Posts Tagged: Organic agriculture institute
Cal OAK Network to build on, grow connections between UC and organic community
After pioneering the organic movement in the 1970s, California now leads the nation in number of organic farms, total organic acreage and overall organic crop value. Attaining this status was no small feat, and largely driven by resourceful growers who developed and refined the wide range of novel organic farming practices seen in California today.
Now, with the creation of the Organic Agriculture Institute, the University of California will be able to leverage its vast capacity for research, extension and education to further improve the sustainability, resilience and profitability of organic agriculture in the state.
In its first major public initiative, the Organic Agriculture Institute – a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – is conducting a statewide needs assessment for organic agriculture, as well as forming a knowledge-sharing network that connects UC experts with growers, processors, producer organizations, certifiers, crop consultants, community groups and state agencies.
“This network will be a sustainability partnership that enables learning, innovation and cooperation among organic agriculture stakeholders,” said Houston Wilson, director of the Organic Agriculture Institute, which was established in January 2020. “As facilitator of the Cal OAK Network, the Organic Ag Institute will serve as an intermediary that fosters communication among stakeholder groups, organizes discourse, forges new collaborations, and generally enhances coordination of stakeholder activities.”
By creating closer connections between the UC and the organic community, the Cal OAK Network will foster ongoing feedback cycles of knowledge and best practices, and in doing so help create the conditions and momentum to facilitate the development and adoption of organic production practices.
“The Cal OAK Network will better connect the organic community with UC technical and training resources, while at the same time providing a mechanism for that community to feed information back to the UC that helps us shape our programs at the Organic Ag Institute,” said Wilson, noting potential contributions in areas such as pest control, weed management and crop nutrition.
In the first 18 months of the Institute, Wilson has been charting the current landscape of organic agriculture in California, listening to the needs of stakeholders and working to position the Institute in a way that best uses the UC's unique research and extension capacities to support and augment existing efforts by growers and other groups.
The Institute recently received a planning grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to conduct a formal needs assessment through summer 2022. In surveying growers and other stakeholders, the Institute seeks to identify their primary research and extension priorities, as well as gain a better understanding of the key people and organizations they currently rely on for information about organic production.
Through this process, a map of nodes and connections in the organic community will also take shape – and the roster of members for the Cal OAK Network will continue to grow. As Wilson points out, it is only through a diverse and robust information-sharing system that California organic agriculture will successfully adapt to challenges like climate change.
“We're trying to create a resilient infrastructure for engagement with organic stakeholders,” he said. “When we talk about sustainability in agriculture, part of that is having sustainable institutions that function well and can be flexible and dynamic as new challenges arise down the road.”
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.