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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

Recruitment for California Organic Institute director underway

Organic strawberries. Photo by Mark Bolda

Applications are being accepted through March 30, 2020, from UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors who wish to be considered for the position of director of UC ANR's California Organic Institute. This opportunity will provide a dedicated source of funds (income from the endowment) to support scholarly activities and outreach focused on improvement of California organic agriculture production.

Through a funding partnership between Clif Bar & Company and the UC Presidential Endowment program, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has established a $1 million directorship for the UC ANR California Organic Institute.

Through a competitive selection process, a director will be chosen to hold an initial seven-year term.The directorship will be awarded by UC ANR to a distinguished UC Cooperative Extension specialist or advisor currently working in the area of organic production in California.

Application and selection details, including timeline and submission guidelines, are available at http://ucanr.edu/sites/StrategicInitiatives/files/318017.pdf.

For any questions, please contact Mark Bell, vice provost for strategic initiatives & statewide programs, at mozbell@ucanr.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 11:41 AM

Clif Bar invests in UC’s first organic research institute

The California Organic Institute will accelerate the development and adoption of effective tools and practices for organic farmers and those transitioning to organic farming. Organic strawberries photo by Mark Bolda.

The University of California system's first-ever institute for organic research and education will be established in UC ANR with a $500,000 endowment gift from Clif Bar & Company and $500,000 in matching funds from UC President Janet Napolitano. 

The California Organic Institute will accelerate the development and adoption of effective tools and practices for organic farmers and those transitioning to organic by building on the capabilities of UC ANR's Cooperative Extension and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Although organic is the fastest growing sector of the food economy, funding for research has lagged far behind support for conventional agriculture. Farmers interested in transitioning to organic or improving performance of their organic systems often lack the guidance they need to succeed.

“California's organic farmers already benefit from UC ANR's pest management, irrigation and crop production research, and this partnership with Clif Bar will give UC more capacity to focus on challenges specific to organic farming,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president of agriculture and natural resources. “UC Cooperative Extension advisors work directly with farmers throughout the state so new organic farming techniques can be applied quickly.”

The California Organic Institute is Clif Bar's third organic research endowment and the first in its home state of California, where the company sources several key organic ingredients. Clif Bar is not alone in sourcing from the state, which has the most organic farms in the U.S.: California's nearly 3,000 certified organic farms grow crops on land that represents 21% of all U.S. certified organic land.

“The California Organic Institute will serve many of the organic producers we depend on for ingredients like almonds and figs, as well as farmers outside our supply chain,” said Lynn Ineson, vice president of Sustainable Sourcing for Clif Bar. “We recognize that the future of our food company depends on the ecological and economic success of organic and transitioning farmers.”

Recruitment for an institute director will begin in early 2020, with a search committee including industry representatives and partners. The director will work with a permanent advisory committee, Clif Bar, and UC ANR to launch the institute and recruit additional like-minded partners to support its long-term success.

Ultimately, with the support of UC ANR and a constellation of partners, the California Organic Institute will be in a strong position to increase the performance of organic farming for improved stewardship of natural resources, the economic well-being of rural communities, and greater stability for the next generation of California farmers.

 

Posted on Monday, January 27, 2020 at 11:18 AM
  • Author: Linda Forbes
Tags: January 2020 (13), Organic (3)

Organic growers sought for survey on food safety

Alda Pires and Michele Jay-Russell, center, with food safety project partners.
Certified organic producers use animal-based soil amendments like manure and compost to improve soil fertility and quality. Currently the prevention of microbial contamination of crops has been based on waiting-period criteria of 90 to 120 days between application of raw manure and harvest. However, according to Alda Pires, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the standards are based on little scientific information and require more research and field testing.

Pires and Michele Jay-Russell, program manager with the Western Center for Food Safety, are co-principal investigators on a project to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens on organic farms. They would like UC Cooperative Extension advisors who work with organic produce growers to assist the project by inviting the growers to participate in a new survey on manure use and food safety. The direct link to the survey is https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/manurefoodsafety

The School of Veterinary Medicine and its partners recently brought together more than 30 producers, industry members and experts from across the country to discuss food safety in the fast-growing segment of organic agriculture, as part of a project funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). Participants included representatives from the UC Davis Western Center for Food Safety, the Organic Trade Association, the FDA Division of Produce Safety and the Division of Risk and Decision Analysis, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Association of Compost Producers, the Organic Center, among others.

Information gathered at the workshop on the industry's use of manure and compost will help project leaders develop a full-scale research proposal to assess the efficacy of practices in the U.S. to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens on organic farms. It will also help inform and guide policy such as the FDA's Produce Safety Rule that is recommending more research on waiting periods between raw manure application and harvest.

Facilitated by Pires and Jay-Russell, the workshop featured in-depth discussions, surveys and listening sessions on issues important to organic farmers. Topics included the use of raw manure and compost, rotational grazing practices and extension needs including technology innovations and other tools to help them comply with new food safety regulations. 

“We need to work together to leverage our efforts to prevent foodborne illnesses in the U.S.,” said Jay-Russell. “While one size won't fit all, organic farmers want and need scientific-based tools to help them adapt to change and ensure food safety.”

This national project is a collaboration with the Western Center for Food Safety, which conducts related research, and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Western Institute for Food Safety and Security

Posted on Monday, February 1, 2016 at 8:37 AM
  • Author: Monique Garcia Gunther

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