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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

ANR Statewide Conference reaches maximum capacity

If you haven't registered for the ANR Statewide Conference yet, there's no guarantee space will be available. There are 653 people registered, including speakers and UC President's Advisory Commission members (PAC), for the conference being held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Ontario April 9-12.

“At this point, we are accepting applications to attend because we're exceeding capacity of the facility,” said Sherry Cooper, director of Program Support Unit. “New registrations will not be confirmed until you receive an email or phone call confirming your registration, so please wait for confirmation before making travel plans.”

Among those registered are 145 UC Cooperative Extension advisors, 71 UCCE specialists, 26 academic coordinators and administrators, 20 Agricultural Experiment Station faculty members and nearly 350 administrative and programmatic staff.

The President's Advisory Commission will meet on Monday afternoon and PAC members have been invited to stay to hear California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross speak Monday evening, ANR leaders discuss “Charting a Sustainable Future for ANR,” and President Janet Napolitano speak on Tuesday.

The agriculture and natural resources industry leaders who serve on PAC will also join ANR members Tuesday morning to listen to keynote speaker Antwi Akom, UCSF and SFSU professor and founding director of Social Innovation and Urban Opportunity Lab (SOUL) and co-founder and CEO of Streetwyze. His talk is titled “Race, Space, Place and Waste: How Innovation, Education, and Inspiration Can Fearlessly Catalyze California Towards Becoming the World's Leader in Agriculture and Natural Resources Management.”

If you plan to tweet about the ANR Statewide Conference, the hashtag is #UCANRconf2018.

Posted on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 1:42 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

IGIS plans next steps based on program review

Glenda Humiston
In 2017, an ad hoc committee was appointed to carry out ANR's routine five-year statewide program review of our Informatics and Geographic Information Systems (IGIS) Program. Associate Vice President Powers and I extend a thank you to the committee for their time commitment and thoroughness in examining the program and providing recommendations to UC ANR's Program Council (PC). The time and effort of IGIS Director Maggi Kelly and staff to provide information and PC's review of the report and recommendations are also greatly appreciated.

Given limited personnel and a short time since startup, IGIS has made significant contributions throughout ANR. There is a great need for the program within and beyond ANR, and IGIS personnel have shown impressive results in reaching out to the wider ANR community and external partners.

Here is a summary of the direction and next steps I provided to the IGIS Program Director:

  • IGIS should focus on expanding capacity and reach with drones and prioritize investing in new technology.
  • IGIS will work with the REC Directors to develop a call process to identify science leads who are interested in taking over full ownership of one or more of the flux towers.
  • IGIS should discontinue its involvement with cataloguing dark data, but work with ANR Communication Services and Information Technology office (CSIT) to inform ANR academics that digitized documents are available in the ANR repository.
  • Associate Vice President Powers and I will meet with Program Director Kelly to further discuss the proposal to re-characterize IGIS from a statewide program to a statewide academic service.
  • IGIS will develop a business plan to continue to scale up services that are in demand by UC ANR academics and offer services in a way that decreases reliance on central funds.
  • IGIS should update its website to clearly articulate to whom resources and services are available. When IGIS is not able to provide a service, to the degree possible, it should act as a clearing house and refer clients to other providers.
  • IGIS should incorporate evaluation methods that focus on the effectiveness of workshops and services and the extent of IGIS' reach.

I look forward to working with IGIS as it pursues these and other opportunities that may arise.

Glenda Humiston
Vice President

Posted on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 12:20 PM
Focus Area Tags: Innovation

Names in the News

Wang joins UCCE as vegetable and irrigation advisor

Zheng Wang

Zheng Wang joined UCCE on March 5, 2018, as an area vegetable production and irrigation advisor in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

Prior to joining UCCE, Wang was a postdoctoral researcher at The Ohio State University-Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, where he had conducted cutting-edge and applied research and extension work on vegetable crop production since 2015. His federally funded and state-funded projects integrated minimal tillage, vegetable grafting and use of microbial biostimulants to optimize local and regional vegetable operations. From 2011 to 2014, Wang was a graduate research assistant at University of Kentucky. His research focused on the effects of production systems and tillage applications on vegetable drought tolerance and endophytic bacterial dynamics.

Wang earned a Ph.D. in crop science from University of Kentucky and an M.S. in agriculture from Western Kentucky University. Wang, who is fluent in Chinese, earned a B.S. in agronomy from Shenyang Agricultural University in China.

Wang is based in Modesto and can be reached at (209) 525-6822 and zzwwang@ucanr.edu.

Sosnoskie returns as UCCE agronomy and weed advisor

Lynn Sosnoskie

Lynn Sosnoskie joined UCCE on Feb. 26, 2018, as an area agronomy and weed management advisor in Merced and Madera counties. 

Before returning to UC, Sosnoskie spent a year at Washington State University as an assistant research faculty member tasked with extending the reach of the WSU weed science team in the Columbia Basin. From 2012 to 2016, Sosnoskie was an associate project scientist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, working with UCCE specialist Brad Hanson to partner solutions-based research needs of growers with an increased understanding of the biological and environmental factors that impact weeds and weed control in California's specialty crops. From 2006 to 2011, she held a postdoctoral research professional position at University of Georgia, where she contributed to weed control research and outreach efforts in upland cotton and fresh market vegetables.

As a weed scientist, Sosnoskie is interested in the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds, the preservation of effective chemical control strategies through the judicious use of herbicides and the adoption of non-chemical control practices, automated weeders, the effects of drought on the composition of weed communities, perennial weed management, and improving our understanding of weed biology and ecology to maximize vegetation control. With respect to agronomy, Sosnoskie evaluates crop responses to temperature, as well as water availability and water quality, and the epidemiology and management of diseases like Fusarium Race 4 in cotton. She collaborates on a variety of crop issues such as soil salinity and fertility management. 

Sosnoskie earned a Ph.D. in horticulture and crop science from The Ohio State University, a M.S. in crop and soil science from University of Delaware, and a B.S. in biology from Lebanon Valley College.

Based in Merced, Sosnoskie can be reached at (229) 326-2676 and lmsosnoskie@ucanr.edu. You can follow her on Twitter @LynnSosnoskie and @agronomyweedsci.

Zalom and Goodell receive international lifetime IPM awards

Frank Zalom Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Peter Goodell, UCCE integrated pest management advisor emeritus, and Frank Zalom, professor and UCCE specialist in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis, received lifetime achievement awards at the Ninth International IPM Symposium March 19 in Baltimore.

Zalom is a past president of the 7,000-member Entomological Society of America, co-founder of the International IPM symposia, and served as director of UC ANR's Statewide IPM Program for 16 years.

“Dr. Zalom continues to advance the science and implementation of IPM,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “His integrity, service and respect for all are legendary.”

Read more about Zalom's contributions at //ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24248.

Pete Goodell Photo by Todd Fitchette
Goodell retired in 2017 after serving 36 years as an advisor with the UC Statewide IPM Program, which was established in 1980. His accomplishments have been recognized with two Distinguished Service Awards from UC ANR, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Applied IPM Ecologists, and even being named by US News and World Report as one of the “Ten Most Indispensable Americans.”

Read more about Goodell's career at //ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24248.

Surls receives 2018 Bradford Rominger Ag Sustainability Leadership Award

Rachel Surls

Rachel Surls, UCCE sustainable food systems advisor for Los Angeles County, is this year's recipient of the Eric Bradford and Charlie Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award. Surls received the award from the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at the Celebrating Women in Agriculture event in Davis on April 3.

Surls has been committed to community gardens, school gardens, and urban agriculture since long before our cities took notice. For 30 years, she has worked at the UC Cooperative Extension Office in Los Angeles County, helping to bring city-grown food into the mainstream.

The Bradford Rominger award, given yearly, honors individuals who exhibit the leadership, work ethic and integrity epitomized by the late Eric Bradford, a livestock geneticist who gave 50 years of service to UC Davis, and the late Charlie Rominger, a fifth-generation Yolo County farmer and land preservationist.

“In her three-decade career with UCCE, Rachel has developed a strong program addressing some of our most critical issues in sustainable agriculture,” says Keith Nathaniel, the Los Angeles County Cooperative Extension director. “She does so with innovative strategies, working with all aspects of the LA community. After 30 years doing this work, she continues to be active in the community she serves.”

In Surls' career, gardening has been a tool to build science literacy for schoolchildren, to increase self-sufficiency for communities impacted by economic downturn, and to create small businesses for urban entrepreneurs. As the interest in and support for urban agriculture has grown, she has been in the heart of Los Angeles, ready to respond to the needs of the city's farmers and gardeners. – Aubrey Thompson

Linquist honored with Rice Research and Education Award

Bruce Linquist

The Rice Technical Working Group presented Bruce Linquist, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, and a team of rice researchers with the Distinguished Rice Research and Education Award Feb. 21 during their annual conference in Long Beach.

Linquist has been collaborating with rice researchers at the University of Arkansas, the USDA in Jonesborough, Ark., and Louisiana State University on advancing irrigation management practices to achieve sustainable intensification outcomes.

While rice has historically been grown in flooded fields, the researchers have been introducing aerobic periods during the growing season (also known as alternate wetting and drying). The practice has been shown to reduce CH4 emissions and water use. Read more about the rice project at http://news.plantsciences.ucdavis.edu/2018/03/27/bruce-linquist-distinguished-rice-research-and-education-award.  – Ann Filmer

Doug Parker

Parker re-elected to national water resources board

Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources, has been re-elected by the delegates of the Universities Council on Water Resources to serve as a member of the Board of Directors. Parker, who is the past president of UCOWR, an association of universities and organizations leading in education, research and public service in water resources, will begin his next three-year term with the UCOWR Board meeting on June 28 at the joint 2018 UCOWR National Institutes for Water Resources Conference in Pittsburgh, Penn.

UCOWR strives to facilitate water-related education at all levels, promote meaningful research and technology transfer on contemporary and emerging water resources issues, compile and disseminate information on water problems and solutions, and promote informed decisions about water issues at all levels of society. 

Posted on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 12:00 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

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