Q&A with @UCFoodObserver

It was my pleasure to sit down with UC Food Observer, a social media project of the University of California focused on food and agriculture. They’ve had some great interviews, but I’m really proud to be one of the first farmers featured!



Getting #farmers #talking

A friend of mine hosts the UC Food Observer blog, and shared an interesting article on the declining political prospects for America’s farmers.

Please check those out, but in a nutshell: declining rural populations and aging farmers are demographic trends with terrible implications for farm policy.

What are farmers to do? It’s hard to swim against the demographic tide, but one thing we can do is speak up. Personally. Too often, those of us who grow crops for a living leave the talking to our advocacy groups or the PR firms and lobbyists on the payroll of our customers and suppliers. We let other people speak for agriculture, and while their voices are welcome, they must not be alone. Most people don’t know a farmer personally anymore, and we need to change that.

Farmers are only about 2% of the population, so each of us needs to make 98 new friends. Let’s shoot for 196, since we all know at least one person who won’t make the effort. Church, school, community group, local media, social media… doesn’t matter. We need to introduce ourselves. That’s it… simple, right?

Well, it is simple, but it isn’t easy. I’ve been out there and I’ll be the first to say it can be tough. Despite the fact that few people actually know any farmers anymore, they feel like they know about farming. A lot about farming. (The internet makes everyone an expert, and besides… how complicated can it be? It’s just farming. They did that in the olden days)

Most of your audience will have a short attention span and a desire to have their beliefs confirmed. You will have about 10 seconds to either disrupt their certainty, or tell them what they want to hear. It’s easier and more fun to tell them what they want to hear, but less useful. A talk that goes too smoothly deserves another talk.

Let me know how it goes!

Closing Comments : UC Hansen Trust Research Symposium

Prepared remarks for the University of California Hansen Trust Research Symposium, December 1, 2009.

So when we first began to plan this event, I thought to myself that we should call it : “University of California Hansen Trust: Beyond the Pumpkin Patch.” Instead we called it a research symposium, which is more accurate and probably more appropriate. But I want to return to that theme for a few minutes as we conclude this morning’s event.

The UC Hansen Trust is based at Faulkner Farm in Santa Paula, which is well known for the historic Victorian home, large red barn and annual pumpkin patch. These are things to treasure, no doubt. The pumpkin patch event brings thousands of people out for a little taste of agriculture every year. For the past two years it has been operated by the Rotary Club of Santa Paula, and they have done a fantastic job. Money raised from the event has helped to fund many worthy projects in Santa Paula and Ventura County, including ag-oriented programs like 4H and FFA. This year, visitors to the farm saw new signage, detailing the University of California’s role in our agricultural state. But perhaps because of the iconic status of the event, the picturesque setting, or the sheer volume of activity, the pumpkin patch tends to overshadow the UC Hansen Trust’s activities for the other 11 months out of the year.

Today’s event is intended to shine a light on the research mission of the UC Hansen Trust. Many of you in attendance today have played a role in that mission and I thank you for that. Our goals for research are simple: More research, more tailored to Ventura County agriculture, more effectively communicated to the target audience. I said the goals were simple… I didn’t say they were easy.

In the next several years were will look to continually raise the bar. In addition to financial support for research, we aim to make the land at the farm more readily available for research as well. Other symposia such as this one will follow. Again, I thank you for your participation and I invite you to continue to grow with us.

This first annual symposium would not have come together without UCHT Director Jose DeSoto, UCCE Director Rose Hayden Smith, and VCFB CEO John Krist. Those titles sure add a lot of syllables, and each of the three has truly earned their respective position. But it isn’t their offices that made this happen, it is the efforts of these three individuals.

Please join me in thanking Jose, Rose, and John.

I’d also like to thank the UCHT staff, not only for their help today, but for the job they do for Ventura County agriculture all year long.

I’d also like to offer a quick, but heartfelt thanks to Ben Faber. In addition to the research he presented today, he also recently served as the UCHT interim Director pending Jose’s arrival. Ben, I can’t thank you enough for the extra hours of toil that you put forward on the Trust’s behalf.

I don’t know if we have taken full advantage of having a UC research center dedicated to Ventura County agriculture in the past. I do know that we must take full advantage now. It won’t be easy. The intersection of the University of California budget and Ventura County Agriculture will be an economically challenging place for the next several years. But thankfully, the generosity and vision of Thelma Hansen has given us an important tool.

This concludes this morning’s program, but it does not conclude our work. Thank you for coming.


“I’ve been getting a lot more into earthworms lately.”

Odds are very good that only a few short years ago, this was a phrase I would never have thought to utter.  Possibly I would have thought it a sign of impending mental illness. But these days, it is the truth. These are pretty remarkable little organisms, and I find that I am having some success rearing them.

Why would I do that, you ask? Well, for starters, they are great consumers of our kitchen wastes. They break down our waste, turn it into soil, and them are released with their castings into the vegetable or rose garden. Of course, many get snatched up by our ever vigilant flock of hens, meaning some made their way (indirectly of course) to my plate this morning. When prepared in this fashion, I can heartily recommend worms for breakfast.

The other reason I’m raising them is for my “vermidrainage” project. At our Saticoy ranch, we have a compacted clay soil in our Block A, familiar by now to my handful of regular readers. We have been maintaining a cover crop to help break up the soils, and in the next couple of weeks, when we replant, we will attempt to create some natural drains in the clay pan. Basic concept is simple: Use the PTO auger to bore through the pan, then refill it with a mixture of active vermicompost, mulch, and a little of the original soil. A cap of mustard cover on top should add some deep roots, and make it easy to spot the sites. The hope is that this column of active soil will  allow water to drain, and serve as a colony for earthworms to spread through the covercrop rootsystems that surround them. Three 30 gallon barrels are serving as my hatchery. Of course a little vermicompost will go into each new tree’s hole as well.

I’m not alone in this new found interest. Friend and pathfinder Rose H-S alerted me to a blog piece from a young farmer named Devin Foote. If I was concerned for my sanity, then I am now doubly worried for Devin, since his thoughtful and detailed article suggests that he has given this much more thought than I.

Read it here.

CDFA on the chopping block?

Given California’s budget problems, a move is afoot to severly reduce or eliminate the California Department of Food and Agriculture. With a rapidly shifting agricultural economy, threats from many invasive pests, a spat of food safety issues, and no reliable climate models for the future, is this the right time for this? And hey… if I’m the guy speaking in favor of retaining a bureaucracy, you know it has got to be serious.

I’ve been meaning to formulate a piece on this, but my friend Rose Hayden-Smith beat me to it. I’ll see if she really does read this blog, by linking to her well-thought-out piece from Civil Eats below: