Posts Tagged: Aparna Gazula
This is one of a series of stories featuring a sampling of UC ANR academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life for everyone, with information about COVID-19 changing daily. For Californians who aren't fluent in English, obtaining reliable information is particularly difficult. Aparna Gazula, a University of California Cooperative Extension advisor who serves Santa Clara, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, has been providing COVID-19-related information in Chinese and Spanish for immigrant Bay Area farmers.
In March, when restaurants shut down to curb the spread of the virus, many restaurants and wholesale produce markets cancelled produce orders placed with farmers. Language, cultural differences, low computer literacy and limited access to computers created barriers for small-scale, immigrant farmers in the Bay Area to quickly find new buyers for their perishable produce. Gazula introduced them to food banks, hoping they would accept the produce donations, but the food banks were not set up to pick up donations from small farmers.
Most small-scale farmers lack the financial capital to absorb the revenue shock. To help offset losses from unsold specialty crops, the UCCE advisor and Qi Zhou, the small farm program assistant specialist, have been helping Asian and Latino farmers complete English-language disaster aid applications.
“Since March, we have helped farmers apply for Covid-19-related farmer relief funds,” Gazula said. So far, she said, four of the 17 immigrant farmers who applied to the American Farmland Trust Farmer Relief Fund have received a total of $4,000, and 10 farmers of the 30 who applied to the California Family Farmer Emergency Fund received a total of $42,500.
Recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded the list of specialty crops eligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to include bok choy, daikon and other vegetables with a deadline of Sept. 11. Communicating by phone and the app We Chat, Gazula and Zhou, who speaks Mandarin, notified local farmers, and advised them how to apply for the disaster funds. Zhou, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service rangeland management specialist Ling He and another NRCS staff member assisted 64 farmers in completing applications over the past week.
Bob Kuang, president of the Bay Area Chinese Growers Association, shares UCCE information with the association's growers.
“Most of my members don't understand English so they [UC Cooperative Extension] help, like for policy and safety,” Kuang said, providing information the growers can't find elsewhere in Chinese.”
When she was a girl, Gazula saw how hard farmers work to make a living off the land while spending summers and winter breaks at her grandparents' farm in India, where they grew rice, mung beans and chili peppers.
“Farmers are very hardworking people, and small farmers even more so as they manage everything on the farm,” said the small farms and specialty crops advisor. “Their grit, determination to succeed and hardworking spirit truly inspire me.”
“I'd like to help them be successful as much as I can,” she said, “be it research-based information to farm successfully or bilingual support to help them better navigate regulations or apply for grant funds.”
In addition to helping farmers apply for financial relief, Gazula alerted the farmers to shelter in place rules and is delivering COVID-19 safety information about masks, sanitation and social distancing requirements in Chinese and Spanish to them.
“We also helped farmers implement COVID-19-related protocols on their farms,” she said. “We are currently putting together 200 COVID-19 kits that will help farmers comply with worker health and safety-related protocols on their farms. The COVID-19 kits contain reusable masks, hand sanitizer, bilingual Cal OSHA guidelines for employers regarding COVID-19, and a resources sheet listing where to buy the enclosed items.”
When she's not involved in COVID-19 crisis communications, Gazula continues to conduct research on nitrogen uptake in bok choy and bell peppers and irrigation management. She collaborates with Linda Chu, Guo Ping Yuan, Han Qiang Kuang and other Santa Clara County growers who allow the farm advisor to study crops on their farms.
“They do research, like test irrigation systems for right amount of water for the crop and nutrition – fertilizer – for the crop. They do lot of things,” said Bob Kuang, of the Bay Area Chinese Growers Association, who provides land at his farm in Gilroy for UCCE studies.
Gazula also advises farmers on how to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on their farms and fulfill irrigated land nitrogen reporting. Fines for not complying with regulations can threaten the economic sustainability of small family farms.
Although the majority of growers she works with regularly have limited English and need assistance filing reports to the government, others consult her for production information they can't get elsewhere for the specialty crops they grow. Farmers of Korean, Japanese, Indian and Vietnamese ancestry and others attend meetings to learn the latest research on Asian vegetables such as daikon radish, napa cabbage, bok choy, on choy and various Asian leafy mustard crops including gai choy and pea shoots.
Gazula, who joined UC Cooperative Extension in 2016, currently works with about 180 small-scale growers in San Benito and Santa Clara counties and hopes to expand her outreach to farmers in Santa Cruz County.
To help small farmers adapt to climate change, Gazula and Zhou partnered with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Healthy Soils Program staff and Santa Clara County Farm Bureau for technical assistance and held workshops during the winter. Zhou helped the farmers apply for grants from the California Department of Food and Agriculture's State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program and Healthy Soils Program. The 22 farmers who received CDFA grants brought a total of $424,111 into Santa Clara County.
The outreach work UC Cooperative Extension does wouldn't be possible without the help of bilingual staff such as Zhou, the scientist Gazula hired with grant funds in September, and some translation support from partner organizations and growers as well.
“Relying on partners for translation support isn't practical,” Gazula explained. “Outreach is most effective when it is targeted. It's not just literally translating words, but translating the information the words convey. Because we provide outreach materials to comply with regulations, the language in these materials is very technical and it's important that the information is presented accurately. We also depend on relationships with the farmers to extend the information within their communities. Long-term, it's easier to do outreach with support from our own staff.”
Competition is stiff for money to serve non-English-speaking Californians because the state is home to so many immigrants with different needs. The majority of the grants she uses for outreach are for food safety. The local Open Space Authority, which promotes preserving land for open spaces, has also provided funds for small and beginning farmer outreach and education.
Gazula draws on the expertise of fellow UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors across the state. For example, she said, Richard Smith, who specializes in vegetable production, and Michael Cahn, who specializes in irrigation and water resources, are always willing to help, even though they are not assigned to serve Santa Clara County.
“Farmers already have tremendous challenges when it comes to being successful,” Gazula said. “I feel language barriers and lack of access to the same resources as fluent English-speaking growers shouldn't be the reason they can't farm successfully.”
UC ANR experts available to comment
California farmers stand to benefit from the addition of more commodities now covered by the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, say UC Agriculture and Natural Resources experts. Yesterday (Aug. 11) the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded eligibility and extended the deadline to apply to Sept 11.
Farmers of aquaculture, nursery crops and flowers, sheep and specialty crops such as dates, dragon fruit, nectarines, pomegranates, pumpkins and many other specialty crops grown in California are now eligible for financial assistance to help keep their operations afloat during the business disruption caused by the pandemic.
Below are UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists who are available for comment:
Daniel Macon, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor serving Placer, Nevada, Sutter and Yuba counties, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Including all sheep will be HUGE for California producers. Most California lambs are born in the fall and marketed in the late spring. The rest of the West has lambs born in the spring and marketed in the fall/winter/early spring. The original CFAP payments provided a maximum payout to lambs that would have been marketed earlier than most California lambs. And provided no payment for what we call running-age ewes (breeding animals).”
Jackson Gross, UC Cooperative Extension aquaculture specialist at UC Davis, email@example.com
“This is a big distinction for our California freshwater fish producers. While it doesn't cover all of the diversity in California aquaculture, it does cover the majority of our industry as far as freshwater fish producers. A specialty crop distinction is important for our fish farmers, making them eligible for specialty crop funding and numerous other federal and state programs that were previously inaccessible.”
Cheryl Wilen, director of UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego County, firstname.lastname@example.org
“It is my impression that ornamental nurseries will really have a good opportunity to recover money for unsold crops.”
Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension small farms and specialty crops farm advisor for Fresno and Tulare counties, email@example.com
"The addition of crops such as bok choy, daikon, winter melon, and turmeric expands the program to include more of the specialty produce grown on small-scale Southeast Asian farms in the Central Valley. However, highly diversified farms may find it difficult to apply for small acreages of multiple crops, and with USDA offices operating remotely, additional technical assistance is needed to support farmers with the application process."
Ramiro Lobo, UC Cooperative Extension small farms and agricultural economics advisor in San Diego County, firstname.lastname@example.org
“The specific mention of minor crops can be significant for small-scale growers in the state, and Southern California in particular for growers of crops like dragon fruit, and other minor subtropicals because it legitimizes them as commercial crops.”
Aparna Gazula, UC Cooperative Extension small farms and specialty crops farm advisor for Santa Clara, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties, email@example.com
“It's great that the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program has been expanded to include more minor crops. I hope the USDA offices have bilingual staff who can work with socially disadvantaged farmers with language barriers that often grow these crops.”
Aliasghar Montazar, UC Cooperative Extension irrigation and water management advisor in Imperial and Riverside counties, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Maintaining date palms over the season is very labor oriented. During February to May, a lot of activities need to be conducted at a certain time. As you know, we had high pressure from the pandemic in the Coachella Valley during these months. It made labor less available, which created some challenges for growers.”
Mae Culumber, UC Cooperative Extension nut crop advisor in Fresno County, email@example.com
“Almonds, pistachios and walnuts commodities all suffered a price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty to 50 percent of the previous season's crop is normally marketed during this time of the year. The CFAP program will provide financial relief for losses due to price decline and spoiled shipments that lost a marketing channel due to the pandemic. Commodity boards are working with the Farm Service Agency to assist producers in applying for the program.”