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Posts Tagged: sustainable

New college degree: “Sustainable agriculture and food systems”

Students preparing food baskets at the UC Davis Student Farm (Photo: Ann Filmer)
The University of California, Davis, is launching a new undergraduate major — “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.” The program integrates several subjects to give students an understanding of the many issues facing contemporary farming and food systems, including production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management.

As noted in the Los Angeles Times, “With rising public interest in where our food comes from — as well as in "green" living — it makes sense that higher education would be eager to attract students who want to tap into the intersection between these two fields.”

Students will focus on the social, economic, and environmental aspects of agriculture and food — from farm to table and beyond. The program is designed to help students obtain a diversity of knowledge and skills, both in the classroom and through personal experiences on and off campus.

Students will take courses in a broad range of disciplines, but will focus in one of three tracks:  Agriculture and Ecology, Food and Society, or Economics and Policy.

“This interdisciplinary curriculum will prepare students to become leaders in agriculture and food systems,” said professor Thomas Tomich, the major adviser for the program and director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.

The major is new, but UC Davis has been covering the subject in field- and classroom-based interdisciplinary learning opportunities at the Student Farm at UC Davis for more than 35 years, said Mark Van Horn, the Student Farm director who will teach a core course in the major.

“Learning through doing and reflection adds a valuable dimension to students’ education because it helps them see the connections between theory and practice in the real world,” Van Horn said.

“This is an exciting addition to the college that reflects a change in how we think about food and agriculture,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Students will gain a broad perspective of what it takes to put dinner on the table in an era of greater demand and fewer resources.”

For more information:

Posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:43 AM

Redwood symposium calls for action and collaboration

The Coast Redwood Forests in a Changing California Science Symposium was held June 21-23, 2011, at UC Santa Cruz with just under 300 registrants in attendance. Participants ranged in background from graduate level students to university forestry and natural resource faculty, land managers, conservation groups, public agencies, and land trust members. The symposium was strategically held in Santa Cruz, near the Southern end of the redwood region. Designed to present the state of our knowledge about California’s coast redwood forest ecosystems and sustainable management practices, this symposium was built on earlier redwood science symposia held in Arcata, CA in June, 1996 and in Santa Rosa, CA in March, 2004. The symposium was jointly organized by the forestry programs at UC Berkeley, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Humboldt State University, and partially supported by a grant designed to encourage research and outreach collaboration between the University of California and the California State University systems.

Attendees participated in a day long field trip and two days filled with opening sessions, concurrent presentations on research and management case studies, and a poster session. An ongoing theme of the symposium was the need for action and collaboration from all directions, including public and private land owners and managers, as well as academics and policy makers.

Symposium participants mingle and network during the evening poster reception

During the opening panel, local historian Sandy Lydon gave a synopsis of the settlement of the area and how the redwoods will always have a special history in the region. He recounted stories from his boyhood about roaming through the forests. He reminded the audience to take time from their schedules to spend time in the forests, and to urge their children to play outside to develop an appreciation for the outdoors and cultivate their imaginations.

Ruskin Hartley, Executive Director and Secretary of Save the Redwoods League, questioned what it means to save the redwoods today and argued that buying and placing land in public ownership is not enough. He believes the next 100 years will focus on restoring forests collaboratively between public and private entities. Hartley called on the audience to set “audacious goals and take collaborative actions.” He maintained that nature does not develop boundaries and that in moving forward, we should focus on a shared set of goals so that public and private land can progress simultaneously. In a time of climate change, the lines we draw on maps become increasingly irrelevant, instead we need a new paradigm to “think about building resilience and adaptability to climate change into the system to benefit both public and private owners.”

Ron Jarvis, Home Depot’s Vice President of Sustainability talked candidly about the role of environmental sustainability practices and policies as part of the home improvement retailer’s business model. He noted that when he began in the sustainability department he undertook a two year long project to understand where every sliver of wood from over 9,000 products originated to ensure sustainable wood practices. Recently, Home Depot sent a memo to their current vendors asking them to supply Home Depot with the names of their “green products.” The green product inventory exceeded over 10,000 products, yet when Jarvis’s team investigated further they deemed only about 2,000 to be worthy of the green standard. Jarvis showed that products today, because of packaging or brand names, may seem green, but the consumer must really investigate what they are buying. Jarvis hopes that in his position he can take some of that burden off of the consumer so that the majority of products that reach Home Depot shelves have already passed the test.

Opening speaker panel: Steve Sillett, Sandy Lydon, Ruskin Hartley, Ron Jarvis

During the concluding ceremony on the future of research in the redwood region, the panel, as well as audience members, recognized the need for more communication among those working with redwoods to spread research findings and best practices. Inspired by the concurrent presentations and research presented at the poster session, participants were looking for a way to stay in touch and collaborate - as Hartley noted in the opening session is crucial for the next steps of redwood growth and preservation. 100% of participants who completed the follow up survey are excited to network and collaborate at similar events, meaning there are opportunities to further enhance the redwood and green movements.

Proceedings of the symposium are anticipated to be available in early Fall 2011 to document the various studies in the literature.

For a full summary of the 2011 Redwood Symposium, please visit: The Forest Research and Outreach Blog.

For ways you can get involved or if you have ideas for collaboration: Like us on Facebook and join the discussion!

Posted on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 10:38 AM
  • Author: Jaime Adler
Tags: redwood (3), sustainable (3)

Social scientist takes a look at sustainable agriculture

Growing concern about social issues related to agriculture – working conditions for laborers and environmental impacts, for example –  is giving rise to consumer and retailer interest in buying products that were farmed using “sustainable” methods.

“Sustainable agriculture” is not easy to define. In general, the system puts an emphasis on practices that have long-term environmental and social benefits – such as reducing pollution and providing stable jobs. Sustainable products are perhaps not as familiar as “organic,” but examples of retailers capitalizing on the concept are numerous.

  • Walmart is training 1 million farmers and workers worldwide on crop selection and sustainable-farming practices
  • Sysco asserts online that it offers products that come from suppliers that take care of the land
  • Del Monte Foods formalized its environmental goals in three key areas - waste, greenhouse gas emissions and water

Understanding farmers’ perceptions about adopting sustainable farming is a goal of research by Mark Lubell, professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis. To document whether winegrape farmers and other experts believe the environmental and economic benefits of adopting sustainable practices are worth the cost, Lubell analyzed data from three sources: a survey of viticulture outreach professionals, including UC farm advisors, campus-based researchers and vineyard management consultants; a 2008 survey of winegrape growers who are part of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program; and 16 interviews with winegrape growers in the Lodi, Napa Valley and Central Coast winegrowing regions.

Many “sustainable” practices were perceived to have economic benefits and are likely to be adopted by growers, Lubbell found.  Of the practices where economic benefits outweigh the costs, the practices with the highest environmental benefits are perceived to be:

  1. Spot spraying for pest problems instead of treating entire vineyards
  2. Pheromones to disrupt pest mating
  3. Computer models for disease forecasting
  4. Dust reduction with cover crops
  5. Monitoring evapo-transpiration to determine when to irrigate

“Important challenges to the adoption of sustainable practices arise when economic benefits are low and when growers have uncertainty about benefits,” Lubell said.

The take-home message for advisors and crop consultants: Outreach programs should focus grower education on activities with both economic and environmental benefits. Reducing uncertainty should be a primary goal of all outreach programs and requires research to demonstrate the effectiveness of agricultural practices.

Lubell believes adopting sustainable methods makes sense for winegrape growers.

“The market for sustainability is not mature enough now to get a price differentiation,” he said.  “But a ‘green’ market is emerging. Some people are willing to pay for it and more will pay over time.”

For more information, read the research brief The Perceived Benefits and Costs of Sustainability Practices in California Viticulture.

Economically viable living and working conditions for farm laborers are part of sustainable ag.
Economically viable living and working conditions for farm laborers are part of sustainable ag.

Posted on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 7:29 AM
Tags: Mark Lubell (1), sustainable (3)
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