- 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.]
- Editor: Julie Gipple
- Author: Nate Seltenrich
Jennifer Sowerwine helps restore culturally relevant food systems to immigrant and Native American populations
The Karuk Tribe once lived on more than a million acres in remote Northern California. Legally, their ancestral land along the middle section of the Klamath River in Siskiyou County was in the public domain, as the Karuk did not have a reservation. But on May 6, 1905, when President Theodore Roosevelt created the Klamath Forest Reserve, the tribe lost any claim to its aboriginal territory.
Less swiftly but just as conclusively, the tribe also lost access to much of what the rivers and mountains provided: deer and elk, salmon, tan oak acorns, mushrooms, berries, medicinal herbs. And it lost its ability to manage the landscape through prescribed fire in order to ensure the survival of the plants and animals it needed. The Karuk's food system had been broken almost overnight, and has yet to recover. But Jennifer Sowerwine — UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources — believes it still can.
In direct collaboration with Karuk tribal leaders and community members, as well as with the nearby Yurok and Klamath Tribes, Sowerwine has helped put millions of dollars from USDA to work restoring food security — defined as access to sufficient, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods — among those from whom it was once taken.
While this is a challenge to which one could easily dedicate a career, Sowerwine's broader mission to support equitable food systems across the state has also led her to other projects and other communities. In the Central Valley, she has spent years working with Southeast Asian farmers. Closer to home, she recently began studying how community farms and gardens improve food security among at-risk populations in the urban East Bay.
Restoring ancient relationships to food
Sowerwine's body of work is a manifestation of the University of California Cooperative Extension's long-standing mandate to aid the “welfare, development, and protection of California agriculture, natural resources, and people.” CNR is the home of Cooperative Extension at UC Berkeley, which — now celebrating 150 years since its founding as a land-grant university — is intended to benefit all residents of our increasingly populous and diverse state.
That includes California's first residents: Native tribes like the Karuk, the Yurok (located along the lower stretch of the Klamath River), and the Klamath (upriver, across the border in Oregon). All three were traditionally non-agrarian, hunter-gatherer communities. Loss of ancestral lands that had sustained them for millennia affected not only their diet — leading to a reliance on institutional and heavily processed foods that have contributed to persistent health problems —but also their culture.
In working with the tribes, Sowerwine first had to listen.
“One of the main philosophical approaches in my work is to collaborate with the community to identify what the problems are, co-create research questions, and then support, on the extension side, the kinds of programs they need to attain their goals,” she said.
Among the Karuk, the tribe with which Sowerwine works most closely, “the community is actively engaged in exploring ways to revitalize their eco-cultural system,” she said. “That includes managing the landscape with traditional methods to improve the productivity and availability of cultural foods and fibers, and restoring some of the relationships around Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).”
Beginning in 2012, through a five-year, USDA-funded grant, Sowerwine partnered with all three tribes to help them reclaim control over their food systems using a holistic, community-centered approach. This took a variety of forms, including designing K–12 curricula for local schools around traditional food systems; opening two new herbaria to preserve and share specimens of native food plants; hosting workshops on subsistence skills like butchering, bread making, and canning; and finding appropriate ways of reintroducing sustainable local agriculture into communities for whom traditional farming is linked with colonialization.
This work now serves as a model for tribes across the country.
“There's a lot of interest in all of our programs,” says Karuk tribal member and Pikyav Field Institute program manager Lisa Hillman. In particular, the tribe created a digital library to offer easy access to information about traditional foods and ecological knowledge, which has attracted significant acclaim and earned Hillman invitations to discuss it at national conferences. “Working with [Jennifer] opened a whole lot of doors for our tribe,” Hillman says. The project's success also led to a second, three-year USDA grant that should continue to point the way forward and help mitigate some past harms for the Karuk Tribe.
Interventions for Southeast Asian refugee farmers
Sowerwine began her career studying food security among marginalized residents of a very different part of the world, who nonetheless have much in common with her current collaborators. As a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at Berkeley, she spent two years in the highlands of Vietnam learning how land-use laws and economic policies affected indigenous local farmers from the Mien minority ethnic group and their ability to sustain agrarian practices that were vital to their culture and food security.
After earning her PhD, Sowerwine continued at Berkeley as a postdoctoral researcher. A vibrant community of Mien immigrants exists not far away, in Sacramento, where refugees of the Vietnam War first arrived from Laos in the late 1970s. They were joined by fellow refugees from the Hmong ethnic group, many of whom settled in Fresno. Both groups had traditionally worked the land in Southeast Asia, and they soon developed robust farming networks here in California.
Using a proficiency with the Vietnamese language honed overseas, Sowerwine initially set out to assess the productivity and economic viability of these small farms operated by Southeast Asian refugees.
“I wanted to understand the barriers they were facing in terms of farming in the Central Valley of California, which is arguably the most industrialized agricultural landscape in the world,” she said.
Approximately 100 Mien farmers — part of a Sacramento-area Mien population of about 15,000 — work small plots of land, averaging about eight acres each, outside the state capital. They primarily grow strawberries to sell at roadside stands, but also produce a wide variety of traditional foods, like “sticky” corn, yu choy, gai lan, purple long beans, and bitter melon — mostly for home consumption.
Hmong farmers, who are concentrated in Fresno and Sacramento counties, grow conventional vegetables like cherry tomatoes, green beans, onions, and lettuce — in addition to their own cultural and traditional foods — to sell at farmers markets, Asian grocery stores, and wholesale markets.
The two groups' successes have not come easy, owing to such challenges as language barriers, differences between traditional and modern farming techniques, and informal labor practices that often clash with state regulations.
In response, Sowerwine designed and led an array of interventions to support the farms' continued viability. These included offering hands-on, native-language training to help Hmong and Mien farmers comply with complex labor and food-safety regulations; teaching farmers how to achieve organic certification or to make and sell “value-added” foods like jams; and providing assistance in accessing new markets for fresh produce, including schools, farmers markets, and wholesalers.
Throughout her career, Sowerwine has worked closely with UC Cooperative Extension advisors around the state, including Richard Molinar — a now-retired small farms and specialty crops advisor in Fresno County — and his successor, Ruth Dahlquist-Willard.
“We accomplished a lot, and we helped hundreds, if not thousands,” Molinar said.
Protecting farmers' livelihoods is only the start, Sowerwine notes. Positive outcomes ripple out to the broader immigrant community, which sees strengthened food security through a steady supply of affordable, culturally appropriate produce, and to the entire regional economy and food system, which benefit from a robust and diverse network of local food producers.
“The land-grant universities were founded for the ordinary people, and not just the elite,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “The original idea was to provide support and training for people in professions like agriculture. It's part of the health of rural communities.”
The power of small-scale urban agriculture
Yet as Sowerwine's work in the East Bay has shown, small-scale agriculture can also be critical to the health and well-being of urban residents — especially recent immigrants. In 2016, she and a team of 12 undergraduate research assistants surveyed more than 100 community, school, and for-profit farms and gardens between Hayward and Richmond. A dozen of the community gardens were included in a subsequent pilot study to learn more about how urban farms can provide immigrants with reliable access to affordable traditional foods.
Despite a combined area of just 10.5 acres, these plots were producing more than 300 distinct crops. Many of these plants have direct ties to specific culinary and medicinal traditions, including nine varieties of edible cactus used for nopales (cactus pads) and tuna (cactus fruit) in Mexican cuisine, and even as a diabetes remedy; gandana, also known as Afghan leek, a critical ingredient in the traditional dishes bolani and ashak; and chinsaga (Cleome gynandra), a plant used by Kenyan women for postpartum healing and infant health.
Late last year, in collaboration with the Berkeley Food Institute, Sowerwine received a grant from the national nonprofit Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to further promote and study Bay Area urban farming. Along with ESPM faculty members Timothy Bowles and Céline Pallud, as well as Charisma Acey from the College of Environmental Design, she'll delve even deeper into urban agriculture across the Bay Area.
The team plans to address a diverse and thought-provoking array of questions, most of which have never been studied so thoroughly in the Bay Area. For example, what is the role of urban farms in supporting beneficial insects and improving soil health? How does food from urban farms find its way to consumers and how can waste along the way be minimized? What cultural or structural barriers may prevent locals from accessing urban-farming products?
As with all of Sowerwine's work, from the Oregon border to the East Bay, the goal is not simply to learn more, but to make a difference.
“There's a need to elevate an understanding of the value and importance of these spaces to local, state, and national government, to figure out ways of securing them for the long-term benefit of our diverse California public,” Sowerwine said. “The goal is to inform policy and create opportunities for tribal communities and small-scale family and urban farmers, to maintain the continuity of their cultural food heritages.”