CIRS Blog about Rural California

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Below is a speech given by Val Dolcini, the State Executive Director of California for the USDA Farm Service Agency, to the Woodland Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 24, 2013. The event was the 46th Annual Farm-City Harvest Awards Luncheon at the Hotel Woodland.

Thank you for that kind introduction.  I kind of feel like the kid returning to school after a long summer vacation. I’m sure you all remember the first assignment of the year? Writing an essay on what I did on my summer vacation. In my case, it’s what I did during the government shutdown!

Well, I certainly stayed busy. The garage has never been cleaner, the dog has never been walked more, and there’s not a single blade of grass out of place in my yard. But at the end of the day, I’m certainly glad to be back at work!

When the chamber invited me to address you today, I went back and forth over what I should discuss. Coming from my vantage point, there are certainly many worthy topics to choose from. I could talk about the overall importance of California agriculture to the national and international economy … or the value of the world class ag research being done at UC Davis everyday and its impact on global agriculture.  We could discuss the cutting edge innovations pioneered by Yolo County’s many seed and bio sciences companies and their positive impact on our regional economy … or perhaps I could talk about the increasing importance of local and regional food systems, farmers markets, community supported agriculture operations, and other farm to fork direct marketing operations in this region.

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This post is from Rural Migration News, a publication of rural issues at the University of California at Davis. Rural Migration News summarizes and analyzes the most important migration-related issues affecting immigrant farm workers in the California and the United States during the preceding quarter. This post focuses on labor shortages, and is from the October 2012 issue.

California farmers reported labor shortages in summer and fall 2012. FLC Brad Goehring in San Joaquin county said 2012 is "the worst year that I've ever experienced in labor," with 40 percent fewer workers than desired. Some coastal strawberry growers reported that workers who can earn more harvesting tree fruit are leaving for the San Joaquin Valley, forcing them to scramble for pickers who are quick to jump to other growers who offer higher piece rates or better yields.

Farmer comments demonstrated weak links to seasonal workers. Peach farmers around Marysville, California in July 2012 said: "Usually, each year the migrant workers show up. This year we keep thinking maybe they'll show up tonight, maybe they'll be here tomorrow morning. Nobody's really showing up yet." Growers of cling peaches that are often canned typically pay $16 to $20 per 1,000 pound bin to pick peaches, and say that a "good worker" can pick five to seven bins a day.

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California Institute for Rural Studies organized a small group session at the “Strengthening Regional Food Systems” conference recently held at University of California, Davis.  This conference was organized to discuss how policy changes and actions by the private sector and other stakeholders can address impediments to the creation of strong regional food systems and to support innovative initiatives currently underway at the local, regional, and national levels. The meeting was also intended to build stronger partnerships among key actors working on various aspects of regional food systems.  The meeting was organized and hosted by AGree.

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Despite the most stringent regulations in the U.S., agricultural workers in California continue to die from heat related illness, a preventable outcome, and are at higher risk than other workers exposed to hot environments. The search for effective and feasible solutions must involve diverse approaches appropriate for hired farm workers.

A current research project titled, “Reducing the risk of heat-related illness in western agricultural workers” brings together investigators from medicine, epidemiology, public health, physiology, rural sociology and community outreach and education. The group’s goal is to obtain novel data on internal body temperature as it relates to crop type and geography, external heat, and internal metabolic loading.

This long-term collaborative research project between the University of California Western Center for Agricultural Worker Health and Safety and the California Institute for Rural Studies will gather behavioral, physiological and environmental data from California agricultural workers and environments that will allow us to assess vulnerability to heat related illness, provide the methodology to test potential strategies in the fields, and disseminate results to stakeholders. The project employs innovative techniques for both understanding and evaluating potential solutions to reduce the risk of heat related illness in varied agricultural settings.

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in Farm Labor 7349 0
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by Gail Wadsworth and Vallerye Mosquera

The California Institute for Rural Studies, University of California, Davis and the Organización de Trabajadores Agrícolas de California recently completed a collaborative research project that focused on identifying the residential and community factors related to heat stress for farmworkers living in Stockton, California and the surrounding region. The goal of this research was to create a pilot tool for assessing community and residential site factors (i.e., those factors to which they are exposed outside of the agricultural work environment) that can exacerbate farmworkers’ exposure to heat and increase their risk of heat-related illness. Photo_1web

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in Heat Risk 13176 0
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By Gail Feenstra*, David Visher*, and Shermain Hardesty**

A recent study by University of California researchers examines factors that influence the development of emerging distribution networks embedded in values-based supply chains.  Included in the study are financial considerations, government regulations, industry business practices and entrepreneurial factors.  The study looks at five values-based supply chains in the California produce industry to draw out insights, best practices and conclusions.

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California’s San Joaquin Valley is a place of contradictions. It has some of the most productive and wealth-generating agricultural lands on the planet, but many of the people who live in this region live in poverty, confront environmental contamination, and face serious health risks. Despite efforts to alleviate these problems, the region’s poor air and water quality, concentrated poverty, and uneven access to educational and other opportunities continue to afflict the Valley. Additionally, sustainability of the Valley’s economy is increasingly dependent on the health and well-being of the all of the region’s residents across its diverse rural and urban communities.

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in Rural California 18162 0
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By Gail Wadsworth and Vallerye Mosquera

With funding from University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, CIRS is partnering with Dr. Michael Rios and Vallerye Mosquera from UC, Davis, and Luis Magaña from the Organizacion de Trabajadores Agricolas de California, to complete a community-based risk assessment tool for heat stress.  This tool is unique in that it is focusing on the risk of heat stress to farmworkers within their communities.  In other words:  off the farm.

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Danielle Boule, George Hubert, Anna Jensen, Alannah Kull, Julia Van Soelen Kim, Courtney Marshall, Kelsey Meagher and Thea Rittenhouse


This report was prepared by a team of graduate students at UC Davis in the spring of 2011 for the Yolo Ag and Food Alliance (AFA). The objective was to examine the plausibility of creating a food hub in Yolo and Solano Counties. To achieve this, the UC Davis research team explored recent trends in food hubs across the country and conducted a food system assessment of the two counties to provide a context for how and whether a food hub might be situated.

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