Friday, July 30, 2010

Gio's Summer in Santa Cruz

Yesterday I had the chance to visit Santa Cruz and sit in on Gio's class at the Santa Cruz Center for Agrobiology. In the three short hours I was in class I learned SO MUCH! I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge that Gio is going to bring back to FEAST this fall. The farm itself is spectacular! If you are going to be in/around Santa Cruz at all in the next few weeks I recommend trying to get a tour of the farm from Gio. It is on the top of a hill with incredible views of the ocean and the produce is beautiful-- fruit trees everywhere plus every flower and vegetable you could imagine. We spent some walking through the Chadwick garden which is the first garden that Santa Cruz built and seems to be one of the birthplaces of alternative farming in California. The peach trees were heavy with fruit (we got to eat some of the fallen ripe ones :)) and the pear and apple trees are already so overloaded I don't know how they are going to stay standing until fall!
I wish I had brought my camera along but I guess you'll just have to go see for yourselves!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Agro-Food System

Here is an interview with Raj Patel that showcases his perspective on the problems that we currently face in regards to food, hunger and sustainability. Raj recently released The Value of Nothing which is one of my favorite books. He has done a lot of work with Food First and the Via Campesina movement. Here's a link to his website.
Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Propagation is one of the most important aspects of a successful agricultural endeavor. A grower must decide whether to direct seed or transplant a crop. All root crops or ones that have taproots are usually direct seeded while others are commonly transplanted in smaller operations. At the Chadwick, or Up-, Garden at UCSC about 80-85% of the crops are transplanted, a practice that can be used to extend the growing season and ensure a specific crop density in the beds. However, transplants require the additional costs of building and maintaining a greenhouse facility and the extra labor that goes into the process of transplanting. Typically, two different types of trays are used: wooden flats and plug trays (often the Speedling brand). Each method has its own pros and cons. Wooden flats fit many more plants in a small area but require more skill for transplanting and starts can also be kept for a longer period of time in wooden flats before transplanting if environmental conditions are not favorable to transplanting (8 or 9 weeks). Starts from plug trays are much easier to transplant but with limited nutrients the starts must be transplanted within 5 to 6 weeks after planting. Furthermore, there are compaction issues as the soil begins to lose pore space and nutrients. Some varieties of plants simply grow better in one type of tray while others do well in both. The Up-Garden uses more flats in the spring and more plug trays in the summer. Starts can generally be transplanted once they have 6 to 8 leaves but before doing so trays are placed on outside benches for a few days to strengthen cell walls with wind movement and to “harden them off” to the conditions outdoors. This will minimize transplant shock and ensure successful transplanting.

One of the most important aspects of propagation for starts is the potting mixture used in the plug trays or wooden flats. The soil media must physically anchor the plant and provide adequate drainage properties to reduce fungal disease but retain moisture and encourage gas exchange in the pore space. Furthermore, when growing in a greenhouse, the environment is incredibly conducive to growth of all kinds, including diseases and pests. For this reason, some propagators believe in using a sterile mix; simply heating soil to 130ºF for at least 4 hours should kill all of the detrimental seeds, pathogens, pests and diseases but still maintain some beneficials while if the soil reaches around 180/190ºF it is pretty much sterile and not biologically active. At the CASFS farm, they believe in biologically active soil mixtures and are conscientious about trying to utilize local and renewable components. Peat moss is quite common in potting mixes but it is a slow growing resource in the Northern latitudes that is being quickly degraded. Their mixture is primarily soil and compost based, but it includes coconut husks, vermiculite, leaf mold (leaf compost), perlite, sand and sometimes fish, blood or bone meal.

In controlling for pests, pathogens and diseases, it is important to keep greenhouses clean, encourage good air flow through the site, avoid contamination, deal with any outbreaks quickly and aim for idealized soil structure, which is 50% air by volume. Roots grow in the pore space (air content) of soil so it is important that soil structure supports good, even pore space. This pore space should be 50% water and 50% air.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Organic Certification

We heard about the organic certification process and standards from Amy Lamendella, an inspector for California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). It was enlightening to hear what is regulated under the 2002 National Organic Program. Certification involves a lot of paperwork, documents and receipts; Amy described it as the process by which farmers document their practices and turn a physical enterprise into a verbal description. The National Organic Program is part of the USDA and a certification branch deals with all of the third-party labeling organizations. The USDA does not actually do any organic certifying, that is done by organizations like CCOF, Oregon Tilth, or QAI. Instead, the USDA is the overseer.

Contrary to popular belief, organic does not mean that pesticides are not used. Basically, synthetic substances are not allowed in organic agriculture unless specifically approved under the National Organic Program and all naturally occurring substances are allowed unless specifically prohibited. As a result, some natural and synthetic pesticides are still used in organic agriculture. However, farmers must document pest management strategies and show evidence that previous methods have failed before they are allowed to use some of the stronger pesticides.

Organic farms must purchase organic seed, if available, for both food crops and cover crops. Furthermore, soil organic matter must be maintained or improved under organic management. However, the National Organic Program does not regulate labor practices; inspectors turn a blind eye to illegal labor conditions and practices since it is not part of their protocol.
The organic program also has strict regulations for compost, specifically for piles that contain animal material. For organic certification of compost piles with manure, egg shells, or other animal products, piles must reach and maintain a temperature between 131ºF and 170ºF for 15 days and be turned at least 5 times during that period. However, if the compost is going to be applied to a field that will not have crops harvested from it for more than 120 days these requirements are not necessary. The certification of organic compost is incredibly important for farms that make and use their own compost. The piles at the CASFS farm at UCSC are tested to make sure that they meet the standards.

When farms seek organic certification, there is a three year transition period from the last application of prohibited substances. During this time, it can be hard to survive economically since conventional practices are prohibited but produce still can’t garner the organic price premium. One of the most interesting things is that if gross annual sales are not more than $5,000, growers must register as organic with the state but are not required to be certified. In other words, if our on-campus garden registers, our produce can be sold as organic as long as we adhere to the organic standards without having to pay for third-party certification.

Agroecology Practicum, UCSC

This summer I wanted to learn more about gardening and agriculture in general, basically how to grow things! Early last semester I thought about interning on a farm or finding a summer educational program to take. Through both internet research and word of mouth I found the Agroecology Practicum at UC Santa Cruz. It is part of the Environmental Studies department and it is a summer course that counts for upper division credit. There are two sessions of the class; each one is five weeks long. The curriculum is a mixture of both hands-on work, in the gardens and on the farm, and classroom-based discussions and lectures. As students, we get integrated for work in the fields with the farm apprentices, who are taking a 6-month apprenticeship program that focuses on all aspects of organic farm management. The apprenticeship program seems amazing; most of the 37 or so apprentices live communally in these tent cabins and they learn about organic farming while operating this amazing on-campus educational farm. About 7 get paid to stay for a second year to help run the program. The farm is part of CASFS, the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. UCSC is one of only a few schools to have such a strong program in agroecology, which is basically the intersection of agronomy and ecology. It seeks to integrate ecological principles and phenomena with the goal of improving agricultural practices to increase yields, minimize environmental degradation, promote land stewardship and achieve long-term sustainability. I highly recommend taking the practicum and seeking other educational offerings in agroecology.

I will follow this post with others about specific topics that we've talked about in class. We've covered a ton of material so far and some of it is hard to explain without visual aids and hands-on experience but I'll try. Feel free to ask for any clarification!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Here's the embedded video:

You should watch this! Emily sent it to me. Its about the relationship between climate change and agriculture around the world as well as the food system's impact on the climate. Check it out.

The Food and Climate Connection from WhyHunger on Vimeo.

Originally posted by Elissa!

A LOT of exciting news

For all of those who read this:


We got the news last Monday night: Mat found the first egg, barely larger than a quarter. I still have to ask him/compare the egg to the other eggs to figure out who was the very first. We are all really excited and tonight I am making poached eggs on toast with mustard and garlic chard and swiss cheese.

In other news, there are tomatoes, corn, eggplant, melons (just starting to ripen), more summer squash, and we have one VERY large potato plant.

Here are three pictures of my dinner last night, mostly all from the garden:

Basil*, tomato*, eggplant*, zucchini* linguine with fresh Mozarella

and Corn* salad with cilantro*

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Sorry I don't know how to embed videos...but you should watch this! Emily sent it to me. Its about the relationship between climate change and agriculture around the world as well as the food system's impact on the climate. Check it out. If any of you know how to embed videos please repost this is a sexier way (and then tell me how you did it).

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hey Everyone!
I know it's been a LOOOOONNNGG time since we last posted, so here is an update on the garden. We have three summer garden managers Mat, Taylor, and Nick who keep the garden running. The chickens are great (we expect them to lay in the next month). We have corn AND Potatoes AND Eggplant. Instead of telling you what is happening in the garden, I'll just show you.

Ronde Nice Summer Squash (our biggest crop this year)