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Posts Tagged: Urban Farms

Lucy Diekmann, Ph.D. joins UCCE as Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Advisor for Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

I am delighted to be joining University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) as the Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Advisor for Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

Silicon Valley's culture of innovation, diverse culinary traditions, fertile soils, and Mediterranean climate offer unique food system opportunities. In addition to large tech companies, these two counties are home to roughly 1300 farms with agricultural production valued at more than $450 million. Yet high land values make it difficult for farmers to find and keep land. The high cost of living also contributes to many families' struggle to put healthy food on the table. According to Second Harvest Food Bank, one in three children in Silicon Valley are food insecure. Many of those who are hungry are employed, but don't make enough to cover basic expenses in what has become the country's richest region as well as its most expensive.

Despite these challenges, this is an exciting time to work on food and agriculture in Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County is in the process of implementing the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan to preserve agricultural lands and support a vibrant agricultural economy. The nonprofit organization SPUR is piloting a program to make California-grown produce more affordable for low-income families at grocery stores in San Jose and Gilroy. Civically engaged residents successfully advocated for Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones in the City of San Jose, creating new opportunities to put vacant land to productive use. The region's urban farms are involved in growing food for school cafeterias, developing a food entrepreneurship program, and educating students and the general public about food and agriculture, among many other activities.

La Mesa Verde gardeners. La Mesa Verde is a program that helps low-income families in San Jose grow their own organic vegetables. Photo credit: La Mesa Verde, Sacred Heart Community Services
My background is in food systems research. Prior to joining UCCE, I worked as a researcher and lecturer at Santa Clara University.  While there, my research included a study of the impact of drought on urban agriculture and how urban farmers and gardeners in Santa Clara County responded. In collaboration with local partners and with the assistance of many volunteer gardeners, I researched how urban gardens contribute to food security—looking at how much food was produced, how much that food was worth, and its nutritional value. Another project examined some of the broader benefits associated with urban agriculture, such as education, community building, and civic engagement. In my role as an advisor, I'm looking forward to doing applied research, helping to educate about food and agriculture, and finding opportunities to collaborate with partners in the region. Over the next year, I'm making plans to map urban agricultural social networks and identify barriers to farm viability in Silicon Valley.

 Originally from Maine, I relocated to the Bay Area 15 years ago to pursue a PhD at UC Berkeley. For the past eight years, I've been working and raising my family in the South Bay. If you'd like to learn more about my work or Silicon Valley's food system, please be in touch. You can find me here: http://cesantaclara.ucanr.edu/Programs/contact/?facultyid=40005.

Posted on Monday, November 26, 2018 at 10:22 AM

Keeping Your Birds Safe from Disease

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has identified several cases of virulent Newcastle disease in small flocks of backyard birds in Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County. The initial case was detected at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory (CAHFS) when a private practitioner submitted a sick bird for testing.  All detections are confirmed at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa. This was the first case of virulent Newcastle disease, previously referred to as exotic Newcastle disease, in the U.S. since 2003. CDFA is working with federal and local partners as well as poultry owners to respond to the incident. State officials have quarantined potentially exposed birds and are testing for the disease.

Virulent Newcastle disease is a highly contagious and deadly virus in birds; the virus is found in respiratory discharges and feces. Clinical signs in birds include: 

  • Sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, green watery diarrhea, depression 
  • neck twisting, circling, muscle tremors, paralysis, decreased egg production 
  • swelling around eyes and neck, sudden death.

It is essential that all poultry owners follow good biosecurity practices to help protect their birds from infectious diseases such as virulent Newcastle. These include simple steps like washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering a poultry area; cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before and after moving them on/off the property; and isolating any sick birds. New or returning birds from shows should be isolated for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock.

For backyard flock owners, biosecurity measures include using dedicated shoes and clothes when caring for birds and not to use/wear those clothes/shoes in other areas.

In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths through California's Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-BIRD (2473). Additional information on VND and biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss/Animal_Health/Newcastle_Disease_Info.html

Click here for more information regarding vaccination of backyard birds.

Sick or dead backyard birds can be submitted to CAHFS laboratories for post-mortem examination ($20 plus shipping and handling).  Information on this program can be found at:
https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss/Animal_Health/pdfs/CAHFS_NecropsyFactsheet.pdf

For additional information on who to contact for issues regarding backyard poultry, see:
http://ucanr.edu/sites/poultry/contact/

Virulent Newcastle disease is NOT a food safety concern. No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat. In very rare instances people working directly with sick birds can become infected. Symptoms are usually very mild, and limited to conjunctivitis and/or influenza-like symptoms. Infection is easily prevented by using standard personal protective equipment. 

Posted on Friday, June 29, 2018 at 3:32 PM
  • Jennifer McDougle: Veterinarian, Animal Health Branch, Tulare District Office

San Diego’s Wild Willow Farm Grows Farmers

Students at Wild Willow Farm participate in a hands-on plumbing lesson.

When you arrive at Wild Willow Farm & Education Center (WWF) it's hard to believe that you are merely miles from one metropolis – San Diego – to the north, and even closer to the bustle of Tijuana, Mexico to the south. The farm, operated by the non-profit organization, San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project, calls 5.5 acres home in the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, with about two acres currently under production. 

The farm grows a variety of seasonal produce, herbs, flowers, and fruit, which they mostly sell through their “Farmshare CSA,” and a few wholesale restaurant accounts. A Saturday farm stand onsite is also in the works. However, ask founder and program manager Mel Lions what they really grow, and he'll tell you, “Farmers!” 

The mission of the farm goes beyond growing food. WWF is a working educational farm that teaches and trains the next generation of farmers to be stewards of the land. They operate southern California's only soil-based farm school, with regenerative agriculture at the cornerstone. WWF offers weekly classes and workshops in food, community, and health-related topics, and four times a year they offer their signature six-week course, Farming 101: Introduction to Regenerative Farming. The course introduces students to basic principles and practices that focuses on transforming farms and food production into ecologically restorative, bio-diverse living landscapes best suited for small-scale production.

While much income for the farm is revenue generated by programs, funding always remains a challenge. The team at WWF depends on volunteer administrators, and part-time paid staff. In addition, lease restrictions inside the County Park prohibit traditional farm amenities, such as housing for staff and students. The County Park also only provides a five-year lease term, which limits long-term planning and investment in infrastructure upgrades.

In its eighth year of existence, WWF has weathered storms, which literally flooded the farm (as it sits in flood plain,) but they wouldn't want it any other way. WWF is a guaranteed breath of fresh air, and embraces all who are willing to make the trip off the beaten path.

Wild Willow founder Mel Lions with urban agriculture workshop attendees

Wild Willows Farm can be found at 2550 Sunset Avenue, San Diego, California 92154, or online at http://sandiegoroots.org/farm/farm-school.php. The farm's social media links are https://www.instagram.com/wildwillowfarm/ and https://www.facebook.com/wildwillowfarm

Cathryn Henning is WWF's Farm Manager. You can email WWF at wildwillowfarm@sandiegoroots.org

Posted on Friday, June 22, 2018 at 4:50 PM
  • Author: Mary V Redlin

Home is where the habitat is: This Earth Day, consider installing insectary plants

Help the environment this Earth Day, which falls on Sunday April 22 this year, by installing insectary plants! These plants attract natural enemies such as lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Natural enemies provide biological pest control and can reduce the need for insecticides. Visit the new UC IPM Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to use these plants to your advantage.

The buzz about insectary plants
Biological control, or the use of natural enemies to reduce pests, is an important component of integrated pest management. Fields and orchards may miss out on this control if they do not offer sufficient habitat for natural enemies to thrive. Insectary plants (or insectaries) can change that—they feed and shelter these important insects and make the environment more favorable to them. For instance, sweet alyssum planted near lettuce fields encourages syrphid flies to lay their eggs on crops. More syrphid eggs means more syrphid larvae eating aphids, and perhaps a reduced need for insecticides. Similarly, planting cover crops like buckwheat within vineyards can attract predatory insects, spiders, and parasitic wasps, ultimately keeping leafhoppers and thrips under control.

Flowering insectaries also provide food for bees and other pollinators. There are both greater numbers and more kinds of native bees in fields with an insectary consisting of a row of native shrubs planted along the field edge (called a hedgerow). Native bees also stay in fields with these shrubs longer than they do in fields without them. Therefore, not only do insectaries attract natural enemies, but they can also boost crop pollination and help keep bees healthy.

Insectary plants may attract more pests to your crops, but the benefit is greater than the risk
The possibility of creating more pest problems has been a concern when it comes to installing insectaries. Current research shows that mature hedgerows, in particular, bring more benefits than risks. Hedgerows attract far more natural enemies than insect pests. And despite the fact that birds, rabbits, and mice find refuge in hedgerows, the presence of hedgerows neither increases animal pest problems in the field, nor crop contamination by animal-vectored pathogens. Hedgerow insectaries both benefit wildlife and help to control pests.
 
How can I install insectary plants?
Visit the Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to establish and manage insectary plants, and determine which types of insectaries may suit your needs and situation. If you need financial assistance to establish insectaries on your farm, consider applying for Conservation Action Plan funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Sources:

Posted on Friday, April 20, 2018 at 4:28 PM

Urban Farming and Water Conservation: A Way of Life on the City Farm

Reyna Yagi (ryagi@ucanr.edu), Northern California Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator, University of California Cooperative Extension - Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

Raised Bed Irrigation - Treasure Island Job Corps Farm
It has been a banner year for water in California. The above-average precipitation and snowpack in 2017 have ended a five-year drought spell, leading Governor Jerry Brown to officially end the drought state of emergency last April for the majority of California counties. However, Californians know that this refreshing watery reprieve does not mean our conservation efforts stop here. With a draft plan in the making by the State Water Board appropriately dubbed “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life,” the long term trend from this point on is efficient water use and drought preparedness, especially as we face climate change challenges.

How can we as urban farmers do our part to conserve water? Turns out there are a lot of ways that not only will help to save our beautiful state's water, but also help you build a healthier farm or garden with less work on your hands!

The Challenge of Water Access
It's hard to talk about water conservation when many urban farmers run into issues of reliable access to water and affordability of municipal water. Increasingly though, municipalities are working with urban farms and community gardens to offer discounts or grants for water meter and service line installation, help calculate a water budget, and provide a plethora of trainings and resources on efficient irrigation practices and technology. Talk with your local water municipality to see if they have discounted water pricing or special programs (San Francisco is a good example) aimed at assisting urban farms and community gardens.
 
Start with Healthy Soils
We know building healthy soils is key for the production and longevity of our crops, but it also allows plants to use water more efficiently and saves you water in the long run. Adding organic matter to your soil increases soil nutrition which helps plants produce better yields and bountiful blossoms without adding more water. Whether sandy or clayey soils, compost reduces the soil's need for water by 30% on average. Top it off with 3-4 inches of straw mulch to further your conservation efforts by keeping soil cool, preserving moisture and reducing weed germination.

Tip Sheet: Building Fertile Soil – Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems UC Santa Cruz

Know What You Grow
Did you know it takes 33 gallons of water to produce a carrot while almonds require 1,280 gallons (find more facts here)? Follow seasonal crop patterns - cool season crops will take much more water in the heat of the summer. Once you decide what to grow, choose varieties that are labeled “drought-tolerant” or “widely adapted.” Be sure to group plants by similar plant watering requirements.

Tip Sheet: Your Food Garden During Drought – UC Master Gardener Program Contra Costa County

You Can't Manage What You Can't Measure
Do you know how much water your farm or garden uses? If you use a garden hose, you can estimate your flow rate by timing how long it takes to fill a five-gallon bucket. If it takes five minutes to fill, your flow rate is 1 gallon per minute. If you have an irrigation system and a water meter, it's easy to read your meter to find out your usage. There are also water gauges one can buy at your local hardware store as well. Keep a record; you may need it later.
 
Drip Irrigation is Your Best Friend
Drip irrigation is a worthwhile investment that not only reduces your workload, but conserves water by applying it where it is needed most and at a rate conducive to a plant's use. Another benefit for the farmer: it reduces weed growth, helps control mildew plus reduces fungus problems! Drip tape, soaker hoses, micro-sprinklers are among various types of efficient irrigation products you can use. Install shut-off valves to turn off areas that are fallow. Add an irrigation timer to automate your watering schedule. Controllers can also connect with rain and soil moisture sensors which shut the system off when enough water is applied.

Tip Sheet: Drip Irrigation – Installation and Maintenance – UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County

Tip Sheet: For the Gardener - Water Conservation Tips – Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems, UC Santa Cruz

Other Water Saving Techniques
  • Rainwater Harvesting allows you to capture rainwater from roofs, collect it in a cistern for diversion to your landscape for supplemental irrigation. You should also observe your site's water runoff patterns and see how you can manage and maximize your runoff to deal with large rain events, stormwater runoff and infiltration around your site. Consider a rain garden!

  Tip Sheet: Rainwater Harvesting – UC Master Gardeners of Nevada County

  • Dry Farming depends on the water stored in the soil from winter rains that plants can use in the spring as the weather warms. Plants rely on good soil moisture and deep roots to seek out this extra water without needing much supplemental irrigation. Grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, fruit trees and grains can be dry-farmed.

  Tip Sheet: How to Dry Farm Tomatoes in  Contra Costa – UC Master Gardener Program – Contra Costa County

And Remember:

  • Deep watering wets entire root zones which promotes deeper root growth.
  • Always water early in the morning to prevent daytime water loss through evaporation.
  • Keep an eye on the weather! A refreshing rain or cool, cloudy day will extend the time between watering.
  • Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Visually inspect your drip system regularly for breaks, leaks and missing pieces. If you don't, your plants will certainly let you know with plant diseases.

California's agricultural industry is the largest in the nation and abroad, carrying with that a great responsibility to protect and conserve our resources. Urban farmers are highly cognizant of this. They are some of the most innovative and conservation-minded folks out there who understand the fragility of our water supply and their role in being model stewards of our lands and waters.

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 1:45 PM
  • Author: Reyna Yagi

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