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Though not an agricultural campus per se, many of UC Merced’s young faculty passionately investigate the interface between intensive food production and our bioregion’s natural systems. One of these is watershed scientist Josh Viers, whose research focuses on balancing agricultural productivity with California’s increasingly water-limited future. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Joshua Viers in creative conversation.
“Every body needs milk” loses ground to plant-based beverage substitutes, while Academy Award winners denounce dairy farming at the Oscars. Should Western Civilization’s 8,000-year intimacy with dairy animals be dismissed out of hand? Peer-reviewed research demonstrates that fresh, raw farm milk, and proximity to bovines strengthened European farm children’s immune systems, reducing asthma and allergies. Dairymen Mark and Aaron McAfee argue milk’s role in the human diet.
While one wily virus from wild nature boils on the front burner, food safety issues pitting domesticated animals against our salad plates still simmer. Two University of California extension agents recently weighed in on tainted greens from animal agriculture’s perspective, possibly a first. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey engages farm advisors Brooke Latack and Rebecca Ozeran on safer salads versus feel-good industry response.
Surpassing 1850’s scientific understanding, poet Walt Whitman heralded soil’s transformation of sickness and death into health and new life. Catching up with the bard, UC Merced ecosystem scientist Rebecca Ryals pioneers turning every sort of organic waste into black gold. Novel research with the Marin Carbon Project and ventures around the globe are food for discussion with host Tom Willey.
Robot strawberry pickers whirr, drones and satellite imagery telegraph crop health, while smartphone apps report irrigation efficiencies. Does Ag high-tech herald an on-farm revolution, or just more “snake oil” to drain farmers’ pocketbooks? Both, argues Down on the Farm guest Danny Royer, whose experience adapting technology to sprawling row crop operations hereabouts, makes him a whizbang on the topic. Join Royer and host Tom Willey in conversation.
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND! Amigo Bob Cantisano, co-founder of the 40 years running Eco-Farm Conference, has generously disseminated hard-earned knowledge of biological agriculture with many thousands. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Amigo Bob reflect on organic agriculture’s early days and present circumstance PART TWO.
Fresno City College professor, John Moses, salutes the culture in agriculture with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey, as we bid adieu to American bard Walt Whitman’s 200th birth year with Leaves of Grass poetry honoring agrarian life. Besides celebrating the ferment of 19th c. urban culture, Whitman, born on a Long Island farm, keenly appreciated rural traditions. Join us and the ‘Good, Grey Poet’.
Amigo Bob Cantisano was present at the creation of California’s organic farming movement. As founder of our 40-years-running EcoFarm Conference, his Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, and Organic Ag Advisors, Amigo Bob has generously disseminated hard-earned knowledge of biological agriculture with many thousands. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Amigo Bob reflect on organic agriculture’s early days and present circumstance.
Montana wheat farmer and Grain by Grain author Bob Quinn revisits the “Down on the Farm” front porch, where he and host Tom Willey discuss present circumstances and future direction of our four-decade-old organic movement. Is rapid adoption of organics by conventional farmers a mile wide but inch deep, or can they be incentivized to pursue high biological integrity?
While this year’s harvest awaits the huller in massive piles around the valley, a progressive vanguard of almond farmers, some 150 statewide, prepare to sow their orchard floors to winter-blooming cover crops to serve as bee pasture. These orchardists are guided and encouraged by a young entomologist, Billy Synk, of Project Apis m., an Almond Board supported effort whose mission is to strengthen pollinators and soil health. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Billy Synk.
California played a pioneering and preeminent role in the public interest science of biological pest control over the first three quarters of the 20th century. Thereafter, commercially manufactured insecticides, what some call “the pesticide conspiracy”, have dominated agricultural crop protection. Join University of California entomologist Kent Daane and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey discussing the past, present and future of pest control on California’s farms.
New Zealand soil ecologist Gwen Grelet is on odyssey across these United States to learn what drives farmers to adopt radical changes in production systems. Kiwis are as interested as are we in harmonizing agriculture with the natural systems foundational to its productivity. Join soil mycologist turned sociologist Gwen Grelet and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation.
Armed with a PhD in plant science, but disenchanted with academia, Bob Quinn returned to his generational Montana wheat farm in 1978, determined to make a go of it. Soon, Quinn decided to reinvigorate his Big Sandy community as well as his own family farm. To learn what he accomplished, join Bob and Grain by Grain coauthor Liz Carlisle on “Down on the Farm” with Tom Willey.
Mark Arax’s The Dreamt Land is a literary tapestry that depicts the reshaping of nature into modern California, woven from engrossing stories of men and women whose outsized ambitions drove them to “remedy God’s uneven design of California.” Join Mark and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey discussing a five-year gestation of the preeminent Valley author’s much anticipated new volume.
These American Continents have been attracting immigrants for some 13,000 years. Fleeing poverty and seeking opportunity for betterment, Italian newcomers created a vibrant rural Madera community in the late 1800s. The Italian Swiss Colony and winery served as its viticultural land base and economic engine. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation with longtime Maderans Adriana Manfredi Brown and Ron Manfredi.
Bruce Roberts grew up on a San Joaquin Valley family farm when forty acres supported middle class living and sent kids to college. Roberts served as Kings County’s agronomy farm advisor when “white gold” cotton still dominated our Valley’s landscape. In 2004, Alma mater, CSU Fresno, appointed Roberts to the J.G. Boswell Endowed Chair in Plant Science. Join Bruce Roberts and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation.
Climate chaos confounds California’s progress towards a carbon-neutral energy future. Catastrophic wildfire liability just triggered the state’s largest private utility, PG&E, to declare bankruptcy. Overnight, lenders refuse to fund new California energy projects or demand junk bond interest rates. Why can’t public-owned utilities provide our power? Understanding where we’ve been informs choices we must make. “Down on the Farm” historian of technology Paul Gilmore will shed light on the subject.
Our San Joaquin Valley’s Critically Overdrafted Basins must submit Groundwater Management Plans for Department of Water Resources approval by year’s end. Local agency formation, analysis, and consensus-building has been ongoing since 2014’s passage of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Colorado’s San Luis Valley is ten years ahead of us in a similar mandate to balance groundwater pumping with aquifer replenishment. Join host Tom Willey and Colorado agronomist Patrick O’Neill to learn from our neighbors’ experience.
Family-scale organic dairy farmers were, for some time, insulated from the brutal economic cycles that plague our conventional dairy industry. No longer. Might organic dairy’s crisis be the “canary in the mine shaft” as Food Inc. muscles in on the organic bonanza? Join Denair dairyman and Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance president Ward Burroughs in conversation with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
What would compel an ambitious twenty-something to abandon her lucrative career in pharmaceutical sales for soil science? The answers may give you a new appreciation for the vast, living world beneath your feet. Join UC Davis soil microbiology PhD candidate Jessica Chiartas and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey digging into soil.
The plowing of soils to grow crops released more carbon into Earth’s atmosphere than did all the burning of fossil fuels until the mid-1950s. How might better agricultural practice, vastly reducing tillage or eliminating it, mitigate climate change while improving soil and the food grown in it? Find out by joining Chico State University’s Cynthia Daley and University of California’s Jeff Mitchell in conversation with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
California’s 1.3 million almond acres, just winding up harvest, require the ministrations of some 32 billion bees to make them fertile. Joe Traynor is a marriage broker of sorts, pairing bee keepers from across North America with Valley almond growers. “Servant of two masters”, Joe has observed this annual courtship dance since the 1950’s. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Scientific Ag Company’s Joe Traynor in conversation.
When were you last served by a greengrocer, that once noble profession whose name has largely disappeared from our lexicon? Mark Mulcahy created the Bay Area’s first 100% organic produce department some thirty years ago. Today, fruit and vegetable evangelist Mulcahy roams from coast to coast, preaching passion for produce, its seasonality, taste, nutrition and immense variety. Join Mark and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey to discuss organic produce retailing, where it’s been, where it is, and where it’s going.
America’s democratic roots trace to the agrarian Greek polis and a similarly egalitarian early Roman Republic, where eight of ten people lived on the land. Grappling with the greater Mediterranean world’s power politics transformed each of these societies into aristocracies whose imperial ambitions undermined democratic foundations of land distribution and proper soil care. Fresno State University professor of classical studies Dr. Honora Chapman and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey explore the ancient past for lessons relevant to America’s challenging present.
Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers movement successfully called our nation’s attention to the plight of farm workers, yet failed to represent them in the fields as a viable union. UC Merced farm labor historian Mario Sifuentez spent countless hours listening to archived UFW board meeting recordings to learn what went wrong. Join Sifuentez and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
If crops’ unseen half, the roots, could be visualized, farmers might vastly improve their practice. UC Davis agroecology professor Amelie Gaudin focuses much of her gaze on life belowground. Humankind’s plant selection for high yield over thousands of years weakened self-reliant root systems, which now depend on farmers’ spoon-feeding ministrations. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Dr. Gaudin discussing the hidden half of nature.
As California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) transitions from local agency formation into planning, profound consequences for San Joaquin Valley agriculture loom over the near horizon. Dr. David Cehrs, Sanger farmer and Kings River Conservation District Board President, joins “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey, to explore options to the current overdrafting of our Valley aquifers by two million acre-feet annually. Join Dr. David Cehrs and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey for potential solutions.
Agriculture surrendered much water back to California’s river systems aiming to restore troubled fisheries. All in vain, as salmon runs continue in precipitous decline. CalTrout’s Jacob Katz and collaborators reveal that levied rivers resemble sterile water slides, devoid of foods that migrating smolts need to thrive. Their Nigiri Project addresses that. Join Katz and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
Santa Rosa Junior College’s 365-acre Shone Farm won recognition as the nation’s #1 ranked educational farm. Leonard Diggs has served as Shone Farm’s manager for over two decades. “Learning by doing”, students acquire skills in animal husbandry, pasture management, viticulture, wine making, orcharding, vegetable production, forestry, and culinary arts. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Leonard Diggs.
Science agrees we now live in the Anthropocene, a new geological age in which human activity is the overwhelming force driving change in Earth’s life systems. Paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman challanges common belief that this new age commenced with the industrial era’s combustion of fossil fuels. His Early Anthropocene hypothesis argues that humankind began shifting Earth’s climate some 8,000 years ago with agriculture’s spread. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and CSUF meteorologist Sean Boyd, as they discuss Ruddiman’s radical notions, that might not be so radical.
Is good, clean, and fair food a realistic possibility? Longtime “Down on the Farm” anchor Tom Willey along with partner Denesse of T&D Willey Farms will take the hot seat as UC Davis vegetable crops specialist Jeff Mitchell commands the host microphone. No mere stroll down memory lane, the professor intends to focus equally on the organic movement’s successes and shortcomings over forty years.
The only region on North and South American continents lacking indigenous agriculture before Europeans arrived was California. The agricultural wunderkind our Golden State has since become required transportation, electrification, and irrigation networks. Fresno City College historian Paul Gilmore’s “Rails, Water and Power: The History of California’s Infrastructure” recounts those avaricious capitalists, brilliant engineers and toiling laborers whose collaboration laid the foundation for the world’s 6th largest economy. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Paul Gilmore, in conversation.
Evan Wiig’s Farmers Guild facilitates networking for young farmers all over the Golden State. As the early innovators of organic farming lay down their hoes, it is critical to organize and support a new generation of cultivators. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Evan Wiig, in a conversation on the future of our food, the land and those who will steward it.
Roots of Change “think and do” tank vowed to “transform California’s food system in twenty-five years”. ROC president Michael Dimock and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey assess just how much of that grandiose task has been accomplished since 2002. Has our food and organic farming movement fallen victim to its own success?
Host Tom Willey’s final conversation with Angus Wright. Nature’s Matrix, authored most recently, weaves agriculture, conservation, and food sovereignty into one comprehensive whole. Board chairman Angus discusses The Land Institute’s revolutionary effort to reinvent midwestern grain farming into a perennial polyculture that mimics the natural prairie ecosystem it once displaced. It’s a wrap.
Down on the Farm’s continuing conversation with Angus Wright heads further south to Brazil in this episode.“Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Angus discuss his To Inherit the Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil. Environmental historian Wright is a CSU Sacramento Emeritus Professor and Board Chairman of Salina, Kansas’ visionary Land Institute.
Angus Wright and Wes Jackson cofounded Sacramento State University’s Ecological Studies program in the early 1970s and yet collaborate on natural systems agriculture research at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Angus, CSUS Emeritus Professor, discusses his seminal work, The Death of Ramon Gonzalez : The Modern Agricultural Dilemma, with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
‘Select the best, discard the rest’ – plant breeding was a farmer’s responsibility for agriculture’s first 10,000 years. Today, the purview of scientifically trained professionals, USDA’s Philipp Simon is among the best. For some forty years, Phil has developed and trialed modern carrot varieties at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Simon shares his and the carrot’s interwoven histories in conversation with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
For six years, citizen scientist Peter Donovan has crisscrossed the continental United States in a converted school bus-soils lab to spread knowledge and passion for transforming atmospheric carbon into soil carbon. Peter’s Soil Carbon Challenge touches down in Fresno to evaluate soil-building efforts hereabouts and to engage “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation. Learn how your farm or garden can become part of the solution.
Reared in a Montana family devoted to education and guitar, young Liz Carlisle’s Harvard education curiously spawned a country music career, and the realization that rural America did not reflect her songcraft’s idealized images. Fascinated by her own state’s hardscrabble grain farmers, Liz soaked up graduate geography and journalism skills at UC Berkley while authoring Lentil Underground, a history of Montana’s upstart organic farming movement. Now lecturing on food and agriculture at Stanford, Liz Carlisle joins “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation.