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Investment in training new farmers is paying off

Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, (in white t-shirt) talks with beginning urban farmers at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm. 

Training people to farm is successfully preparing them for careers, according to a new report from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Their report, “Cultivating the Next Generation,” evaluates the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which was funded in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Since 2008, USDA has invested roughly $150 million in more than 250 new farmer training projects across the country.

According to a national survey, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program-funded project leaders estimated that over half of their participants are now engaged in a farming career, and that nearly three-quarters of them felt more prepared for a successful career in agriculture after completing the program.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program has also helped nonprofit and community-based organizations, along with their academic partners, to build their capacity and serve more farmers with better services.

In California, UC Cooperative Extension has been providing beginning farming and farm business planning training in Placer and Nevada counties for over a decade. In a 2016 survey of Placer and Nevada county producers, 72 percent of respondents said they had taken one or more business classes from UCCE and another 9 percent had taken other business training. The training appeared to make a difference in their success.

“In a survey of local producers, over 90 percent were profitable as compared to 25 percent on the last national ag census,” said Cindy Fake, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Placer and Nevada counties.

Roger Ingram, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor emeritus, teaches livestock grazing techniques.

In Sonoma County, UC Cooperative Extension offers "FARMING 101" workshops on the second Tuesday of the month. Experienced farmers, ranchers, and business specialists share a broad range of practical skills that new farmers and ranchers need to know. They also have resources at to help new farmers and ranchers create a business plan and connect with mentors.

“For me, the full-time job I received is the direct result of my participation in the class,” wrote one Sonoma County participant. “Our products there provide 20 dozen eggs to three restaurants weekly in Healdsburg, and an average of 60 tons of wine grapes to two wineries annually.”


Workshop participants observe safe pruning techniques for fruit and nut trees.

Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, served on an advisory board for the USDA program's evaluation. The report gave her ideas for improving training for California's aspiring farmers and ranchers.

“There is an opportunity for UC ANR to take more advantage of Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program funding to increase our support for beginning farmers and ranchers,” said Sowerwine.

According to the report, more beginning farmer training programs are led by the nonprofit sector than by land grant universities – 56 percent of all programs were led by nonprofits, 40 percent were led by land grant universities and 4 percent were led by other universities.

“There is an opportunity to deepen UC ANR support for beginning farmers in accessing land, capital and farm business management training,” Sowerwine said. “In addition to UC ANR's valued expertise in providing technical assistance to beginning farmers, we can also foster more farmer-to-farmer mentoring and networking opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers to enhance their support systems.”

She also sees opportunities to incorporate more principles of adult education – such as engaging participants in the design and evaluation of the training and offering more hands-on, experiential learning activities using multisensory techniques – which were found to be highly effective practices in training beginning farmers.

Jennifer Sowerwine describes how to make a sanitizing solution for harvest buckets for food safety.

Sowerwine is wrapping up a three-year beginning farmer and rancher project titled, "Growing Roots: Deepening Support for Diverse New Farmers and Ranchers in California.” Christy Getz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, and Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture advisor, and Sowerwine, together with their nonprofit partners, have trained 340 beginning farmers and ranchers in 10 counties to help improve the economic viability and ecological sustainability of their agricultural operations.

The training is offered in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and Yolo counties. Most of the participants are Southeast Asian, Latino and other immigrant farmers in urban, peri-urban and rural areas, along with low-income urban farmers.

By partnering with National Center for Appropriate Technology, Sustainable Agriculture Education, the Alameda County Resource Conservation District and UC Cooperative Extension colleagues in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the team has been offering in-depth, culturally and regionally appropriate workshops and technical assistance. They also developed materials about business planning and marketing, hosted field days and farmer tours to observe organic and sustainable farming and ranching practices, and provided opportunities for the new farmers to network with other farmers.

“Collectively our project has reached 5,050 participants to date,” Sowerwine said, noting that many are people who have attended multiple events. Of the 3,485 who filled out evaluations, 89 percent reported an increase in their knowledge of workshop and field day topics and 73 percent reported plans to change their farming or business practices based on what they learned.

“We are in the process of evaluating how many have adopted practices based on what they learned,” Sowerwine said. “Based on what we learned, we are developing culturally relevant training tools in various languages.”

To download the Cultivating the Next Generation report, visit



Posted on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 10:40 AM

Advances in Pistachio Production Short Course offered Nov. 14-16

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources will be offering a three-day, multi-topic Pistachio Production Short Course on Nov. 14-16, 2017. Held in Visalia, this course will provide participants with the latest information and research from several UC experts on pistachio orchard production, field preparation, planting, pruning, economics, diseases, integrated pest management, and harvesting. The course is designed for orchard decision makers, and covers the latest scientific research that supports current and developing pistachio production practices, including regional differences.

The short course will take place at the Visalia Convention Center at 303 E Acequia Ave in Visalia. Registration is open and offers at a three-day package that includes a light breakfast and lunch each day. Discounted early registration ends Oct. 23, 2017. Register at

Visit our website to see the latest information and to sign up to receive email notices

If you have any questions, please contact Kellie McFarland at (530) 750-1259 or

Posted on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at 11:54 AM

UC ANR Global Food Initiative fellows take aim at food insecurity and obesity

Kristal Caballero
Three University of California students have been selected by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as Global Food Initiative (GFI) fellows for 2017-18.

UC Berkeley graduate students Kristal Caballero, Elsbeth Sites and Sonya Zhu are the GFI fellows who will work with ANR academics and staff to address the issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.

The GFI fellows are part of a group of 50 UC graduate and undergraduate students working on food-related projects at all 10 UC campuses, UC Office of the President, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR.

Elsbeth Sites
UC President Janet Napolitano launched the systemwide Global Food Initiative program in 2014 with the aim of putting UC, California and the world on a pathway to sustainability. Each participant receives a $4,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative's efforts to address food security, health and sustainability.

The GFI fellows gather for lectures, field trips and networking events. Last spring, UC ANR hosted the fellows on a tour of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta region to learn more about the relationships between food, farming and the environment.

The 2017-18 GFI fellows:

Kristal Caballero of San Jose is a graduate student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Working with UC ANR's Strategic Communications team, Caballero will focus on community outreach and education to educate the public about nutrition, food security, federal food programs, food waste, childhood obesity prevention and related subjects. She will use a variety of communication tools to publicize the results of Nutrition Policy Institute research on nutrition and food issues and to inform policymakers.

Sonya Zhu
Elsbeth Sites of Benicia is a graduate student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Working with Nutrition Policy Institute researchers, Sites will explore how sleep affects child obesity by examining social and cultural factors that may impact Mexican-American children's sleep and, in turn, how sleep affects their diet and physical activity.

Sonya Zhu of Iowa City, Iowa, is a graduate student at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy. At the Nutrition Policy Institute, Zhu will conduct a secondary analysis of the Healthy Communities Study (HCS), an observational study of more than 5,000 children ages 4 to 15 years recruited from 130 communities across the U.S. in 2013-2015. She will be examining the effect of household food insecurity on children's dietary behavior and physical activity.


UC ANR's 2017-18 Global Food Initiative fellows


Posted on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 5:04 PM

Quirky storytelling on a powerful platform supports economic development, farmers and families

Nick Papadopoulos wants to create a culture of infectious enthusiasm in the farm and food world. This year he's hit the road with a cell phone and eight-foot selfie pole, digging into communities to find everyday people who are having a positive impact on farms, gardens, markets and food banks.

He found his passion as a small-scale organic farmer dismayed by a cooler full of wholesome food without a buyer. Just miles away families were suffering food insecurity. The dilemma sparked the creation of CropMobster Community Exchange, a social media and crowd sourcing online platform for food, farmers and consumers. People who have extra food can post, and the crowd gives ideas for distribution. CropMobster became a community connector.

"It's amazing what can happen with you stick your Nick out," Papadopoulous joked.

Nick Papadopoulous brought his passion for food and stories to the International Food Bloggers Conference in Sacramento.

Papadopoulous was the keynote speaker at the 2017 International Food Bloggers Conference in Sacramento, encouraging the writers to find ways to collaborate and make a difference in the world. 

"Think about the power of impact you can have," he said. "You can have fun, do your work, but carve out time to be a team. Team up to make impact happen."

Today CropMobster is in 18 of 58 California counties. "We've had millions of dollars of economic impact and saved millions of pounds of food because thousands of people believe in our vision and are joining the tribe," Papadopoulous said. "4-H'ers are selling product, someone found a job, a health provider connected fresh veggies with a client."

Nick Papadopoulous, left, and his wife Jess have traveled to 40 of California's 58 counties looking for stories about people and land producing food for California families.

The remarkable stories shared by CropMobster users sparked another innovation: CropMobster TV. Adopting the persona "Nicky Bobby," Papadopoulous travels the state interviewing wise elderly citizens, young leaders, farming families, immigrant workers, and food and agriculture scientists to produce twice-weekly online videos in a non-commercial, folksy tone.

"We are highlighting stories that are feeding our families," Papadopoulous said. "We're tying to untangle the caring economy, what it is that makes people so generous."

The current season of CropMobster TV is sponsored by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and FoodTank. Watch episodes on the CropMobster TV YouTube Channel or the CropMobster TV Facebook page.


Nick Papadopoulous shows the selfie pole he fashioned from a selfie stick and gutter cleaner to shoot folksy food videos as he travels the state.




Posted on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 6:41 PM

Supplement promises to create climate smart cows

A steer at UC Davis that is part of the Mootral trial, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

Belching beef and dairy cows emit a significant amount of methane, sending a potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere where it can contribute to climate change. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher Ermais Kebreab, a professor in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, is studying a potential new solution.

In European studies, supplementation with just 15 grams of a formulation called Mootral, derived from garlic and citrus extracts, killed bacteria in the cow's gut that produce the gas emitting from the animals' mouths and nostrils. Methane emission was cut 30 to 50 percent. Kebreab and his staff are feeding the supplement to nine California cows at the UC Davis farm and comparing their emissions with nine cows on identical rations minus Mootral.

UC ANR researcher Ermais Kebreab is leading a trail at UC Davis comparing cattle that received the Mootral supplement with those that did not.

The research was shared with writers in Sacramento for the International Food Bloggers Conference during a pre-event excursion to the UC Davis ag barn.

"This research is highly relevant in California," Kebreab said. "The state is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. We need to reduce the environmental impact of livestock production."

Mootral is fed to the cattle by adding it to alfalfa pellets.

"It's like Beano for cows," said one food blogger.

If Mootral is effective in reducing livestock's greenhouse gas belching, and the product is found safe for the animals, scientists may be able to put together a protocol for the farmers to claim credit for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in a cap and trade scenario, Kebreab said.

After visiting the cattle, the food bloggers ate dinner at UC Davis' Gateway Garden, becoming the first Americans to try beef from cows that received the Mootral supplement.

Manager of the UC Davis Meat Lab, Caleb Sehnert, prepared prime rib from an animal treated with Mootral.
Food bloggers enjoyed a prime rib dinner at Gateway Gardens on the UC Davis campus.
Posted on Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 8:54 PM

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