Speaker 1 00:00:20 I have everyone welcome back to just a bite. It's Sarah Coons here and on this earth day, I speak with ag Kawamura, who is a third generation farmer and visionary leader in the smart agriculture space. He is doing a lot of work around contract growing with the food banks in his area, as well as making sure that he is a good steward of the land. I hope that you enjoy my conversation with him today. I think maybe we can start out by, you know, you introducing yourself. I know that you have had quite the career and have, um, worn many hats. So, uh, why don't you start off, um, introducing yourself.
Speaker 2 00:01:21 Okay. My name is you a, I'm a third generation, uh, grower here in Southern California in orange county. Uh, we, one of the last of the farming companies that are left in a very urban area, a lot of people say, oh, you're an urban farmer. And I say, yeah, I'm an urban farmer, but I think more, a better description. I'm a farmer in an urban area and we've been farming on ground that we lease for the last 35 years. Um, we still had some property, it was developed. Uh, we had some properties that are, uh, part of a family estate, but for us as farmers, we've been, uh, farming on lease acreage for all these years and losing that acreage to development on a state any basis. Um, but we've been resourceful. I mean, we look for vacant lots and if, you know, we could see the weeds are growing well, and we can find a, a fire hydrant or some kind of water source.
Speaker 2 00:02:12 We know that we can farm on it and that we can grow all kinds of things. Um, so we look for, uh, vacant lots from 3, 4, 5 acres all the way up to 500 acres. We currently farm on and about 800 acres in total. We've always farmed in that range. And so we supply products, um, to the, uh, chain stores mostly. Uh, in fact, during the pandemic, we were very fortunate because our customer base has always been chain store business, uh, for the fruits and vegetables that we do. We have strawberries and we also have, uh, vegetable, um, line of, uh, green beans, uh, butter net squash going back to in history to celery cabbage and squashes and the rest. But the challenges of being in Southern California continue to be really, really difficult for us. And we've, uh, basically been growing mostly just green beans in the summer and strawberries, uh, in the winter is our main, uh, batch that we are, are hanging on with, uh, as we try and realize that the competition coming outta Mexico and other areas with cheaper labor rates, uh, has made it very tough.
Speaker 2 00:03:16 Um, this project behind me here, and, uh, what we've been engaged in for many years is, is growing food directly for the food bank. And I'll talk about that more, but our, our farm activity though, here in this county, we, we are wondering if we're gonna count the days, uh, where we can do commercial size production still, or if we pick up and go to Mexico, it's a very challenging to time for California producers, especially if you have highly perishable labor intensive crops. So I'll leave it with that. But, uh, uh, my grandparents, uh, all immigrated from Japan, uh, 120 years ago or so. And, uh, um, we're, I'm a 66 year old this year, so I'm, I, I'm no longer one of the, uh, middle of the middle of middle age farmer. I'm now one of the senior farmers, I guess, that, uh, is busy trying to, uh, continue to stay in business.
Speaker 1 00:04:09 Definitely. And you have such a wealth of knowledge, and I think this may come out of necessity, you know, where you're living in California. Um, but how did you get involved in climate smart agriculture and as well as anti-hunger advocacy? I mean, you're a huge advocate for making sure the food banks get quality foods to feed those in needs. So I'd love to know more about that.
Speaker 2 00:04:36 I think the, on the hunger side, going back to college, I, I was got, I was a, a starving student if you will. But I, I was fortunate to take a bunch of third world development courses in my last year in college. And it changed my life in, in understanding just how much hunger was happening on the planet, how much, uh, cha how many challenges there were, uh, four different areas. And in this idea that in our lifetime, we, you could see an end to hunger. Um, uh, it's always been a dream of mine to be a part of that, to try and be engaged with that so much so that, um, instead of pursuing a different career, I remember, uh, I, I called my father up late my senior year in college and said, Hey, do you have a place for me on the ranch?
Speaker 2 00:05:17 Cuz I could tell that if you're gonna work in hunger, yeah, you can go join the peace Corps. But if you're working in a company, working with food, I knew, I knew instinctively that that's gonna be the place I needed to be and wanted to be. And sure enough, that day I showed up, uh, back up, back on the farm basically, uh, uh, was very easy. I loved it and it was, um, stayed, stayed with it all my life. So, uh, dealing with, uh, uh, hunger issues then, uh, started, uh, actually about 35 years ago, interestingly with the cabbage field where we had a cabbage, uh, patch, uh, at the time it had some warm damage in it and the market was really lousy and we were throwing about half of the cabbage away on the ground as we cut it, inspect it. If it had a worm hole in it, we had to throw it away and it was beautiful cabbage, uh, and it was just superficial damage.
Speaker 2 00:06:08 But the chain stores at the time wouldn't take that kind of product, especially when the markets really lousy and by good fortune, a group had been just recently in our area. This is, uh, 35 years ago called the gleaning task force, the Irvine gleaning task force. And they were coming, asking if they could come into the fields of farmers, uh, to glean behind the harvest. And we of course said, no, uh, we don't want you in the fields because we had heard, uh, that there was tremendous liability, you know, where there was family going into fields and the kids pick up some tomato steaks and start sword fighting and one kid pokes another kid's eye out and they Sue the farmer and, and we were told just, yeah, don't last thing you wanna do is let people come in the fields. But the day that we were throwing away so much cabbage, I remember calling them up and said, Hey, just bring as many bags and boxes as you guys can.
Speaker 2 00:06:56 And we'll just give you, you the cabbage that were thrown on the ground here, uh, cuz it's perfectly edible. And so they showed up and I think that day we gave them a couple thousand pounds of cabbage and that was the beginning of the relationship with the food bank. And with this concept that, uh, there's a lot of opportunity within an urban area or any area to address not only waste, but uh, a direct stream of, uh, fresh produce going to those most in need. So fast forward, I've been fortunate in, in my, my career to have a chance to go and work for governor Schwarzenegger for seven years as the secretary of agriculture for the state of California. And it was doing that time. He also was very focused on, uh, climate change and, um, sense some of us, uh, in a, in a group, uh, uh, of cabinet members to, uh, Copenhagan to participate in, uh, the cop.
Speaker 2 00:07:47 I think it was cop 14. And uh, for the handful of us that came from agriculture at that cop, um, nobody was talking about the global food supply. Nobody was talking about agricul. There were other ministers of agriculture there and all of us were pretty much excluded from the, uh, internal discussions. And we complained, uh, enough to some friends one night, uh, maybe over a glass of wine too much or, or, or whatever the beverage was. But we, we, we complained enough then they said, well, if you guys feel so that agriculture needs to be engaged here with the climate conference, why don't you do something about it? And that was the, the time where we basically utilized a group of folks called the 25 by 25 Alliance, which was renewable energy, uh, Alliance. And we turned that into solutions from the land, uh, our, our national nonprofit, it that now has been up and running for quite a while.
Speaker 2 00:08:43 And it was during that time, we, we said, well, if you have unpredictable weather, that means unpredictable harvest. You know, any farmer would tell you, we don't like unpredictable weather very much. And, um, if you have unpredictable harvest on a, on a global level in various regions at a time, and certainly we're seeing that right now with the, the drought that we have here in, in the Western United States, we recognize that the discussion about how secure is the global food system, global food supply needs to be a part of the, this conversation. And more importantly needs to be front and center. Uh, as we look forward in the years ahead, uh, on how are we gonna make sure and, and create and feed, uh, uh, the public and, uh, what became very obvious to us was made even more obvious when the United nations came out with their sustainable development goals.
Speaker 2 00:09:36 And if you look at the sustainable development goals, I would encourage anybody who has not seen them. They're 17 remarkable goals, very ambitious goals may, maybe audacious someone would say, but you look at those goals. And if we could accomplish those goals by the year 2030, or even by the year 2050, but let's say 2030, the world would be significantly different. And as we look at what we're faced with right now, with the pandemic, with supply chain issues, with the war in Ukraine and many other potential conflict areas, and then significant weather changes on different parts of the planet, you look at those goals and suddenly you realize that, well, wait a minute, agriculture has a lot to do with the success of those goals that are seven, eight or nine of 'em that were, are, we're very clearly in the wheelhouse of agriculture, if you will.
Speaker 2 00:10:20 And if agriculture's doing poorly, uh, in the future on this planet or in our country, you can't accomplish those goals. And so that all the more is all the more reason where you have a chance to refocus. If you will put on a, we always say, if you put on a different pair of glasses, you're changes. If you look at the world through the lens of those SDGs, those sustainable development goals, you can see a different world is right there in front of us, within our grass. Uh, and we, we have the capacity basically to achieve these goals. Uh, especially if you look at 'em collectively. So what you see here behind me with our project here, it's, uh, another opportunity to have an innovative collaboration with a food bank, with our farm bureau, with, uh, the university of California out here, the land grant with a whole bunch of other partners.
Speaker 2 00:11:05 And we're, we we're, we're doing something that we had done for years is custom grow small amount of acreage for the food bank. But we suddenly said instead of four or five acres, why don't we make it 40 or 50 AC? And because of the pandemic, that's actually, I think what made us look at the world differently was when we saw such disruption in the global food system. So much disruption in our own national food system, we all started to look at what we've been doing, what we were trying to accomplish, and because of some really good rate, uh, responses by the food, uh, our national food system, for example, to pivot in turn and still crank out all the food. You know, I, I, I hate it when people say agriculture's broken and, and you have to ask 'em well, did you eat today?
Speaker 2 00:11:51 And, uh, for many citizens, no, they didn't eat today or they didn't eat enough, but for the bulk of our country, of course, we have enough to eat. And although we might have had inconvenience during the pandemic, in other words, you didn't have all the choices available to you. The amazing part of our food system, how resilient it is and how, how responsive it was. Um, we, we got through the pandemic, even though it was the greatest disruption we'd ever seen in, in, in the history of our nation, going back to world war II or one, I I'll get back to the climate smart ag. And the hunger part of that response is so they kind of meld it together. Cuz if you look at climate smart agriculture, uh, from the, from the point of view of how those sustainable development goal need to be put into place, uh, you have, uh, you wanna address waste, you wanna address your water systems.
Speaker 2 00:12:40 You wanna address carbon that you can put it back into the soil, you wanna address your fertilization and the, the, the challenges you have with keeping, uh, soil healthy and, and enhancing the, uh, the carbon in the microbial puppet in your soil. And then you start looking at nutrition and Nu nutrient dense foods. And you look at hunger and, and while co calories are, are a part of the hunger solution, uh, it's nutrient dense foods that are part of the healthy citizen solution. And you realize that there's just a whole bunch of, uh, handholds and, and crossovers, uh, where the dynamic Amica, we like to say, it's one plus one equals three, where you start working together to accomplish some of these goals. The exciting thing is this project we've got in front of us here has really opened our eyes for all these years. We could have done this so many years ago. We had the capacity to end hunger in our region, but we didn't have the will and the nation to do it. Now we're thinking, okay, let's just end, uh, hunger and nutrition deficiency in our region, cuz we can, and we have plenty of folks that would like to see that happen. So, you know, the long-winded answer was the interrelationship between addressing, uh, the diet addressing, uh, waste, addressing, uh, climate smart ag practices. They really are interwoven here in, in what we're all doing.
Speaker 1 00:13:58 Yeah, definitely. And I think it looks at the agriculture and, you know, addressing climate change and feeding, hungry people like all within a system instead of looking or addressing one thing separately. And I think you touched on the us a little bit, but farmers and food banks have such a strong relationship. All of them across the United States because farmers of course are producing beautiful foods that they want people to eat. And then obviously sometimes that food is not up to market standard, unfortunately, and then, you know, food banks are more than willing to take still edible nutritious food that may not look as pretty as you know, as the market would would prefer. But I, I think what you guys are doing is one step further, you know? Um, so I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about your work with second harvest food bank and you know what you're doing out there with the volunteers right now.
Speaker 2 00:15:04 So for all these years, going back to that, uh, gleaning project that we had starting 35 years ago, I know it's 35 years ago cuz my daughter's 36 and she was a infant in a cabbage patch when we were throwing that cabbage away. Um, but we put together in those that, that decade, uh, an incredible project of gleaning and allowing, uh, people from around the community to come into the fields on a, on a organized basis into the fields and we'd have so 5, 6, 7, 800 a thousand people on a weekend coming in and uh, picking over, uh, bell peppers or celery or beans or squash when we were done with the field harvesting it. Um, and we saw that there was great success there, but we also saw this challenge and it was made more, uh, clear this last several years when suddenly you saw this tremendous need at the food bank level.
Speaker 2 00:15:54 When we went through the pandemic with so many people outta work, so many people, uh, lining up and, and looking for food and we had become very complacent in the, uh, working or seeing that our, uh, supply of food that goes to the food bank was rejected and life expired foods, foods that weren't selling well. And you started to see that a lot of the food supply, but this, that does still address waste. So it's a good supply of food that can get to those who need it. But we saw that why wouldn't there be an opportunity for us to get the greatest, the best produce to those most in need if we just tweaked the model. And so going back, uh, to those 30 years, we approached the city of Irvine with a project. We saw that we had so many volunteers and we said, why don't we just grow some food for the food bank?
Speaker 2 00:16:44 We can see that we have all these volunteers that can come and do some of the work. Uh, we certainly could be able to grow some why don't we try that? And so we proposed take a little park, um, that was supposed to a designated piece of ground that was going into be a park and turn it into a mini farm. And of course the city council, we had a presentation we've presented it to the city council and they said immediately, no, uh, it's not zone for agriculture zone for a park. We can't let you do that. So we all walked away from that city council meeting with our heads to down and a little bit sad, but about three months later, we came back and we had a, a presentation, uh, same city council, same people. And we said, we, uh, are, have a good proposal for you.
Speaker 2 00:17:23 We're gonna build you an edible park. It's horticulture, not agriculture. So let us, uh, let us use that piece of ground for an edible park. We'll put a bike path through it and some benches and, and sure enough, they said yes and suddenly the edible incredible edible park was, was born about 25 years ago to, to this day, it's a citrus park and millions of pounds later, food that gone directly to the food bank have come out of that little five, six acre farm. So for all those years after that, we continued to do little small projects of four and five acres a year, seven, eight at at times. But we stayed basically 4, 5, 6 acres for 30 years, almost 20 something years. And, uh, it was again asking ourselves a year ago. I, um, a year ago this time, why, why are we growing only four acres?
Speaker 2 00:18:12 Why can't we grow 40 acres? And I'll always remember the food bank, uh, as we were sitting and talking with them, they certainly said, we, we really need and want really good, fresh produce. We don't get that much. It comes and it goes, it comes and it goes, and we said, well, you know, yeah, we, we, we produce this stuff all the time and they said, can you a, can you guys produce, let's say 52 acres, an acre a week. And at first they said 52 acres and I asked them, you mean 52 acres per week. And, and the answer to that is, yes, we, we can, we've done it before. Um, we grow about 15 acres, 20 acres of green beans a week and we try and get that harvested, but we said, uh, do you want that much? And they said, oh, no, no, no, just an can you deliver, can you harvest an acre a week?
Speaker 2 00:18:55 We'll supply the volunteers, we'll supply folks that can help do your farm work because that's where all the cost is. And if you can get the price down, uh, to 20, 25 cents or 15 cents, uh, under 30 cents, there's a, there might be room for them to go ahead and get through this brand new product, straight to the food bank. And we said, certainly we can do that. And we turned around in a very quick timeframe and started, uh, gearing up. And that's what we're doing right now. We're, you know, um, 20 weeks, almost 20 weeks into harvest on, uh, on a program, that's gonna go and now it looks like it's not gonna stop. So this idea that we could deliver 40,000 pounds of diverse kinds of crops to the food bank every week, these bins that I'm standing next to in the bins, in the background, um, these are some plastic bins here.
Speaker 2 00:19:43 Um, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, we are looking for products that are not too highly perishable that are easily to be handled that versatile in the, in, in terms of a menu, whether something like cabbage, you can make coleslaw, or you can make soup, or you can, uh, do wraps with them, all kinds of things. Uh, we know that broccoli is pretty versatile. Kids will eat broccoli all the all day long if they, if they get used to it, um, celery of course is celery, but we started to see that this opportunity to grow crops on a on know, just a commercial basis with a different set of partners is replicable and scalable all over the country and all over the world. When you find some farmers in the area, in your region, any region, you got some really good farmers, you got some farmers in retirement. We've had a couple great projects where we've grabbed a couple friends outta retirement and got 'em back on the, and they're just so happy because they get a chance to continue to do what they know how to do.
Speaker 2 00:20:36 Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And that institutional knowledge that comes with every older farmer is kind of important stuff. So what we we see right now is, um, this, we said it maybe the best way we describe this time is, you know, we're, we're all getting tired of the think tank approach to things we discuss, uh, so much stuff. How, how many studies do you need to show that a, a student that shows up hungry at school is, is not a good student. How many studies do you need to show up that a kid with a really bad diet may get diabetes by I'd have obesity might have all kinds of issues or cognitive development issues at the young age. And, and we say, do do we really need to study at all these dollars, going through these, uh, think tanks to tell us what we already know.
Speaker 2 00:21:19 We said, no more think tank we're gonna be a do tank. And the do tank then is, is exactly what I think has to happen around the world and around country, cuz if we're gonna accomplish those sustainable development goals, it it's like we have all the tools, uh, that these dynamic tools in the toolbox. Um, uh, I, I mentioned earlier that we're part of a national group called solutions from the land and, uh, solutions from the land just released its report called the 24 century agriculture Renaissance. Uh, and if you don't recognize that we're in the middle, uh, in the early stages of a Renaissance, then you just haven't been paying attention. Uh, I always say that my neighbor who just retired last year, he's 96 years old, last year, retired from farming. He was an active farmer driving in his pickup every day out to the, he just retired.
Speaker 2 00:22:09 He was born in 1925 and he remembers the names of the horses. He used to plow his fields as a young teenager before they ever got a tractor in, when he was two years old in 1927, there was only, only 2 billion people on the planet. Okay. Today there's 7.6 or eight, whatever it is. And so you, you have to ask if, unless you've just been in a time warp we're in full stride into this Renaissance, if you will, of new information, new technology, new ways of thinking, and more importantly, new ways of, uh, uh, agreeing on what's achievable because if you go back 20, 30 years, you didn't have a lot of these tools that could make these things happen, uh, very much more quickly. And, and in this case, uh, we could have been doing this 30 years ago, what we're doing right now, if we wanted to end hunger on the planet, since world war II, we've had the capacity to do it on the planet.
Speaker 2 00:23:03 We just have, haven't had the global will to do it. Um, and we think that we're making some good efforts with some of these, with food banks and, and the food pantries and this other side of it. But when you involve the health department and you involve the education department, because healthy kids, that's a good investment, um, smarter kids, that's a good investment. Uh, and then just the challenges, the social justice side of hunger itself, suddenly you realize there's a lot, lot of people that should be stepping up here and can be stepping up with resources of all kinds to make a project like this very doable, the D the delivery of nutrient dense foods to those most in need. Yeah. So it's exciting. It's an exciting time. And it kind of speaks to this idea that new ways of thinking gives us new new solutions.
Speaker 1 00:23:49 Yes, definitely. And how does, um, like local food as well as, um, you know, urban farming kind of come into play here, um, with making sure the agriculture is climate smart, but also feeding the local community.
Speaker 2 00:24:09 Well, here, we're on the university of California's, um, their division of agricultural natural resources. We're here at their, uh, south coast research and extension center. So it's a 200 plus acre, uh, farm, basically in the middle of, uh, Irvine here in orange county. And with, with this facility, had we, we were able to find those 40 plus acres to grow, do this project. And we recognized that our next phase is to create a farm academy. Uh, we've always wanted to do that. In fact, we had a small farm academy concept with veterans coming, uh, out of the service, uh, hoping to get a job in agriculture and, uh, what we're we plan to put into play here. And we already are working with some really great interns, uh, is making sure that, you know, we've always said agriculture should be a career, a first choice.
Speaker 2 00:25:05 And this idea, we need a whole new generation, a whole new cadre of, of new farmers, and they don't have to be young, but generally they're young or, uh, very seasoned veterans in, uh, in, in other fields like landscaping that can come right into, uh, agriculture and, and, and understand that you're creating a working landscape, uh, and edible working L uh, I often say that because we don't own the ground that we farm on we're land managers with an edible landscape theme. You know, we take over vacant properties and when the, the landlord Lord is ready to develop, and we say, thanks for the use of the ground, and we give it back to them in better shape. And even though they might be putting houses on it, we had the, the privilege and, uh, and the opportunity to use that ground to produce food, uh, for that time before they were ready to develop here at the university.
Speaker 2 00:25:55 Um, this is, this is in a, a perfect place for, uh, creating a new kind of extension. If you will. Uh, the master gardeners are headquartered here, the four HS headquartered here. And why would you have a, a wonderful project that allows for a whole new generation of, of folks to really roll up their sleeves and learn how to grow fruits and vegetables in this region, in this area. And then they could turn right around and there's, you know, as tough as it is to, for me to find 40 acres in our, in our area. I happen to know that all around the world, there's all kinds of open properties that are available. That might be under the utility lines that might be owned by a school, might be owned by a university. They might be owned by the city or the state or the water district, or any number of utilities. Um, the military has wonderful properties that are usable. So it's just, again, realigning, uh, resources with the will to get something, uh, significant accomplished
Speaker 1 00:26:55 As I'm sure, you know, ag, um, we have a farm bill on the horizon and, um, for the, there is a new farm bill every five years with 2018 being the most recent one, the farm bill is this large bill that consists of a ton of improvements and investments in nutrition programs and agriculture, and many, um, stakeholders like farmers and food banks, and anti-hunger advocates are involved and really interested in the outcome and what ultimately ends up in the bill. So I was wondering if you could answer, you know, what sort of investments for climate smart agriculture and even anti-hunger policies would you like to see in, in the 20, um, 23 farm bill? I know we're sort of limited to the political wins, but I'd also like to hear kind of your wishlist, I guess.
Speaker 2 00:27:56 Well, uh, one of the programs that came out of the pandemic was the farm, the family food box program am. And, uh, we had a first firsthand, uh, opportunity to watch that program evolve. Uh, at the time in March of 2020. I remember I got a, a very alarm call from a friend, uh, who was, uh, a, a lettuce and well vegetable producer. And he was at that time in March disking down his fields, cuz they had shut down all the restaurants. So he was as actually with a tractor disking down hundreds of acres, cuz there was no place to go with it, uh, in those, in those early weeks. Um, and he, they knew, he knew that we were working with food banks a lot and he said, can you help me? Can you get me lined up with these food banks at all?
Speaker 2 00:28:47 Cuz I, I, I just, I can't, I it's heartbreaking to watch this stuff get, get getting wasted. Um, and so we were able to put 'em together with the food banks in our region and uh, within an eight day period, he reconfigured his packing shed. And instead of sending out, you know, a truckload of broccoli, a truckload of romaine lettuce, a truckload of iceberg lettuce, a truckload of cauliflower, he refied it and was putting all one of each into a box and was, and was starting to put together a 25, 30 pound box of fresh produce. At the same time we got a, and he was hoping that there was going to be a program coming out of U S D a. At the same time, we got a call from the Navajo nation, uh, representative. And they said, we are out of food. The liquor store and the convenience store are closed.
Speaker 2 00:29:37 And we have, uh, families that are out at, on their reservation. They have no food. They have, they have, you know, they have to drive a hundred miles to go look for food. Um, and it was interesting. We were able to put them together with my friend, my friend was saying, well, we're waiting for the USD to come up with some guidelines. And the Navajo nation folks said, forget the guidelines. We have money. We have no food. So can you just send on the stage here? Can you send these food boxes to us? And so sure enough, they load up a truck and the first truck goes out and here it shows up in New Mexico at an intersection out, out in the middle of nowhere. Um, and there at the intersection, there's 50 pickup trucks waiting for the truck to stop and they open the doors, offload the boxes one by one and they media and distribute the, the thought boxes of fresh produce to the families.
Speaker 2 00:30:25 And what happened was the families were receiving these boxes and the women were, were weeping because they had never seen such fresh produce. You know, they're at the tail end of the food chain out there, uh, buying liquor store, uh, convenience stores getting maybe to a store once in a while and then saving it, but to see that kind of fresh produce. And at that point it was probably 36 hours, uh, old, if, if, if that cuz it was just coming around the field's getting into the boxes and getting over there. So that, that one significant change that, Hey, here's something interesting. Here's some folks most in need getting the best product possible. Why can't we do that all the time and why can't we make that, uh, something that happens and whether it happens through a farm bill? Um, I, I, and I have great respect and, and, and, and hope for the administration, especially the U S D a with secretary Vilsack there that, um, this second tour of his, I think is a wonderful opportunity or he understands what can happen, what can get done.
Speaker 2 00:31:26 And he's already putting into place so many neat things. This was one of the good things that, uh, came out of both administrations, the food box concept. And it's just an, we've just seen it to be a, a hell of a way to kind of shake ourselves up and realize that this doesn't eliminate any number of other pro, but it's a program that has more bang for the buck going back to the due tank. It, it really has a chance to stand itself up and be a, a different model than we've ever seen with way more efficacy in deliverables, uh, than we've ever seen before. And because it can embrace the small producers all the way up to the bigger producers and, and the idea is get a diverse amount of crops all into a wonderful box that gets delivered within, uh, hours and days to those most in need.
Speaker 2 00:32:13 Uh, since we're determined to use snap that we're determined to have WIC programs, we already have the mechanism in, in place for a lot of this. Uh, isn't that an exciting way to just step up and do better on what we were doing before with different vision and different collaborators that, that make it happen. So in a farm bill, um, wouldn't that be amazing if one of the, uh, this next farm bill, one of the goals is, uh, we obviously can see, uh, region by region that we should be able to raise our hand, for example, in our area and say that we've accomplished goal, uh, of those sustainable development goals, uh, number two and three end of hunger and, uh, a healthier population at least made a big, more than a big dent in it, but really rest it. And wouldn't that be neat if all around the country, it doesn't matter what political system you have.
Speaker 2 00:33:02 Cause that's the beautiful thing about the SDGs. Doesn't matter what country you are. If you take those goals on as a country, uh, we'll see which, which system can deliver it first. Right? And so no different than any region of our, our, our country. Let's just kind of see who can deliver, uh, some us great stuff coming out of ag first and a farm bill that addresses the facilitation of that. Not more studies, not more research, but more dollars going to boots on the ground, more dollars going to the infrastructure. Uh, for example, a food bank needs cooling capacity to take the heat outta some of these products that are coming in. They, they have cold storage, but they don't have cooling capacity to take the heat out. So there's a one time investment. You, you get, get them set up so they can take the heat out of urban produce coming in, uh, and get 'em so that now it's ready to go to their, their, their clients, no different than, uh, going to the chain stores or the, uh, the, the restaurants, right.
Speaker 2 00:34:00 It's just trying to be a little smarter with the dollars we have. Um, on the other side of that, I could talk all day long about, um, you know, conservation, uh, uh, the equip programs and the other good programs that are helping us be better stewards of the land. That's definitely critical parts of a farm bill. Um, we, we recognize that, uh, uh, for those of us that grow specialty crops, um, we really need to be focused on our cuz most of us that most, all of us that grow specialty crops rely on irrigation for how we get our job done. So the infrastructure for, for, um, water, uh, obviously in the west where we're in our drought is in dire straits, literally. Um, but all over whether it's Florida, whether it's new England, um, that kind of, uh, one time investment into infrastructure, whether it's a better, uh, filtration systems, better Wells, um, better delivery systems for irrigation pumping, um, and, and systems that use water better.
Speaker 2 00:35:00 And by definition, you get to go, go to where you have, uh, more precision ag in, in delivering your, your fertilizer program instead of just broadcast all, all, all of that stuff plays into what we would call smart agriculture and climate smart agriculture. We've always been, I've been moving towards that. I think that's what the public doesn't quite understand how far we've been moving in agriculture, uh, whether it's, uh, bio biotech, whether it's the biology, uh, uh, for our pest control, that's changing. Um, we've got some neat tools. Uh, I think the, this idea that our toolbox is becoming more and more dynamic with better and better tools for many different things that creates that resiliency that we need. And, and in a farm bill, fast tracking those tools that we're looking for, uh, drought, tolerant plants, uh, heat, tolerant plants, uh, insect resistance, uh, new tools for insects coming out of the biological arena or chemical, molecular chemistry, all of these things we need, um, just because it's challenging to get our food onto a table.
Speaker 2 00:36:07 So the farm bill should be more dynamic than it's ever been based upon this sustainable development goal vision of how agriculture has to step up to be in this Renaissance to deliver and create the kind of changes. So you don't see the disconnect that's taking place around the world. There just shouldn't be this kind of angst between countries, between factions. Um, if we live in the world of abundance, that's the, the sweet spot because everybody has choices and everybody can make their choice. Instead of trying to dictate that, you know, one kind of agriculture's better than another. Uh, we've always said that the opposite of abundance is scarcity. The minute you move into scarcity, you have less choices. And the minute you have less choices and you move into significant scarcity, you're going away from living and going into a state of survival. And the minute you're in a state of survival, you start to fight pretty easy to see.
Speaker 2 00:37:01 So where does agriculture need to be? We need to have the support to create that abundance with all the different systems, whether, whether it's on a rooftop, whether it's a, in a building, you know, whether it's a, a skyscraper, indoor agriculture, whether it's outdoor, uh, it's a big system that has to do well. We, we always say all systems need to be doing well because invariably one of the systems is gonna have a, uh, you know, a little shutdown or a little bit of a challenge. It, it's funny. Um, we haven't changed as a world. We've got more complicated. And as in many ways, a little bit more vulnerable too,
Speaker 1 00:37:34 I was wondering just personally, you know, agricul year has really moved this way, um, for a while now. And what you really need is support from the public and from political leaders, just general resources, um, to make these things happen. You've been doing this for, for a long time now, um, you know, creating these innovative ways to feed folks and, um, make sure you're a good steward of the land. And I was just wondering like, you know, how, how do you personally stay motivated and focused?
Speaker 2 00:38:12 I I've been so fortunate and, and it's been such a privilege, I think, uh, whether it's coming out of that position with, uh, the department of agriculture to understand that, you know, the infrastructure that surrounds agriculture I is ver is, is, is very dynamic. Uh, the water systems that we need, the pest control systems, we need the pest exclusion, uh, the folks at the, uh, at all the departments of agriculture, state and national, you know, in any other world they'd be heroes, but people just assume that food's gonna show up. So they don't even appreciate where the food comes from or all the work that it needs to be done to protect that food and make sure it, it actually gets to where you are. So there's that kind of inspiration that comes from just part of agriculture and it, and that's the entire food chain, whether it's the, you know, I think we all learned what an essential worker was this year, because for the public they're determined to eat, you know, they think they're going to eat and they expect that they're going to eat and you shut down half of the food system, all the restaurants in the cafeteria and everything, and, uh, that kind of disruption, if it, if it ever gave us a, a at least a small time out to, for the public to pause and say, wow, yeah, agriculture's kind of important because <laugh>, I do want to eat every day.
Speaker 2 00:39:27 I do expect to eat every day. It, it was our good chance for us at agriculture to be, uh, able to vocalize, I think, uh, the fact at, um, that's not something we can promise. It's not a promise that we can stay in business with some of the challenges of, uh, high fertilizer costs or high diesel costs. There's guys going outta business as we speak, uh, or folks making decisions, even in my own business, we've had tremendous challenges that we don't even grow. Some of the crops we used to grow, cuz we can't compete in the marketplace that we have with, with our higher costs of doing business here. Uh, we pay a lot for water. We pay a lot for rent. We, uh, have to pay the same amount for diesel for different inputs. Um, and yet the expectation is I have to compete with somebody who has much lower labor cost.
Speaker 2 00:40:13 For example, just across the border, into Mexico, the difference of being paying $15 a day or $15 an hour, that's pretty significant. And right. So those realities are things we deal with. I think in terms of the inspiration that we have though, because we also work with our friends, Adam, Mexico, and other all over the world. Um, you recognize that we're all in a similar boat, if you will, all China RO navigate and row forward. Um, and so there's that kind of inspiration that comes from recognizing that even though I got my vile in out and I can stand on my orange crate and complain about how tough things are, everybody else is busy, complaining too. And sometimes you get support from government. Sometimes you get no support from government. Sometimes you get negatives attack from government that make it harder for us to do what we do.
Speaker 2 00:41:01 We need to have a better voice for agriculture. Um, and I I'm fortunate cause I get to work with, uh, some of the best thought leaders in the world and in our country, in our state, out on a regular basis. And that gives me great inspiration because we start to see that, you know, we're excited about the future. I mean, I think most of us believe there's a glass half full, uh, but to talk about a glass half full, you better understand what's in the picture that you're pouring is a, you know, is, is there stuff in the picture that makes you think it's getting better? Or is it, uh, actually, are we really going into a, a kind of a spiral outta control downwards with within the future of agriculture? I'd like to say, no, it's just the opposite, more opportunity in front of us and more resilience ahead.
Speaker 2 00:41:45 But we have to recognize that that that takes investment. That takes imagination, that takes, um, new thinking. And with that new thinking, I think is where, uh, uh, on things like the specialty crop block grant program, uh, at U S D a, uh, where you have so many good ideas coming outta so many different states for, uh, support of that commodity, that they might that specialty crop, that they might have, those kinds of things give you good hope that, um, you can learn pretty quickly what people are doing in a different region. Uh, people can learn what we're doing here. As far as how quickly we were able to ramp up this program for the food bank, uh, by tying together multiple resources. And, and it's, it's amazing how quickly we could see programs like this, our next well, okay, now that we're growing 52 acres, uh, how come we're not gonna grow 520 acres, uh, 10 acres a week.
Speaker 2 00:42:42 How come we're not gonna do 5,200 acres and really, and you know, hunger and nutrition deficiency in all of Southern California, cuz that's all it would take. Basically we know the math of what we're trying to accomplish. The food banks will give you the numbers all day long. And so now you work backwards of what's your formula to give a, a balanced diet, to all those clients that, uh, are in need. And, and as a, a farmer, you could, you work with multiple farmers, we're working with four different farmers here in our area to make this happen. It's meaningful, it's something we've been doing for so long. And now we realize that we could scale up and, and have more impact. Um, and so in that comes the inspiration to say, well, why not? Why not do it at a, the next level up? Why not find, uh, these new, these new collaborative partners and this new innovation and really dial it in at a higher level, uh, with each passing year, because why?
Speaker 2 00:43:38 Because we can, so that's, we, we we'll see what happens next, but, uh, uh, I know at this point, um, this idea that we could end hunger in our country by the year 2030, I think because of the pandemic, it's become more clear to me that that's one of the easier things we can do ending all in our country by the year 2030, that's a little harder cleaning up the oceans by the year 2030. Okay. That's a little harder too, but it doesn't mean that these things can't get done. And once you start actually seeing that we're going to do it and we're get accomplishing it region by region, you start to getting an emotional, uh, competitive surge. If you will, of end energy of people saying, well, if they can do it, we're gonna do it or we're gonna do it ahead of them.
Speaker 2 00:44:19 It's the good old, competitive spirit that our country engenders. That's what I think is, is happening here. And I think that's what's will continue to happen, cuz I know in your area, you guys are doing some really innovative stuff too. And it's the next question is how, how quickly can you scale up the things you're doing? But that being said, um, uh, the summer program will continue to be kind of a pilot testing of, you can imagine 150, 200 volunteers trying to toss watermelon instead of tosing CA you know, they were tossing cabbage over here, but I don't think we can throw watermelon, uh, very easily. Uh, we'll have to figure out how to get it out of the field with the, with the volunteers. But that being said, I, we're pretty excited about the summer program. One challenge we have is we try and start in the morning, but on days that it's too cold, too hot, too rainy, the volunteers basically don't show up.
Speaker 2 00:45:08 And that's when we have to lean on our professional crews to come in and get jobs done, that the part of the farm work that needs to get done. And then that's the balance of support that comes from the food bank to help. In other words, I'm, I, I'm a, a contract grower of these crops for the food bank right now. What we know how to do, we know how to grow it, but the fact the food bank is able to commander and whether it's, uh, we use a Americ and then just other programming here, it's educational, uh, opportunity. We know, for example, it's amazing when you get a busload of kids, you know, 200, a hundred kids come in, how much they can do in two hours or three hours, a little bit of exercise, a little bit of wonderment, cuz they've never seen, or food comes from, they've never seen cabbage or celery or, or broccoli or a bell pepper hanging on a vibe. That's why school gardens are so critical and important because at least you get some kind of education there. But these larger programs like here were everything behind me that you can see was planted by volunteers. Uh, then we did by volunteers now harvested by volunteers and that, that huge labor car that comes from this size and the scale that just gives you an idea of, uh, what we've been able to mobilize in terms of regional resources that can come together towards a collaborative end.
Speaker 1 00:46:24 And I think to your point about students coming in and volunteering in that way, it's also a good way to recruit new far too.
Speaker 2 00:46:34 We have that as a part of our program. We, we had a program that we is about to ready to start up again. Um, probably in the year ahead, it's called the valor program. It's veterans, agricultural learning opportunities and resources, a very nice acronym, right? But the idea that there's a career to be had here is absolutely what we believe in and this idea that because we're set up as one acre plots out on this research station, one in two acre plots, the idea is every intern student would be able to have their own plot and be their responsibility with the handhold that we have to grow that crop out, get it to harvest and do some calculations, do all the work that you need to have to kind of get your hands dirty. Literally do the, the work as an intern. And, and we're pretty excited how that will, will, will set up in the, in the days ahead.
Speaker 1 00:47:25 So innovative. I think that maybe it for the questions ag, how can the listeners learn more about what you're doing?
Speaker 2 00:47:35 Sure we [email protected]
that will allow you to access that 21st century agriculture Renaissance report. And then you have a, a lot of information about climate smart agriculture, uh, within our website there at the local level here in orange county here in Southern California, we have, we call it the flagship for urban agriculture for solutions. And the name of our, uh, our nonprofit here in, in orange county is called solu, is called solutions for urban agriculture, S F U a.org. And, and that will give you a lot of the local work that we're doing here. For example, we have a wonderful project called the farm and food lab where, uh, it's set up as a part of the park, the city park in Irvine, they call it the great park in Irvine. The city actually sponsors this project called the farm and food lab, and it's where the average citizen can come and see how they might transform their own backyard or front yard into an edible landscape. Uh, the idea that it's open to the public open for a learning and it's where extension can really happen, uh, for people interested in their own, uh, domestic food supply, right? Their own home food supply. But, um, so those, those are so, uh, two websites, uh, SFU, a.org, uh, solutions from the land.org. And that kind of gives a pretty good broad spectrum. Look at, uh, both the bigger picture and then the, the regional local picture,
Speaker 1 00:49:04 Your visioning and all the good work that you're doing there in Irvine is so exciting. So I wanna thank you so much for being on the podcast today and sharing your expertise with us.
Speaker 2 00:49:18 Thanks, Sarah. And thanks for all the work you're doing out there. And, uh, anytime you get a chance to come out and do a little field tour, please do. Yes. I think I'll like what you'll see.
Speaker 1 00:49:34 Well, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with ag. We'll be sure to link all of those great resources that he mentioned in the show notes. Thanks for listening. And we'll talk to you soon.