Have you heard about the groundbreaking accomplishment out of UC Riverside? Hailing Jin has identified a peptide that can kill the bacterium that causes citrus greening disease! This is great news for citrus growers and consumers of citrus!
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 statistics and news is far from good, with California cases on the rise and testing supplies running low in some areas. Jose Aguiar is doing his part to keep the new infections down. Take a look at the Public Service Announcement that Riverside County asked him to film. Hopefully, the County runs the PSA in Spanish and English. I'm curious if there are many more of these PSAs under development across the state. As trusted advisors, friends, and neighbors, it makes sense that counties recruit CE personnel to get the word out.
On Friday, I listened to Regent John Perez and the new UC President, Michael Drake. Dr. Drake spoke passionately about the need for public university engagement with communities and the public university's role in improving the lives of residents. It was as though he were reading our strategic plan as he spoke (see slide 24). He also talked about the need to lead efforts around societal challenges, such as climate change. President Drake referenced this year's World Food Prize winner, one of his faculty at Ohio State University. I have high hopes that the work of UC ANR becomes core to his messages of UC successes.
This week holds various meetings, including work on the UC ANR Strategic Plan update and meeting with the Peer Review and Academic Assembly Council Personnel Committees. Coupled with the REC Strategic Framework meeting that took place last week and a training series that starts in two weeks, I foresee a fair bit of homework in my near future. One of the activities requires journaling. I should have asked more questions upfront as homework has never resonated with me, much less keeping a journal. There's always room for personal growth and development. Perhaps, with practice, I will learn to like homework.
I have tuned in to a few TED talks recently, some of which seem to have translated into interesting action items that could bring long-term benefits to UC ANR in building support and funding resiliency. The action items are in addition to an impressive national effort that is both gaining momenta and taking up a bit of time. I look forward to sharing more details in the coming months. In the meantime, I need to think about my homework while enjoying the brief relief in temperatures.
I hear there was rain in some places yesterday! None in Lodi. I love the cooler weather, but rain means the garden will grow – more yard work! At the risk of upsetting all gardeners out there, I will admit that after spending close to 30 minutes pruning one rose hedge on Sunday, I took to the hedge trimmers for the remaining two. They may not look as good as they could, but they will grow back. And, if that philosophy is good enough for my self-haircuts, it is good enough for the garden.
Did you know that Program Council now reviews Emeritus requests and provides a recommendation to Vice President Humiston? The new practice is the result of policy changes that require some involvement of the Academic Senate during the review process. We are fortunate that 4 Academic Senate members are Program Council members. So far, the process has gone well. The question came up during the Academic Assembly Council meeting last week.
Today the ANR Governing Council met. Much of the conversation focused on updates to our strategic plan. Specifically, the Council provided input on what success looks like and how we will recognize success (metrics). I left with some ideas to improve a goal or two. I also left with a sense that the Governing Council understands the importance of UC ANR to the UC system. There was a strong sense that success means that ANR is considered an 'essential function' and 'key to the recovery of the California economy.'
Later in the day, I met with a group of Extension Directors from around the country, and we talked about the struggle to increase our capacity funding from the U.S. Government. One member of the group reminded us that the NIFA Director challenged us to develop a 'big, bold, audacious goal' such as solving food insecurity. Funding what we have always done isn't a draw for new funding. We discussed the idea of focusing on critical areas where we could build capacity around topics that would resonate now – security (financial and food), K-12 at home, rural health, and farmer stress.
There seemed a fair bit of overlap in the conversations between the ANR Governing Council and the meeting with Extension Directors. Both discussions included recommendations to focus on crucial objectives where failure is not an option. And both sessions included conversation around the new normal, with a sense that we aren't going back to pre-COVID times. Instead, we need to find a path forward and identify new opportunities along the way. One Extension Director cautioned us, "don't over study it; if you don't move, you are going to miss it."
I need to think a bit about what all of this means. I suspect it comes down to balancing the importance of planning, even when everything is uncertain, with not getting so locked into a plan that you forfeit the nimbleness necessary for seizing fleeting opportunities.
Congratulations to Deepa for making the headline story in last week's Ag Clips! Not only did the story feature Deepa's research and the work of her team, but it was a great plug for the EFNEP and CalFresh programs. A UC website page quotes Jodi Azuli for her work in leading a pilot staff mentorship program. The feedback from the first cohort group was very positive. A second cohort just launched in January. Excellent work, Jodi, and team!
There were good conversations at the strategic plan retreat last week. It was nice to provide an overview of the work to date and accomplishments through a consolidated presentation. For those interested in reading about the progress, be sure to check out the website where you can find 4 Accomplishment documents. I suspect the slide deck used at last week's meeting will make its way to that website soon. I appreciated the expanded participant list to include non-ANR members of UC, providing us a more comprehensive array of perspectives and not just talk to ourselves. Gemma and I had a great table of participants, including two non-ANR guests. I particularly appreciated a comment from one of them who shared that her philosophy, as a former physical therapist, is to 'work with what you've got.' Often, I think we direct our focus towards what we don't have rather than exploiting what we do.
I spent the latter portion of last week in Chicago at the Trust in Food Symposium. I believe we were talking to ourselves rather than to those we wish to learn from or influence. However, it was eye-opening to learn about the coalitions formed to educate consumers about practices behind food production. The meeting had a heavy focus on regenerative ag with coalition partners sharing how they teach growers about best practices. In general, Cooperative Extension was noticeably absent from the coalitions. As a national organization, we can change that and help other partners see the benefits of working with what already exists and builds on local research. It was fun running into Tracy Schor at the meeting. She attended the Top Producer Summit (ran in conjunction with the meeting I attended) as a finalist for a national recognition. Way to go, Tracy!
This week is Program Council. We are only meeting on Wednesday. Tuesday, the Academic Assembly Council meets, and the SI Leaders meet; I will join both groups for a short bit of time. Later in the week, I am off on a short field trip. More on that later. Before I get to that point, there are many, many meetings this week. Thursday, in particular, looks to be stacked from 8 AM to past 5 PM before needing to catch a flight. That's the way it goes when calendars are tight. You have to work with what you've got as far as scheduling options.
I seem to still be in a bit of a fog today. I am in Davis for the second day of Program Council. Yesterday's fog resulted in cancellation of flights for our two Program Council members from Riverside. Flights eventually left Ontario and they both made it before the first day of the meeting ended. Georgios Vidalakis, a CE Specialist at UCR, just joined Program Council so it was his first meeting. I can't help but wonder if Chris Greer made special note of the fact that he didn't have to attend this week after what may have been 8 years as a member. That leaves Rob Atwill (UCD Vet Med) as the most senior consistent member of Program Council (excluding facilitator and ex-officio members), followed by me!Tim Paine may have the most total years on Program Council, with a break here and there. I was already feeling a bit older yesterday even before we identified that factoid. Things change quickly everywhere.
The Strategic Initiative Leaders met before Program Council. They talked about conference/workshop ideas, a summer roadshow, and their priorities for the upcoming year. A few of the SI panels are seeking members so, please, consider if that might be something that interests you and reach out to the appropriate SI Leader. The SI panels are a terrific opportunity to build connections for your own program and gain a better sense of the work going on under each SI umbrella.
The rest of this week includes a couple of conversations about the possibility of some new partnerships, preparation for a strategic plan goal owners meeting that is next week, and wrapping up some loose ends that remain from before the winter break. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have any visits out to county offices or RECs scheduled anytime soon; perhaps that will change in the near future. It is such an inspiration to meet people from across ANR and hear about their work, their struggles, and the possibilities. January is a short month and other travel and work picks up quickly after February 1. Perhaps I should take advantage of the lighter schedule, stay under the umbrella, and avoid travel delays due to fog and rain.
We wrap up the 5-location Information Sessions on Friday of this week, with 3 of those five sessions taking place the last portion of the week. It has been nice to get out and see those whom I don't often get a chance to see. Also, there have been some new folks that I hadn't met in person yet. For the summer, these five sessions took the place of county office and REC visits. Once summer ends, I will have to assess my schedule. However, I welcome any invitations to come out to your area and meet with the local team. Visits can be as long or short as the hosts' desire and be anything from an informal conversation around a table to an action-packed agenda with tight timelines. For me, the emphasis is on the connection and not the format.
Back in the office, I'm working to diversify our funding sources and build resiliency against the uncertainty of state and federal funding sources. The goals are to 1) develop capacity throughout the state, reducing the reality of too much work with too few people, and 2) provide more resources to do the work. I'm not alone if the effort; a number of us are working towards these goals, not for our individual programs but the broader UC ANR. The strategy is to identify opportunities for specific programs and secure additional resources. By so doing, the tide rises to lift all boats. Some examples include:
- Securing a $500,000 gift to expand the CalNat program, with a goal of building on that gift for a long-term sustained expansion of the program;
- Secured funding of $500,000 that was matched by the UC President's Office to provide the UC Presidential Researcher for Sustainable Citrus Clonal Protection, held by Georgios Vidalakis;
- Received $19M in state funding for structural improvements at 3 RECs plus Elkus Ranch, an amount that far exceeds all funds received previously for this purpose;
- Developed partnership agreements to co-fund 6 CE Advisor position and 2 CE Specialist positions. Partners included a state agency (2 positions), 2 UC campuses, one commodity group (2 positions), and two counties. An agreement is under review by a third county for a 7th CE Advisor position. Additional conversations with new partners are in various stages;
- Established 10 Community Education Specialist position, funded by CDFA, to work in Climate Smart Agriculture by leveraging our academic network;
- Worked with one County government officials to secure funding for FY18/19 and increase it in FY19/20, following three consecutive years without funding (other than space);
- Worked with one County government office to prevent removal of funding proposed as a result of a significant structural deficit in the County;
- Implemented new annual giving strategies, resulting in a total revenue increase of in FY18/19, compared to FY17/18;
- Establishment of funding campaigns to stabilize funding for Community Education Specialist positions in both 4-H and Master Gardener programs.
None of these successes happened overnight. Each required numerous conversations with donors or partners to determine common goals and establish a path forward. Following, continued maintenance of the relationship remains essential, requiring continuous time and effort.
The above accomplishments contribute to different 'slices' of our funding sources pie, making it perhaps appear as less significant accomplishments than say a $10M donation. Some of the above achievements represent Competitive Grants and Extramural Contracts, while others increase the County funds slice of the pie, and yet other strategies add to the Endowment Income slice. But that's part of the plan – to garner support for the breadth of work across UC ANR.
While not everyone feels a direct benefit from the efforts yet, over time everyone wins, even if it is in some small way (averting a funding crisis, maintenance of program support despite a flat state budget, one more person in the office delivering a program, etc.). No question that a $10M donation to a specific program or building fund is great, but I'm just as happy to spread the wealth a bit more even if it takes time for everyone to feel the victory. Like any condition change, this, too takes time.