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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

Water Talk podcast begins April 2

The weekly Water Talk podcast can be heard on Fridays.

The second season of Water Talk podcast begins Friday, April 2. The weekly podcast will feature discussions of agriculture, water policy, environmental and social justice, climate change and other issues related to California water. 

This year's podcast will definitely include drought, says co-host Faith Kearns, California Institute for Water Resources academic coordinator, “In California, drought is not if, it's when.” The organizers plan to invite guests from every corner of the state, from border to border.

“The Water Talk team has new members!” the Water Talk team tweeted. “We were thrilled to welcome ultra-talented Claire Bjork and Victoria Roberts as production support for Season 2, thanks in part to an ANR Renewable Resources Extension Act grant.” 

A sneak preview of Season 2 is posted on Twitter at  https://twitter.com/podcast_water/status/1376612903000842242.

In addition to listening to the podcast, you can follow @podcast_water on Twitter for water-related news.        

To catch up on Season 1 of Water Talk, visit http://watertalkpodcast.com.

The Water Talk podcast is hosted by UC Cooperative Extension specialists Mallika Nocco and Samuel Sandoval Solis, both based in UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, and Kearns.

Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 at 11:09 AM

UC ANR and AgStart receive $500,000 to cultivate the VINE

The Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship will connect entrepreneurs statewide to resources to commercialize a new product or start a business.

California is constantly being challenged by pest invasions, obesity, labor shortages, water scarcity, food insecurity, climate change and more. To accelerate the development and adoption of technologies that address these challenges and advance food, agriculture and natural resources in California, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and AgStart will receive a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to cultivate the Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship (the VINE).

Like a grapevine, the VINE will connect existing clusters of innovation across California and link entrepreneurs with mentors, advisors, collaborators, events, competitions, education and other services to turn good ideas into products and services people can use. 

“We want to make sure every Californian has the support system to take a novel idea and commercialize a new product or start a new business,” said VP Glenda Humiston. “They don't have to be a university inventor, they could be a farmer or a young person.”

John Selep of AgStart, left, works with Olivier Jerphagnon and Kevin Langham of Powwow Energy, which uses electric utility smartmeters to help growers measure irrigation water use.

AgStart itself was established with an EDA i6 Challenge grant to assist agriculture and food technology entrepreneurs in the Sacramento Valley region. Since 2012, AgStart has supported more than 58 entrepreneurs and their companies.

“In 2016, of the 16 entrepreneurial companies that AgStart assisted, eight resided outside our region, and leveraged AgStart's program to make connections into our Sacramento Valley region,” said John Selep, president of AgTech Innovation Alliance, AgStart's sponsor. 

“The VINE will expand this AgStart model of connecting entrepreneurs to the resources they need to be successful, to enable entrepreneurs residing anywhere in California to connect to the clusters of resources, contacts, mentors and potential partners that have emerged across the state,” said Selep.  

“The VINE is really exciting because of its potential to unite all the regions of California in an innovation ecosystem for food, agriculture and natural resources,” said Gabe Youtsey.
Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer, said the VINE won't recreate the wheel. 

 “There are many wonderful regional innovation hubs in food, agriculture and natural resources so we plan to bring value by amplifying their efforts, connecting regions and organizations into a more cohesive ecosystem, and bringing value-added resources that ultimately benefit all Californians through the innovations affecting our economic prosperity, food supply and environment,” Youtsey said.

UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors, who work in every county, can provide insight into real-world conditions that entrepreneurs should consider in the development stage. UC ANR's nine research and extension centers can provide locations to field-test products and demonstrate their effectiveness. For example, start-up Blue River is testing its technology by flying a drone over sorghum crops to collect data at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.

2017 Apps for Ag hackathon winners Sreejumon Kundilepurayil and Vidya Kannoly are getting help from UC ANR to commercialize their smartphone app.
“The VINE is really exciting because of its potential to unite all the regions of California in an innovation ecosystem for food, agriculture and natural resources,” said Youtsey. “Not only will it help bridge the Silicon Valley and Bay Area with California's food-producing valleys, but it will bring opportunities for our innovators and entrepreneurs in rural communities in every part of California to participate.”

For the last two years, UC ANR has hosted the Apps for Ag hackathon and has introduced the winners to mentors, tech industry advisors, farmers, funders and legal experts who can advise entrepreneurs on business structure.

The VINE, which is working with UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health and Valley Vision, is being structured to complement other efforts to establish food, agriculture, and natural resources incubation and innovation resources in cluster locations around the state, such as the BlueTechValley Regional Innovation Cluster, the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center, UC Merced's VentureLab and others.

Youtsey and Selep are seeking more VINE partners with expertise across the business spectrum.

“If our vision is successful, the VINE will make California the most fertile region in the world for entrepreneurs in ag and food technology to establish themselves, to prosper and grow,” Selep said.

Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 6:45 PM

Names in the News

Slattery rejoins UCCE in Butte County 

Chelsey Slattery

Chelsey Slattery rejoined UC Cooperative Extension on Sept. 18, 2017, as an area nutrition, family, and consumer sciences advisor in Butte County.

From 2013 to 2016, Slattery was a UCCE community education specialist, supervising the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties.

From July 2016 to September 2017, Slattery was a program manager at UC Davis Center for Nutrition Schools, where she oversaw a statewide, multi-component, evidence-based, and research-tested nutrition education program. She facilitated training in coordination with the UC CalFresh State Office and UC CalFresh counties throughout the state of California.

Concurrently, Slattery has been working as a per-diem nutrition specialist since 2015 at Shady Creek Outdoor Education Foundation, where she provides oversight and guidance for the Fit Quest program, bringing comprehensive children's wellness programs to Northern California schools. 

Slattery earned an M.S. in organizational leadership from the School of Business Management at National University. She completed a B.S. in exercise physiology/exercise science from CSU Chico.

Based in Oroville, Slattery can be reached at (530) 538-7201 and cslattery@ucanr.edu.

From left, Michelle Prysby, ANROSP president, Sabrina Drill and Marisa Rodriguez. Photo by Michele Richards.

California Naturalist wins ANROSP outstanding team award

The California Naturalist Program was named the 2017 Outstanding Team by the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs (ANROSP). Sabrina Drill, associate director of California Naturalist and UC Cooperative Extension advisor, and Marisa Rodriguez, community education specialist with California Naturalist in Southern California, accepted the award on Sept. 21 at the annual ANROSP conference held at the World Forestry Center in Portland, Ore.

Led by director Adina Merenlender, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, the CalNat staff includes Greg Ira, academic coordinator; Brook Gamble, community education specialist; Drill and Rodriguez.

Teamwork is fundamental to the program structure. Since 2012, California Naturalist has certified more than 1,800 Naturalists, who have logged over 100,000 volunteer hours.

The team credits its success to the support and efforts across UC ANR and an extended team of course partners, instructors, statewide partners, educators, scientists, conservation practitioners, and many others who have contributed to the continued adaptive development of the program.

Grant to be inducted into Ag Hall of Fame 

Joe Grant hangs mating disruption dispensers in orchard with Jhalendra Rijal

On Oct. 19, Joseph Grant, UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus, will be among the people inducted into the San Joaquin County Agricultural Hall of Fame at the 33rd Annual Agricultural Hall of Fame Banquet.

For most of his career, Grant, who retired in 2016, worked as a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and is known for his research on walnuts, cherries, apples, olives and other tree crops. 

“It's kind of awesome. I mean when you look at the other people that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, I don't consider myself in that class of people so it's humbling,” Grant  said about his induction to the Lodi News-Sentinel.

In addition to Grant, the San Joaquin County Agricultural Hall of Fame will honor Henry “Skip” Foppiano, Jack and Pati Hamm and Hank Van Exel, and give a posthumous honor to winemaker Robert Gerald Mondavi.

According to the Hall of Fame, it “honors those individuals who have contributed to agriculture and to their community in significant ways.” 

The banquet will be held at the Robert J. Cabral Ag Center in Stockton. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased by calling the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce at (209) 547-2770 or by visiting http://stocktonchamber.org/ag-hall-of-fame

USDA-ARS bestows B.Y. Morrison Medal on Zalom

Frank Zalom receives the 2017 B.Y. Morrison Medal from Chavonda Jacobs-Young, the USDA-ARS administrator, at a ceremony in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and integrated pest management (IPM) specialist, has been named the recipient of the 2017 B.Y. Morrison Medal by U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).

Zalom is the first entomologist to receive the coveted award established in 1968, according to Kim Kaplan of the USDA-ARS Office of Communications.

Zalom was singled out for his outstanding work in IPM related to sustainable horticulture production, specifically for “his outstanding leadership and public service in IPM for horticultural crops at the regional, state, national and international levels; his stellar accomplishments in horticultural crops sustainability and pest management and his work ethic, service, courage and integrity, all driven by his insatiable curiosity and passion to solve problems in the horticultural crops landscape,” Kaplan said.

Zalom received the award, co-sponsored by USDA-ARS and the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS), on Sept. 21 at the ASHS conference in Waikoloa, Hawaii. He presented the Morrison Memorial Lecture on “Significance of Integrated Pest Management to Sustainable Horticultural Production – Observations and Experiences.”

Read more at //ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=25218. -- Kathy Keatley Garvey

 

Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 2:09 PM

UC ANR Staff Assembly Updates

Senior delegate Jeannette Warnert, left, and junior delegate LeChé McGill represented UC ANR staff at the Council of UC Staff Assemblies meeting in San Diego.

Ambassadors Meeting

The UC ANR Staff Assembly Council will hold a Staff Assembly Ambassadors meeting at the ANR Building in Davis on Oct. 10. The engagement will provide an opportunity for ambassadors to visit and network with colleagues and review Staff Assembly priorities. Additionally, they will discuss opportunities for staff to become more involved in addressing staff concerns and furthering organizational goals.

UC ANR Tote Bags

UC ANR Staff Assembly tote bag

In an effort to help spread the word about UC ANR Staff Assembly, all Staff Assembly members will receive a We Are UC ANR Staff Assembly tote bag. Members of the UC Staff Assembly include all ANR staff, whether employed by the county or the university, represented by a union or not represented. UC ANR Staff Assembly Ambassadors are the points of contact for distributing the bags at each office.

CUCSA Fall 2017 Meeting

UC San Diego was the site of the CUCSA (Council of University of California Staff Assemblies) Fall 2017 Meeting Sept. 6-8. The meeting included a team building exercise, work group action planning, post retirement health benefit discussions and a review of UC Employee Engagement Survey results. UC ANR junior delegate LeChé McGill and senior delegate Jeannette Warnert represented UC ANR staff at the meeting.

On the subject of potential changes to post-retirement health benefits, CUCSA chair Lina Layiktez provided the summary below and links for more information.

Proposed change to post-retirement health benefits
The proposed action item for the July 2017 Regents meeting was to remove the 70 percent floor on the UC contribution to retiree health benefits and place a cap of 3 percent on year-over-year increases to UC costs. This is a policy change to offset the accounting rule changes required in "GASB 75." GASB 75 requires that the full actuarial value of other postemployment benefits (OPEB) be included on the systemwide balance sheet. This means that UC will have a perceived “new” liability of $21 billion, which would affect the system's overall credit rating. A hit to the UC's credit rating has obvious impacts to financing for the university.

The “new” GASB 75 requirement definition is subject to interpretation, since it was already a liability that was disclosed in previous year's financials. The value of this liability under current assumptions/retiree rules is approximately $21 billion. The current assumptions are being driven by the number of retirees in the system plus the number of potential retirees (active staff and faculty) and how much it would cost the system in health-care costs should the current employees retire today.

What does this all mean?
By removing the floor and capping UC's costs, the university effectively transfers rising health-care premiums to retirees. The assumed rate of health-care cost increase is 7 percent. Over the course of 20 years this would flip the proportion that UC pays to ~30 percent and the retiree to ~70 percent. The 70 percent floor was designed to provide some stability to retiree health-care costs.

What do we see happening?
Many UC employees choose to retire after calculating their retirement income. This is necessary because, except for Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA), there is no way for retirees to increase their income from the university. So when out-of-pocket health-care costs go up for retirees, this eats into their living expenses. There are already retirees and survivors of retirees who have to choose between health-care costs and food. To suddenly remove the 70% floor exacerbates this problem.

What can you do?
The campus staff assemblies are collecting feedback locally and sharing this up to the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA), who will be coordinating a response to the UC President and/or Board of Regents. We are also working on a list of questions that include queries, such as what OPEB would look like if it grandparented current employees and implemented the changes to future retirees? What does this mean for retention of employees with 10 to 20 years of service?

The most powerful and helpful thing for us now is to hear about your personal concerns and how this impacts you. Would no OPEB mean you are less likely to retire from the UC system and take a job elsewhere for more money now? Will you have to postpone your retirement if, in retirement, you will have to pay a greater portion of your OPEB than you had planned for under the current plan?

Share your questions and stories with us on the UC ANR Staff Assembly website.

What's next?
Fortunately, the July agenda was revised and this item was moved to the November meeting agenda. Moving the item to November will allow for more consultation and discussion. It is unknown what approach the UC Office of the President (OP) will take to solicit feedback and engage in discussion. But as that information becomes available, we will make sure to share it broadly. We are hopeful that CUCSA (and therefore a voice of staff) will be included in the discussions and that OP will convene a task force representing all parties that will be affected by the proposed changes. Stay tuned.

Click here for the original July Regents Meeting Agenda Item (F7), which was then revised to remove the discussion on the 70 percent floor.

The immediate past chair of the systemwide Academic Senate, Jim Chalfant, has already written a letter to the UC President on this issue. You can read it online here: http://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/_files/reports/JC-JN-Retiree-Health.pdf.

We can work collectively to inform and educate staff on this important matter. We are stronger together and the more voices that participate, the louder the message will be to those making the decisions that affect all of us.

UC ANR human resources director John Fox also said one important point that isn't addressed in the CUCSA summary is Medicare coverage. “When a UC retiree enrolls in Medicare, the monthly medical premium costs are significantly reduced (both for the retiree and for UC). Much of the future liability that UC is trying to control (and the risk of high monthly costs for the retirees) is during the time between retirement from UC and the start of Medicare eligibility (typically age 65).”

If you would like to share your stories or post a comment on this proposed change, please fill out the form on the UC ANR Staff Assembly website. We will share comments and stories from UC ANR with CUCSA leadership, who will compile it with information from other campuses to share with the UC President and UC Regents.

Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 1:35 PM
  • Author: LeChé McGill

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