- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Desert Research and Extension Center (DREC) is in the heart of the Imperial Valley, surrounded by green fields, feedlots, busy farmers and a growing urban community. Jairo Diaz, a Colombian native, is the director of the center, and he proudly talks about its importance.
"This valley is one of the most amazing ag valleys that we have in the (United) States. We are one of the top valleys in agriculture. We have diverse agriculture here, from being the salad bowl of vegetables in the winter along with Yuma, Ariz., to forage all year round for the feedlots," Diaz said.
Diaz is the Hispanic academic with the highest rank in UC ANR, and he oversees all the research and outreach programs conducted there.
Last fiscal year, the center conducted 42 projects in the following areas: plant breeding and variety trials (13), irrigation and fertilizer management (8), forage and agronomic crops (6), vegetable disease management (3), environmental studies (2), food safety (1), weed management (1), livestock (1), and outreach and educational programs (7). Lead academics are from the University of California system (UC ANR, UC Davis, UC Riverside), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Canada. Research at the center tackles a diversity issues in Imperial County's top 10 agricultural and livestock commodities.
"We have over 40 different projects, including research to improve vegetable production, irrigation practices, management of cattle in the feedlots, nutrition and so on. All that impacts our communities because all this research is connected to the industry and the growers. So, we have a direct connection with our stakeholders daily," Diaz said.
This year has not been easy for DREC; COVID-19 forced them to implement drastic measures to ensure the safety of the staff and the communities they serve.
"We scaled down our field and laboratory research and implemented research plans with researchers and leadership to move forward critical research during this global pandemic time. We also implemented safety plans for on-site staff performing daily infrastructure and maintenance of critical activities," stated Diaz.
Once those safety measures were in place, they have been busier than ever, supporting more than 40 research projects and providing maintenance to more than 70,000 square feet of facilities. During the spring, under the supervision of Gilberto Magallon, the center's superintendent, they harvested to collect research data in small grains, vegetables, sugar beets, melons and corn. At the same time, forage and cattle studies are ongoing. Diaz acknowledges the staff's exceptional work and the investigators who, far from being stopped by the pandemic, manage to conduct their research remotely.
One of the jewels of the center is the Farm Smart outreach and educational program.
"This program is top-rated and successful. It focuses on major issues occurring in our local communities, including access to high-quality education and food, healthy habits and higher education pathways," Diaz said.
Farm Smart, supervised by community education specialists Stacey Amparan and Stephanie Collins, engaged 7,253 participants in community activities and presentations. Before the pandemic outbreak, DREC hosted extension field days, commodity board meetings, and workshops where growers, ranchers, industry and academics could discuss and share knowledge about current research activities at the center and within the California low desert region.
Diaz notes that the Farm Smart programs are tailored to everyone's needs, from toddlers to seniors citizens.
While the center quietly sees another hot summer pass by and waits for things to get back to normal, Diaz and his staff are working on new ways to connect with the communities they serve. Some of the Farm Smart programs offer online classes, and their social media platforms have become the door of contact with their stakeholders.
"We are so thankful for the high level of support we have from our local communities. Early in June, we received donations from two local organizations to support our educational efforts," said Diaz.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Field trips are out, but the learning continues at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Students who are involved with UC Cooperative Extension's 4-H Youth Development program will compete virtually in a unique pumpkin-growing contest centered at the 330-acre research station in Parlier.
The program replaces traditional in-person educational events offered to schools, which were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, teams will be organized and assigned to small plots of pumpkins. The remote teams will act as farm managers and use an imaginary budget to decide on the use of micronutrients, fertilizers, pollinators, pest control, fungicides and irrigation practices. All the farming will be conducted by Kearney staff and progress shared frequently via the pumpkin project's Instagram account, @UCCE_KARE_pumpkins.
As part of the project,
- Prizes will be offered for the teams with the highest yield and quality of pumpkins.
- Students interested in engineering will compete with homemade catapults in a “pumpkin chunkin'” contest
- 4-H members who love cooking and baking may enter items in a cooking and baking with pumpkin contest.
- Artistic participants can submit entries for pumpkin carving and decorating contests.
- Animal enthusiasts will feed pumpkins to elephants at the Chaffee Zoo.
“They will be doing all things pumpkin,” said Ryan Puckett, Kearney outreach coordinator, who is working closely with outreach mentor, Julie Pedraza, a staff research associate at the center.
The Kearney event will give the 4-H members activities in a time when 4-H program opportunities have diminished due to various restrictions and closures.
“COVID hit really hard,” said Predaza, who has served as a judge and consultant for traditional 4-H competitions in sewing, baking, community service and public speaking. “The Fresno Fair might be cancelled. Projects are on hold. 4-H members are waiting to see if they will be able to do regular competitions. We decided to launch our first virtual program.”
The first Zoom contestant meeting will be the first week of August.
- Author: Ricardo Vela
"I love it when they say, ‘You've taught me something new.'” When Lisa Blecker hears these words from workshop participants, she says it is one of the greatest satisfactions in her role as a pesticide safety education coordinator with the UC Integrated Pest Management Program. She enjoys teaching people how to see their surroundings differently when it comes to working with pesticides.
"Participants who have spent years in the profession often say, 'I've been doing this forever, and I had no idea that my gloves had to be 14 mils thick,'" Blecker said.
At the end of their workshops, webinars, or in-person training, all the participants fill out a survey and the results are positive: 93 percent of last year's participants indicated plans to make a change in workplace safety as a result of attending the workshops. The results also indicate that as many as 62,901 fieldworkers and 12,071 pesticide handlers will be trained in pesticide safety by participants from these workshops.
Training keeps Blecker busy. Half the year, she and her team travel across California to conduct workshops that provide pesticide safety training for commercial and private pesticide applicators. She works closely with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to promote, through testing, the basic competency requirements for applicators.
“We write the study material that helps them pass the test. We help people through our study guides to get occupational certifications or, in some cases, a license," Blecker said.
What also makes Blecker proud is the fact that she delivers her pesticide safety workshops in Spanish in addition to English.
"I think it's critical for a pesticide safety program, and many outreach programs in this state, to deliver the message in Spanish because so much of the agricultural and even the non-agricultural workforce around pesticides are native Spanish speakers," she said.
Blecker emphasizes the importance of the workshops in Spanish for on-farm applicators. Their education on safe pesticide use and decision-making has the potential to impact as many as 829,300 farm laborers across the state working in the vicinity of on-farm pesticide applications.
"Many of these laborers are Spanish-speakers, which further underscores the need for community education in Spanish; it is easier to deliver technical content in Spanish if you previously received that information in Spanish," Blecker said.
She learned Spanish many years ago in Panama during her time in the Peace Corps. There, she provided community outreach to regional farmers through agricultural education and has been proud ever since to utilize the skill that opened many doors in her profession. Her first experience educating the public on pesticides was in Idaho, where she learned the value of being bilingual.
"I had the privilege to work with the pesticide safety program in Idaho where there was a need for Spanish language delivery. I love speaking Spanish which helps me connect with the language even more because I also get to pair it with my love for education," Blecker said.
With workshops in communities near the border with Oregon to the border with Mexico, Blecker has a vast area to cover. And that is only one of the many services her department provides. Another service is offering courses in continuing education for those interested in maintaining a license to apply pesticides. The licenses must renew every two or three years.
In 2019 alone, Blecker taught 34 in-person continuing education programs to a total of 1,987 applicators across the state who already hold licenses. Some of the topics include proper selection and use of personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, and safe use of pesticides in the landscape. A pesticide safety educator on her team delivered 10 similar programs to an additional 1,275 applicators last year.
"We also provide statewide train-the-trainer workshops because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation require certain people to go through an approved train-the-trainer program, so they can, in turn, provide pesticide safety training to field workers and pesticide handlers.
“We are approved by both the US EPA and by the Department of Pesticide Regulation to provide this curriculum," Blecker said.
She attributes the success of her department to the passion and hard work of her staff.
"I am proud of my program, but I'm very well aware of the fact that I can't run this extensive program on my own and I depend on my valued and talented staff," Blecker said.
She and her team promote the economy and a better lifestyle for all Californians, embodying the true nature of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources public values.
Blecker envisions a new direction for her department, one that will benefit even more Californians.
"I would love to follow that model where we work with employers to create policies that contribute to a safe workplace because it's not enough to just train people to do their job or to train them to keep their licenses," she said.
- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
The purpose of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15–October 15) is to recognize the contributions and vital presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States. President Lyndon Johnson first approved Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and it was expanded to a full month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Why does Hispanic Heritage Month run from mid-September to mid-October? The date was chosen to bookend two milestones for Spanish speaking countries: the celebration of independence from Spain for Mexico, Chile, and, five Central American nations (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica) and Columbus Day / Día de la Raza. This day is mostly celebrated by the Italian Americans rather than Spanish-speaking immigrants.
In the fabric of our society, the impact of Hispanics is undeniable. It is important for the new generations that our contributions in forging this great nation are valued beyond food and music. From astronauts to physicists, Hispanics have contributed to better our lives. A few examples:
- Luis Walter Alvarez was an American experimental physicist, inventor, and professor who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1968.
- Franklin Ramón Chang Díaz is a Costa Rican American mechanical engineer, physicist, former NASA astronaut.
- Ellen O. Ochoa is a Hispanic-American engineer, former astronaut and former Director of the Johnson Space Center.
UC ANR joins in the celebration of Hispanic heritage by profiling four Latino academics, advisors, educators who serve their communities, day after day, applying the UC ANR public values:
- Fe Moncloa - 4-H Youth Development Advisor, UCCE Santa Clara County
- Jairo Diaz - Director of the UC Desert Research and Extension Center
- María de la Fuente – UC Cooperative Extension director in Monterey County and UCCE Farm & Master Gardener Advisor, Monterey & Santa Cruz counties.
- Aileen Carrasco-Trujillo - Bilingual Nutrition Educator, UCCE Santa Clara County
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
People who raise backyard and community livestock and poultry are invited to learn the latest disease prevention and treatment information from University of California experts. UC Cooperative Extension and the School of Veterinary Medicine are hosting a series of workshops in Northern California, starting in Sonoma, Contra Costa and Stanislaus counties.
- Animal health
- Emergency preparedness
- Veterinary feed directive
- Antibiotic use under Senate Bill 27 (SB 27)
Livestock owners will have an opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns and connect with local veterinarians, UC Cooperative Extension advisors and other livestock enthusiasts.
The Healthy Animals, Healthy People Workshops are scheduled at the following locations:
- Santa Rosa, Sept. 29, 2018, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, 3589 Westwind Blvd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403
- Modesto, Oct. 13, 2018, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Stanislaus County Harvest Hall, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Modesto, CA 95358
- Concord, Nov. 10, 2018, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the UC Cooperative Extension Office, 2380 Bisso Lane Ste. B, Concord, CA 94520-4829
The workshop fee is $10, which includes lunch. For more information and to register for this workshop, please visit http://ucanr.edu/backyardlivestock.
[Updated 10/5/2018 The Oct. 6 Concord workshop has been postponed until Nov. 10.]