Another busy week with many overlapping conversations focused on opportunities for UC ANR. When I met with Dr. Carrie Castille a week or so ago, her comments focused on the need for responsive outreach around the Biden priority topics of climate change, economic recovery following the pandemic, and a need to increase the diversity and inclusiveness of the land grant system. These are all priorities for the Cooperative Extension System this year and for the next couple of years. In addition, issues associated with the urban-rural interface, including infrastructure and workforce development, are areas of emphasis and where, I think, there is tremendous opportunity to demonstrate the Cooperative Extension value to more decision makers. We've been in this space for a long time, but we may not have communicated our impact story using language that resonates.
During a conversation with other CE directors from the West, I learned that Idaho talks about 4-H as ‘students first class at the University of Idaho'. I wonder how that would be received by the UC Academic Senate. No harm in trying it out. Colorado State University is working to ensure systemwide branding so that when a user visits the Durango County Cooperative Extension website, they recognize immediately that they are on a ‘ram' site (the CSU mascot). The goal is to lift the profile of CSU in communities across the state and convey the entirety of CSU efforts in any given county. I took a look at a site for the University of Missouri system. The system has focused on the collective impact by the system for the benefit of each county. I like the approach. Thinking about the size of the UC system and of California, I am tired of thinking about what it would take for us to accomplish something similar. Rhode Island would be far simpler.
There are many more conversations yet to be had this week, including more partnership opportunities. Last week's conversations produced some new agreements that I need to finalize. Mary Blackburn started the conversation during this afternoon's history discussion. Her words blew me away. I had read her story, but to hear it in her words was truly special. I have started reading through merit and promotion documents and annual evaluation documents. I have a few more than usual this year. But who knows, perhaps I will get a chance to read one of Rachel Long's stories this weekend. I just learned that she is a published author of more than research. Another example of the immense talent across UC ANR!
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.
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.