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Farmers of color share their contributions, concerns in UC SAREP webinar series

USDA’s most recent agricultural census, dating to 2017, counts approximately 25,000 producers of color among 128,535 total producers in California. Photo by Evett Kilmartin

When agricultural advisors came to the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico during the 1940s, they lined the irrigation ditches with concrete, in the name of boosting efficiency and productivity. But in single-mindedly focusing on water delivery, they neglected to consider how the previously inefficient seepage sustained nearby fruit trees. 

Their actions, as well-intentioned as they might have been, disrupted the local ecosystem and killed the trees that had fed many generations, according to A-dae Romero-Briones, who identifies as Cochiti and as a member of the Kiowa Tribe.

“In my language, we call the extension agents ‘the people who kill the fruit trees,'” said Romero-Briones, director of the Food and Agriculture Program for the First Nations Development Institute, a nonprofit that serves Tribal communities across the mainland, Alaska and Hawaii.

The historically tense relationship between Indigenous peoples and government-affiliated programs is one of the many complex dynamics discussed in a six-part webinar series, “Racial Equity in Extension,” facilitated by UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

During the "Retracing the Roots of Sustainable Agriculture" webinar, A-dae Romero-Briones explains the historical tensions between extension agents and Indigenous peoples.
“As extension professionals, we really need to know about the people we want to work with – what are their worldviews and what's the knowledge base that shapes their decisions,” said Sonja Brodt, associate director of UC SAREP, a program of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. “And this is especially important to pay attention to when those people are from cultures or segments of society that have a history of being marginalized or oppressed by mainstream society, and because their significant knowledge has often been made invisible.”

Making communities of color in the agricultural sector more visible is a priority for Victor Hernandez, a sociologist and outreach coordinator for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Hernandez, who has organized “Growing Together” conferences for Latino and Black farmers, is trying to get more farmers of color to participate in the upcoming 2022 Agricultural Census.

“If we cannot quantify the demographic, we cannot justify the need,” emphasized Hernandez, explaining that his office uses the data to direct resources that advance equity in service, program delivery and distribution of funds.

A legacy of mistrust

At the same time, however, Hernandez also acknowledged the challenges in registering growers of color for the census, conducted by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. (According to Brodt, USDA's most recent agricultural census, dating to 2017, counts approximately 25,000 producers of color among 128,535 total producers in California.)

“Many of us that are considered socially disadvantaged or historically underserved…a lot of times our peoples come from [nations with] oppressive governments,” Hernandez said. “And so when you come to the United States and you begin to build your life here, to go and engage with the federal government is not the first knee-jerk reaction.”

On top of government mistrust and fears of deportation or detention, other immigrant groups have seen mainstream agriculture – borne by the “Green Revolution” wave across the globe – replace deep-rooted cultural practices, said Kristyn Leach of Namu Farm in Winters.

“It just makes these small farmers distrust our own knowledge, the knowledge that's existed for centuries – before the kind of current iteration of agriculture that we're situated within right now,” said Leach, who works to preserve the agricultural heritage of her Korean ancestors, and facilitates a farmers' collaborative called Second Generation that adapts Asian crop varieties to climate change.

According to Romero-Briones, a collective memory of supplanted culture also lingers in Indigenous communities. In the Cochiti Pueblo, “primarily a subsistence agriculture community” with a long history of corn cultivation, their practices are distinct from those in the mainstream – including regenerative and sustainable agriculture.

Clockwise from top-left: Chanowk Yisrael, Kristyn Leach and Victor Hernandez share their perspectives during the "Serving Farmers of Color" webinar, moderated by UC ANR's Stephanie Parreira.
“These practices are not really rooted in Indigenous agriculture,” she explained. “They're actually meant to displace Indigenous agriculture and food systems.”

Building relationships takes commitment

Given that legacy of cultural displacement and appropriation, how do extension professionals and other agricultural advisors slowly rebuild trust with communities of color? For Romero-Briones, it begins with a genuine respect for Indigenous practices, and she urges interested people to contact their local tribal historic preservation officer to begin strengthening those connections and understanding – beyond a couple of phone calls.

“As someone who works with Indigenous people all day, even I need to recognize sometimes I have to meet with people up to 12 times before we actually start talking about the work that I initially wanted to talk to them about,” Romero-Briones said.

In a similar vein, Chanowk Yisrael, chief seed starter of Yisrael Family Farms, encouraged listeners to reach out to members of the California Farmer Justice Collaborative – an organization striving for a fair food system while challenging racism and centering farmers of color.

“To use a farm analogy: we've got this ground, which is the farmers of color who have been neglected for a long period of time,” said Yisrael, who has grown his farm in a historically Black neighborhood of Sacramento into a catalyst for social change. “It's not just going to be as simple as just throwing some seeds and things are going to come up; you're going to have to do more – that means you got to get out and do much more than you would do for any other community.”

Investing time in a community is one thing – and backing it up with tangible resources is another. Technical expertise is only the “tip of the iceberg,” Leach said, as historically marginalized groups are also seeking land access and tenure, more affordable cost of living, and access to capital.

“All of those things are actually much bigger burdens to bear for most communities of color than not having the knowledge of how to grow the crops that we want to grow, and not knowing how to be adaptive and nimble in the face of climate change," Leach explained, highlighting California FarmLink as an essential resource. (“Understanding Disparities in Farmland Ownership” is the next webinar in the SAREP series, set for Nov. 19.)

Bringing diverse voices to the table

Another key is ensuring that farmers and farm workers of color are represented in management and decision-making processes. Samuel Sandoval, a professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in water management, develops outreach programs in English and Spanish for everyone from farm workers to the “boss of the boss of the boss.”

Samuel Sandoval, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in water management, develops outreach programs in English and Spanish.
Sandoval said there are often gaps of communication between the decision makers and the people, most often Spanish speakers, who implement those measures. He remembers, for example, talking with water resource managers about their plans for a water treatment plant or new irrigation system – and then discovering that the irrigators and farm workers had no idea those discussions are happening.

“It has to be changed,” he said, “because at the end, the person who is going to operate the irrigation system and turn on or off the valves, the person who is looking if there's a leak or not – that's the person who's not being informed, or has not been informed on purpose.”

That exclusion of certain groups can lead to a loss of invaluable knowledge. Leach said there is a real danger in ignoring the wisdom of communities that have contributed so much to the foundation of food systems in California and around the globe.

“These really kind of amazing, sophisticated and elegant agroecological systems that we don't often legitimize through the scientific language and perspectives aren't seen as being really technically proficient – but, in many ways, they're more dynamic and more resilient than the things that we're perpetuating right now,” she said.

As a concrete example, Sandoval said that while extension advisors and specialists conduct studies to remedy a plant disease, farm workers might be developing – separately and in parallel – their own solutions by asking for advice from their social networks via WhatsApp, a phone application.

A reimagining of collaboration, Sandoval said, would include (and compensate) people working in the field for sharing their perspectives – bringing together academics and farmers, integrated pest management experts and pesticide applicators, irrigation specialists and those who do the irrigation.

A need to look within

Concerns about inclusion and validating alternate sources of knowledge apply also to the recruitment process in extension. Leach said that she has seen listings for advisor jobs that would require, at a minimum, a master's degree – which would automatically disqualify her, despite her extensive knowledge of Asian heirloom vegetables.

“When you look at a job description and you see ‘Asian crop specialist,' only required qualification is a master's degree, and then somewhere down the long list of sort of secondary desired, recommended things is some knowledge of Asian crops or communities…you know that just says a lot in terms of what  has weight,” Leach explained.

Before organizations can authentically connect with communities of color, they should prioritize diversity in their own ranks, said Romero-Briones. First Nations Development Institute had to ensure that they had adequate representation across the many Tribes that they serve.

“Before we start looking out, we have to start looking in,” she explained, “and that means we have to hire Indigenous people who know these communities.”

For extension professionals and other members of the agricultural community in California, the UC SAREP webinar series has helped spark that introspection and a meaningful reevaluation of institutional processes and assumptions.

“These discussions have been tremendously illuminating and eye-opening,” Brodt said. “But hearing and learning is just the start – it's incumbent on us, as an organization and as individuals, to take action to ensure that farmers of color and their foodways are truly respected and valued.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2021 at 4:20 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Food

Rios and McCabe named Global Food Initiative Fellows

Anna Rios, left, of UC Berkeley, and Conor McCabe of UC Davis are UC ANR's Global Food Initiative fellows for the 2021-22 school year.

University of California students Anna Rios and Conor McCabe have been selected as Global Food Initiative Fellows for UCANR

during the 2021-22 school year. Their projects will involve working with campus-based academics, UC Cooperative Extension professionals, and staff to conduct research and communications to improve food security, nutrition and agriculture sustainability for communities across California.

Rios is a senior in molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley. Rios is originally from the small rural town of Williams, about two hours north of the Bay Area. In her home community, she noticed the prevalence of packaged and processed foods, along with health burdens present. Coming into college, Rios had no interest in research, but this slowly shifted as she gained more exposure to research through her involvement with Lorrene Ritchie, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute. In this upcoming year, she will work on two GFI projects which focus on improving nutrition in infants and school-aged children through nutritious school meals.

“As a first-generation college student and daughter of immigrants, I'm looking to take the findings of my research work to benefit not one or two individuals, but rather multiple generations through program and policy change and reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases in my hometown and communities across California,” Rios said.

McCabe is a Ph.D. student in animal science at UC Davis. His research focuses on the intersection of agriculture and the environment by reducing the environmental impact of intensive cattle production. Every part of McCabe's past has focused on Extension and agriculture programs from raising pigs in 4-H to show at the county fair to talking with decisionmakers on Capitol Hill for funding for agriculture research and Extension programs. His project for the GFI will focus on strategic communications on food-related issues for underserved communities.

“I'm strongly interested in career opportunities in food and agriculture and its relationship with policy implications,” said McCabe. “This fellowship is sure to serve as a key experience to continue my engagement into positively impacting California communities.”

The Global Food Initiative was founded in 2014 under then UC President Janet Napolitano with the goal of conquering the question of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population that is expected reach 8 billion by 2025. Fellows across the 10 UC campuses and Agriculture and Natural Resources work on projects or internships that focus on food issues. Participants receive professional development, tours of food and agriculture sites throughout California, and a $3,000 annual stipend to support their education experience.

Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 at 5:02 PM
  • Author: Conor McCabe

Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit calls for poster abstracts by Dec. 31

The World Food Center at UC Davis is hosting the Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH) Summit in March 2021. The theme “One Health. One Planet” was conceived before the pandemic, but the conversation could not come at a more crucial moment as the world continues to teeter on the precipice of a climate crisis and the risks of food insecurity have increased exponentially. Summit presenters and panelists will speak to a broad array of topics covering human health, the planet, and their inherent connectivity. 

Students, faculty, staff and community organizations are invited to submit an abstract for a virtual poster presentation in one of three tracks: 

  • One Health. Posters that share initiatives and research to reduce the burden of hunger and improve population health outcomes at the global, national, community and campus levels. Topics can include root causes of hunger, homelessness, poverty, nutrition, and creative and innovative strategies and solution
  • One Planet. Posters that share initiatives and research to respond to the climate crisis, particularly as it relates to agricultural practices and changes to food systems that reduce impacts from climate change at the global, national, community and campus levels, emphasizing creative and innovative strategies and solutions.
  • Convergence. Posters that share initiatives and research demonstrating converging impacts by addressing intersections between human and planet health.

Abstracts are due Dec. 31, 2020. Instructions for submitting an abstract can be found at https://worldfoodcenter.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk5046/files/files/page/UFWH_Call%20for%20Poster%20Abstracts%202021_Final.pdf

The World Food Center at UC Davis promotes innovative, sustainable, and equitable food systems:  https://worldfoodcenter.ucdavis.edu.

UFWH is coalition of nearly 300 campuses worldwide, led by the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University: https://worldfoodcenter.ucdavis.edu/summit2021/about-ufwh.

Posted on Friday, December 18, 2020 at 9:32 AM

NPI study identifies efforts to address both food and housing insecurity in California

Californians are struggling to afford adequate housing and food, yet little is known about the intersection of individuals and families experiencing both housing and food insecurity. The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI)'s 2018/2019 University of California (UC) Global Food Initiative fellow, Melanie Colvin, MPH, identified efforts to address both housing and food insecurity in California.

Her findings are detailed in the report, “Addressing food insecurity for families and individuals in California experiencing housing insecurity,” which provides definitions and prevalence rates for food insecurity and housing insecurity. In the report, Colvin summarizes assessment tools available for researches to measure food insecurity and housing insecurity. The report includes case studies of eight California organizations working to improve access to basic needs services for adults and families who struggle to afford the high cost of living in California.

With input from Danielle Lee, NPI policy analyst; Lorrene Ritchie, NPI director and UC Cooperative Extension specialist; Ken Hecht, NPI director of policy; Rachel Surls, UCCE sustainable food systems advisor in Los Angeles; and Tia Shimada, California Food Policy Advocates director of programs, Colvin provides policy, program and research and evaluation recommendations to support improved food security for those experiencing housing insecurity.

The authors also recommend ways UC ANR can engage with communities and organizations to improve the delivery of basic needs services for Californians.

Read the full report at https://www.ucop.edu/global-food-initiative/_files/gfi-npi-report-final-2020-02-13.pdf.

 

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at 1:49 PM

Esparza, Jacobo selected as Global Food Initiative fellows

Elsa Esparza
Two graduate students from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health have been selected by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as Global Food Initiative Fellows for 2019-2020. Elsa Esparza and Andrea Jacobo will focus on community-based initiatives and programs related to food access, food insecurity, addressing the needs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and highlighting the work of the local UC Cooperative Extension offices.

Esparza, second-year Masters of Public Health student, will work with UC Nutrition Policy Institute researchers on the CDFA Healthy Stores Refrigeration Grant Program Evaluation to assess the effects of neighborhood stores obtaining refrigeration units on store environments, store owner perceptions, and consumer perceptions. As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Esparza admired the GFI Fellows' work and aspired to be a part of the program for the professional and academic opportunities.

“I hope to grow as a researcher and advocate,” Esparza said. “I hope to branch the two roles – advocacy and research – in my work at NPI. This will be possible through my work in other projects, including creating public-facing materials for policymakers. I want to learn how to frame issues and research appropriately in order to target and educate folks who are in positions of political power.”

Andrea Jacobo
Jacobo, first-year Doctor of Public Health student, will work with the UC ANR strategic communications team to highlight the work of the local Cooperative Extension offices to improve food security in the community. As a former community health extension agent at the University of Tennessee, Jacobo saw the impact Extension programs have on the community's ability to manage their food dollars, cook healthy and nutritious meals, develop good agricultural practices, and develop their children's leadership skills through 4-H. Jacobo, who is fluent in Spanish as well as English, hopes to connect California's diverse community members to nutrition education, gardening and other programs to enhance their access to nutritious food.

“I am deeply invested in making sure every person in the community, from child to senior citizen, has access to healthy and affordable foods and resources that improve their quality of life,” Jacobo said. “I am excited to be a GFI fellow because it will allow me to pursue what I am most passionate about, community and healthy food.”

The UC Global Food Initiative was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014 with the aim of putting UC, California and the world on a pathway to sustainability. The GFI fellows are part of a group of UC graduate and undergraduate students working on food-related projects at all 10 UC campuses, UC Office of the President, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR. Each participant receives a $3,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative's efforts to address the issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.

In addition to their individual projects, GFI fellows are invited to participate in systemwide activities designed to enhance their leadership skills and enrich their understanding of the food system in California.

Posted on Friday, October 25, 2019 at 10:18 AM

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