Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Urban indoor vertical farm run partly by robots may be glimpse into the future – from LAist

Vertical farming.

By Stefan A. Slater

From the outside, the gray and white warehouse near the corner of Oris Street and Mona Boulevard seems like a thousand other mundane Southern California buildings. But the interior, once completed, will resemble a sketch from a futurist’s daydreams. If all goes well, the 95,000-square-foot Compton facility will house rows of hydroponic towers organized into emerald walls of non-GMO, pesticide-free leafy greens. These plants won’t rely on sunlight in order to grow. Gleaming LED lamps will provide all the light the crops could ever want. Robots will transport seedlings while other machines move the towers as part of an orchestrated production process. Picture a grow room in a futuristic Martian colony and you’re probably on the right track.

The operation is run by Plenty, a San Francisco-based startup that uses vertical farming to create high-quality, nutritious plants “you’d actually want to eat” (their words). Stated another way, they grow crops, often without natural light or soil, in vertically stacked beds in enclosed and controlled environments.

Plenty wants to build at least 500 of these vertical farms around the planet, especially in densely populated cities of at least 1 million people.

The first Plenty farm, in South San Francisco, went into production in 2018, and was upgraded in the summer of 2019 to increase production. For its agricultural second act, the company chose Compton.

Plenty’s long-term goals go beyond tasty salad greens. It wants to combat food apartheid by bringing healthy, locally-grown crops to communities that lack access to nutritious produce.

“We want to invest in places where we can serve a large number of people,” says Shireen Santosham, the company’s head of strategic initiatives. “Compton can help us better serve Los Angeles while also allowing us to invest in a community with a long history of farming.”

The goal for Plenty’s Compton outpost, once it’s running at full capacity, will be to create enough produce to make regular deliveries to hundreds of grocery stores. In early August, the company reached an agreement with Albertsons to provide 430 of its California stores with assorted leafy greens.

Company reps say the Compton site will initially focus on producing kale, arugula, fennel and bok choy before adding strawberries to its repertoire. They expect prices to be similar to organic leafy greens currently on grocery store shelves.

The company was hoping its Compton farm would be able to bring produce to market by the end of 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic altered that timeline. Plenty now hopes to start its first customer deliveries sometime in 2021.

WHY COMPTON?

Los Angeles has for centuries been a land of citrus groves, peachesolives and even vineyards, and Compton was no exception. In the late 1860s, Reverend Griffith Dickenson Compton led roughly 30 people from Stockton to settle in and cultivate the area. Rough weather and tremendous floods nearly destroyed their dreams, but they persisted, and their agricultural efforts eventually began to thrive.

In 1888, Compton donated his land and the area was incorporated as the city of Compton under the condition that a swath of it be zoned for agriculture. That particular area — a 10-block neighborhood sandwiched between downtown Compton and what’s now the 91 Freeway — became Richland Farms, known for a variety of crops including pumpkins, sugar beets and cauliflower. By the 1940s and ’50s, Compton had become a working-class suburb. African American families, many of whom had moved to the West Coast to work in military production during World War II, settled there and were drawn to the Richland Farms neighborhood. With its large lots and agricultural zoning, residents could grow crops and raise livestock to provide for their families and their community.

Richland Farms — home of the Compton Cowboys — remains a living link to Compton’s agricultural past. Drawing on that history, Plenty began designing and developing its Compton vertical farm (located a few miles north of Richland) in the summer of 2019.

“There is just a rich tradition of farming in Compton, and to have Plenty come back in an innovative way is exciting for our community,” Compton Mayor Aja Brown says.

City officials are working with the company to connect its facility with nearby schools so kids can learn about vertical farming and the technologies associated with it.

OK, BUT WHAT EXACTLY IS A VERTICAL FARM?

Compared to traditional field agriculture, which humanity first started tinkering with approximately 12,000 years ago, vertical farming is in its infancy.

One of the first vertical farms was a hydroponic system built in Armenia sometime before the early 1950s, although there’s not much information about it.

The modern vertical farm, at least in the way we think of it, was popularized two decades ago by Dickson Despommier, an emeritus professor of public and environmental health at Columbia University.

In 1999, he wanted students in his medical ecology class to explore ways they could feed New York’s residents on crops grown entirely within the city. They started with rooftop gardens but those barely made a dent in the amount of food they needed. Then, Despommier remembered the city’s abandoned buildings. “What if you could fill up those buildings with the grow system that you’ve instituted on the rooftop and just increase food production?” he says.

The result was a multi-level, urban farm featuring layers of crops stacked on top of one another.

Until the 21st century, commercial vertical farming seemed like the stuff of utopias, a grand if impractical dream evangelized by a handful of futurists and agricultural techies. But the last few years have seen a jump in interest — and venture capital. Between 2016 and 2017, investments in vertical farming grew nearly eightfold.

In 2017, Plenty received $200 million from several high-profile investors including Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. One of its East Coast competitors, Bowery Farming, received a $90 million investment from Google Ventures.

AeroFarms, which uses aeroponics to grow produce, scored $40 million from IKEA and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai. The United Arab Emirates is also hoping vertical farming will boost the country’s limited domestic food production. The Abu Dhabi Investment Office sunk $100 million into four ag-tech companies, including Aerofarms, which plans to build a new vertical farm and R&D center in Abu Dhabi.

WHY DO WE NEED THEM?

Vertical farming is all about efficiency. The process allows growers to control and monitor light, oxygen, nutrients, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels. In a vertical farm, you don’t need to wait for the right season. Growth and harvesting can occur year-round.

Plenty’s approach relies on automation, intricate sensors, machine learning and hydroponic grow towers where plants are cultivated in a nutrient-rich water solution instead of soil. With this method, the company claims it can grow 350 times as much produce, per square foot, as a conventional, outdoor farm — all while consuming a fraction of the water.

“[Vertical farms] are much more water-use efficient than field production,” Neil Mattson, associate professor of plant science at Cornell University, says.

Santosham claims Plenty’s vertical farms will use “about 1% of the land and 5% of the water” required by a comparable traditional farm.

Producing more food with less land is a must if we want to keep humanity fed.

By 2050, Earth will have 9.8 billion residents and two-thirds of them will probably live in a city. In places like Los Angeles or New York, where real estate doesn’t come cheap, vertical farms could be installed without taking up much space.

Produce from vertical farms would also be less likely to spoil since it would, in theory, only travel a few miles to the nearest grocery store, market or restaurant, instead of sitting on a plane or cargo ship for hundreds or thousands of miles.

Plus, vertical farms could help make our food supply chain more resilient.

Since March, the pandemic has impacted everything from beans to strawberries. When the hospitality industry shut down, some farmers had buyers for only half of their crops, so they had to let them rot or plow them back into the soil. Dairy farmers dumped millions of gallons of milk. Meat plants have had to shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Plus, the workers who pick the crops, raise the cows and run the slaughterhouses have been ravaged by the virus. And all of this has been happening while hunger skyrockets. In the last six months, food banks have seen a surge in demand, in some cases by as much as 600% percent.

“I don’t think all of our food is going to come from urban production,” Mattson says. “It does add diversity to our food supply chain to have some of our produce — the nutrient-dense foods — come from close to where they’re consumed.”

With COVID-19 exposing the weaknesses in our food supply chain, Mattson believes indoor growing (which includes vertical farming and greenhouses) and more localized production might get their moment in the high-intensity LED spotlight: “We’re going to see these trends happen even quicker than if we hadn’t encountered COVID.”

A PEEK INSIDE

The Compton farm is still under construction but the company is using its existing South San Francisco facility as a template.

That facility, which started in 2015 as a container farm, features 50,000 square feet of production space and a roughly 10,000-square foot grow room. It provides produce to approximately 40 grocery stores and runs entirely on solar and wind power.

The Compton farm will feature a similar grow system. Employees, referred to as growers, will oversee the process of cultivating seeds into seedlings. Robotics will transfer the seedlings to large vertical grow towers, arranged to form what looks like a vast, green wall.

The amount of time produce spends in the grow room depends on the crop. Nate Storey, chief science officer and co-founder of Plenty, explains that one leafy green crop might go through the entire process from seedling production to harvesting in two to three weeks. That’s significantly less time than if those crops were grown via traditional agriculture.

On a large, outdoor farm in the Salinas Valley, baby kale would typically require 35 to 50 days, depending on the time of year, before it was ready for harvest, according to Richard Smith, a University of California Cooperative Extension vegetable advisor for the Central Coast.

“For something like lettuce, where you might be waiting for several weeks in the field, we’re carving a significant amount of time off that production schedule,” Storey says.

Once the plants spend some time in Plenty’s grow room, robots pick up the towers and retrieve the produce, which is moved to a processing area where it’s packaged. Through it all, human hands never touch the food.

“We’re able to create an environment that’s so favorable to plants and not pathogens or pests that we can deliver a product without ever applying pesticides, which is a big win,” says Nick Kalayjian, senior vice president of engineering at Plenty.

In fact, without bugs or human contact, he claims Plenty’s produce doesn’t need to be washed. Kalayjian also says the small adjustments in temperature, water, nutrients and light result in produce that’s at the peak of flavor.

Plenty sent me samples of their baby kale, baby arugula and Sweet Sunrise mix, a combo of fennel, beet leaves and other greens. Did visions of tree stars seize me and shatter all perception of space and time? No. But they did taste exceptionally fresh. The flavors were strong, clean and… just good. I found myself snacking on the Sunrise mix straight from the package, something I never do with greens.

WHERE DO WE GROW FROM HERE?

Vertical farms aren’t cheap to build. They also require a lot of energy to run, much more than conventional field agriculture or greenhouses. “That, to me, is one of the big sticking points,” Mattson says.

In a 2020 study, Mattson and other Cornell University researchers studied the economic and environmental impacts of bringing leaf lettuce to U.S. cities via field-based agriculture vs. CEA (controlled environmental agriculture) supply chains such as greenhouses and vertical farms.

“We had almost the same carbon footprint of growing in a greenhouse in New York City as compared to field growing and shipping 3,000 miles. The vertical farm had about twice the carbon footprint of either of those,” Mattson says.

In Plenty’s case, making sure their farms operate on sustainable, renewable power is a priority. The South San Francisco facility has a power purchase agreement in place with a renewable provider to supply the farm with sustainable energy. Plenty wants its Compton farm to run entirely on clean energy but that won’t happen until some undetermined point in the future. Company reps couldn’t offer a more precise timeline on when that might happen.

Warehouse-sized vertical farms may someday be common sights in major cities but it’ll take time to scale up to that level. No one, except maybe the most optimistic futurists, thinks vertical farming is going to overtake field agriculture anytime soon.

“We’re an additive technology, not a replacement technology. We simplify the supply chain and allow domestic production in places that don’t currently have it,” Kalayjian says.

Although vertical farming is still in its earliest stages, Despommier urges us to imagine how it might work in 50 years. “We’re looking at a sort of Stanley Steamer [car], not even a Ford Model T,” he says, “We’re looking at the early trials and tribulations of an industry that wants to supply all of your food. Look how fast it took America to go from no cars to two cars per person.”

Maybe by the time humanity has figured out how to colonize other planets and build Star Trek-style replicators, the urban dwellers of earth will rely on skyscraper-style vertical farms. Maybe thousand-acre fields of fruit and vegetables will someday look as obsolete as rotary phones. Until then, we’ll be playing in the dirt, just as we’ve done for thousands of years.

Link to story on LAist web site

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Fresno State celebrates Food, Family & Farm Month

Story from Morning Ag Clips

The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State is launching its second annual Food, Family and Farm Month with a host of virtual events to connect Fresno State students, staff and faculty to the agricultural industry and the community.

The schedule will feature 25 activities from Monday, Oct. 19 to Nov. 20 that will showcase the Jordan College’s seven academic departments, three research centers, student organizations, University Agricultural Laboratory and industry partners.

Jordan College Dean Dennis Nef kicked off the month of activities with a virtual event on Monday, Oct. 19 featuring student-produced items available at the Gibson Farm Market. The series will conclude with a virtual “Wine Down” wine-tasting event on Nov. 19 that will spotlight award-winning wines and specials from the Fresno State Winery.

Most of the Food, Family and Farm Month activities are virtual and free to the public. Topics include seminars on grape and wine topics, irrigation and water management technologies, weed management and the grape and wine industry.

Food, Family and Farm Month was inspired by the campus Ag One FoundationCenter for Irrigation TechnologyInstitute for Food and Agriculture and the Viticulture and Enology Research Center. Each of these entities will host multiple events during the month to showcase innovative technology and practices, projects and industry partners.

  • The Institute for Food and Agriculture will host its 39th annual Agribusiness Management Conference on seven Wednesday and Thursday sessions between Oct 28 and Nov. 19. Topics will target agricultural trends related to economics, sustainability, food security, wine marketing, food service, artificial intelligence and big data, and a national student agricultural accreditation program being developed by Fresno State faculty, staff and students.
  • The Center for Irrigation Technology will host two webinars on Oct 22 and Nov. 18 on irrigation performance systems and irrigation system remote monitoring to save energy and water. The Water, Energy and Technology Center will feature industry leaders presenting on topics on Oct. 23 and Nov. 20 related to California agriculture and the irrigation industry.
  • The Viticulture and Research Center is hosting two crowdfunding campaigns, and the Department of Viticulture and Enology is hosting several events, including its free weekly webinar series featuring industry experts.
  • The Ag One Foundation will feature several events tying together alumni and industry members in support of campus agricultural programs, including the 49th Annual Turf Day Golf Classic and Fantasy Vacation Giveaway, as well as participation in the annual University-wide Day of Giving.

The three research centers fall under the auspices of the California Agricultural Technology Institute within the Jordan College. Together they serve the agricultural industry by engaging with the industry; performing applied research and testing on a wide range of disciplines and topics; and disseminating results through conferences, workshops and meetings. Students may also enhance their educational careers by working under the direction of research faculty and staff while pursuing degrees.

For a full schedule of events, times and registration details on Food, Family and Farm Month activities, visit https://bit.ly/FS20-f3-month-events.

Link to story on Morning Ag Clips website.

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Video – “Acres of Ambition” features farming training program for farmworkers and aspiring farmers

NOTEIn an effort to celebrate and highlight the work of California’s farmers, farmworkers, and everyone whose work helps to keep the food supply chain flowing, Governor Newsom has proclaimed October as California Farmer and Farmworker Month.

This encore presentation from CDFA’s award-winning Growing California video series shows The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association of Salinas (ALBA) providing educational and business opportunities for farmworkers and aspiring farmers to grow and sell crops.

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Carrot hot dogs introduced by California producer – from Bakersfield.com

Carrot dogs.


By John Cox

From the land of tri-tip sandwich fundraisers and 24-hour biscuits-and-gravy sales now comes this: hot dogs made from whole carrots.

Don’t act surprised. Despite its red-meat reputation Bakersfield is home to the country’s two largest carrot growers, the invention of the popular “baby carrot” snack and a carrot-focused innovation lab employing 15 food scientists on East Brundage Lane.

There’s nothing to be scared of, either. Bolthouse Farms, the local ag giant that on Tuesday unveiled the “carrot dogs,” says the grill-worthy product looks and tastes like frankfurters, thanks to the company’s proprietary flavor-infusion process.

“If you close your eyes and you bite into it, you think you’re eating a hot dog, from a sensory and from a flavor experience,” said Phil Kooy, the company’s chief customer officer. “But it’s obviously a carrot.”

That actually sounded pretty good to Erik Estrada, owner of the Wienerschnitzel hot-dog location on Ming Avenue. He figures Bakersfield will eat carrot dogs right up.

“There’s a lot of health fanatics in Bakersfield and so they tend to like to try different things,” he said. Spices may be the deciding factor, he added, because “if it tastes like a carrot then they’re not going to want to eat it.”

Also making their debut Tuesday, in time for a major food convention ending Thursday, were no-carb pasta and rice “swaps” that Bolthouse makes entirely from carrots. Six to eight minutes on the stove and health-conscious consumers have part or all of a meal.

Like the hot dogs, they were brainstormed and developed in Bakersfield — and will be produced and packaged locally as well when the trio, each available in three different flavors, hits U.S. supermarkets next spring.

The products are a big part of Bolthouse’s bold and somewhat contrarian step into the growing market for plant-based meat and carbohydrate alternatives.

Rival Bakersfield carrot giant Grimmway Farms has been innovating lately, too. At the start of this week’s virtual Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Conference & Expo the company introduced rainbow carrot chips — dried, wavy-cut carrot snacks in a resealable, 12-ounce bag — along with baby bok choy in three-count clamshell packaging.

Both companies have for years been expanding their traditional strengths in farming and fresh produce.

At Grimmway, that has led to a focus on organic farming, juices and packaging that weighs less and involves less waste than conventional materials.

Bolthouse has taken a different route after being sold last year by New Jersey-based Campbell Soup Co., which made a high-profile turn away from refrigerated juices and premium salad dressings.

Under the leadership of Jeff Dunn, the man who had served as Bolthouse’s CEO years earlier, the carrot grower proudly makes smoothies, cafe refreshments, protein beverages and “superfood immunity boost” drinks.

The products announced Tuesday are aimed at a growing market for foods geared toward “flexitarians” who don’t necessarily want to avoid meat all the time but see the health and environmental sustainability value of keeping to a plant-based diet.

Kooy emphasized the carrot dogs are not chopped or formed into a new shape but actually soaked in a brine solution that imparts flavor. The company is working on a particular breed that mimics the size and shape of a standard hot dog, he said.

“It’s not a franken-food in terms of a really long list of ingredients you can’t understand,” he said, adding the full trio of new products developed at the company’s “innovation center” on East Brundage are basically just carrots.

When they appear in grocery-store produce aisles next year, the products are expected to cost $4.99 for a package of eight carrot dogs. For the same amount of money consumers will be able to buy 15-ounce carrot fettuccine or riced carrot kits.

Link to story on Bakersfield.com

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Video – California Farmworker Foundation active during COVID-19 crisis

NOTEIn an effort to celebrate and highlight the work of California’s farmers, farmworkers, and everyone whose work helps to keep the food supply chain flowing, Governor Newsom has proclaimed October as California Farmer and Farmworker Month.

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Governor Newsom Proclaims October as Farmer and Farmworker Month

With the fall harvest underway, Californians are reminded of our deep debt of gratitude to the farmers and farmworkers working tirelessly through the pandemic and increasingly unhealthy air quality caused by wildfires and climate change to supply food to supermarket shelves, food banks and our tables. The hard work of these dedicated men and women who grow, produce, harvest and package our food ensures a stable and secure supply for our state and nation, sustaining us through these challenging times – and year-round.

As the largest agricultural state, farming in California supports more than 1.2 million jobs and provides $263 billion in generated economic revenue. Agriculture is a critical economic driver for rural communities and regions throughout our state – from the great Central Valley to Siskiyou to Imperial County. California produces more than 400 different agricultural commodities, with California Grown (CA GROWN) recognized as an unsurpassed standard for quality, food safety and commitment to environmental stewardship.

Farming is a community that includes farmers, ranchers and the farmworkers who work and harvest the land. As front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, our farm working communities bear an increased risk of exposure to the virus, and we are committed to ensuring their safety. We have built a pipeline of personal protective equipment to help workers stay safe on the job and provided necessary COVID-19 testing and treatment at no cost for undocumented or uninsured Californians. We have taken action to expand paid sick leave to food sector workers, create temporary
housing options for agricultural workers to safely isolate and quarantine and provide detailed workplace safety and health guidance.

In honor of the landmark movement pioneered by César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Larry Itliong and other activists who fought tirelessly for the rights of workers and their families, we continue our efforts in partnership with the Legislature, community-based organizations and other stakeholders to further support our farmers and farmworkers.

Throughout the month of October, we celebrate the dedication and perseverance of California’s farmers and farmworkers who work day in and day out to deliver the Golden State’s bounty of fresh and nutritious products to our tables with care.

NOW THEREFORE I, GAVIN NEWSOM, Governor of the State of California, do hereby proclaim October 2020, as “California Farmers and Farmworkers Month.”

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 8th day of October 2020.

Link to proclamation on Governor Newsom’s web site

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Community Connect program seeks to bring broadband to rural, economically challenged communities

From a USDA News Release

Join the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development for a webinar on the recently announced application window for the Community Connect Program. Applicants will have an opportunity to learn about the program’s requirements and application process.

The Community Connect Program helps state and local governments, federally-recognized Tribes, nonprofits, and for-profit corporations extend broadband service in rural, economically-challenged communities where access does not currently exist. The application window for fiscal year 2021 is currently open and will close on December 23, 2020.

The upcoming webinar will provide more information.  

          Tuesday, October 20, 2020
8:00 – 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time
Register today

Rural Development staff will provide an overview of the Funding Opportunity Announcement, major eligibility and regulatory requirements, the application process, and provide guidance on how to submit a successful grant application. Participants will also have an opportunity to ask questions.

To learn more about the Community Connect Program, visit www.rd.usda.gov/community-connect.

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UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor strives to make farming more inclusive and equitable – from the UC ANR Food Blog

UC Cooperative Extension hosts a meeting on nutrient management and provides a translator for Mandarin speakers

NOTEIn an effort to celebrate and highlight the work of California’s farmers, farmworkers, and everyone whose work helps to keep the food supply chain flowing, CA GROWN has marked October as California Farmer and Farmworker Month.

By Pamela Kan-Rice

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.”

Link to story on UC ANR Food Blog

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California State Fair’s Insect Pavilion goes virtual

A message from the California State Fair

Since you can’t bring your classroom to us, we’re bringing our insect pavilion to you! Students will learn all about pollinators, their importance in California agriculture, and their contribution to sustaining our environment. They will also learn about invaders! The invasive species that impact our statewide agriculture, how to recognize them, and learn ways to prevent them!

Schools are urged to sign up here

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Three California projects included in USDA grant program for socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers

In an effort to celebrate and highlight the work of California’s farmers, farmworkers, and everyone whose work helps to keep the food supply chain flowing, CA GROWN has marked October as California Farmer and Farmworker Month.

Taken from a USDA news release

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $19.1 million in grants to provide training, outreach, and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers. USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (2501) Program is managed by the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE). 

The following California projects were included:

  1. The Asian Business Institute and Resource Center in Fresno received a grant of $237,500 to conduct outreach and training to ensure Southeast Asian farmers are aware of USDA programs that benefit their work in terms of financial resources, resources for growth, environmental practices, and long-term economic sustainability.
  2. The Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation received $347,700 for training and education that builds the financial literacy of current socially disadvantaged farmers, socially disadvantaged farmworkers who are current farm operators and prospective farm owners, and socially disadvantaged youth in the Napa Valley.
  3. Pie Ranch in Pescadero CA received $400,000 for to provide opportunities to beginning and early-stage farmers and ranchers of color, women, former farm workers, Black, Latinx and Indigenous American producers, and people from under-resourced communities, who have experience working on farms and are ready to take the next step to establish a land-based enterprise.

The USDA will fund approximately $17.6 million in grants  (PDF, 501 KB) issued to 49 organizations conducting outreach and assistance for socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers in 28 states. This funding is made available through the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020. 

The 2501 Program was created through the 1990 Farm Bill to help socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and foresters, who have historically experienced limited access to USDA loans, grants, training, and technical assistance. 

The 2014 Farm Bill expanded the program’s reach to veterans. Grants are awarded to higher education institutions and nonprofit and community-based organizations to extend USDA’s engagement efforts inthese communities. Projects funded under the 2501 Program include but are not limited to conferences, workshops, and demonstrations on various farming techniques, and connecting underserved farmers and ranchers to USDA local officials to increase awareness of USDA’s programs and services while filling the needs for increased partnerships. Since 1994, the 2501 program has awarded 533 grants totaling more than $138 million.

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