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Raised on a Santa Cruz County apple orchard that great-grandfather Bella planted around 1900, Gina Colfer’s passion for agriculture burns unabated. Agronomist Colfer’s career witnessed Central Coast organic vegetables scale-up from hundred-acre farms to operations of thousands. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Gina discuss what industrial-scale organic operations do well, and where they fall short of the biological systems management Colfer advocates at agribusiness supplier Wilbur-Ellis.
Matt Angell fixes ailing wells for a living. His Madera Pump Co. chases a plunging water table to depths of a thousand feet trying to keep desperate farmers’ orchards and vineyards alive. Matt warns that end days are near if agriculture doesn’t drastically mend its ways. Is anybody listening? Join Matt Angell and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation.
Monte Bottens, a Central Illinois generational family farmer, is throwing off industrial corn and soybean shackles to reembrace self-independent crop and animal diversity common to his recent ancestors. During a stint selling tractors in our San Joaquin Valley, Monte imagined that farmers hereabouts might benefit from some midwestern regenerative knowhow. Join farmer Bottens and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey to learn how he’s doing just that.
Gerald Haslam’s pen came to final rest this April 13th. Over a fifty-year career, he wrote deeply authentic stories depicting California’s Central Valley, its diversity of people, places, and rural culture. He excelled at yarns from his South Valley Okie and oil patch upbringing. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Tulare County agrarian advocate Trudy Wischemann celebrate the life and times, most certainly the words of a singular Valley author.
As our San Joaquin Valley confronts its first drought under Sustainable Groundwater Management Act rules, just pulling harder on deep wells isn’t an option anymore. UC Merced watershed scientist Joshua Viers encores on “Down on the Farm” to critique proposed infrastructure techno-fixes vs. reimagining an agriculture that will reap more value from less production. Several collaborative skunkworks grapple with action plans but could consensus ever emerge? Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and watershed scientist Joshua Viers in conversation.
Jonathan Lundgren, a distinguished young scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, became disenchanted with a prohibition against criticizing agribusiness practices. So, not knowing any better, Jonathan launched his own nonprofit Regenerative Agriculture Research Center, Ecdysis Foundation, in 2016. This spring, Lundgren’s team of ten budding scientists are monitoring soil health and biodiversity on sixteen Valley almond orchards. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and entomologist Jonathan Lundgren in conversation.
Is it inevitable that our San Joaquin Valley must retire 1,000,000 acres from production, one fifth of all irrigated agriculture, by 2040 to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act? A community of innovative visionaries thinks not. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey, in conversation with Don Wright of “Water Wrights” and Milk Producers Council spokesperson Geoff Vanden Heuvel over a ‘San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint’.
Fifteen years ago, a visiting Illinois no-till row-crop farmer seized on the idea of adapting Midwestern regenerative soil management techniques hereabouts. Today, California Ag Solutions’ crackerjack team has Valley growers seeding 16-species cover crops, applying compost, and even grazing animals on croplands. These farmers have drastically reduced synthetic chemical inputs. Join CAS agronomist Cary Crum and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation about the regenerative revolution underway on Valley farms.
Each January, “Down on the Farm” celebrates the culture in agriculture. When our broadcast falls on New Year’s Day, local farmers have hauled pipe organ, poems, and viola into the studio. A growling virus demands that 2021 be more subdued. So, this time we’ll explore farmers wielding not just shovels but pens. Reedley vinedresser Fred Smeds, along with host Tom Willey will regale listeners with yarns from lives on the land.
Wild Farm Alliance advocates for knitting wild nature back into America’s farmscapes. Their Songbird Farm Trail is actively establishing one million nest boxes on farms from Baja to British Columbia. The Alliance publicizes research demonstrating that birds contribute significantly to pest control on farms. Join Executive Director Jo Ann Baumgartner and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in discussion.
Sam Earnshaw is the Johnny Appleseed of California hedgerows. These living fences grew to define the boundaries and character of Britain’s farmscapes following the enclosure of common lands. Earnshaw and collaborators have planted some 30 miles of California native species hedgerow on farms up and down the state since 1996. To what end? Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Sam Earnshaw talk hedgerow treasure.
California’s great interior river systems, the Sacramento and San Joaquin, once inundated some five million Valley acres seasonally, winter home and feeding grounds for countless winged migrants along the Pacific Flyway. Waterfowl Eden was vastly shrunken by agricultural development and flood control efforts initiated after the Gold Rush era. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey welcomes environmental historian and author Philip Garone discussing The Fall and Rise of the Wetlands of California’s Great Central Valley.
Larry Hirahara stewards a Madera farm that his immigrant family established in 1920. Over four decades as a seedsman in the nearby Salinas Valley, amateur historian Larry acquired an extensive knowledge of the Asian American experience in California agriculture, especially Steinbeck Country’s. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Larry Hirahara in conversation.
Outgoing University of California President Janet Napolitano, by matching a generous gift from Clif Bar Foundation, just established a UC Organic Institute, breaking with that land-grant institution’s long-held aversion to the ‘O-Word’. The Institute’s freshly appointed director Houston Wilson joins “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey to outline research and education plans. Young entomologist Wilson continues UC’s rich history in classical biological control efforts.
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.