Posts Tagged: Southern California
‘Ag Order' for San Diego County expected to be enforced by end of 2023
Generally known for its steady warmth and picturesque beaches, San Diego County is also home to nearly 5,000 small farms and is an economic hotspot for nurseries and floriculture. But the great diversity of ornamental crops that dominate the growing region and complexity of regulations make compliance challenging for growers, some of whom grow over 400 crop varieties.
“The regulatory environment for the growers is still complicated and overwhelming because, along with the Regional Water Board, growers are regulated by the County of San Diego,” said Gerardo “Gerry” Spinelli, University of California Cooperative Extension production horticulture advisor for San Diego County.
To help growers with compliance, Spinelli is prioritizing education and expanding growers' knowledge. By partnering with organizations such as the Farm Bureau of San Diego County and the San Diego Region Irrigated Lands Group, Spinelli works to reach more than 1,200 growers, supporting them as they navigate regulatory agencies.
Formally referred to as the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, the Regional Water Board aims to develop and enforce water quality objectives and implement plans to protect the beneficial uses of California's waters.
A unique place to grow in California
About 10 years ago, the Regional Water Board created the Agricultural Order (Ag Order), a set of rules outlining how growers manage water discharge from agricultural operations.
The new Ag Order for San Diego County, expected to be enforced by the end of 2023, will focus on nitrogen management and groundwater quality. However, new considerations are needed to address the variety of crops grown by a single farmer, a common practice in San Diego.
Calculating nitrogen input and output for more than 400 crop varieties is not feasible for small farmers, a challenge exacerbated by the meticulous attention needed for San Diego's high-end specialty crops like ornamentals, native plants and specialty fruit.
Furthermore, many San Diego growers have limited expertise and experience because they are entering agriculture as a second or third career. Many have become “accidental growers” in that they purchased land with a preexisting avocado or cherimoya grove, for example.
To help address these challenges, the grower community is emphasizing the need for more educational opportunities that are accessible and relatable.
Equipping growers through education
Enrico Ferro, president of the San Diego Region Irrigated Lands Group – a third-party entity that manages water sample testing on behalf of growers – has relied on Spinelli's teaching to “bridge the gap” for growers, including himself.
“Gerry has been great because he has expertise in nurseries, but the educational content he creates is relevant to all growers,” said Ferro, who is an avocado and citrus grower in San Diego's North County.
Spinelli, who specializes in containerized production in nurseries and floriculture, has been instrumental in providing technical assistance to growers since he joined Cooperative Extension in 2020.
“I started teaching over Zoom since I became an advisor during the pandemic, and I try to cover different topics for each training,” Spinelli said, adding that he teaches in English and Spanish, making his content more accessible to the grower community in San Diego.
For in-person educational opportunities, Spinelli created the “Last Wednesday” monthly meetings hosted at the Farm Bureau of San Diego County, which brings together growers and other agricultural experts to learn from one another.
“We try to get our information out in creative ways and Gerry is instrumental in that. He's our primary source of really wonderful information delivered in an engaging way,” said Tasha Ardalan, program coordinator for the SDRILG. “He's proactive and is always willing to try new things, too.”
Planning for San Diego's agricultural future
Currently, the Ag Order is modeled around regulations for the Central Valley. As conversations and planning for San Diego County continue, Spinelli is supporting the Regional Water Board with information on nurseries and greenhouses in hopes that the final Ag Order will better serve San Diego growers.
“I'm trying to help others understand how nursery and greenhouse production systems function, and how and why they are different from an almond orchard or tomato field in Fresno,” explained Spinelli.
Michael Mellano, CEO of Mellano & Company, a fresh cut flower grower and distributor in Oceanside, feels the impact of the Ag Order and its failure to account for variability. Growing over 100 varieties of flowers, Mellano said that for several plants there is little scientific research on how much nitrate to apply.
“Farmers want to do a good job. We make mistakes and we try to fix them as quickly as we can, and we try to educate others on what works,” said Mellano, who is also a member of the SDRILG.
Growers like Mellano and Ferro agree that the farming community in San Diego needs to be given the latitude to solve problems within their means, an ability that requires an understanding of San Diego's uniqueness.
“San Diego is significantly different, and we need an Ag Order that is reflective of our differences,” said Valerie Mellano, SDRILG consultant and former UCCE environmental issues farm advisor. “In developing the new Ag Order, there's a huge opportunity for education and research, something that we know Gerry can easily do and continue to support us in.”
Thus far, Spinelli's educational content has reached two-thirds of SDRILG's 1,200 members. In addition to the live training sessions, growers can watch videos that cover topics such as evapotranspiration, irrigation distribution uniformity, water quality indicators and more on Spinelli's YouTube channel.
Since the Ag Order requires all growers to complete two hours of water-quality education, the SDRILG has agreed to apply one hour of credit to growers who attend a one-on-one session with Spinelli.
As San Diego's growers continue to leverage educational opportunities – whether it's alongside Spinelli, SDRILG or learning from one another – Spinelli emphasized that their success also relies on an ag order that adheres to a distinctive landscape, multitude of specialty crops and growers with varying expertise.
Ibrahim Yaaseen, member of the Palos Verdes Peninsula (PVP) 4-H club, grabs a hard hat and places it on top of his head. He then reaches for a bright orange safety vest and goggles to complete his safety gear outfit before joining the rest of his club members who are dressed the same.
The 4-H Youth Development Program of Los Angeles is already thinking about the future of water management and turned to the West Basin Municipal Water District in El Segundo to gain a deeper understanding of the precious resource we often take for granted.
The University of California 4-H Youth Development Program is managed through local Cooperative Extension offices. Through hands-on learning experiences, 4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential and enables them to build self-esteem, connect with their community and emerge as leaders.
Dee Keese, community club leader for the PVP 4-H club, coordinated an exclusive and interactive tour of West Basin's Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility for the club's monthly marine biology meeting in December 2022.
Eager to inspire a stronger appreciation for water, Janel Ancayan, the West Basin's education coordinator, challenged the youth to build their own water filters using materials including fabric, a strainer, and a funnel. Since no specific directions were given, the activity challenged each student's science and engineering skills, such as carrying out an investigation, designing a solution, and communicating information with team members.
During the tour, students saw firsthand the impressive equipment and essential staff members that help to produce nearly 40 million gallons of recycled water each day. At the end of the day, students left with a deeper understanding of water resources and felt empowered to do their part to conserve water sources.
“We learned that recycling water helps to conserve our limited water supply and improves the environmental condition of our coastal waters,” said Yaaseen. “We ultimately learned a great deal about how to conserve water for future generations and that water conservation is one of the most important elements in combating climate change.”
Though Keese has volunteered as community club leader for 48 years, this is only the second time she has partnered with the West Basin. “I like to mix it up,” she said. “I'm always looking for community organizations and local businesses to partner with because these are places that the kids will likely interact with since they're nearby.”
Regardless, it's leaders like Keese and programs like 4-H that encourage water stewards like Ancayan. “I'm always so humbled and inspired when teachers make it a point to come out and visit our facility. In Southern California especially, [water] is not something we think about,” Ancayan said.
Even in a drought, water continues to flow from our faucets allowing us to shower, wash dishes or water the lawn. It's no wonder why water conservation is not always top of mind, especially for consumers. Educating the public, and targeting the younger generation, however, is a great start to prepare for the future.
West Basin offers a variety of educational programs that focus on different age groups. Many of them involve hands-on learning like the Teach and Test volunteer program, a partnership with the Surfrider Foundation, where high school students test samples of coastal water for bacteria, and then publicly share their findings to contribute to water quality monitoring in the area.
According to Yaaseen, the time spent with Ancayan at the West Basin was “one-of-a-kind” and provided a “golden opportunity” to learn why water recycling facilities are important. Ancayan hopes that her time spent with students ultimately influences them to consider a career in water.
“It's not a glamorous job but I'm really passionate about the next generation of water workers,” she said. “I hope that once they see the engineering, the excitement of these scientists that work in our laboratory and everything in between, that they start to think about water as a future career path.”
For those interested in joining 4-H, visit https://4h.ucanr.edu/Members/
To read this story in Spanish, please visit:
Programas 4-H de Los Ángeles forman a la futura generación de administradores de los recursos hídricos
In the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, people sometimes forget that Southern California actually has a wealth of natural open spaces. From the Mojave desert to four National Forests, Southern California supports vast wilderness spaces, many just a stone's throw from major cities. And if one looks closely, even those urban centers are filled with recreational parks and trails in an attempt to sate our appetite to connect with nature.
The University of Southern California Sea Grant program and the LA Conservation Corps SEA Lab teamed up to expose young adults from underserved communities to the coastal ecosystems of Southern California and potential jobs in the environmental field. The Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum brings together California's rich cultural and natural histories in the heart of south Los Angeles County. Additional CalNat programs will soon be popping up in Cambria, Carlsbad, Riverside, Ojai, and Big Bear, and we're working to develop partnerships in San Diego and Orange Counties and along the L.A. River.
The CalNat curriculum highlights the incredible diversity of our state; the California Floristic Province is considered one of the 25 global biodiversity hotspots. This designation means that the region is home to a huge number of endemic species (those found nowhere else), but also that it shows an alarmingly high degree of habitat loss. Our mild Mediterranean climate and varying topography contribute to a diversity of species, but these are also attractive features to humans.
The 10 counties that define Southern California cover only a third of the state geographically, but they hold nearly two-thirds of the population, more than 22 million people. What an amazing pool of potential naturalists! And in neat symmetry with our diversity in geology and biology, perhaps no place in California exemplifies demographic diversity like Los Angeles. As our program expands, especially in the southern part of the state, CalNat is placing great emphasis on bringing our approach of “stewardship through discovery and action” to participants from a broad range of backgrounds.
Urban ecology is an emerging science built around the complexity of survival pressures and species interactions in human-impacted environments. In Southern California, dense human populations live cheek-by-jowl with coyotes, raccoons, rattlesnakes, bears, and mountain lions, and our habits and infrastructure influence their movements. Human development often fragments natural habitats, creating isolated islands that may not support viable populations of native species and may favor invasions by non-natives. As these environments lose functionality, we lose important “ecosystem services,” such as flood buffering by coastal wetlands.
So it's all the more important that Southern Californians take a greater interest in understanding and shaping our place in the natural world. If we can forge meaningful connections with the natural resources in the places we live, we can learn to protect those resources. This is already starting to happen, with initiatives like L.A.'s Sustainable City pLAn, the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, and countless Internet blogs about local hiking trails, not to mention plenty of conservation organizations that have operated in Southern California for years and often partner with CalNat to offer courses.
In 2014, nearly 200 California Naturalists from partner organizations throughout the state came together in Asilomar for a conference to appreciate our natural resources and to celebrate each other's efforts in habitat restoration, citizen science, and interpretation. But our CalNat community has grown immensely, and we expect an even greater number to join us for field trips, lectures, trainings, and fun when we convene again in 2016, this time in Southern California. In the meantime, CalNat courses will continue to spring up all over the Southland, so those 22 million people won't have to fight traffic to find a class, and some nature, close to home.