Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Field Days Bring the Classroom to Central Valley Farmers

Farmer education in the field can trace its origins to the early days of public agricultural colleges.
Yes, farms dotted the Berkeley landscape in the 1900s.
In the Golden State, the University of California laid the foundation for an agricultural extension system more than a century ago in which farming was an early focus at the institution’s first campus in Berkeley. Yes, there were farms in Berkeley.

By 1907, university research farms were established in Davisville (now known as Davis) and Riverside.  Soon, UC and local entities began teaming up to create Cooperative Extension programs to provide farmers advice on local conditions and crops as well as education.

Visitors flock to open house at the Davisville research farm.
Today, Valley farmers have come to value the advice and expertise of farm advisors as well as UC farm researchers.

One firm believer is Firebaugh almond grower Gina Rushing.  “TheUC experts are at the cutting edge of what is going on.They educated me on all kinds of things. The information is phenomenal,” she says about attending field day programs.

Rushing and other growers will tell you that farming is like the weather: It’s ever changing and unpredictable.  Novice farmers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from UC ag advisors. “Even the older guys are learning. When I got into farming people use to say no year will ever be the same. Things are constantly changing.”

That’s why bringing UC advisors and other experts to the field to meet with growersare so valuable. On March 30, the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project will feature top UC farm experts at its first field day of the season for almond, alfalfa and cotton growers.

The free event is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Firebaugh Mendota United Methodist Church, 1660 O Street in Firebaugh. It will offer important information about pesticide use and reduced risk strategies for controlling pests while protecting water, soil and air quality in the San Joaquin Valley. The line-up of speakers:

·         UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management extension advisor Dr. Pete Goodell, who will cover insect pest management in a changing era: returning to integration.
Dr. Pete Goodell talks at a field day with cotton growers.
·         Merced County-based UC Cooperative Extension Pomologist David Doll, a very popular speaker and expert in almonds. He will discuss vital springtime pest and disease management practices in almonds to prevent diseases such as alternaria, rust and scab. He will outline timing and choice of materials for control and use of reduced risk materials.
UCCE pomologist David Doll addresses almond growers.
·         Orvil McKinnis of the Westside San Joaquin River Watershed Coalition willupdate growers about the state of the watershed and uses of pesticides and fertilizers and their impacts on local water quality.
This is a great opportunity for growers to ask questions and meet with these experts. In addition, three hours of CCA credits, two hours in laws and regulation and one hour of other continuing education credits have been applied for.
 During the meeting, growers also can sign up to participate in the SJSFP, a year-long program that provides farmers with valuable strategies to improve yields while becoming better environmental stewards in today’s challenging economic and regulatory climate. For more information about the field day or participating in the SJSFP, contact Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325. See you there.

Monday, March 21, 2016

California Sustainable Cotton Following Footsteps of the Local Food Movement

You may have heard the phrase “Dirt to shirt.”

It’s often a catchy marketing campaign tracing the exact route it takes to create a T-shirt – from the farmer planting the cotton seed to the manufacturer producing a shirt. If you map out the route, it is likely to take you on a long journey covering thousands of miles and many destinations.

So it’s safe to assume you’re not going to find cotton growersat the local farmer’s market and have the chance to ask them about how they grew their fiber. Or is it? That day may come sooner than you think.

Let’s take you back to little more than a year ago. That’s when outdoor apparel marker The North Face unveiled the limited edition Backyard Hoodie, following the company’s vision of sourcing and manufacturing a product within 150 miles of its headquarters in Alameda.

Backyard Hoodie used sustainable cotton.  (North Face photo)
The North Face’s innovative move paralleled the local food movement by working directly “with the local farmer and talent to build a product with local roots,” Adam Mott, the company’s director of sustainability said at the time.

Those cotton growers included family farmers involved with the Sustainable Cotton Project SCP (SCP)here in the San Joaquin Valley.

Now we take you to last week when employees from The North Face and sister brands Jansport and Lucy in Alameda held their own kind of sustainable marketplace called VFC Spirit Week. That’s when employees had the opportunity to learn more about the Central Valley farmers and the environmentally friendly Cleaner Cotton™ they grow.

While they only came face to photo with cotton growers, fashion designer, educator and SCP marketing expert Lynda Grose filled in aptly to tell the growers’ story. (By the way, if you don’t know, VF Corporation is a $12 billion company featuring 30 major brands such as North Face, Vans, Wrangler and Jansport. Their sustainability goal includes purchasing more cotton that qualifies as sustainable.)

This display at Spirit Week tells story of SCP cotton growers.
SCP participated in Spirit Week’s “Conservation Wednesday.” Company associates learned about conservation, waste and carbon footprint reduction while learning that SCP growers avoid the most toxic chemicalsused in the fiber’s production and follow practices that protect our environment.

“People were surprised at the fine quality fabrics possible using Cleaner Cotton™ Pima and acala cotton,” says Lynda Grose, a fashion designer, educator and SCP’s marketing expert. “They learned about the work of SCP and the benefits of Cleaner Cotton™. They were able to see the various stages of cotton processing from seed to finished fabric.”

While the event wasn’t quite a farmer’s market, it was certainly a step in the right direction. We can’t wait for the day to come when consumers get first-hand the story of cotton from growers.

Field Day Alert: Don’t miss the first field day of the year by the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project. The free event is set for Wednesday, March 30, from 9:30 a.m. m to 12:30 pm. at the Firebaugh Mendota United Methodist Church, 1660 O Street, Firebaugh. The field day will provide alfalfa, almond and cotton growers with important information about pesticide use and reduced risk strategies for controlling pests while protecting water, soil and air quality in the Valley. The line-up of speakers: UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management extension advisor Dr. Pete Goodell; Merced County-based UC Cooperative Extension Pomologist David Doll; and Orvil McKinnis of the Westside San Joaquin River Watershed Coalition. Continuing education credits will be available. Spread the word.