- Author: Rob Bennaton, UCCE Bay Area Urban Agriculture Advisor
- Author: Julio Contreras, UCCE Urban Ag & Food Systems Program Community Education Specialist III
On August 25th, UCCE's Urban Ag & Food Systems Program tabled, paneled and supported the 8th Annual Food, Faith and Farms Conference in San Rafael, CA, hosted by Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative. The national Faithlands Conference, coordinated between Interfaith and the Agrarian Trust, which hosts the national Faithlands web page as a hub for sharing resources, followed on August 26-27. Rob Bennaton, Urban Ag and Food Systems Advisor, was panel moderator for the Successful Farms and Gardens on Faith Community Owned Lands panel. Julia Van Soelen Kim, North Bay Food Systems Advisor led a workshop focused on Making the Most of Commercial Kitchens, and Vince Trotter, Sustainable Ag Coordinator & Agricultural Ombudsman with UCCE Marin County, led a different workshop on Halal and Kosher: Exploring Relationships with Local Small Livestock Producers. Julio Contreras, UCCE Community Education Specialist III with the UCCE Urban Ag & Food Systems Program, shared urban farming information, supported and facilitated throughout the conference.
The discussion was on one of the most challenging hurdles for beginning and immigrant farmers: securing land to grow food. Meanwhile, religious institutions own lands throughout the United States that are often suitable for agriculture. These plots of land may vary in size from a 1,000 square foot community garden to over 100 acres. Partnerships can allow faith groups to simultaneously save resources, advance food security, connect traditional faith-based stories to land and agriculture, and help small farmers overcome economic and structural barriers. The presenters described innovative projects, including a farmer leasing from a Seventh Day Adventist middle school that successfully transferred ownership 3 times in Sonoma County, CA. There was also a farmer who leased land from her church while developing a farm project, allowing for her to scale to the point she qualified for a USDA loan for a piece of land that has a home and infrastructure. Finally, partnerships were highlighted in which a perennial food forest and seed bank on the grounds of a 4-acre Episcopal Church site were established.
The Faithlands movement is growing nationally to connect and inspire faith communities to use their land in new ways that promote ecological and human health, support local food and farming, enact reparative justice, and strengthen communities. On the Agrarian Trust's Faithlands web page, download the free FAITHLANDS TOOLKIT A Guide to Transformative Land Use. Interfaith is a regional and national organization which supports congregations of all faiths, denominations and backgrounds by connecting them with farmers and supporting farm stand initiation, farmers markets, and CSAs.
The idea is innovative and yet traditional, since so many faith-based groups are doing community-based food systems work, such as emergency food distribution, operating commercial-scale kitchens, or stewarding lands that could be cultivated by local farmers.
In particular, lands stewarded by faith-based groups in urban areas present a huge opportunity for cultivation by urban farmers, given high costs of land values in cities. Land for Good is another great organization that supports land transfers for farming and the development of land use agreements. Their amazing ToolBox web page has significant resources for building and negotiating leases for- and with- farmers and landowners.
The conference had a great turnout with powerful speakers and groups doing inspiring work around the nation. Speaker Rabbi Justin Goldstein from Yesod Farm+Kitchen in Fairview, North Carolina, opened the conference, sharing key points on building relationships for indigenous lands stewardship, and the process of returning this unceded land. Food justice and sustainability leaders representing 47 different religious communities were in attendance. While most came from the North Bay and East Bay, there were also participants from elsewhere in California and eight other states.
As described on the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative website, “For the first time the conference included tours of farms and gardens at 7 different faith-community sites. Diverse speakers included 8 farmers growing food on lands owned by religious institutions. Ammar Ahmed of Islamic Circle of North America in Washington, D.C. spoke about the response of Muslim communities in the U.S. to hunger during theCOVID Pandemic. He called on attendees to help with the national effort by Muslim and Jewish groups to urge USDA to make kosher and halal meat available to observant Jews and Muslims through an emergency food program. Advocates are concerned about protein options available to observant individuals who utilize TEFAP, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (A letter signed by some 47 members of Congress went toUSDA last week; we will keep the Interfaith Food network apprised of how to help with this work.)” - Steve Schwartz, Executive Director, Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative.
In the Bay Area, South Berkeley, East and West Oakland, and South Hayward congregations have established small farms and gardens with their congregations. UCCE's Urban Ag & Food Systems Program with Alameda County RCD and Interfaith is providing technical support to a new East Alameda Gurdwara farming initiative managed by the Sikh community there. If you know of a faith-based group interested in this work, please reach out to Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative. Our Urban Ag collaborative team is also ready to work with you.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
A summer of smoke and ash in many parts of California has raised questions about the safety of produce growing on farms and in the garden, eggs laid by chickens who peck around in ash-laden areas, and remediation needed to safely and effectively grow food in the future.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brought together experts who have researched the effects of previous fires' fallout and studied soil contaminants to share their insight in a two-hour webinar now available on YouTube.
“The No. 1 health concern during a fire is smoke inhalation, and it's been well documented that wildfire smoke can negatively impact both the heart and the lungs,” said Claire O'Brien, a pharmacology and toxicology doctoral student at UC Davis. “However, the chemicals found in the smoke don't just stay in the air. They can deposit onto plants and into soil and water.”
Although every fire is unique, some generalizations can be drawn from research conducted following previous fires. UC Cooperative Extension food systems advisor Julia Van Soelen Kim detailed a study conducted following the October 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County and across the North Bay.
With the help of UC Master Gardener and community volunteers, the researchers collected over 200 samples of homegrown collard greens, lettuces, kale and chard that were exposed to wildfire smoke and ash. A subset of the samples were analyzed by a private laboratory.
“There was very low concern about chemicals on produce,” Van Soelen Kim said. “No samples had detectable levels of lead, arsenic, mercury or chromium. And that's a huge sigh of relief.” However, analytical results vary by site, site history and by fire event, and few have pre-fire baseline data to compare with.
Van Soelen Kim said basic food-safety practices should be followed when preparing to eat food grown in a home garden, regardless of ash or smoke contamination.
“You should always wash your hands before and after harvesting, and wash your produce in running water to mitigate any kind of potential risk,” she said.
Are backyard chicken eggs safe to eat?
Another study outlined at the webinar used a similar process to determine whether there might be contaminants in the eggs laid by backyard poultry that live and feed in areas exposed to wildfire ash and smoke.
Scientists know from previous research that chickens exposed to lead in their environment can produce eggs with high lead content and that heavy metal content of ash from urban wildfires is higher than from rural wildfire.
“We combined those two pieces of research with what we know that chickens do all day: they peck at the ground for hours on end,” said Todd Kelman, a veterinarian in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. “That makes for a pretty good hypothesis that urban wildfire could pose a risk for the production of eggs and poultry that contain heavy metals.”
Kelman and his team put out a call for eggs from backyard poultry and received samples from 344 premises in fire-affected and non-fire-affected areas of California.
Surprisingly, egg samples that contained higher lead levels came from parts of the state that were not directly impacted by ash and smoke.
“Did our data support our hypothesis that proximity to urban wildfire is a driving source for lead in eggs of backyard poultry? The answer is not so much,” Kelman said. “So, is it safe to eat eggs from your backyard poultry? We can't give you a definitive answer to that question. But we do suggest you assess your risk and reduce the risk of contamination.”
Practices that reduce the risk include keeping chickens off the ground, using a chicken feeder that prevents spillage onto the ground and making calcium readily available, for example in the form of oyster shells, because calcium can prevent the absorption of lead. Making sure that chickens are provided uncontaminated water is also an important part of risk reduction.
For confirmation on the safety backyard chickens and their eggs, lab tests for eggs are available for $60 from the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis, or chickens may be submitted to CAHFS for necropsy.
Are soils safe for growing food after a fire?
Fire effects on soil is another consideration in burned areas, said UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture advisor Rob Bennaton.
“Fires heat topsoil layers. They reduce the amount of living micro-organisms at the site of the burn, and also affect organic matter and nutrients. Ash deposits over time may make soils more alkaline,” he said. “As a result of these combined factors, there are temporary changes in nutrient levels and the capacity for soils to exchange nutrients for optimal plant growth and nutrition.”
With proper land care and management, soils can be remediated over time.
“It won't happen overnight. Soils were developed over millions of years,” he said.
Some ways to improve safety when gardening in fire-affected areas including keeping the soil covered with wood chips or other landscape mulch to reduce airborne soil dust. Use drip irrigation to prevent up splash onto the undersides of growing vegetables. Promote good drainage, especially at the bottom of slopes to prevent the concentration of contaminants.
Lab tests are often needed to determine the soils' post-fire characteristics. “Don't guess, but test,” Bennaton said.
The UC Master Gardener Program can provide technical assistance to help home gardeners find resources for home soil testing, he said.
Additional resources and information shared during the webinar include:
Post-fire soil resources and soil testing information
- UCCE publication on Soils in Urban Agriculture with soil testing & sampling information
- The UC ANR Healthy Soils Website, which has many resources worth reviewing.
- Tips for Interpreting Soil Analysis
- UC Master Gardener of Sonoma County 2018 workshop video “Effects of fire on soil”
Post-fire food safety
- Research on produce safety and backyard chicken egg safety after the 2017 wildfires in California is available on this web page. To view a past webinar recording with these research findings, click this link.
- Poultry wildfire resources from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine:
- Best Practices for Produce Safety After Fire
- Understanding Risk: A community guide for assessing the potential health impacts of locally grown produce exposed to urban wildfire smoke
Firewise and sustainable home landscaping design in the defensible space zone
- Visit the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County firewise landscaping web page.
- For a recent firewise & sustainable design and maintenance video by the Resilient Landscapes Coalition.
Impact of smoke & ash on plants
Urban Agriculture Soil Information
Without understanding the actual links between UA and food security or which specific characteristics, models or approaches reduce insecurity, urban policymakers and advocates risk backing policies that could have unintended consequences or negative impacts on vulnerable individuals and communities. We argue that in addition to more robust analyses that measure the actual social, economic, and health impacts of urban agriculture, and how they impact food security, it is important to understand which approaches to policy, governance and civic engagement support UA models that are effective in reducing food insecurity.
In general, we see three trends in current scholarship on UA in relation to community food security: (1) a focus on the production potential of urban lands, (2) individual case studies highlighting various nutritional, health, and other community benefits or outcomes from urban gardening initiatives, and (3) more critical analyses of UA through food justice and equity lenses. To this latter point, robust theoretical analyses have emerged critiquing the risks of UA when approached without an equity lens, potentially reinforcing structural injustices and racism and negatively impacting communities that ideally should benefit the most.
Deeper historical and structural challenges including poverty, racism, and divestment in specific communities and neighborhoods are increasingly being recognized as the root causes of the problem of unequal access to sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious, affordable, and culturally acceptable food facing cities. Designating land for agricultural use in urban areas may conflict with other city planning priorities around affordable housing, community economic development, or smart growth approaches associated with reducing urban sprawl and mitigating climate change, such as transit-oriented development. Because of the persistent legacy of systemic discrimination, it is neither inevitable nor guaranteed that urban agriculture will redress food system inequities; in fact, urban farms can sometimes lead to displacement through eco-gentrification. This is a particularly acute concern in areas experiencing housing pressures and population growth, such as the San Francisco Bay area and New York City.
Analyzing the intersection of food access and food distribution literatures reveals three key factors mediating the effect of UA on food security in the urban food system:
(1) the economic viability of urban farms (to sustain the provisioning of affordable urban produced foods)
(2) the role of city planning and policies in advancing racial equity through UA such as secure land tenure and public investment, and
(3) the importance of civic engagement to advocate for and hold cities and counties accountable to the needs of low-income communities.
We highlight examples from both the scholarly and gray literatures that demonstrate how UA can improve food access, distribution, and justice, in a way that supports both consumers and producers of food in cities. The gray literature in particular reveals many emerging and informal distribution networks for urban produced foods that would benefit from further academic study, such as gleaning networks, distribution apps, and online platforms.
The review concludes with a set of recommendations for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers who seek to create spaces in cities for food justice, equity, access, and sovereignty. Most notably we acknowledge that urban farms are producing a lot more than food; and that equitable planning, public investment and civic engagement are crucial elements in securing the long-term viability of urban farms. More robust analyses documenting the multifaceted benefits and risks of UA such as public health, food security, youth development, food literacy, eco-gentrification and environmental justice can help inform more equitable public policy and planning efforts.
- Author: Penny Leff
A UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) team recently assessed the needs of urban farmers around the state, and found that they struggle with production, business, and marketing challenges, many of which are specific to the urban context of their farms. Additionally, many urban farmers are unaware of agricultural regulations, city zoning and permitting rules, food safety, soil quality issues, and pest quarantines.
To help new urban farmers get started effectively, and to help more experienced urban farmers improve their skills and profitability, the UCCE team is offering a series of four urban agriculture workshops in each of the Sacramento and San Diego regions. These communities have recently put policies in place to encourage urban farming, and many residents are getting involved. The workshops will be held at urban farm sites and will include farm tours and discussions with local urban farmers sharing challenges and success stories. The 2018 workshop series starts March 16 in the Sacramento area and March 23 in the San Diego area.
Workshop #1 will cover the legal basics of urban farming, including types of urban farm enterprises, zoning issues, soil testing, required permits and licenses, and an introduction to key local resources such as the Agricultural Commissioner and UCCE staff.
Workshop #2 will cover Marketing and Business Management for Urban Farms, including business planning, record keeping, market channel options, and an introduction to labor laws and risk management.
Workshop #3 will be about production considerations for urban farmers, focusing on water management, integrated pest management (IPM), and soil contamination/soil improvement.
Workshop #4 will cover pre and post-harvest food safety practices, using CDFA's Small Farm Food Safety Guidelines.
Farmers and potential farmers can take one or take all four of these workshops; each is $20 for a full day of expert speakers, participatory exercises, lunch and refreshments. Each workshop will be a one-day event.
Registration is open. Space is limited, so please sign up early.
Learn more about the workshops, as well as the 2017 workshop series' held in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area regions, and register here:
More UC urban farming resources: ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanAg/
San Diego Series: Mary Redlin, Southern California Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org, 562-900-3041
Sacramento Series:Penny Leff, Northern California Coordinator, email@example.com, 530-752-5208
- Author: Stephanie Parreira, UC Statewide IPM Program
To read the full transcript of the audio, click here.
Successful IPM in honey bee colonies involves understanding honey bee pest biology, regularly monitoring for pests, and using a combination of different methods to control their damage. Visit these resources for more information:
Sources for the Value of Honey Bees: