tell you how the 'professionals do it.' My husband owns many hats; he will get through this.
On Saturday, I will attend my first Zoom wedding. The ceremony starts at 5 AM Pacific Time. The early start time might be payback for the years of days that the bride had to be at work at 5 AM (or earlier) to run my lab. I've attended a video wedding before, but not one by Zoom. The bride is fortunate to have talented friends who can make all of the necessary arrangements.
I read an interesting blog post the other day that talked about the value of the concept of dreaming bigger than your present situation. The author wrote, “I have learned over the past few years that it is important to dream bigger than your current circumstances. Doing this allows me to remain driven and focused. I have been able to appreciate my biggest moments of success to date by keeping the mindset of always dreaming bigger than the now.” I have this mindset for UC ANR, always. In light of the current circumstances (budget, pandemic, social unrest), visualizing the dream provides the motivation and direction for moving forward. As challenging and perhaps unattainable as things might seem, we can keep in mind the inspiration of James Baldwin, who said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
Enjoy the long weekend. Stay safe.
Former California Secretary of Agriculture, A.G. Kawamura, and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, were the speakers for a webinar last week addressing what COVID-19 has revealed about our food system. Their message: We are in our 'ah-ha moment' where we can look back to better see forward. Other countries that had gone through SARS or other pandemics were better prepared than the U.S. and experienced less disruption and better containment. Now, the U.S. has an opportunity to appreciate the importance of food production and the need for expanded food access so that we are not in a position of disproportionate impact when the next pandemic or crisis occurs. When asked what he would want to see as a stimulus package's priority, Secretary Vilsack responded that an increase in SNAP benefits without barriers to access would be his top priority.
Regarding food production and processing, Secretary Vilsack stressed that we need to think about building a system of resiliency and give that attribute as much attention as we have provided to efficiency. A resilient system may be less efficient, but it will ensure food access during crises. The resilient food system doesn't completely replace what we have now, but adds another layer with a complimentary food system that collects, processes, and distributes locally produced food. This system may not be as efficient, which typically means more cost to the consumer. However, as part of a national food resiliency plan, the government could choose to subsidize the complimentary system.
Secretary Vilsack addressed the need for more public funding for research and repeated what I have heard from others. Like NIH, who justifies their need for more funding by stating that they can 'cure cancer,' agriculture needs to make a bold statement about preventing cancer or eliminating hunger to access more substantial funding. Secretary Kawamura talked about the need to re-think the role of each sector, including Cooperative Extension. He indicated that the university plays an essential role in moving us from our current ‘old structure' to ‘new structure' that emphasizes food system resiliency and equitable food access. Cooperative Extension continues to play a role in bridging discovery and implementation.
UC ANR is well-positioned to lead this conversation. In addition to a current effort, led by two of our Strategic Initiative Leaders, to imagine our food system in a food-secure world, we have demonstrated our programs' impact on increasing food security. Here's one example of the impact statements reported this last year that we shared with our NIFA partners:
- Of the 187 EFNEP graduates in Tulare and Kings Counties, 81% of participants showed improvement in food resource management practices. Additionally, results from 83 participants indicated $70.70 in average monthly cost savings, suggesting that making informed food decisions can help families improve nutrition and food resource management behaviors essential to maximizing the use of limited resources, supporting a healthy diet, and improving food security. (Deepa Srivastava)
As we wind down June, we recognize that several members of the UC ANR family are preparing for their next life adventure. Congratulations to all of our retirees. And, thank you, for all of your contributions and effort during your time with UC ANR! We wish you well, and we will miss you. Please, check-in often.
I hope everyone had a good weekend, enjoying Juneteenth, Father's Day, and the summer solstice.
Summer solstice – the end to increasing day length. It also marks the anniversary of my start date at UC ANR. I have now completed four years with UC ANR. No need to send lavish gifts; I'm sure Tu and Glenda have that covered. Likewise, keep any hate mail to yourselves. The anniversary represents a need to renew my required training and my annual review with myself.
In addition to training renewals, this year, I added the UC six-part implicit bias training to my learning management system (LMS) dashboard. I would recommend the training. Not only is it useful, but there is no penalty for reading quickly. During the first session, I found the Stroop test to be particularly insightful, irrespective of the fact that I did poorly on the Color-Word test. I knew that cows drank water, but I responded that the white part of the egg was the yolk. At least I didn't spell it 'yoke.' I consider the surface area question a trick because it was not specified that we only consider the tabletop. I'll get over that by the end of the week. In a later session, session 4, perhaps, I learned that I have a slight affinity for SoCal. The SoCal photos were more likely to include water, and water is my preference. Overall, I would recommend the training to everyone. It is three hours of learning that can help pave a different future if you choose to look at it from that perspective.
Last week ended with good news on the DACA decision and the Supreme Court LGBTQ ruling earlier in the week. We didn't gain much clarity on the UC ANR budget. What I do know is that when UC ANR's budget is not increased in step with campus increases, we can't treat UC ANR academics, including those CE Specialists that are campus-based, like campus academics. I continue to be amazed at how prestigious the UC system is, despite the class structure permeating throughout the system. I can't help but wonder how much stronger we could be if that class structure were absent.
Here are some other things I reflected on during my annual review with myself:
- We will have greater success by not relying on state and federal funding sources to pave our future. If we wait to have final budget numbers to plan this year and our future, we are behind. The past decades are evident that current support for higher education, including Cooperative Extension, is not what it was 40+ years ago.
- We have the power to control our future, and it takes work to put that power to use. Collectively and collaboratively, we can make this work.
- We have to be bold in our actions. We've laid the foundation in our efforts to augment our state funds. While earlier this year it appeared the work would pay off, life interfered. However, the foundation remains to act on a different game plan, one that jumps, not crawls, towards our future.
- Everyone has a role in bold change. Like implicit bias, leadership can't just say 'we won't tolerate,' and it suddenly disappears. It takes everyone, headed in the same direction, to make change happen and stick.
Imagine what we can accomplish together!
I participated in a Friday morning webinar about the future of our food system. I'll share more on the conversation in my next post. It, too, spoke to the need for change to redirect the charted course.
I had lunch with the UCCE – Riverside office one day last week. Understandably, some are very eager to get back to an office environment and resume client meetings. With new pests emerging frequently, field access is essential to staying ahead of production challenges. Others have found some positives to remote engagement with clientele. Carmen indicated that she feels more connected with her growers in San Diego because she doesn't need to find time to make the commute. She has used video chats to look at their grape fields and troubleshoot problems. Hopefully this increased engagement can be maintained going forward. Stephanie talked about the 6 virtual camp sessions her team is developing. No doubt, those will be very popular with parents. And Myriam has 13 of 18 EFNEP participants finishing a virtual learning series. She has another session planned this summer. Myriam said that some of the participants worked with their kids to learn how to use a computer. A useful skill, made possible by shelter at home that could be of use to these clients in the future. Rosa and her team are working on Zoom gardening workshops for the public and virtual sessions with schools just in case schools don't resume in person this fall. The hour went by very quickly so I didn't have a chance to talk with everyone. Hopefully I might be invited back soon.
I attended the 2020 World Food Prize Laureate Announcement. This year's laureate, Dr. Rattan Lal, has a long career using a soil-centric approach to building soil health. I'm sure his work is familiar to some. Dr. Lal joined the faculty at The Ohio State University in the 1990's. He is a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize certificate holder. I encourage you to look into his story and his science; so much of what we do today around the topic of soil health is built on his foundational work.
This week, the meeting schedule is a bit lighter with many short meetings and few that extend more than 60 minutes. However, the ANR Governing Council meets one afternoon this week for 90 minutes or so. This meeting was in addition to the standing schedule. The PAC now has committees with committee meetings in addition to the PAC meetings. As it is, the PAC meetings have moved from twice annually, to four meetings per year. The intended outcome is greater productivity
It has occurred to me that I am attending even more meetings than pre-COVID, perhaps due to availability because travel time is non-existent. I have a whole new outlook on travel time now; whereas I hadn't previously thought of it as ‘down time', now I see it as an alternative to meetings. On the other hand, the meetings are productive and important, especially when I get a chance to interact with our offices and RECs.