Merced County Cooperative Extension
Merced County Cooperative Extension
Merced County Cooperative Extension
University of California
Merced County Cooperative Extension

Posts Tagged: SAREP

Youth-run garden provides 10,000 pounds of produce for San Diego families

Through the Second Chance Youth Garden, young people in San Diego County provide food to their communities through a farm stand and CSA model. Photos by Diego Lynch

UC SAREP's Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems grant helps support Second Chance garden

Fifteen-year-old Xavier knows the anger within him will never leave. “I can't ever get rid of it,” he said.

“I've always wanted to just fight for no reason; I just had an anger issue, losing my temper quick with people,” added Xavier, a ninth-grader in San Diego County. “I have high expectations of myself.”

Xavier is working to keep his emotions under control, and he has found a sense of calm through his volunteer work. He was an intern – and then a peer supervisor – in the youth-run garden of Second Chance, a San Diego-based organization that works to break the cycles of poverty and incarceration by providing housing and job training to adults and young people.

The youth garden was started in 2012 by Second Chance, an organization that works to break the cycles of poverty and incarceration by providing housing and job training.

Operating their garden as a small farm business, youth in the program, ages 14 to 21, offer produce to the community through their farm stand and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model.

“The project incorporates a ‘farm to fork' approach in which youth not only experience how to grow food, but how to cook and eat healthfully,” said Gail Feenstra, director of the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, which has a grant program that funds research and education projects – such as the youth garden – supporting sustainable food systems.

“Second Chance works primarily with youth in communities of color, providing them with training and also helping them develop confidence in themselves,” Feenstra said.

Filling a critical need for fresh produce

Caelli Wright, program manager of the Second Chance youth garden, said that grant funds from SAREP – a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – have been used to purchase the supplies needed to sustain the program. The garden has filled a critical need for produce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Located near Encanto Elementary School, the youth-run garden has provided 10,000 pounds of produce to families at Encanto that have needed help during the pandemic.

“After the pandemic hit, we recognized the increased need for fresh food in our neighborhoods,” Wright said. “That need was already there – southeast San Diego is considered a ‘food swamp' or ‘food apartheid', if you will – and with the onset of COVID, that need just escalated with unemployment and complications in our food production systems.”

Through a partnership with UC San Diego Center for Community Health and Encanto Elementary School (located down the block from the garden), donations enabled the program to give its CSA shares to about 25 families at Encanto. Over the course of the pandemic, the youth have grown 10,000 pounds of produce to donate.

At the same time, the program helps the young participants grow. For Xavier, being outdoors with peers empowered him to develop positive relationships. Previously, as a student in a charter school program, he was not accustomed to interacting with people and groups. Volunteering in the youth garden has given him a fresh perspective and understanding of others.

“Learning to be patient with people and [to] accept sometimes that if I don't know something, I need to ask about it, because I used to be so in my ego that I thought I knew everything,” Xavier explained. “But I don't know everything – I just learned to accept some things…that's just being part of life. And that's something that the garden has helped me with, personally.”

Opportunities for personal, social growth

Young people grow valuable skills in gardening, landscaping and agriculture, while also developing their social skills in a collaborative environment.

Developing – and redeveloping – social skills are especially important for students, as they return from the disconnections associated with remote learning.

“Right now, with a lot of students facing the aftermath of COVID and being restricted to learning at home and not getting as much social interaction in their daily lives, it's led to a lot of challenges, mental health-wise, and social and emotional learning-wise,” Wright said. “The garden program provides that opportunity that some youth have been missing out on.”

In southeast San Diego, such crucial opportunities for personal growth and career exploration are harder to come by, and Second Chance started the garden in 2012 to give youth a unique work experience and valuable skills. About 400 young people have participated in the program.

“The youth that we serve are coming from low-income neighborhoods that are underserved with resources,” Wright said. “They just are not exposed to the same opportunities [as those in higher-income areas] to build skills or be ready for the workforce or to reach higher education – so that's where our program comes in and helps deliver those needed services.”

Xavier, who originally came to the garden because he heard that landscaping could be a lucrative career, recently finished his second stint as a peer supervisor in the youth garden. With his new skills, he and his cousin are looking to start a business of their own, cutting grass and doing yardwork in their community.

And, late last month, Xavier transferred to a more traditional high school environment.

“Being in a charter school after two, three years,” he said, “I've realized I miss being around more people.”

Posted on Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 9:23 AM
Focus Area Tags: Economic Development, Food, Yard & Garden

Building institutional markets for plant-based proteins

"Dried Beans" by dominik18s is licensed under CC BY 2.0.jpg

This spring, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) is joining a nationwide effort led by the non-profit Health Care Without Harm to build new markets in the healthcare sector for locally produced plant proteins.

More than 39% of Americans are looking to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets (1). High-protein legume crops, like peas and beans, help meet this consumer demand for more “plant-forward” diets while also benefiting the environment through their role in building healthy farm soils.

Connecting producers of plant-based proteins to nearby hospitals through farm-to-hospital programs can be a win-win for participants — producers benefit from a new market while hospitals advance their mission to promote and protect community health through better diet-based interventions (2).

The success of a farm-to-hospital program hinges on building successful collaborations and sometimes requires restructuring existing contracts or exploring new ones.

“Local food purchasing can be challenging with hospital food supply chains,” says Gail Feenstra of UC SAREP. “But the interest is there: sourcing local fresh foods and plant-based protein is good for diets and for regional prosperity. Hospitals and producers sometimes need someone to help bring them together to figure out how everyone can benefit. That's where this project comes in.”

The project team, which also includes the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Colorado State University Extension and Ecotrust, will be organizing a series of events in the coming year connecting health care representatives with producers in their regions.

These “meet and greets” will give health care representatives an opportunity to share their needs for plant proteins and prepared products they'd like, and arrange special purchasing agreements with local producers.

Project participants will also receive support from Health Care Without Harm and be given access to a suite of Plant-Forward Future resources that will help them to be successful in implementing plant-forward menus.

UC SAREP is recruiting California-based producers, processors and value-added product manufacturers of plant proteins (especially dry pulses and fresh peas and beans) who are interested in learning more about selling to the health care sector.

As part of its mission of sustainability in regional food systems, UC ANR partners with communities to help ensure fresh, local food is finding its way to consumers through a growing number of channels, including farm-to-institution programs.

Contact Gwenael Engelskirchen, UC SAREP sustainable supply chain analyst, to learn more.
Posted on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at 10:44 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food, Health

UC ANR offers free online trainings on direct sales and agritourism

The economic shocks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed California's farmers and ranchers to quickly embrace new business practices — including creative new ways to sell directly to consumers. UC ANR and partners are offering an eight-part series of free virtual trainings to help producers build their businesses with agritourism and other direct-to-consumer sales.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge shock to California's food economy, forcing many of the state's growers to embrace new business practices and drop old ones as “shelter-in-place” directives rolled across the state.

But the pandemic's challenges bring new opportunities too. Consumers' interest in local food and local outdoor experiences has grown immensely, from community-supported agriculture (CSA) and other online ordering, delivery and on-farm pickup options, to visits to farm stands, U-pick operations and other family-friendly socially distanced outdoor activities.

Pivoting to these new marketing channels opens new revenue opportunities for farmers and ranchers across California and the nation. But each new marketing channel also demands new skills and connections.

To help build growers' skills to embrace these market channels, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is partnering with the Community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF) and expert growers across California to offer the free webinar series Agritourism and Direct Sales: Best practices in COVID times and beyond.

Through eight one-hour virtual trainings held this spring, participants will learn about best practices for implementing a variety of direct-to-consumer sales approaches. These trainings are offered to anyone interested in learning more about direct-to-consumer sales and agritourism. Topics and dates are:

Getting started with community supported agriculture
Tuesday February 23, 11am–12pm PST
Best practices for U-pick operations Monday March 8, 3-4pm PST
Operating a safe, healthy and successful farm stand Monday March 22, 3-4pm PST
Best practices for visitor interaction with animals Monday April 5, 3-4pm PST
Best practices for farm tours, workshops and farm-based education Monday April 19, 3-4pm PST
Online sales options and methods Monday May 3, 3-4pm PST
Creative marketing and staying connected with social media Monday May 17, 3-4pm PST
Community collaboration – farm trails, tourism partners and more Monday May 24, 3-4pm PST


Register at


For more information:
Penny Leff, UC SAREP,, 530.902.9763 (cell)

Funding for this webinar series was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant #AM200100XXXXG177. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

Posted on Friday, February 12, 2021 at 12:16 PM
Tags: agritourism (0), California (0), consumer (0), CSA (0), farm stand (0), farms (0), ranches (0), U-pick (0), UC SAREP (0)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Small-scale growers meet virtually to discuss organic agriculture

Over 150 current and prospective organic growers gleaned practical information shared by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources experts at the “Introduction to Small-Scale Organic Agriculture” workshop held virtually on Dec. 15, 2020. While most attendees were from inland San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles and Orange counties, a handful were

Farmer Grace Legaspi shared tips on growing microgreens.
from other continents, including growers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who stayed connected into the wee hours of their morning. 

“I attended this workshop and it was very helpful to hear different aspects of organic farming from experienced people,” one attendee from Sri Lanka said in an email.

UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) Director Gail Feenstra and Deputy Director Sonja Brodt kicked off the day with a presentation on program goals and resources. SAREP supports the goals of growers by developing more sustainable agricultural practices and effective regional food systems. They described a new online self-directed training program for organic specialty crop farmers in California and those in transition at They also discussed marketing and business management.

Houston Wilson, director of UC ANR's new Organic Agriculture Institute, provided an overview of the program and pointed out that organic farming is expanding throughout California and includes more than 360 commodities. UC ANR will continue to take a lead role in developing and extending research and extension to this important sector, he said.

UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor Rachel Surls discussed legal basics such as permits, licenses and regulations. UC Cooperative Extension organic agriculture specialist Joji Muramoto talked about the importance of soil health, a very popular and important topic. Other UC Cooperative Extension presenters covered nitrogen management (small farms advisor Margaret Lloyd), irrigation management (irrigation specialist Amir Haghverdi), integrated pest management (IPM advisor Cheryl Wilen), and plant diseases (plant pathology specialist Alex Putman).

“Thank you for the great workshop and resource links you provided for workshop materials and beyond! I have already downloaded and started to incorporate information from a few of the UC ANR pest management guidelines and legal and marketing links,” wrote an attendee from Chino. “Tips from peers are always great, too.”

Lavender grower Carol Hamre spoke about her trials and successes regarding vertebrate pest control and drip irrigation.

During the afternoon portion of the workshop, five California organic farmers shared tips from their experiences. Carol Hamre (123 Farm, Cherry Valley) spoke about her trials and successes regarding vertebrate pest control and drip irrigation. Grace Legaspi (Tiny Leaf Micro Farm, Temescal Valley) talked about the art and science of growing microgreens. Lisa Wright (RD Flavorfull Farm, Riverside) discussed the importance of planting the right varieties in the right seasons. Arthur Levine (Huerta del Valle, Ontario) stressed the importance of collaboration and working synergistically as a team, and the importance of inclusiveness in all practices. Richard Zapien (‘R Farm, UC Riverside) shared inspiring stories and opportunities regarding the popular and successful UC Riverside community garden he manages.

“I am very glad to attend this workshop as a Bangladeshi,” wrote a grateful attendee from half way around the world. “Really, I have learned many things about organic farming in this workshop. I am working in the Tree nuts sector in Bangladesh but I have only cashew nuts plantation and processing factory…. I want to make an organic farm on 25 acres of land to cultivate vegetables, fruits, livestock, and fishing. Thanks again.”

Following the workshop, an extensive list of UCANR and external resources on topics covered during the workshop was provided to attendees

“I wanted to thank you for such a great webinar,” replied another Southern California participant. “I am a farm business advisor with the non-profit Kitchen Table Advisors and I learned a lot myself. Thank you for providing this list of resources. I look forward to the webinar recordings and slides, which I hope to be able to share with some of my farmer clients.”

The efforts of our co-sponsors also led to the overall success of the workshop. Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (IERCD) Manager Mandy Parkes, co-moderator, discussed district irrigation and soil testing resources and handed out gift certificates throughout the day. Evelyn Hurtado from IERCD volunteered to translate the workshop recordings into Spanish and Maggie O'Neill shared membership information and resources from the San Bernardino County Farm Bureau. Other co-sponsors included the Riverside County and Orange County Farm Bureaus. The California Certified Organic Foundation promoted the workshop and heightened awareness of UC ANR's programs and activities in the field of organic agriculture.

The PowerPoint presentations and recordings in English will be posted on the UCCE San Bernardino County website: by Feb. 15, 2021, and the Spanish translations later this winter. Next year, if conditions allow, actual farm visits will be included.

Posted on Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 7:04 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food

UC ANR helps accelerate cultivation, marketing of the perennial grain Kernza

As part of its mission of sustainability in agriculture, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) is interested in crops that hold environmental and economic promise — such as moringa, the drought-tolerant “superfood” grown by Central Valley farmers, or elderberry, offering carbon sequestration and pollinator benefits when planted in hedgerows.

In this vein, UC SAREP is part of a recently awarded $10 million grant from USDA focusing on the adoption of a perennial grain, Kernza®, as a means to shift U.S. agriculture towards reduced tillage and increased carbon sequestration.

Field of ripening intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), known as Kernza, at The Land Institute's research farm in Salina, Kansas. (Photo: Lee R. DeHaan)

The Kernza-CAP project is led by Jacob Jungers of the University of Minnesota. The project team includes researchers, farmers, educators, industry leaders, policy experts and climate scientists at 10 universities and 24 non-profit and farm and food organizations nationwide.

Kernza is the trademark name for the grain bred from intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), a non-native perennial forage grass from Eurasia introduced to the U.S. in the early 20th century.

While intermediate wheatgrass has been grown for decades in the U.S. as a forage crop, its use as a commercial grain crop for human consumption is new. Breeding efforts with Kernza have focused on traits to make intermediate wheatgrass a profitable grain crop, including increased seed yield and seed size. (Kernza is traditionally bred and is not a genetically modified crop.)

Kernza has strong potential to benefit the environment and increase farm income by producing both a premium grain and a high volume of quality straw.

As a perennial, Kernza can be harvested for several years in a row, avoiding the cycle of annual tillage resulting in carbon loss, erosion and soil degradation. The deep roots of the crop — up to 10 feet in depth — is naturally occurring, promoting carbon sequestration and increased water infiltration and mimicking native prairie grasses.

Research and early production trials have shown that Kernza can reduce seed, fertilizer and machinery costs for farmers. And, because its grain is high in protein, fat and fiber, it can be used to make flour, crackers, tortillas, bread, pasta, granola, cereal, beer and whiskey.

Kernza is being strongly promoted to early-adopter growers as a dual-use crop for grain and forage. But because it is a new crop, strong relationships with businesses in various agricultural sectors are needed to expand early adoption of processing, transporting and incorporating Kernza into farmers' operations and food products.

“A big stumbling block for getting emerging crops like Kernza off the ground is the capacity to build a community of growers, processors and sellers who can form that new supply chain,” says Gail Feenstra, UC SAREP director and Kernza-CAP team member.

“SAREP's role in the Kernza-CAP project is as something of a ‘matchmaker,' connecting the market potential in California to the nationwide Kernza coalition. We'll be convening growers, millers, bakers and brewers to figure out practical steps for adoption,” says Gwenaël Engelskirchen of UC SAREP. “In the later years of the project, we'll be looking for growers who might be interested in trialing Kernza in California.”

The Kernza-CAP project launched on Sept. 1, 2020. Results from the five-year project will include new cultivars that yield more grain and enhance critical ecosystem services, a better understanding of those ecosystem services, best practices for Kernza growers, supportive policy and educational tools, and multiple operating regional supply chains meeting increased national market demand for Kernza.

More information on Kernza, the project partners, updates and reports on research findings, additional press materials, and field day demonstration information can be found on

The Kernza trademark is owned and managed by The Land Institute, a non-profit research organization based in Salina, Kansas that is playing a critical role in developing Kernza and other perennial crops. This work is supported by AFRI Sustainable Agricultural Systems Coordinated Agricultural Program (SAS-CAP) grant no. 2020-68012-31934 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Posted on Thursday, November 5, 2020 at 10:40 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Environment, Food, Innovation

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