Posts Tagged: Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program
Over 150 current and prospective organic growers gleaned practical information shared by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources experts at the “Introduction to Small-Scale Organic Agriculture” workshop held virtually on Dec. 15, 2020. While most attendees were from inland San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles and Orange counties, a handful were
“I attended this workshop and it was very helpful to hear different aspects of organic farming from experienced people,” one attendee from Sri Lanka said in an email.
UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) Director Gail Feenstra and Deputy Director Sonja Brodt kicked off the day with a presentation on program goals and resources. SAREP supports the goals of growers by developing more sustainable agricultural practices and effective regional food systems. They described a new online self-directed training program for organic specialty crop farmers in California and those in transition at https://ofrf.org/beginning-farmer-training-program. They also discussed marketing and business management.
Houston Wilson, director of UC ANR's new Organic Agriculture Institute, provided an overview of the program and pointed out that organic farming is expanding throughout California and includes more than 360 commodities. UC ANR will continue to take a lead role in developing and extending research and extension to this important sector, he said.
UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor Rachel Surls discussed legal basics such as permits, licenses and regulations. UC Cooperative Extension organic agriculture specialist Joji Muramoto talked about the importance of soil health, a very popular and important topic. Other UC Cooperative Extension presenters covered nitrogen management (small farms advisor Margaret Lloyd), irrigation management (irrigation specialist Amir Haghverdi), integrated pest management (IPM advisor Cheryl Wilen), and plant diseases (plant pathology specialist Alex Putman).
“Thank you for the great workshop and resource links you provided for workshop materials and beyond! I have already downloaded and started to incorporate information from a few of the UC ANR pest management guidelines and legal and marketing links,” wrote an attendee from Chino. “Tips from peers are always great, too.”
During the afternoon portion of the workshop, five California organic farmers shared tips from their experiences. Carol Hamre (123 Farm, Cherry Valley) spoke about her trials and successes regarding vertebrate pest control and drip irrigation. Grace Legaspi (Tiny Leaf Micro Farm, Temescal Valley) talked about the art and science of growing microgreens. Lisa Wright (RD Flavorfull Farm, Riverside) discussed the importance of planting the right varieties in the right seasons. Arthur Levine (Huerta del Valle, Ontario) stressed the importance of collaboration and working synergistically as a team, and the importance of inclusiveness in all practices. Richard Zapien (‘R Farm, UC Riverside) shared inspiring stories and opportunities regarding the popular and successful UC Riverside community garden he manages.
“I am very glad to attend this workshop as a Bangladeshi,” wrote a grateful attendee from half way around the world. “Really, I have learned many things about organic farming in this workshop. I am working in the Tree nuts sector in Bangladesh but I have only cashew nuts plantation and processing factory…. I want to make an organic farm on 25 acres of land to cultivate vegetables, fruits, livestock, and fishing. Thanks again.”
Following the workshop, an extensive list of UCANR and external resources on topics covered during the workshop was provided to attendees https://ucanr.edu/sites/smallscalefarming/RESOURCES_/.
“I wanted to thank you for such a great webinar,” replied another Southern California participant. “I am a farm business advisor with the non-profit Kitchen Table Advisors and I learned a lot myself. Thank you for providing this list of resources. I look forward to the webinar recordings and slides, which I hope to be able to share with some of my farmer clients.”
The efforts of our co-sponsors also led to the overall success of the workshop. Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (IERCD) Manager Mandy Parkes, co-moderator, discussed district irrigation and soil testing resources and handed out gift certificates throughout the day. Evelyn Hurtado from IERCD volunteered to translate the workshop recordings into Spanish and Maggie O'Neill shared membership information and resources from the San Bernardino County Farm Bureau. Other co-sponsors included the Riverside County and Orange County Farm Bureaus. The California Certified Organic Foundation promoted the workshop and heightened awareness of UC ANR's programs and activities in the field of organic agriculture.
The PowerPoint presentations and recordings in English will be posted on the UCCE San Bernardino County website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/smallscalefarming/ by Feb. 15, 2021, and the Spanish translations later this winter. Next year, if conditions allow, actual farm visits will be included.
Farmers who want to learn organic production practices for California specialty crops can now get training at their convenience on their own computers. The organic farming training is designed by the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Organic Farming Research Foundation and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
“This course includes information from the latest scientific research conducted by our University of California colleagues across the state, and boils it down into practical information for beginning or transitioning organic farmers of fruit, nuts, vegetables and other specialty crops,” said Sonja Brodt, UC SAREP academic coordinator for agriculture and environment.
The training program contains six learning modules: soil health, weed management, irrigation and water management, insect and mite pest management, disease management, and business management and marketing.
“We were able to draw on the expertise of 22 technical advisors, the majority of them from UC Cooperative Extension, UC campuses and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, to ensure the scientific accuracy of the information provided,” Brodt said.
The program provides a combination of written content, videos and do-it-yourself exercises that allow students to follow along at their own pace and test their grasp of the knowledge. Farmers may read or view any parts of the course they choose, in any sequence. No certificate or credit is given at completion.
“While it was developed for California specialty crop farmers, the content is based on foundational principles that are relevant to all organic farmers and our hope is that growers across the U.S. find it to be a useful resource,” said Lauren Snyder, OFRF education & research program manager.
The organic farming training is free. To obtain a link to the training, submit a request at https://ofrf.org/beginning-farmer-training-program.
Funding for this online training program was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM170100XXXXG011. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources) will be welcoming the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) back to its direct oversight effective July 1, 2020.
“This change in management will enable closer collaboration between SAREP and the other statewide programs and institutes administered by UC ANR, while also expanding our current affiliation with the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) to other campuses and partners,” said Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
Humiston also announced that Gail Feenstra, who has been serving as acting director since October 2019, has been appointed director of SAREP, effective July 1, 2020.
Since 1986, SAREP has supported scientific research and education to advance agricultural and food systems that are economically viable, sustain beneficial ecosystem services, and enhance the quality of life in local communities. Moving forward, California farms and food systems face an ever-larger set of challenges: shifting consumer demands,invasive pests, climate change, additional regulations, lack of access to labor, and more. The need for new technologies, better systems and effective problem-solving is greater than ever.
“UC ANR envisions positioning SAREP to serve as a much broader umbrella of sustainability, addressing all aspects of the triple-bottom-line: people, planet and prosperity,” Humiston said. “To accomplish this, SAREP will provide leadership and support to several promising initiatives and will facilitate our ability to capture synergies among them. Those include agritourism, ecosystem services, regional food systems, community and economic development and more.”
Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm said, “The SAREP program provides an opportunity for UC scientists and researchers to integrate their attention across the disciplines of social science, environmental science, and agricultural economics. The challenges facing down California's farmers and farmworkers today demand no less — those challenges are converging from different directions and should not be addressed without attention to long-term sustainability.”
In addition to working with farmers, SAREP partners with community organizations including the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), a statewide network of sustainable farmers and ranchers and allied organizations, agricultural professionals, scientists and advocates.
“The UC SAREP program was a groundbreaking effort to bring the research and education needs of organic and conservation-oriented agriculture to the foreground within our University of California system,” said Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN policy director. “By bringing SAREP back to UC ANR, we hope to see that program flourish as a statewide program that addresses the latest needs of farmers and the environment, including agricultural solutions to climate change.”
CAFF executive director Paul Towers said, “SAREP's next chapter is exciting, strengthening sustainable agriculture research and more deeply connecting it to farmer needs across the state. Achieving our shared vision of a fair and resilient food and farming system is no small feat. So it's great to have an initiative focused on connecting the dots.”
Feenstra, who joined SAREP's staff as a writer in 1989, has spent her career encouraging interdisciplinary research and outreach that span the supply chain from farm to fork. She helped to initiate UC ANR's work in farm-to-school research and extension and was one of the first researchers with her SAREP team to evaluate farm-to-school procurement data rigorously. From projects that focus on small and mid-scale farms to food hubs to food systems assessments to food policy councils, Feenstra is interested in uncovering the economic development potential of coordinated supply-chain stakeholders and opportunities for building relationships between farmers, consumers and communities.
“I am excited to be part of a stellar SAREP team working more closely with UC ANR colleagues and community partners on strengthening resiliency of regional food systems and supporting economic and social justice for all people – from farmers and farmworkers to food system workers to consumers,” Feenstra said.
Feenstra earned an Ed.D. in nutrition education from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, and a B.S. in dietetics and nutrition from UC Davis.
“Our sincere thanks go to UC Davis CAES and Tom Tomich, who has served as SAREP director since 2007, for their leadership and support of the program,” Humiston said.
As part of the transition, the SAREP team will relocate from the UC Davis campus to the UC ANR building at 2801 Second Street in Davis, Calif. The move is planned to be completed by July 1, although timing may be impacted by ongoing shelter-in-place orders.
Powers of microbes: UC Davis graduate students get creative to teach farmers about soil microbiology
If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s (or were a child at heart during that era), the famous Powers of Ten film likely left an indelible mark in your mind.
The film starts with a couple lounging on a picnic blanket and zooms out to the outer reaches of the universe, then back in to peer into the microscopic world of the human body: from white blood cells to DNA, and finally down to the proton of a carbon atom.
In its short 9-minute run time, Powers of Ten manages to inflame an existential angst about the size of a single human life while at the same time connecting the viewer to the beauty of the universe and the human body.
As a high school student watching the video, it filled me with the same sense of awe that I felt the first time I heard Carl Sagan's famous quote that “we are all made of star stuff.”
Powers of Ten reminds us that looking at the world from different perspectives, from the very tiny to the immensely large, helps create a better understanding of the natural world, our place within it, and how we can impact it for good.
Had Powers of Ten returned from outer space by zooming into a piece of soil rather than a the human body, it would have explored the billions of living creatures in one handful of soil, slowly scaling down from millipedes to earthworms to ants to nematodes to protozoa, and finally down to the soil's bacteria and fungi that make up the base of the soil food web.
The video might then have looked a lot like the recent workshop at the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, which served as a science fair for farmers and researchers to learn about the minuscule but powerful soil microbe.
While farmers often have a baseline knowledge about soil microbiology and its importance on the farm, “the science is evolving so quickly at this point, that it can be hard to keep up,” said attendee Margaret Lloyd, UC Cooperative Extension advisor who works with small-scale farmers in Yolo and Sacramento counties.
The workshop coupled foundational principles of soil microbiology with practical on-farm management situations, making the case for farmers to actively consider soil bacteria, fungi, and other micro organisms in their decision-making process.
Jessica Chiartas, a fourth-year graduate student in soil microbiology and one of the workshop organizers, is somewhat of a soil science evangelist.
Her hope was to help workshop attendees better understand that “soils are not just physical, chemical systems. A majority of the processes that take place underfoot are biologically driven. Soils are living and breathing bodies and much like us, they need to be fed, covered, and protected from disturbance” in order to function in the long term.
The scale of microbial activity in soil makes it challenging to help farmers dig into just what scientists are talking about when they talk about microbes.
“It's important to talk about the scale of microbes,” Chiartas said. “So much of what goes on in soils is mediated by microbes and the scale that they operate on is far different than the scale we measure them at. Our typical method of soil sampling and analysis is analogous to harvesting whole fields of crops, chopping them up, throwing them in a heap and then trying to glean information about the individual plants.”
The presenters at the soil health workshop used vivid analogies to translate the abstract results of scientific research and hard-to-imagine scales into concrete, relatable concepts.
A single gram of soil may contain a billion bacteria, and several miles of fungal hyphae, the web-like growth of fungus. Translated into human scale, the numbers are mind boggling.
If a single microbe were a 6-foot-tall person, then a single millimeter of soil would be as tall as the empire state building. A typical soil bacterium contains as many DNA letters in its chromosome as two copies of “War and Peace.” A stack of copies of “War and Peace” equivalent to bacterial DNA from a single teaspoon of soil would be larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.
A soil information revolution
The metaphors of scale are a fun thought experiment, and they could provide a jumping-off point for a discussion between farmers and scientists essential for improving our current understanding of soil as a living system. Climate change is expected to amplify the effects of soil erosion, compaction, nutrient leaching and other issues common in our current agricultural systems.
“We need improved management that works with the soil ecosystem to increase crop production while enhancing soil health,” said Radomir Schmidt, a postdoctoral researcher and workshop organizer. ”That's going to take a concerted effort and open dialog between farmers, scientists, and citizen scientists to discover, test, and implement these methods in the real world.”
We are now in the era of “soil information revolution," Schmidt said. As our knowledge of the soil microbiome expands, implementing this knowledge in agricultural practice is more and more possible.
This graduate student cohort is well-positioned to make the necessary connections, learning from farmers while helping them zoom in to see the essential lifeforms that impact their farm, then zoom out to help make decisions that are good for the farmer, good for the crop, and good for the microbe.
Farmers in the Davis area will have another opportunity to learn soil health fundamentals at a workshop this fall hosted by the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility. Details about the workshop will be posted here.
Sonja Brodt, academic coordinator in the UC ANR Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and Elias Marvinney, a graduate student in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, hosted a webinar on July 29 to discuss their life cycle assessment analyzing the environmental impacts associated with walnuts, prunes, peaches, almonds and pistachios. The researchers are quantifying energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in orchard crop production both on the farm and beyond.
Research by the UC Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists found that almonds have a relatively small carbon footprint and could become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative, largely through incorporating orchard biomass into the soil or using the biomass, hulls and shells for renewable power generation and dairy feed.
To watch a free recording of the Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Energy Use in California Orchard Crops webinar, go to http://bit.ly/1ITIbKr.
Brodt and Marvinney co-authored two related articles published in the current issue of Journal of Industrial Ecology examining the environmental impact of the almond industry.
The first article, "Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part I: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results," is authored by Alissa Kendall, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Marvinney, Brodt and Weiyuan Zhu, a UC Davis graduate student in horticulture and agronomy.
Marvinney is lead author of the second article, "Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part II: Uncertainty Analysis through Sensitivity Analysis and Scenario Testing," in collaboration with Kendall and Brodt.
This research was supported by grants from the Almond Board of California and the CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.