Posts Tagged: urban
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of backyard poultry farms as people have taken an increased interest in farming. With raising these animals comes new challenges in taking care of them and ensuring they stay healthy.
However, there is a gap between the needs of these small avian communities in Californians' backyards and the current services available that generally work for service large-scale poultry operations alone.
This is where Beatriz Martinez Lopez, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, and Alda Pires, associate professor for Cooperative Extension and agronomist, come into play. Both in UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the two women work on projects addressing avian influenza, animal health and food safety needs of people raising backyard poultry and livestock.
“Alda has a lot of experience and her work is amazing,” said Martinez Lopez.
To better address the diseases and problems associated with raising birds in the California context, they completed a series of needs assessments to understand the animal health requirements of small farms and backyard chickens.
“It has helped us be more organized and structured in our outreach,” Pires said. “There is a need to apply simple, practical biosecurity plans that are adapted for multiple species to small-scale, backyard and diversified farms.”
Through a multistate project funded by the USDA National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, they created a website, FARM PPE, for producers to easily access biosecurity plan templates and additional resources. PPE stands for prepare, prevent and evaluate to reduce disease risk.
“Our clients are benefiting from the structured network we created,” Pires continued. “This website project, FARM PPE, aims to improve uptake of biosecurity measures on small-scale farms, by focusing on farmers and other professionals, including extension educators and veterinarians.”
The website project also created several trainings for farmers and educators to generate consistent messaging for small-scale farms.
With backyard birds being one of the potential sources of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, it is important to understand how the disease could spread to commercial flocks. The major challenge of the project is the complexity of the human/wildlife interface and the difficulties in predicting where an outbreak may arise.
Together, Martinez Lopez and Pires have published several papers about modeling disease transmission, and the work yields valuable information about hotspots for targeting surveillance strategies and wildlife surveys.
Their professional partnership is rooted in their personal connection; the scientists met as graduate students in 2006 and were delighted to cross paths again at UC Davis.
“Our collaboration started with friendship and our common interests in epidemiology and animal health,” said Pires.
As exemplified by their own careers, Martinez Lopez and Pires stress the importance of networking, getting involved and taking risks.
“Invite farm advisors and outreach partners from the beginning of the process so that they are part of the team,” Pires said. “That way you can create solutions that will give them the knowledge and resources they need.”
The pandemic has brought more people into nearby parks and public lands for hiking, biking and other recreational activities. In areas like the East Bay Regional Parks – a San Francisco Bay Area park system totaling more than 120,000 acres where about 65% of the land is grazed by livestock – visitors might see goats, sheep and, most likely, cattle.
Those encounters with animals (or their manure) represent a prime opportunity for members of the public to learn about agriculture and the ecological benefits of rangelands, according to Larry Forero, a UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor.
As livestock grazing (mostly by beef cattle) constitutes a significant portion of land use across the state, Forero – along with fellow UCCE advisors Sheila Barry and Stephanie Larson – recently authored a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources publication summarizing the mechanics of cattle production.
“Beef Cattle on California Annual Grasslands: Production Cycle and Economics,” published in October and available as a free download on the UC ANR Catalog, describes the seasonal phases of cattle production and the factors that impact ranchers' financial calculations and management decisions.
“This concise publication walks through annual stock flows and calendar of operations and gives tables for estimating costs, return over cash, and gross income under various scenarios,” said Forero.
“Even if only a relatively small percentage of park goers are interested, you still touch a lot of people with a document like this,” Forero explained.
He said he hopes park signage and QR codes will direct visitors to the publication for more information about the cattle and their seasonal movements.
“People often wonder where the cattle go when they leave the park and when they will return,” co-author Sheila Barry said. “The cattle may go to grass or feed yards in other places in California or even out of state.”
But, as this new UC ANR publication explains, the cattle production cycle turns over anew.
“There will be more cattle next fall, I promise,” Barry said.
Cover crops, typically planted in early fall, deliver a host of agricultural and conservation benefits. But many growers have gone away from planting them due to technical challenges and extra costs associated with the practice. In partnership with the Contra Costa County Resource Conservation District, two University of California Cooperative Extension advisors collaborated to support farmers' cover cropping efforts and reduce costs.
Kamyar Aram, UCCE specialty crops advisor for Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and Rob Bennaton, UCCE Bay Area urban agriculture and food systems advisor, developed online project content for a free educational series on cover cropping, which entails growing non-cash crops to add beneficial biomass to soils.
“Our site visit videos include a diversity of cropping systems, operation types and scales, and levels of experience with cover crops, so we really capture a variety of perspectives,” Aram said. “Now, with the videos online, I hope that they will serve as tools for other farm educators, as well as a resource for growers directly.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped plans for in-person workshops and visits, the series organizers pivoted to online webinars, starting in fall 2020, which drew more than 150 participants. The recorded videos – which cover basic methods, financial assistance, tips for orchards and vineyards and more – expanded the potential reach and impact of the series far beyond Contra Costa County.
“Each video, whether it's a webinar recording or a virtual site visit, emphasizes different aspects, and the titles are designed to help viewers find the resources they are most likely to benefit from,” said Aram. “There really is something for everyone.”
In particular, the organizers of the series recognized the importance of including technical and extension support to urban and semi-urban farmers in the East Bay and beyond.
“We wanted to make sure to include practical support from fellow farmers that was both accessible and relevant to our diverse small and urban farmers,” said Julio Contreras, UCCE community education specialist. “This meant covering topics like seeding with spreaders or by broadcasting – using small equipment and machinery or no-till systems – and even cover cropping in planter boxes.”
Aram and Bennaton also credited their Contra Costa Resource Conservation District partners: Ben Weise, agriculture conservation manager; Derek Emmons, agriculture conservation coordinator; and Chris Lim, executive director.
The project, funded by a Specialty Crops Block Grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, was also made possible by the generous contributions of time and expertise from presenters and hosts of farm-site visits, according to Aram.
“I hope that the videos will enjoy a long life online; they really contain a wealth of knowledge,” he said.
The series is available for view at http://ucanr.edu/CoverCropsCoCo.
The green leaves of the trees that line city streets soften the visual harshness of concrete and asphalt. Walking in the shade of their canopy, you may not think about how trees live in a small patch of soil surrounded by sidewalks and streets.
Behind every thriving street tree is science. Scientists evaluate trees to determine which species will grow well in a particular environment. Scientists study the best ways to protect the tree against pests and diseases. Scientists research how to prune the tree for the best performance.
“I think that the most overlooked and under-recognized value of trees is the subtle calming and healing effect that urban trees and natural green spaces have on people, and this effect is amplified once people become aware of it,” said Stephen Prée, environmental programs manager and city arborist for the City of El Cerrito. “While trees are calming and sublime, they are also busy at work removing pollutants from the soil and the air as they expel oxygen and moisture.”
“Our community uses our parks and natural areas as a vehicle for personal and community replenishment and revitalization. In the El Cerrito natural area, we see our community members relaxing in the shady ambience of a grove of trees, we see families or friends connecting with each other, we see volunteers working together to sustain native plant habitat,” said Prée, who is partnering with Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor for the Bay Area, on a study of streetside stormwater basins, or bioswales.
University of California Cooperative Extension horticulture advisors and specialists work with arborists, park superintendents, landscapers and many other professionals to support urban trees.
Trees can grow well in bioswales
Bioswales are built to contain stormwater that drains from homes and roads. When landscaped with trees, this green infrastructure provides several “ecosystem services,” says Lacan, such as filtering dust from the air, creating windbreaks, capturing stormwater runoff, muffling street noise, and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. Some arborists are reluctant to plant trees in bioswales, concerned that the trees will fail if they don't have enough space to grow or get too much water in the winter and not enough water in the summer.
New research by Lacan shows trees can grow as well in bioswales as in other landscapes. To evaluate the performance of street trees, he monitored 23 tree species in 93 bioswales across five cities in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Portland, Ore., over five years.
Lacan's study showed that in the Bay Area trees grow well if they are irrigated in the summer, otherwise insufficient soil moisture may limit their growth. Importantly, he also found no evidence of waterlogging in the winter, thanks to quick drainage in the sandy soil. Although bioswale substrates tend to be composed of more sand than silt and clay, Lacan found the bioswale soils contain a comparable amount of plant nutrients to some other urban soils.
“Salinity isn't a problem unless de-icing salts are used,” said Lacan, who is part of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources or UC ANR. “It may become a problem where recycled water is used for irrigation, but routine soil tests are probably not needed unless the trees show symptoms of salinity or nutrient deficiency.”
A grant from UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources enabled Lacan to start the bioswale study, and his successful research garnered additional funding from the U.S. Forest Service to continue the five-year study.
UC Master Gardeners take on BEaST
To share what he's learned, Lacan has enlisted UC Master Gardener volunteers in what he calls the Bioswale Education and Stewardship Training, or BEaST, project in Half Moon Bay. The UC Master Gardener Program is also part of UC ANR.
He is training UC Master Gardener volunteers to document trash and debris accumulation, and assess plant condition and soil texture, compaction, moisture and infiltration rate in bioswales. They report their observations via the smartphone app Survey 123 and a survey created by Lacan.
“That's the power of UC ANR,” Lacan said. “Thanks to the software license that UC ANR holds, we are able to use smartphones to collect data. It makes for a streamlined, comprehensive way to handle data and share the results with our San Mateo County partners who are supporting this project.”
The UC Master Gardener volunteers will in turn teach youth members of 4-H, another UC ANR program, and community members how to care for the plants in bioswales.
Monterey oak survey study
In Monterey County, Lacan is working with Justin Prouty, urban forester for the City of Monterey, on the Monterey Oak Survey Study. For the project, community members collect data on the condition of local oak trees.
“The most valuable aspect of this particular project is community awareness and engagement in their urban forest,” Prouty said. “I believe that having community members out simply observing trees and maybe noticing some of them for the first time is valuable in itself. My hope is the more people become involved in the care and advocacy for their urban forest, the more interest and funding will be directed towards its care.”
This project has helped Prouty and others in his department meet community members who would like to volunteer and advocate for maintaining the urban forest, he said.
“Another important piece is the access to UC Cooperative Extension staff who have insight into forest health and management in similar communities throughout the state,” Prouty said. “Over the past year or so that Igor and I have been working together, I have made connections with several people who have helped influence our strategy towards our own forest management.”
Projects such as these require partners who contribute different skills for the benefit of everyone involved, Lacan said. He explained that the County of San Mateo wanted to partner with him to inform its residents how to care for local stormwater infrastructure.
“For the BEaST project, we need a municipal agency partner in each city where the bioswales are located, then a funding source such as the San Mateo County Stormwater Program, and finally an outreach partner, which is our UC Master Gardeners,” Lacan said. “Without the comprehensive nature of UC ANR, none of this would happen.”
People should care about urban trees, said Prée, “Because the trees are improving the environment for all living things.”
Extreme drought is changing agriculture across California — and urban farming is no exception.
Many community farms and gardens cultivate land owned by city or county departments, schools and private landowners. Lucy Diekmann, a UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food systems advisor in Santa Clara County, says that how those institutions handle rationing or surcharges set by water retailers makes all the difference for urban farmers. Diekmann co-authored a 2017 study looking at how urban agriculture in Silicon Valley was affected by the last period of extreme drought.
For example, priced-based water conservation strategies had very different outcomes depending on the landowner. Diekmann and her co-authors learned that three-quarters of Santa Clara County's community farms had their water bill paid by a project sponsor such as a nonprofit or school, and the sponsor absorbed the increased costs. On the other hand, one city-run community garden raised fees by 27% in one year to discourage water use. Some gardeners either left, dropped off the waitlist or chose smaller plots.
Diekmann and her co-authors point out that a major challenge for water management in urban agriculture is the lack of data. Many community farms and gardens don't have their own meters.
"We recommend that cities and counties subsidize the cost of meters, give financial support for installing watering systems that support conservation, and offer irrigation training," Diekmann said.
Because the water landscape is so uneven for urban farmers — usually in ways that benefit well-resourced groups — Diekmann and her co-authors also write that “affordable, consistent water prices for all UA (urban agriculture) users” must be part of all cities' urban agriculture policy portfolios.
You can read Diekmann's full study at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13549839.2017.1351426.