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From Teacher to Farmer: Born and Raised Riversider Revives Family Grove, Profits from Diversification

February 5, 2016 |
Brian Griffith of Griffith Family Farm in Riverside, CA selling his fruits and vegetables. Image courtesy of Brian Griffith.

Brian Griffith of Griffith Family Farm in Riverside, CA selling his fruits and vegetables. Image courtesy of Brian Griffith.

When the recession eliminated Brian Griffith’s teaching job of 22 years, he wasn’t sure at first just what he’d do next.

“It was a difficult time,” he says. “That same year, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

His parents lived on a two-acre property in Riverside, California.

“There was a citrus grove there and they didn’t care for it much or pay much attention to it,” he says. “Navel oranges had been really overplanted in Riverside at one time, and there was almost no money in growing a small quantity of them if you were selling them through the packing houses.”

At loose ends and on unemployment, he decided to try to sell some of the fruit the grove produced at a farmers’ market. Read More

27 Communities Selected to Participate in ‘Local Food, Local Places’ Ag Revitalization Initiative

February 5, 2016 |

Press release – Last week, on behalf of the White House Rural Council, six federal agencies joined together to announce the selection of 27 communities in 22 states that will participate in Local Foods, Local Places, a federal initiative that helps communities increase economic opportunities for local farmers and related businesses, create vibrant places and promote childhood wellness by improving access to healthy local food.

Developed as a partnership among the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Transportation, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Delta Regional Authority, this initiative is part of the White House Rural Council’s Rural Impact work to improve quality of life and upward mobility for children and families in rural and tribal communities.

“Local Foods, Local Places helps people access healthy local food and supports new businesses in neighborhoods that need investment,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “The program is good for the environment, public health and the economy. By helping bring healthy local food to market and offering new walking and biking options, Local Foods, Local Places can help improve air quality, support local economies, and protect undeveloped green space.” Read More

10 Beginning Farmer Training Programs Across the U.S. Focused on Sustainability

February 2, 2016 |
Students at the Merry Lea sustainable farm in Indiana are seen working at the “kitchen farm”. (photo courtesy of Jon Zirkle/Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center)

Students at the Merry Lea sustainable farm in Indiana are seen working at the “kitchen farm”. (photo courtesy of Jon Zirkle/Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center)

The average age of American farmers is 58.3 years, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. Young farmers are needed, and those who are inexperienced have a variety of farmer training programs (many of them focusing on sustainability) to choose from.

  • Oregon’s Rogue Farm Corps runs an internship program for beginning farmers called FarmsNext. This full-season offering trains new farmers and ranchers in sustainable agriculture. Those enrolled in the program gain up to 1,500 hours of hands-on training from a mentor, 75 hours of classroom time, local farm tours and independent study opportunities. Rogue Farm Corps runs four chapters across the state: Rogue Valley, South Willamette, Portland and Central Oregon. The organization was founded in 2003 by farmers in the southern part of the state who saw the need to provide education to those new to agriculture.

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Congressman Mark Takano Works to Unleash Power of Agriculture for Riverside’s Health and Prosperity

February 1, 2016 |
Official Portrait - Mark Takano 113th

Congressman Mark Takano, whose district includes the City of Riverside, spoke at the 2014 GrowRIVERSIDE conference and is a champion of local and sustainable food and agriculture. (photo courtesy Josh Weisz/Office of Congressman Mark Takano)

Congressman Mark Takano, a Democrat from California’s 41st congressional district, was born in Riverside, California. The longtime Riverside Community College Board of Trustees member delivered a keynote address at GrowRIVERSIDE’s “Citrus and Beyond” conference in 2014, and he understands the importance of local sustainable agriculture to the economic prosperity of Riverside.

Seedstock caught up with Congressman Takano, who answered some of our questions:

Seedstock: What are your impressions on the pursuit of the development of local food system infrastructure in your district?

Takano: We’re making good progress, but there’s more work to do. The efforts of GrowRIVERSIDE are really encouraging and I was honored to be a keynote speaker at the GrowRIVERSIDE “Citrus and Beyond” conference. It really takes buy-in from consumers to get this kind of thing going and that’s what I’ve been seeing. Read More

Hub-to-school: Food Hubs and Schools in Vermont Work Together to Drive Localization of Food System

February 1, 2016 |
Volunteers pose next to boxes of gleaned food, all destined for a Vermont food hub. Numerous food hubs in the state supply produce to schools. (photo courtesy Abbey Willard/Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets)

Volunteers pose next to boxes of gleaned food, all destined for a Vermont food hub. Numerous food hubs in the state supply produce to schools. (Photo courtesy Abbey Willard/Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets)

Food hubs and farm-to-school programs are essential mechanisms in increasing access to food produced locally and sustainably. In Vermont, an effort is underway to combine the power of both.

As the recipient of a USDA farm-to-school grant in 2013, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) produced a report titled “Using Food Hubs to Create Sustainable FTS (Farm-to-School) Programs.” It explores how to leverage “non-traditional resources to expand farm-to-School market relationships between Vermont’s schools and producers.”

The publication was released in March 2015, and now, more than nine months later, VAAFM local foods administrator Abbey Willard is pleased with its impact. Read More

From Blight to Opportunity: Detroit Woman Puts Kids to Work in Community Garden

January 28, 2016 |
Riet Schumack (left) holds a check donation to the organization she helped cofound, Neighbors Building Brightmoor. (photo courtesy of Riet Schumack)

Riet Schumack (left) holds a check donation to the organization she helped cofound, Neighbors Building Brightmoor. (photo courtesy of Riet Schumack)

Riet Schumack not only has a heart for gardening and kids, but also for the city she loves and calls home: Detroit. And since 2006, her heart has led her to help inner city kids become gardeners, and in the process, transform blight to beauty.

In 2006, she co-founded the Brightmoor Youth Garden in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood as a way to counteract prostitution and drug dealing in the area, as well as to provide a safe space for children. Read More

Open Data from USDA, Microsoft Cloud Technology Become Tools to Strengthen Food Supply Through “Innovation Challenge” Winners

January 27, 2016 |

7457.USDA_challenge_496x312Press release – WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Microsoft officials today announced the winners of the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge, in which contestants used USDA agriculture production open data to develop online tools that can help make the American food supply more resilient in the face of climate change.

“In yet another example of how public and private resources can be leveraged together to address significant global concerns, the winners of the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge have used open government data to create an impressive array of innovative tools to help food producers and our communities prepare for the impacts of climate change and ensure our nation’s ability to provide plentiful, affordable food,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “For more than 100 years, USDA has compiled data on the farm economy, production, and the health of crops around the country, and it is exciting to see such modern, useful tools spring from these information sources.” Read More

Q&A: Dr. Peggy A. Mauk of UC Riverside Discusses Economic and Social Benefits of Strengthening Local Food System

January 25, 2016 |
Dr. Peggy A. Mauk. Director of Agricultural Operations and Subtropical Horticulture Specialist, UC Riverside Photo courtesy of Dr, Mauk

Dr. Peggy A. Mauk. Director of Agricultural Operations and Subtropical Horticulture Specialist, UC Riverside
Photo courtesy of Dr, Mauk

Mention the southern Californian City of Riverside and people often think of oranges. This is hardly surprising, since it’s the birthplace of the state’s citrus industry and home to an internationally respected citrus research center run by the University of California, Riverside.

An effort is now underway, though, that could change perceptions about food production in this citrus hub. UC Riverside and city government are collaborating on a new initiative to get farmers and residents to think outside the area’s traditional export-oriented citrus growing model by promoting the economic and social benefits of developing Riverside’s local food system.

Seedstock spoke to Dr. Peggy Mauk, Director of Agricultural Operations at UC Riverside, to learn more about this work. Read More

Urban Farmers at Forefront of Local Agriculture Movement in Riverside

January 25, 2016 |
Urban Farmer Scott Berndt of Fox Farm with his produce. Photo courtesy of Scott Berndt.

Urban Farmer Scott Berndt of Fox Farm with his produce. Photo courtesy of Scott Berndt.

Scott Berndt first moved to California to start a career in hotel and restaurant management. But having spent his childhood on a farm in South Dakota and hailing from a multi-generation family of farmers, he soon embarked on a side project: growing tomatoes.

In the early days of Fox Farm, Scott Berndt packed 300 tomato plants into his backyard in Riverside, CA, seeding them and then selling the young plants at an annual plant sale.

In 2014, Berndt’s real estate agent visited his home and asked about the crop of plants in the backyard. When Berndt told her what he was doing, and that he wished for more space, she offered the two and a half acres behind her home as a growing plot, so long as he did not use chemicals or toxins. Since Berndt was already using organic methods, and continued doing so with the flowers he cultivated on her land, it was a perfect fit. A year later, he converted an unused horse corral as additional growing space for vegetables, and Fox Farm was born. Read More

Future of Small Farms In the US and Around the World Examined by UCR Economist and Team

January 21, 2016 |
Economist Steven Helfand is part of an international team studying the future of small farms.

Economist Steven Helfand is part of an international team studying the future of small farms.

Press ReleaseRIVERSIDE, Calif. – What is the future of small farms in the United States and around the world?

UC Riverside economist Steven M. Helfand is part of an international team that hopes to answer that question, in part, by examining how productivity growth in agriculture has differed for small and large farms on five continents. Their findings may help policymakers around the world determine how best to support smaller farms that may have higher land productivity but lack the resources to be competitive in the marketplace. Read More