By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR
Local food marketing, business and market support for small-scale farmers and food producers, new agricultural products and technology development are parts of a University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources project designed to boost jobs and farm resiliency in the San Joaquin Valley.
The Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation Coalition, or F3, received a $65.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Of that award, about $16 million is designated for the Local Farm and Food Innovation initiative led by UC ANR. With the addition of matching share of cost contributions, the total budget for UC ANR’s project is over $20.5 million.
“As a key part of the broader F3 project, this Local Farm and Food Innovation initiative is going to be transformative,” said Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “By strengthening the parts of the food system to better support each other and drive innovation across the region, it’s going to deliver many environmental and economic benefits to Californians.”
Gabriel Youtsey is chief innovation officer for The VINE, a UC ANR initiative that helps new technology make it to market and businesses get off the ground by connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and resources, and aligning university and startup technology development with industry needs.
“The Local Farm and Food Innovation initiative is a win for inclusive innovation in agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and a critical part of the F3 project,” said Youtsey. “It provides a broad set of training and support resources and expertise to help farms, food producers and vendors of all sizes to grow their businesses profitably and sustainably, in alignment with the economic goals of the region.”
To ensure technology solutions address the needs of small-scale farmers, food business owners and local communities, they will be invited to participate in directing the innovation activities, Youtsey said.
“With our deep roots in the San Joaquin Valley, UC Cooperative Extension is uniquely positioned to draw expertise from other parts of UC and expand its efforts in helping farmers and food entrepreneurs realize enduring prosperity and community resilience,” Humiston said. “UC ANR experts are already helping immigrants and other underserved communities adapt to climate change, add flexibility to supply chains and grow grassroots innovations. We are excited the federal government is investing in making food systems more equitable and profitable, and the solutions more scalable.”
To assist small-scale farmers in complying with new regulations and production challenges, adapting to climate change and finding new markets for their produce, UC ANR is convening the Small Farms Technology and Innovation Alliance. They are collaborating with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and other nonprofit organizations to provide translation services, training and marketing assistance to farmers and food producers.
Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor for Fresno and Tulare counties, and Houston Wilson, UC Organic Agriculture Institute director and UC Cooperative Extension tree crops entomology specialist based at UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, are leading outreach and engagement with small-scale and organic farmers.
“While we certainly need to create new tools to address the unique challenges of organic agriculture, it is critical that farmers and other end-users be involved from start to finish,” said Wilson. “The development of appropriate technology requires communication across a wide range of stakeholders.”
To make new technology more accessible for small farmers and food producers, UC ANR will create a new team to test and demonstrate technology that is developed as part of F3 and by startups around the world. To promote adoption, the team will create a tool lending library so farmers can borrow and try out equipment and get training to use it.
“This project will expand on current efforts to support small-scale farmers with access to equipment, new markets and technical support,” said Dahlquist-Willard. “Our team is committed to meaningful engagement of farmers and San Joaquin Valley communities in the development of new tools and resources for the benefit of the region.”
For local food entrepreneurs and vendors, UC ANR will launch the Cultiva La Salud Kitchen and Food Academy and the Saint Rest Food Entrepreneurship Program, which will provide a kitchen, equipment and training. These will create new jobs and, over time, provide a marketplace to sell those products. The Local Food Marketing Assistance Program will promote purchases of locally grown produce and food products.
The Fresno-Merced project was one of 21 projects funded of the 529 proposed for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge intended to uplift underserved communities.