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UCCE advisor John Borba retires after 30-year career helping youth in Kern County

John Borba

John Borba, UC Cooperative Extension Kern County's 4-H youth development advisor, retired on July 1. For over 20 years, Borba has been key to the success of the 4-H program in Kern County, which affords young people an opportunity to test and strengthen their leadership skills while finding and building community.

Borba began working with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1992 as the 4-H program representative for Tulare County. In 1999 he relocated to Oregon to work as an advisor for Oregon State University's Extension team before returning to California in Kern County in 2000.

For 30 years, Borba has focused on improving the lives of young people.

“I appreciated many things about John,” said Marianne Bird, 4-H youth development advisor for Sacramento County. “He was never the ‘sage on the stage,' but rather a thoughtful, competent partner who led from behind. And I loved to watch him teach – asking questions, engaging his audience, enthusiastic about his topic. He was an excellent teacher.”

Bird and Borba worked closely together, supporting and developing statewide 4-H camp programs for 15 years.

“He helped lead an amazing team of 4-H staff, volunteers, youth and academics in some of the most rewarding work of my career,” Bird said.

Together, Bird and Borba prioritized program improvement by presenting research findings at national and international camp conferences, conducting eight statewide conferences, developing camp safety and risk management resources, and authoring two books.

Among the 4-H activities offered in Kern County, Borba oversaw Operation Military Kids for children whose parents were deployed by the National Guard and the Reserves, connecting them with resources, social enrichment, recreational activities and educational opportunities.

To attract more Latino youth, families and volunteers into 4-H, Borba and his 4-H colleagues developed culturally relevant programs. As a result, the number of Latino youth participating in the 4-H program increased more than 250% in three years. The National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals recognized the achievement with its Diversity & Inclusion: Expanding the 4-H Audience Award in 2021.


Borba, far right, teaching youth in the outdoors.

“Of the many programs, research projects, and activities that John led, it was his dedication to the Shooting Sports Program that had the most impact on and created significant impact for the youth and families who participated,” said Russell Hill, associate 4-H youth development advisor for Madera and Mariposa counties.

Borba's support resulted in the program – which promotes safety sportsmanship and ethical behavior – serving more than 4,500 youth annually with at least 16 hours of instruction to the more than 1,000 volunteers throughout his tenure. 

“John really took the Shooting Sports program to a level of coordination, improved training and volunteer development, and tracking of data,” Hill said.

While his work focused on youth, Borba's leadership and positive impact were felt among his colleagues as well. Borba, who earned an M.S. in human resources from Chapman University, contributed greatly to the workplace environment and culture.

“I am grateful for being able to work with and for John Borba as the director and advisor in this office for 10 years,” said Carol Heaton, Kern County 4-H office support technician. “It is without question that he treats everyone the same way: direct, considerate, honorable, with understanding and compassion. All this with a keen sense of humor. He is someone I look up to.”

Sue McKinney, 4-H program representative, agreed and added that Borba is the best supervisor she has ever had. 

“He was always quick to share his knowledge,” McKinney said. “In everything he did you could see his deep dedication to the 4-H program. He will be greatly missed by everyone in this office.”

Southwest 4-H Leader Amy Andrews notes that 4-H youth and leaders in Kern County will surely miss Borba's presence too.

“John Borba is a kind, helpful and caring person towards each and every person, whether they are in 4-H or not,” Andrews said.

In retirement, Borba, who has received the prestigious emeritus status from UC ANR, will continue to serve young people by developing a 4-H Avian Embryology Program. It is expected to launch in 2023.

“The goal of this program is to serve as an outreach tool for the Kern County 4-H program and the University of California. It has the potential to reach thousands of youth who would normally not be able to participate in a 4-H club,” he said, explaining that many of the participants are from populations underserved by the traditional 4-H club model.

Borba is hopeful that this program will contribute to enhanced classroom learning experiences and excite young people about animal science and food production processes. He also believes that it will contribute to improved behavior and attendance in school.

Borba, left, carefully passing on an egg to a youth member.



Posted on Monday, July 11, 2022 at 11:04 AM
Focus Area Tags: 4-H

UCCE advisor Lynn Wunderlich to retire after 22 years as farm advisor

Serving Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado and Tuolumne counties, UC Cooperative Extension advisor Lynn Wunderlich was formally assigned to focus on viticulture and integrated pest management in the region. But her innate curiosity – as well as her dedication to meeting the wide-ranging needs of local communities – led her to develop expertise in a remarkable array of topics.

“That was both the challenge and the opportunity of being a foothill farm advisor – lots of small farms, lots of diverse agriculture, so I got to do some cool things,” said Wunderlich, who is set to retire on July 1. “To serve the needs of the clientele up here was very gratifying and interesting.”

Wunderlich earned her bachelor's degree in bacteriology and plant pathology from University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master's in plant protection and pest management from UC Davis. After several years as a UCCE staff research associate in Ventura and Monterey counties, Wunderlich began as a UCCE farm advisor in 2000 for El Dorado and Amador counties.

Lynn Wunderlich conducted trials with Nordmann fir, a pest-resistant Christmas tree species, just one example of the breadth of her work. Photo by Robin Cleveland

Although initially tasked with supporting tree fruit and specialty crop growers in topics such as researching alternative methods for managing codling moths, Wunderlich soon found herself studying organizational dynamics and bylaws to help the Placerville Fruit Growers Association cooperative transition to become a Limited Liability Company.

“It was really different than anything I'd been trained in before,” Wunderlich said.

That early experience set the tone for the rest of her career, as she continued to seek out – and share – knowledge across the expansive breadth of her work. In 2007, Wunderlich took on the viticulture role in Amador and El Dorado counties, where grape growers sought counsel on controlling a newly discovered pest.

“Every farm advisor has some quintessential moments of their career, and Gill's mealybug was one of mine,” Wunderlich recalled. “It's really unique; it's not found in very many places in California and it had never been described as a pest on wine grapes.”

In addition to developing effective management tactics for Gill's mealybug, Wunderlich worked with growers and the late Doug Gubler, UCCE specialist emeritus, to set up seven powdery mildew stations and rain gauges across the foothills. The stations filled a great need in the region by providing accessible, applicable pest and disease forecasting and precipitation data.

Crediting her colleagues' tutelage, Wunderlich also deepened her understanding of the diverse soils in the foothills and the latest research on evapotranspiration on wine grapes – all in the name of delivering the most current and useful information to growers.

Wunderlich "hunting" for Gill’s mealybug, a unique mealybug pest in her region. Photo by Robin Cleveland
“Lynn provided our growers excellent guidance, knowledge, and networking with a passionate thirst for continued discovery, and she always brought her wonderful smile and signature friendly demeanor to our farms and meetings,” said Chuck Mansfield, general manager of Goldbud Farms. “Farming often goes hand-in-hand with setbacks, but Lynn's continued pursuit of knowledge offered our growers motivation, hope, new strategies, and ultimately success against many of the recent challenges presented by Mother Nature.”

When Christmas tree growers in the foothills found their white firs decimated by a phytophthora pathogen, Wunderlich helped them switch to Nordmann and Turkish firs, which were naturally resistant. She became one of only a few experts in the UC system on these conifers, and, in one of her last accomplishments as farm advisor, organized the International Christmas Tree Research and Extension Conference in California earlier this month.

Another late-career highlight for Wunderlich was developing training materials on the proper calibration and use of air blast sprayers. Alongside Franz Niederholzer, UCCE farm advisor for Sutter, Yuba and Colusa counties, and UC IPM colleagues Lisa Blecker, Petr Kosina and Cheryl Reynolds, Wunderlich developed, delivered and evaluated a curriculum that included both in-person classes and online components. Their efforts were recognized with an IPM Achievement Award from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and the online course continues to be used today.

“It's nice to be able to leave something like that behind; its principles are still valid, no matter what type of sprayer you're using,” said Wunderlich, citing it as one of her enduring legacies.

In retirement, Wunderlich plans to continue her lifelong learning and also spend more time with friends and family – especially on camping trips on the east side of the Sierra.

And, as for growers such as Chuck Mansfield, they hope Wunderlich will stay connected.

“While we are all very happy for Lynn, her presence will be sorely missed,” Mansfield said. “We hope Lynn remains a regular fixture and friend in our community.”

Posted on Wednesday, June 29, 2022 at 2:18 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Food

UC Cooperative Extension advisor John Karlik retires after a 38-year career in Kern County

John Karlik, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Kern County for environmental horticulture and environmental science, will retire July 1. Karlik began his work in Kern County in 1984 with an emphasis on the commercial rose plant industry and local horticulture outreach.

Karlik's teaching activities included five levels of 12- to 15-week horticulture education classes offered in three locations in Kern County, usually two or three classes held each year. For the past 25 years, he has collaborated with Darrell Feil, co-owner of Abate-a-Weed in Bakersfield, to hold landscape management seminars that connect community members with experts on a wide range of topics.

John Karlik has shared his knowledge extensively across the globe, including on horticulture study tours to places like Iceland.

“What I love about John is a couple of things: first, his knowledge base is amazing – he's a treasure of Kern County, for what he's done education-wise,” Feil said. “And second, he has a very active mind – and so many people benefit from that in our community.”

Karlik expanded his teaching to include 10 horticulture study tours to gardens and landscapes of Europe and Asia, and the photographs from those visits enhanced his outreach and contributed to his chapters on landscape design in the Arizona and UC Master Gardener Handbooks.

He earned his B.S. in soil science from the University of Minnesota and M.S. in horticulture from Michigan State University.

Taking advantage of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' flexibility and sabbatical leave, he completed a doctorate at UCLA in Environmental Science and Engineering, and changed his research focus to air-quality-related projects. That led to a lecture series on atmospheric science and policy, including climate change, which Karlik offered annually for 15 years as a visiting professor at Central European University in Budapest, and resulting in a service award from that institution.

In recent years, he led four tours to study ecosystem response in the still-radioactive Exclusion Zone at Chernobyl, Ukraine, site of the world's worst nuclear accident.

Karlik prepares to take down a mulberry tree at a UC Research and Extension Center.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Karlik shifted from in-person classes and offered 75 hour-long Zoom presentations on horticulture, landscape design, climate change and environmental science topics, finding an audience in California and in other states.

Karlik also has held a variety of positions in ANR committees, including Academic Assembly Council and the Communications Advisory Board.

“I especially appreciate the many collegial relationships I have within UCCE, ANR, and on several campuses,” Karlik said. “Authorship on many publications reflects those relationships.”

In retirement, Karlik expects to offer assistance at the UCCE office in Kern County and as an editor for a forthcoming ANR book. He intends to pursue interests in instrumental music and the study of languages.

“We've been really blessed to have a guy like John around,” Feil said.

Posted on Wednesday, June 29, 2022 at 11:11 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment, Health, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

Lori Renstrom reflects on achievements with UCCE San Diego, UC ANR Staff Assembly Council

During nearly 20 years at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Lori Renstrom has embodied the spirit of the organization: a dedication to service and a roll-up-your-sleeves, whatever-it-takes ethic.

“It's true for most people at ANR – especially in a team kind of environment,” said Renstrom, the office manager at UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego since 2010. “People just seem to pitch in and get things done. It needs to be done, and so it gets done.”

As she gets ready to retire on July 1, Renstrom can look back on a whole lot of “done” in her vital administrative role – including transitioning all personnel from San Diego County support staff to UC employee status, moving the entire operation to a new building when their former one was demolished, and opening a satellite office in Escondido, in the north part of the county.

Lori Renstrom, office manager at UCCE San Diego, began her career with UC ANR as a program manager for Off to a Good Start.
Renstrom said another major highlight was collaborating with UC Master Gardeners and the sheriff's office to establish a garden at a girls' rehabilitation facility. She was touched when several young women wrote thank-you letters, expressing how working in the garden helped them heal from trauma and guide their personal growth.

“They were just really heartfelt letters, so it was just really rewarding,” Renstrom recalled. “You feel like you're really doing something for the community, and the girls were so appreciative.”

Her passion for helping young people first brought Renstrom to UCCE San Diego in 2003, when she served as program manager for Off to a Good Start, under First 5 California, a statewide movement to promote early childhood development.

The program, funded for 8½ years at UCCE San Diego, offered educational opportunities and resources to families and local organizations – especially in the predominantly Hispanic communities of the South Bay – to assist them in providing the best environment for learning and growth for their children.

“We literally helped thousands of parents really understand that they are their child's first and most important teacher,” Renstrom said.

Renstrom's commitment to strengthening communities also extended to UC ANR itself. In 2014, she attended a workshop that revealed the results of a UC-wide work environment survey, as well as the challenges and opportunities across the system. For UC ANR, it was the need for a representative body for nonrepresented staff.

“Being here in San Diego, I would get UC San Diego's Staff Assembly bulletin; we were quote-unquote ‘members' of UCSD Staff Assembly and so I was like, ‘Why don't we have one?'” said Renstrom.

Responding to Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Glenda Humiston's call for volunteers, Renstrom played an instrumental role in defining the function, structure and bylaws of the nascent Staff Assembly Council. She also served as treasurer for its first two years, and was UC ANR's first senior delegate to the Council of University of California Staff Assemblies.

In addition to providing support for ANR employees, Staff Assembly Council was invaluable in making more people across UC aware of the organization's work throughout the state, Renstrom said.

“Not only are we connected throughout the state for ANR, we're now being connected with all the UC campuses, which is amazing…it kind of starts connecting dots for people,” she explained.

Another original member of ANR Staff Assembly Council, Nikolai Schweitzer, said that Renstrom has been invaluable in a variety of roles during the first seven years of the body's history.

“Lori's leadership skills with creating, developing and managing the Staff Assembly Ambassador program, the Wellness Program and the 2018 Statewide ANR Conference Staff Assembly events have been unparalleled,” said Schweitzer, agriculture supervisor at UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. “Lori's dedication and service to UC ANR Staff Assembly is the reason for its successes and her contributions will be missed.”

In retirement, Renstrom aims to tackle home improvement projects, read to kids at the local library, and travel with family, friends and “active senior groups.” And, befitting her personality and career, she will not be joining those tours where participants passively watch the world go by.

“I don't want to ride a bus and just look at things through the bus window,” she said with a laugh.

Posted on Wednesday, June 29, 2022 at 9:35 AM
Focus Area Tags: 4-H, Family

Director of the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center retires

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Dahlberg, also the director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE) in Parlier, invoked his 35 years of sorghum expertise to increasing interest in growing the crop in California and to better understanding plants' ability to tolerate drought. Dahlberg retires Jan. 8.

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the early 1980s, Dahlberg was intrigued by sorghum, a staple food being cultivated by the country's vast population of subsistence farmers.

“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “Nigerien farmers relied solely on rain for their sorghum and millet crops.”

Upon returning to the U.S., he earned a master's degree at the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. at Texas A&M, where his research focused on sorghum. He worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Puerto Rico for 7 years and then spent the next 10 years as research director with the National Sorghum Producers in Lubbock, Texas.

When Dahlberg took the helm of the 330-acre UC agricultural research center in 2010, he and colleagues at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center and at UC Davis began conducting sorghum forage variety trials. Sorghum wasn't new to California. In the past, it had mainly been used for animal feed. But Dahlberg believed the crop's adaptability – excellent for forage, biofuels and gluten-free human food – offered the grain a rosy future in the Golden State.

"With our research, we have provided California farmers who are thinking about growing sorghum access to locally generated, research-based information to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.

Jeff Dahlberg, center, with a delegation of Chinese sorghum scientists on Sept. 24, 2015, in a sorghum field at Kearney.

In 2015, Dahlberg and UC Berkeley specialist Peggy Lemaux launched a sweeping drought research project at KARE. The five-year study, funded with a $12.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, researched the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum and how soil microbial communities interacted with sorghum roots to battle drought stress.

A journal article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 presented the first detailed look at the role of drought in restructuring the root microbiome. The plant switches some genes on and some genes off when it detects water scarcity and access to water.

“That has implications for feeding the world, particularly considering the changing climate and weather patterns,” Dahlberg said.

In recent years, Dahlberg helped reestablish tea research at Kearney, initiated nearly 60 years ago in a study funded by Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. At the time, Lipton was seeking to grow tea for the instant tea market. When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney.

Those shrubs became the basis for a new tea research trial planted at Kearney in 2017 with UC Davis professor Jackie Gervay Hague to determine whether drought stress impacts the production of phenolics and tannins in the tea.

“We know we can grow good tea here and we can grow high tonnage,” Dahlberg said. “We want to determine if we can do that on a consistent basis and whether we can improve tea quality through irrigation management.”

In retirement, Dahlberg plans to relocate to Lake Ann, Mich., to be close to family. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali will serve as interim director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Posted on Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 8:33 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

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