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UC Master Gardener program nurturing public seed libraries

Seed libraries are sprouting in California, including a new one in San Bernardino created with the support of UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, reported Suzanne Sproul in the San Bernardino Sun. The story was picked up by the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register.

San Bernardino County Regional Seed Library was set up at the Chino Basin Water Conservation District in Montclair. Here, visitors learn how to obtain seeds for flowers, fruits, vegetables and more. A key component is returning seeds, so the process continues to expand and grow.

“We're interested in germination quality, yield and any other information that helps with categorizing the seeds,” said Dona Jenkins, UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener coordinator in San Bernardino County. “Any and all seeds are welcome, but we are focusing on edible ones and those from pollinator plants."

Jenkins said saving seeds for next year's garden and sharing them with friends and neighbors isn't new, just enjoying a revival.

"It's what people used to do and is important today because we have lost 94 percent of our diversity with seeds," she said.

Saving seeds from your garden and sharing them in a seed library works with open-pollinated plants. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 7:57 AM

Graduate Students in Extension study key California concerns

In 2013, a group of graduate students in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at the University of California, Berkeley sought out faculty support and successfully collaborated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) to launch the Program for Graduate Students in Extension (GSE). Participants receive up to a year of funding to conduct applied research and outreach to California communities, coordinate workshops and training events, and co-author materials with ANR academics. Over the course of the three-year pilot program, 14 students from across the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley have participated.

“There's really no program quite like this, where students can gain hands-on, graduate-level training in extension and outreach,” says ESPM professor John Battles, who chaired the program's steering committee. He adds, “We're grateful to all the UC ANR advisors and specialists who have offered invaluable mentorship to student fellows.”

Image of a schoolyard garden. (Photo: Alana Siegner.)

Sustainable Food Systems and Climate Education

Alana Siegner (Energy and Resources Group, 2016–17 fellow) believes that to ensure the environmental sustainability of agricultural landscapes and to improve health outcomes for young people, it's important that students understand the scientific and social causes and consequences of climate change as it plays out in the U.S. food system. During her fellowship, she adapted existing climate change curricula to fit within farm-to-school programs, integrating food- and farming-specific examples into general lessons on climate adaptation and mitigation. The lessons, designed for students in grades 8 through 10, are hands-on, interdisciplinary, and solutions oriented, unfolding in both the classroom and the school-garden environments. Siegner piloted the curricula and other professional development resources with teachers at schools in Oakland and in Washington State's San Juan Islands. 

Kripa Akila Jagannathan

Climate-Resilient Agriculture

Despite several advances in modeling techniques, climate projections are not widely used in agricultural decision-making. Kripa Akila Jagannathan (ERG, 2015–16 fellow) wanted to bridge this gap between climate science and decision-making needs by improving the understanding of what farmers consider relevant climate information. She interviewed almond growers in California about how they'd previously used climate information, what climatic variables were most relevant to them, and the content and communication methods that could make information on future climate more usable. Jagannathan's interviews showed that almond growers have experienced changes in climate over the past few decades that have affected plant growth. She hopes that providing growers with appropriate information on past trends and future projections can help them to make decisions that are better adapted to future climate.

(Photo: Stella Cousins)

Forestry and Ecosystem Education

Stella Cousins (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) collaborated with the Forestry Institute for Teachers, a free program that provides K–12 teachers in California with knowledge and tools for teaching their students about ecosystem science and forest resource management. In addition to presenting current research to participating educators, she shared do-it-yourself miniature microscopes that can help learners of all ages explore seeds, cells, fur, and other tiny wonders. Magnifying tree-core samples from the Sierra Nevada as an example, she demonstrated how a lesson in dendrochronology can facilitate classroom learning on the ways forests grow and are shaped by climate. Cousins says, “I hope that this project will support existing efforts to make sound and sustainable ecosystem-management choices, and also help foster lifelong curiosity in California's youth about the natural world.”

Conservation and Land Easements

Conservation easements are currently one of the primary channels for protecting private land. Since easements restrict development for both current and future owners, resale value is presumably diminished, and landowners are typically compensated with a one-time payment from a conservation group. Reid Johnsen (Agricultural and Resource Economics, 2016–17 fellow) wanted to explore the relationship between rancher identity, community, and potential preferences for alternative payment structures. He surveyed landowners in Marin and Sonoma counties to gauge their support for different options, including leases and annual payments for ecosystem services. He also constructed an economic model of stakeholder behavior to help assess which payment structure delivers the greatest combined welfare to landowners, conservation groups, and the public.

(Photo: Luke Macaulay)

Hunting and Conservation

Luke Macaulay (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) surveyed private landowners and land managers in California to determine how recreational hunting may influence decisions regarding land-use and conservation practices. He regularly spoke on his survey findings and ran a workshop in Montana to encourage cooperative conservation efforts between hunters and environmentalists. “The feedback from the advisors on my mentorship team was invaluable in improving the quality of my research,” he reflects. The experience also had an impact on his career: In 2016, Macaulay was hired by CNR as a Cooperative Extension specialist in rangeland planning and policy.

Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 9:27 AM

The drought may be over, but water concerns haven't been doused

Record winter rainfall during the 2016-17 winter has enabled farms to emerge from survival mode in the short term, but scientists are still working hard to be ready for the next drought, reported Tim Hearden in Capital Press.

Hearden spent a day at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to learn how researchers at the facility and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points are combining technology with management practices to put every drop of irrigation water to work.

Director of the UC Kearney REC, Jeff Dahlberg, said the facility is ideal for conducting drought research. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)

“This is one of the few places in the world where you can do drought research on a field level,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the 330-acre Kearney facility. “What I'm planning is a world-class drought nursery.”

At the West Side REC, researchers are working with farmers to perfect micro-irrigation efficiency and test drought stress on the area's most prevalent crops.

“We'll grow a tremendous number of cultivars of a crop” and identify “what seem to be the most promising cultivars when you grow them under drought conditions,” said Bob Hutmacher, a cotton specialist and the center's director.

Overhead irrigation is one of the promising techniques being used in conservation agriculture systems.

Hearden spoke to Jeff Mitchell, UCCE cropping systems specialist and director of the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation center (CASI). CASI is encouraging farmers to adopt farming practices that save water, reduce dust and help improve the condition of soil, such as subsurface drip irrigation, overhead irrigation, minimum tillage, cover crops and crop residues. 

“This is not done right now in California,” Mitchell said. “In the future, there may be a strong likelihood of certain agricultural sectors adopting these practices.”

UCCE irrigation specialist Khaled Bali said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)

Other subsurface irrigation trials are showing dramatic increases in yields. Khaled Bali, an irrigation water management specialist at Kearney, said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water.

Kevin Day, a UCCE pomology advisor in Tulare County, is trying subsurface drip in a peach and nectarine orchard after working with the USDA to use it for pomegranates. He's seen as much as a 90 percent reduction in weeds because there's no surface water to feed them.

“Fewer weeds, fewer pesticides,” he said. “We use high-frequency irrigation. We irrigate as the crop needs it. When you do that, you keep the roots deeper, which makes for better aeration.”

Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Enjoy nature, but don't love it to death

Spring is here and that means time to get outside and enjoy California's beauty. This year people are out in record numbers to see wildflowers and experience all the recreational opportunities that parks offer. CNN reported triple the usual number of visitors to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Numbers of recreational visits have surged at National Parks across the county with 330 million visitors recorded last year, during the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Recreational bird watchers in Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS.
Recently published research shows there are recreational impacts on wildlife, even from quiet recreation activities such as hiking and bird watching. Findings were based on 274 scientific articles published between 1981 and 2015 describing the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities.

More than 93 percent of the articles reviewed indicated at least one impact of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59 percent) were negative. Hiking, for example, a common form of outdoor recreation in protected areas, can create a negative impact by causing animals to flee, taking time away from feeding and expending valuable energy. Among the negative impacts observed were decreased species diversity; decreased survival, reproduction, or abundance; and behavioral or physiological disturbance (such as decreased foraging or increased stress). These types of negative effects were documented most frequently for reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Park managers often struggle to balance the need to protect wildlife with the importance of accommodating visitors in support of the many essential benefits nature provides people and the importance of spreading conservation awareness. UC California Naturalists can often be found on the trail helping to interpret nature and focusing on leave no trace in an effort to ensure we don't love nature to death. When out enjoying nature please stay on the trail, respect seasonal closures, minimize noise, do not approach animals, and reduce your driving speed – all recommended steps to minimize the impacts of recreation on wildlife. A light touch now ensures wildlife viewing for many years to come.

Death Valley National Park visitors enjoy wildflowers from the road. Photo courtesy of the NPS.

Bananas!

Did you know that a banana tree is not really a tree? It's a giant perennial bulb that grows to maturity in less than a year, producing one flower that becomes one huge bunch of bananas. I learned this fact last month from banana growers while visiting the home of organic bananas, the Dominican Republic.

I was invited by a US AID Farmer-to-Farmer project to spend a couple of weeks as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic, primarily to work with the Banelino Banana Cooperative. Banelino is a banana production and exporting company comprised of approximately 320 mostly small-scale banana producers in the northwest section of the country, near the border with Haiti. All producers are certified, or seeking, organic, fair trade, or Global Gap certifications.

(Photo: Roberta Almerez)

Eighty percent of the bananas grown by Banelino are certified organic, and most of them are fair trade certified. The primary export destination for Dominican Republic organic bananas is Europe.

The growers have been impacted by climate change problems, including strong winds, more frequent and intense droughts and record high temperatures. My assignment, based on my work as UC Cooperative Extension Agritourism Coordinator, was to help Banelino assess the potential for successful agritourism development to diversify their income and carry them through hard times.

Like farmers all over the world, the Banelino banana growers have a story to share with visitors. Part of the story is the fascinating revelation of the annual growth cycle of the banana plant; the other part of the story is about the community. I learned the true meaning for the words "fair trade."  With the premium, or the added income, that Banelino receives by selling in the fair trade program, the company is able to provide schools, clinics and other social programs for the banana grower and banana worker families. We visited schools and talked with teachers, seeing primary grades classes smaller than most California classes, with children engaged in learning. We visited a school for special needs students, paid for through the Banelino fair trade income, that was so modern and well-equipped it would be the envy of most California special education teachers. It had a colorful art room and a fully equipped, small-scale bakery with mixers and ovens for a training program for the older youth.

Banelino Primary school. (Photo: Roberta Almerez)

Also, like other farmers around the world, Banelino growers have a challenge developing a program to attract paying visitors to tour the farms and learn their stories. They will need to create signs and brochures in multiple languages for their visitors. They will need to work with a local marketing professional to develop a website and social media marketing campaign. They will have to analyze their costs and price their tour so that they don't lose money in the efforts. They will need to connect with the local tourism community and get included in visitor guides and tourism maps. They will need to offer familiarization tours to travel agents, tour leaders and hotel staff to entice them to refer tourists from the all-inclusive beach resorts three hours' drive away. They will have to work with their local hotel association to create an attractive itinerary for visitors to the region - enough attractions to keep guests overnight in hotels - to justify the three-hour drive.

Like farmers everywhere who are considering agritourism, the Banelino banana growers will soon be part of the hospitality industry. They have a wonderful story to share of a hard-working and warm-hearted community. Please look them up if you visit the Dominican Republic.

(Photo: Roberta Almerez)
Posted on Thursday, May 11, 2017 at 9:16 AM

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