The highly respected California Academy of Sciences greeted its 2019 Class of Fellows on Oct. 15, and one of them is a pollination ecologist from...
Neal Williams, newly elected Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, is "widely known and respected for his excellence in research, extension, outreach, teaching and leadership," wrote nominator James R. Carey. Here Williams works on a bumble bee project. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
At first, I thought that I would postpone this entry until I found and fixed an irrigation leak which was actually identified by the Benicia water company. It is not visible from the surface, so I was surprised. But I have been losing enough water that I have been concerned. So, I marched around my garden turning off irrigation zones, which is not too simple since there are 7 irrigation lines divided into 3 zones. All the main lines are underground though the emitters are drip and above ground. The system is about 20 years and, as I am sure you can imagine, a lot has gone on in this garden in 20 years where I have redirected lines and installed piping to cater to my changing plant tastes.
My first challenge was reading the ‘smart' meters so I could see how my fixes were going. That took a special appointment with the city meter reader to get a quick lesson on how to read it. Early on in the process, I turned off the irrigation and voila, no leak. I guess I could breathe a sigh of relief that there was no leak in or under the house or the concrete driveway.
Then I called a leak detection company. They came over and were willing to tackle the irrigation, though if truth be told, I don't think they had much experience with this kind of thing. They did guarantee that they would stick with the project until they found the leak and the person they sent was a really decent fellow. He took his probe in hand and off he went poking around. There were signs of water everywhere and he was running around alternatively poking, turning off pieces of the system, and reading the meter. A 2-hour appointment stretched into 4 hours and I was beginning to lose faith in the wisdom of their way. At some point, I called an old landscaper. Just my luck, she had had an accident and was unavailable. I was trapped with a nice but moderately incompetent guy.
Poking continued with a second block of a couple of hours of running around, poking and reading the meter. The choreography of this event must have looked like a timed Easter-egg hunt. To date, I have fixed a bunch of what looked like leaks but the water loss is still there. As I write this, I am preparing to embark on another explore to find the crucial leak. I assume that I eventually will. Does anyone know a leak specialist who specializes in irrigation? I have a lot of patience and will persist, but will I overcome?
For UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), attention to climate change goes beyond an increase in severe wildfires, droughts, floods and heat in California, and their impact on natural resources, agriculture and the state's economy.
The program focuses on the health and resilience of people in California, particularly those most vulnerable to climate change – those who can't afford air conditioning, who work outside on farms and in construction, those who are already disadvantaged by a low income, racial inequity or advanced age.
“UCCE climate change efforts must account for people and communities that face socioeconomic and political barriers to prepare for, adapt to and recover from the effects of climate change,” said Clare Gupta, UCCE public policy specialist.
UCCE advisors, educators and specialists are working in their local communities across the state to prepare residents to adapt to the warming climate and make changes that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to make climate change less severe. They convened Oct. 7-8 at UCCE's Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center in San Mateo County to learn about projects currently underway to confront the crisis, share resources for adaptation, identify future research and education needs, and add their voices to a growing chorus of experts speaking out to protect the future of planet earth.
“We are at a momentous time,” said Janaki Jagannath, a law school student and climate activist who spoke at the meeting. “California is waking up to environmental justice problems and climate change.”
The plight of underprivileged California residents at the forefront of climate change impacts became crystal clear to UCCE small farms advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard when she was hired during the state's devastating 2011-2016 drought.
In the summer of 2014, many small-scale family farms in the San Joaquin Valley saw their wells dry up due to dropping groundwater levels. Some Hmong farmers were calling suicide hotlines, in fear of losing their crops and livelihoods. Dahlquist-Willard said these farms, with shallower wells and limited resources to cope with the effects of drought, are more vulnerable to climate change.
“I worry about the snowpack,” she said. “Every winter during the drought, I would look at the mountains and wonder if there would be more wells going dry next summer. When surface water from the snowmelt isn't there, farmers use more groundwater. And the snowpack is probably going to be less reliable due to climate change.”
To help Hmong farmers and other small-scale farms prepare for the next drought, Dahlquist-Willard and her team began helping them with applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), which provides grants to improve irrigation systems. Improvements funded by SWEEP help farmers use less water and cut back on electricity for pumping.
So far, 38 Fresno and Tulare farmers have received SWEEP grants with technical assistance from Dahlquist-Willard's program, for a total of 878 acres.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which goes into effect in 2020, also imperils small-scale farmers. The new law will limit both large-scale and small-scale farmers' ability to pump groundwater, however, small-scale farmers often are not in a position to influence the agencies that will be governing groundwater use.
“There will be competition for water under SGMA,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “Whether the small farms still have access to water depends on how the rules are set up.”
SGMA poses another threat to vulnerable rural community members. Experts predict the imposition of regulations on groundwater use is likely to put 500,000 to 1 million acres of California farmland out of production, reducing jobs for farmworkers and putting a strain on businesses in the rural communities where they live and shop.
The expected shift in crops grown in California due to climate change also potentially reduces income for workers who have specialized in specific crops, said Federico Castillo, UC Berkeley agricultural ecology professor.
“They work longer hours to compensate,” Castillo said. “Their income is impacted.”
On a recent trip to Huron, a San Joaquin Valley city with highest proportion of Latino residents in the U.S., Castillo said he passed by vast solar farms that now cover formerly productive farmland.
“Solar farms are a benefit for society, but there are not local benefits. The problem is, this displaces farmworkers,” he said. “We have to think hard about economic policy. This is just one example. There are many others.”
In addition to the threat climate change poses to their employment, farmworkers are particularly susceptible to the warming temperatures the world faces. Castillo is studying the potential impact of weather extremes on people who do the planting, weeding, irrigating, pruning and harvesting that makes California's $50 billion annual agricultural output possible.
“Heat and humidity impacts ag workers negatively,” Castillo said. “It impacts the heart, liver and kidneys.”
What's more, many farmworkers don't have health insurance and don't visit medical doctors. Some, particularly those who hail from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Castillo said, rely on home remedies, putting their health at still greater risk.
Sylvia Chi, policy director with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, spoke about her constituency's concern about the future.
“How do we deal with labor market displacement from phasing out fossil fuels?” she asked. “We need to transition all communities.”
Transition in farming
A large part of UC Cooperative Extension research and extension targets the agricultural industry, which joins other industries in emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting in our warming climate. A key part of mitigation is tied in new brands of farming that aim to address these issues: climate-smart, emergent, sustainable, regenerative and conservation farming.
A component of all these farming philosophies is soil health. Improving soil health traps more carbon underground, where it can't immediately escape into the atmosphere and contribute to increasing warming. Improving soil health has co-benefits, such as improving soil fertility, water infiltration and yield.
The CDFA Healthy Soils grant program offers financial incentives to eligible farmers for implementing soil-building practices. CDFA provided UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), UCCE's parent organization, with $1 million to hire climate-smart educators to provide technical assistance to farmers applying for Healthy Soils and SWEEP grants to improve their irrigation systems, plant cover crops, eliminate or reduce tilling, and implement other practices. A target in their effort is helping underprivileged farmers determine eligibility and navigate the complicated application process.
UC ANR hired nine community education specialists, who are now working with farmers in Mendocino, Merced, Glenn, Yolo, Solano, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Kern, Ventura, San Diego and Imperial counties. Their contributions to farmers in those areas go beyond the grant applications and reach farmers that can't take advantage of CDFA grant programs.
“Because this is a new program, we have the luxury of helping figure out our role,” said Britta Baskerville, the community education specialist in Mendocino County. “We're all coming up with ways to educate farmers in climate-smart practices.”
Climate change resilience
The UC ANR Infomatics and GIS Program is supporting climate change resilience by creating an online networking platform for local governments, such as city councils and boards of supervisors, to empower their communities' resiliency efforts. Called the California Resiliency Alliance, the resources include case studies, planning guides, incident maps, and weather watches, warnings and advisories, plus a platform for sharing information across public-private sectors and across industry sectors.
IGIS is also involved is gathering peer-reviewed data sets for downscale climate projections. UC Berkeley Ph.D. student Lucy Andrews is conducting interviews to identify climate needs and social vulnerability information. The information will make the state's Cal-Adapt website, the primary repository of knowledge about the California climate of the future, an even more useful tool.
“Our strategy is to make climate data accessible,” said Andy Lyons, IGIS statewide program coordinator. “People can get climate data and decision support tailored to specific audiences.”
Diversity in the UC California Naturalist program
California Naturalist's new Climate Stewards Initiative, which will provide training to extend information about climate change mitigation, resilience and adaptation, is being created with diversity, inclusion and equity woven in from the outset. Trainees will learn about psychology, sociological and cognitive sciences, in addition to the hard sciences that touch climate change – meteorology, physics, natural resource management and biology.
“The certified climate stewards will be able to communicate and work with others as to how climate change will affect them. It will be an ongoing social learning community that provides a transition from a sense of helplessness to a sense of empowerment,” said Sarah-Mae Nelson, the UC Climate Stewards Initiative academic coordinator.
Traditional CalNat certification courses are provided fully in-person and partially outdoors. Climate Stewards training will be available in a hybrid online/in-person format to increase the course's availability to a wider circle of community members.
“The flexibility will increase accessibility,” Nelson said.
It's commonly called a "passion butterfly," but we call it a Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillaea) or Gulf Frit. Or "spectacular." A sure sign of...
A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary dries its wings while a caterpillar crawls around looking for food. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This image shows a Gulf Fritillary, a chrysalis, a caterpillar and a caterpillar J'ing, about to form a chrysalis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The silver-spangled underwings of the Gulf Fritllary--in sharp contrast to the orange-reddish wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Gulf Fritillary spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Well, hello, there! Another Gulf Fritillary arrives on the scene. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What color do you think of when you hear the word October? It's a strange question, but I would guess what popped into your head is the word orange. Orange leaves, orange pumpkins, orange sweet potatoes, orange carrots, and orange persimmons.
Almost every late October a neighbor of my parents invites me to pick whatever I want from his large Hachiya persimmon tree. He likes to see the acorn-shaped fruit get eaten and not land on the ground where he has to pick it up and dump it in the green can. Years ago, his wife (now deceased), would pick the persimmons and sometimes bake cookies with them. Lucky neighbors would receive some of her labor. I usually pick about a dozen. I give some to my dad who likes to eat them just as they are. Although they are orange and look ripe, they are bitter and astringent when they are hard, so he sets them on the counter to get really soft and sweeten up. The way to tell they are ready to eat is to tug slightly on the stem/top and if it comes off easily, the fruit is ready. He then puts them in the fridge for a few hours to get really cold, peels them partially and scoops out the fruit with a spoon and eats it. They really are good this way. I also put them on the counter to ripen but my goal is to bake them into cookies. However, the softening process sometimes takes too long for the time when I want to make the cookies. My solution is to freeze the orange fruit in a plastic bag overnight, thaw it on the counter or in the fridge the next morning and voila – nearly instant, ripe and ready Hachiya persimmons. This method changes the texture and a little of the flavor, but for baking cookies, it's fine. At least, no one has complained yet.
The Otow Ranch in Granite Bay sells preserved Hachiya persimmons that have undergone the hoshigaki method. The English translation from Japanese “hoshi” means dried and “gaki” is from the word “kaki” or persimmon. Each persimmon has the skin removed and is strung by its stem and hung on a rack to dry with another persimmon hung on the opposite end of the string. The temperature has to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit or less so that the fruit doesn't mold. Every 3 to 5 days for weeks, the descendants of the original ranch owners gently massage each fruit and turn it. The fruit slowly dries and the sugar in the fruit comes to the surface, and the fruit flavor concentrates. The outside of the fruit turns white from its own sugar looking a bit like white mold. It's not moldy; it is purely the sugar from the fruit itself rising to its surface. The astringency of the fresh-picked, harder fruit is gone. The tannins that are in the fresh-picked fruit are water-soluble, so with drying they disappear. What's left is chewy, sugar-coated and delicious. Many Asian families buy hoshigaki for holiday gifts. If you are lucky enough to get them as a gift, eat them fairly quickly. If frozen individually they will last about two months. As they thaw in the fridge for 2 – 3 days, the sugar comes back to the surface again. They will last in the fridge about a month, but their scent will affect other foods in the fridge. I have seen them sold vacuum-packed elsewhere, but they still need to be frozen or refrigerated shortly after packing.
Fresh, dried or baked into a dessert, Hachiya persimmons are delicious. Just don't eat them while they are hard, or your mouth will dry and your lips will pucker!
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