Posts Tagged: urban agriculture
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.
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.
Gotham Greens, a pioneer in indoor agriculture operating high-tech greenhouses across the United States, is placing its latest state-of-the-art greenhouse near UC Davis.
“We are building a Controlled Environment Agriculture Consortium to support and advance the indoor farming industry, grow more fresh produce on less land and create new jobs for Californians,” said Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer. “Gotham Greens is an anchoring partner of this research and industry collaboration that we hope will spur innovation, create a new indoor farming workforce and support industry growth.”
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences have entered into a partnership with Gotham Greens to advance research and innovation in the areas of indoor agriculture, advanced greenhouse technology and urban agriculture. The new greenhouse facility enables opportunities for Gotham Greens and the University of California system to collaborate on research and innovation focused on advancing the science, workforce, technology and profitability of indoor agriculture globally.
“We are proud to bring Gotham Greens to the West Coast and partner with one of the highest ranked agricultural research centers in the world to advance the entire agriculture system,” said Viraj Puri, Gotham Greens co-founder and CEO. “California is responsible for growing one-third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the nation's fruits, yet in recent years, issues surrounding drought, food safety and worker welfare have demonstrated the need for continued innovation. Gotham Greens offers consumers clean, safe and sustainably grown leafy greens, herbs and versatile, time-saving plant-based dressings, dips and cooking sauces.”
Located in Solano County, the first phase of Gotham Greens' 10-acre greenhouse facility is expected to open in 2021 and will enable the company to deliver fresh, greenhouse-grown leafy greens to more retailers, foodservice operators and consumers on the West Coast. The company operates one of the largest and most advanced networks of hydroponic greenhouses in North America, where the demand for indoor-grown produce continues to surge. Nearly a decade after launching the nation's first commercial-scale rooftop greenhouse, Gotham Greens continues to reimagine how and where fresh produce is grown across America.
“We're excited about collaborating with Gotham Greens, which is a coveted employer for tomorrow's leaders in agriculture and engineering,” said Helene Dillard, UCD CAES dean. “This partnership will offer our students the chance to learn best practices from leading experts in indoor farming.”
The greenhouse will generate 60 full-time jobs and provide students in the University of California system with an opportunity to learn firsthand from the industry leader. Gotham Greens recently raised $87 million in new equity and debt capital, bringing the fast-growing company's total financing to $130 million and fueling its next phase of growth.
"We are delighted for Gotham Greens to join Solano County's thriving agricultural economy and help to usher in a new era in farming innovation, job creation and economic growth for the region,” said Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez.
Gotham Greens owns and operates greenhouses in New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, Maryland and Colorado. Its products are currently available in more than 40 U.S. states and 2,000 retail stores.
Californians growing food in cities now have help understanding the food safety laws that apply to them. A free publication containing California-specific information on rules and regulations for urban farmers was recently published by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Growing fresh fruits and vegetables in community gardens, backyards and rooftops helps provide more food for urban communities, creates jobs and teaches people about the value of healthy foods, according to Jennifer Sowerwine, lead author and UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley.
"There are a growing number of backyard and community producers who are scaling up to sell some of what they grow,” said Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor based in Los Angeles County and co-author. “We hope this guide will help them navigate the regulations and learn best practices for keeping food safe for consumers."
“California Urban Agriculture Food Safety Guide” provides urban food producers with an overview of food safety laws and regulations that may impact their operations. To help minimize the risk of contamination of foods during their production and exchange, it also provides best practices, or Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).
"People donating produce grown or gleaned from urban environments will learn what laws may apply to them, and practical steps they can follow to minimize the risk of foodborne illness from urban-produced foods,” Sowerwine said.
The 72-page guide covers fresh produce safety, urban soils safety, as well as food safety considerations for eggs, poultry and small livestock in the urban environment. The authors also point out which aspects of the Food Safety Modernization Act apply to urban farms, California laws that apply, record keeping requirements, information on working with gleaners, how to register as a community supported agriculture (CSA) organization, permitting requirements, and how to develop a food safety plan.
Urban farmers can do a food safety assessment of their own farms using a check list included in the publication.
The guide was produced by Sowerwine; Christina Oatfield, Sustainable Economies Law Center policy director; Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture advisor; Alda Pires, UC Cooperative Extension in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Surls; Valerie Borel, UC Cooperative Extension program representative; and Andre Biscaro, UC Cooperative Extension agriculture and environmental issues advisor.
The publication “California Urban Agriculture Food Safety Guide: Laws and Standard Operating Procedures for Farming Safely in the City” is available for free download at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8660.pdf.
Even as Californians shelter in place to contain the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, nutritious food remains vital to the health and well-being of our communities.
“Eating fruits and vegetables is known to benefit our overall health and help our immune system,” said Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute. “At a time when we need to be especially vigilant about staying healthy, eating healthy is essential.”
Farms, farm stands and farmers markets are listed as “essential businesses” in the state shelter-in-place order because they are important parts of the food supply. Urban farms are included in this category. As large produce distributors struggle to switch from selling large quantities to restaurants, schools and institutions to supplying supermarkets, these small businesses may offer a better selection of fresh foods, and may be closer to homes and less crowded.
To help minimize exposure and risk of spreading of the virus, urban farms need to follow some key guidelines from the CDC , said Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension metropolitan agriculture and food systems specialist in the Department of Environment, Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.
UC Cooperative Extension has compiled a list of resources for farmers, community gardeners and other people working in the food system to ensure that they can continue supplying fresh, healthy and affordable food to Californians.
“Social distancing, heightened health and hygiene practices and cleaning and disinfecting reduce the risk,” said Sowerwine.
Although eating a nutritious diet can boost our immunity, the Los Angeles Times reported produce sales plummeted by 90% or more at Southern California produce markets after the statewide shelter-in-place rules went into effect.
“It's worrisome to see that sales of fruits and vegetables are dropping so sharply, but not surprising,” said Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor for Los Angeles County. “As people shop during the crisis, they may be prioritizing groceries that can be stored for a longer time in the fridge or pantry. And they may be on a very limited food budget, even more so than usual, so they are likely prioritizing essentials like bread and rice and baby formula.”
To support farmers in California, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program created a directory at http://www.calagtour.org for consumers to find local farms to purchase produce directly.
For families who have lost jobs and income, the risk of food insecurity increases. Some families could supplement their food from gardens and urban agriculture during this crisis.
Consumers must practice safety, too, when visiting farmers markets and farm stands. UC Cooperative Extension small farm advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard explained, "Things like keeping the minimum six-foot distance from customers, not touching any produce that you're not planning to buy, leaving as soon as you've made a purchase and washing the produce when you get home would be some good guidelines."
The virus is thought to be spread mainly from person to person, however there is evidence that COVID-19 can last for days on hard surfaces, thus the need to ramp up good health and hygiene practices, social distancing and cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces.
University of California research and extension faculty have compiled a list of helpful fact sheets and resources for farmers, community gardeners and other food system workers to ensure fresh, healthy and affordable food for communities across the state:
- Food-related resources for consumers and members of the food industry for COVID-19
- on the UC Davis Food Safety website.
- Sowerwine's PowerPoint presentation Safe Handling Practices for Fresh Produce in a Time of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for urban farmers.
- A set of policies and procedures for safe food handling at the farm during COVID-19 provides step-by-step instructions for applying new food and health precautions on the farm including checklists, standard operating procedures and signage posting guidelines for preventing the spread of infection.
- COVID-19 safety guidelines for farm stands.
- Handouts for safe food-handling at home that can be distributed to customers receiving food from the farm.
All of these resources are posted on the UC Urban Agriculture website at https://ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanAg.
“During this challenging time, I am heartened by the quick and thoughtful responses by many extension, grassroots and institutional efforts, including Community Alliance with Family Farm's COVID-19 Responses and Resources for California Family Farms, Mutual Aid organizations where groups of young, healthy and lower-risk people are bringing food and services to vulnerable people who shouldn't be in public at all, and Bayareafood.info that seeks to support local restaurants, farmers, and food systems workers as they weather this latest storm,” said Sowerwine. “Crisis can spawn innovation, and I am hopeful that through this, we will come out the other end with a more compassionate and resilient food system.”