USDA NRCS Works To Increase Diversity

NRCS Conducts Outreach for Diversity

 

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. Elisabeth “Elise” Miller, is an area engineer for the entire Southern California region. “I also serve my agency as the NRCS-California LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager, a collateral duty that I perform on several levels to increase diversity,” said Miller.

 

“First, I work to educate employees within my agency, to make them better informed and more in tune to language,” Miller explained. “Then, I work to get a more diversified workforce within the USDA,” she added, to make the organization stronger and better.

 

Unlock the secrets in the soil diversity

“My efforts might include going to a university,” she elaborated, “trying to tie in with their resource center and encouraging more people who identify as LGBT to apply for federal jobs. Our colleges, the University of California (UC) and the California State (Cal State) University system, have a lot of really good, positive and powerful resource centers that I’m hoping will continue to help us with our outreach and pull more people in who want to work for us.”

 

“Certainly we do have human resources,” commented Miller. “And we do a lot of outreach. With California being so large and so diverse,” Miller said, “it is hard to reach out to everybody. We have to start with the big UC schools first. We also try to reach out to universities such as Fresno State, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo or Pomona or UC Davis, or Humboldt State. Those would be schools that certainly we want to outreach to and try to bring more of those graduating students in under our fold.”

 

“My agency is a very technical agency,” said Miller. “We work on conservation-type issues—resource issues that farmers, ranchers or private landowners might deal with—requiring an agronomist, biologist or soil scientist. I often go out with a multi-disciplinary team and meet with a farmer, rancher, or just a landowner.”

 

“Every farmer I meet has some kind of issue,” Miller commented, “whether it’s pest management, whether it’s dealing with manure management or an erosion issue that’s going on. If they have a hillside orchard, they have to deal with that.”

 

“And obviously they focus a lot on drought management and water conservation,” Miller explained, “A lot of these farmers of course are forced to use groundwater, which is depleting the groundwater sources and may be causing irreparable damage.

 

We work cooperatively to try to help them resolve their land issues. That’s what I like about my agency—that we’re invited there. We’re not there to push a regulation. We’re there to help them to better manage. They always maintain control of their decision making. We try to give them options available and we have cost share programs to assist them, if something is identified. We work towards developing conservation plans on the property.”

 

The agency is also responsible for the soil survey work. “We map the soils five feet deep,” said Miller, “to gather information, resource information, which has worked fantastically well for a farmer to know what kind of soil he’s dealing with. It may make a difference on how a farmer irrigates. It may be why he’s having a problem with a crop or many other areas that could be helpful to them.”

 

“We are in the community. We’re very much aware; we know who the farmers are, we know what the issues are and we work with farmers to try to address their land problems. We don’t just pop in and then pop out,” Miller said.


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRSC) works with local growers across America to conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources with voluntary programs and science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. 

Sparked Cultural Interest in Gardening and Locally Grown Produce

Locally Grown Food Inspires Consumers to Learn More, Garden at Home 

By Laurie Greene, Editor

Cultural changes in eating habits are sparking an added interest in locally grown produce. Scott Steinmaus, professor in the Biological Sciences Department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO), outlined the surge in local produce purchasing and how it is igniting consumer interest in growing their own gardens.

“The food craze is a real big movement right now,” Steinmaus stated, “especially with urban folks. Some of the biggest scenes are the foodie craze—that farm-to-table idea of buying locally, organically-produced food.”

Scott Steinmaus, professor of Biological Sciences Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Scott Steinmaus, professor of Biological Sciences Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Continuing, “And the cooking shows are out of control-popular, right? Where does the food come from? It comes from here; this is what it’s all about,” he said, with pride.

The growing trends are also reinvigorating students to become more involved, according to Steinmaus. “Students are asking where their food comes from,” he commented, “and who the farmers are that produce such healthy fruits and vegetables. That is an exciting part of our discipline as well—this foodie craze, and I think our students want to become a part of that,” he reflected.

The push for local produce is also inspring more people to grow their own home gardens. “When they garden, they get it,” Steinmaus explained. “And as soon as people get their hands dirty and as soon as they produce their first tomato; there’s nothing more empowering than producing your own food,” he said, “even if it’s a little bit.”

With this renewed interest in home gardening, Steinmaus observed, many are discovering their preconceived notions of farming were not quite accurate. “We’re working with the American Horticultural Society, putting together the videos that show people farming isn’t what you might think it is; it is actually completely different.” Steinmaus said.

“Farming involves a lot more than a green thumb,” he elaborated. “It requires the understanding of growing cycles and identifying various deficiencies. It utilizes very high technology. It is producing food; there is nothing more empowering than putting food on your kitchen table that you grew in your garden, or was grown by a farmer you know just down the street, and you know his [or her] name,” said Steinmaus.

CA Farm Bureau Awards Ag Students

CA Farm Bureau Awards Young Farmers and Ranchers Program Students

Service to community and Farm Bureau earned awards for participants in the California Young Farmers and Ranchers program, and a student from California State University, Fresno, won the state’s annual Collegiate Discussion Meet. The awards were presented at the Feb. 27 annual California Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference in San Luis Obispo.

For a second straight year, the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee earned the YF&R Committee of the Year Award, for its activities during 2015. The committee, composed of 45 active members, volunteered at numerous Farm Bureau and agricultural education events; donated food to local food banks and toys to children of military service members; presented three college scholarships; and raised money for the scholarship program and for the California Farm Bureau Federation Fund to Protect the Family Farm.

Napa County Farm Bureau member Johnnie White received the Star YF&R Award, which recognizes a young farmer or rancher for service to agriculture. White, a sixth-generation farmer, works as operations supervisor for a vineyard-management company and as a volunteer firefighter in St. Helena. He has been an active YF&R volunteer since 2006, serves as first vice chair of the State YF&R Committee and is a member of the 2016 Leadership Farm Bureau class.

California Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers 2016 Conference logo
California Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers 2016 Conference

Fresno State junior Hunter Berry (San Jacinto), an agricultural business major, won the Collegiate Discussion Meet, which simulates a committee meeting with active participation and positive group discussion. Berry began his agricultural training in high school classes and FFA activities. At Fresno State, he is pursuing an accounting concentration and hopes to obtain a master’s degree on his banking or financial analysis career path. Next February, Berry will become the sixth Fresno State student to represent California at the American Farm Bureau’s Collegiate Discussion Meet national competition.

Riley Nilsen (Nipomo), an agricultural science student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, was first runner-up in the competition. The other finalists were Fresno State senior agricultural business student Jacob Vazquez (Cottonwood) and Cal Poly student Haley Warner (Angels Camp). Berry earned a $1,250 prize sponsored by AgroLiquid; Nilsen earned $750 and the other finalists each earned $500.

Fresno State won the collegiate team competition, the fifth team and individual titles for the group under the direction of adviser Dr. Steven Rocca, Fresno State agricultural education professor. Other team titles came in 2014, 2013, 2008 and 2006. Berry said. “Dr. Rocca did a great job of mentoring us before and during the competition, as well as arranging for guest speakers beforehand such as Ryan Jacobsen from the Fresno County Farm Bureau. Having four of our team members make the semifinals was especially rewarding.

In addition to Berry and Vazquez, Fresno State’s team included agricultural education-communication senior Dominique Germann (Ceres), animal science-livestock business management junior Emma Briggs (Santa Rosa) and animal science-pre-veterinary senior Ana Lopez Campos (Tulare).

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American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program serves agriculturalists between the ages of 18 and 35 who are actively involved in production and affiliated professions.

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 53,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.

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Sources: 

California Farm Bureau Federation

California State University, Fresno, Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Teçhnology (Geoffrey Thurner).

Photo: Collegiate Team Award Winners (2016); source: California State University, Fresno, Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology

Fresno State to host commencement for state ag leaders

The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State will host the California Agricultural Leadership Program commencement ceremony for the first time at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7 in North Gym, Room 118.

The commencement will cap a three-day seminar for the 44th graduating class of emerging or mid-career agricultural leaders. Graduates of the program acquire skills to enhance the long-term success of their businesses, farms, ranches and organizations.

Over the past 17 months, the group has focused on leadership theory, effective communication, motivation, critical and strategic thinking, change management, emotional intelligence, and complex social and cultural issues.

Four Fresno State graduates – Dustin Fuller, Trevor Meyers, Heather Mulholland and Carissa Koopman Rivers – are among the 24 members who will graduate and were inaugurated in October 2013 at Fresno State.

Each fellow has participated in 55 seminar days, including a 10-day national travel seminar to Gettysburg, Penn., Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and a 15-day international travel seminar to South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“We congratulate the 24 fellows on their important achievement of completing the Ag Leadership Program,” said Bob Gray, president and CEO of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, which operates the program. “These leaders will continue to learn and grow, take on new challenges, assume leadership roles and make a difference.”

The 45th class, inaugurated in October 2014 at Fresno State, will also convene on campus during the three-day event. The class includes four additional Fresno State graduates –- Chris Jensen, Stanley Kjar, Lauren Reid and Justin Spellman.

Fresno State animal sciences Professor Dr. Michael Thomas serves as the Jordan College’s core faculty member for the program’s education team and as the foundation’s director of education.

“We are grateful to the Jordan College for its ongoing support of Ag Leadership and are very pleased to hold our inauguration and commencement ceremonies on campus,” Gray said. “Commencement has been held in Pomona for many decades, but we felt it was important to move it to the more centrally-located Fresno State. We also thank Wells Fargo for their generous sponsorship of commencement.”

Fresno State is one of four California universities that partner with the program. The others are Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Pomona and University of California, Davis.

More than 1,200 men and women have participated in the program since the first class was introduced in 1970, making it the longest continuously-operating agriculture leadership training experience in the nation.

For more information, contact Meredith Rehrman Ritchie at 916-984-4473 or mritchie@agleaders.org.