Earlier this week, we got to do some water quality monitoring around Elkhorn Slough for the Coastal Watershed Council. We collected data about the water’s salinity level, which increased as we neared the Slough. Some areas had low levels of oxygen and were quite acidic, while others had very high levels of oxygen and a high pH level. We also took samples of the water to send to a lab that checks for nitrate levels. The ultimate goal of the project is to compare water quality of streams near organic versus conventional farms, from which there is greater chemical runoff. The Coastal Watershed Council is also involved in the restoration of a farmland called Triple M, owned by Alba Organic farms, where the hope is to restore the biodiversity and make the location more hospitable to species such as the California red legged frog, the tiger salamander, and the Santa Cruz long toe salamander. Despite the organization’s large data bank; however, it does not have the jurisdiction to actually enact laws that will help keep the water sources it monitors clean or suited for wildlife. This got me to thinking about ways to best distribute data to local leaders who can propose solutions to issues such as the growing piles of trash in nearby streams. To compare this approach, we also visited the sustainability headquarters of Driscoll’s berry corporation. To this end, we got to see their new water aquifer, which comprised of water tunnels leading to areas with high percolation rates where the water is collected and pumped for agricultural use. Driscoll’s also developed the technology of tensionmeter probes, which farmers use to measure the water levels of their produce as opposed to just sticking their fingers in the topmost soil layer, which is often dry. The probes not only prevents over-irrigation and water waste, they also foster cooperation among farmers who share satellites that obtain the data from the probes. Driscoll’s efforts seemed like a more direct, encompassing approach to dealing with water issues in the area, addressing the salt water erosion that comes from pumping too much water from the Monterey Bay and inefficient water uses by local farmers. Finally, Driscoll’s also incentivizes farms to recycle their plastic tarps, which it sells for re-use as plastic bags and subsidizes farmers’ conservation efforts based on performance results rather than practice implementation. Ultimately, I found both trips to be insightful into ways that we can address water issues and broader conservation questions. Looking forward, I think a combination of both data compiling, law propositions, new technologies, and behavior changes would be the most effective way to combat and prevent the growing environmental issues our class studied.
To end our trip, we found ourselves at UC Santa Cruz’s garden which is home to research, a gardener’s program and an organization called Food What?! Doron, from Food What?!, gave us a tour of the UCSC farm on the way to the organization’s own patch of land. We passed through gorgeous fields in front of an ocean view, providing a perfect ending to our Farms by Oceans themed spring break. We got to pick strawberries, see professor’s houses that had been built on perfectly good farmland, and even see a patch where researchers were looking at the effects of vinegar on blueberries.
After the scenic walk, we made it to Food What?!’s site, which, while completely separate from UCSC, is on their property. The program targets low-income and at risk youth that empowers them to make healthier food choices in their lives. Teens are exposed to classes, including “Hip Hop and Soda” and leadership classes as well as learning how to grow and cook dishes incorporating a rainbow of vegetables. Those who complete the program are later able to receive paid jobs with various outreach projects or even receive college credit if needed.
When Doron had to run off, we met James, another farmer in the area who had left his job in Manhattan to be a farmer in the area. James also had a wealth of knowledge and experience about farming and we were able to have many of our questions answered while helping with Food What?! maintenance. We moved compost between bins and spread redwood chips around the areas. Afterwards, we interacted with some pretty funky chickens featuring feathers on their feet.
We also heard Joe’s spotlight while sucking nectar out of some Salvia flowers, which were quite delicious. The highway traffic was brutal on the way back, so we decided to take side roads and passed through some coastal towns that we would not have been able to see. Not long after we had returned “home” (Aliza’s house), we cooked a lovely “Last Supper” and met her wonderful parents.
The night ended late– past 1am!– but we got to reflect on our experiences this past week and learned more about Grace’s life with some Trader Joe’s goodies. It’s too early to write a final reflection on this trip, as we still have 11 hours before it officially ends, but thank you to all of you who have been following our adventures! We hope you’ve had as much fun as we have had exploring things outside of the classroom.
Tony met us at the ALBA Distribution Center, which was a pretty bleak building. But like the WATCH kids we met the day before, appearances can be deceiving. Tony had some really good insights about the food system, and had some interesting feelings about Driscoll’s, too.
Aliza: “I’m interested about the relationship between you and other corporate distributors, like Driscoll’s.”
Tony: “There is none.”
He later elaborated that he didn’t like how Driscoll’s (who we kind of love because of all the free berries and hats) was running small farmers out of business. Even though the RCD at Driscoll’s thought that they were doing good by employing small farmers and giving them good deals, other small farmers would be run out of business, since the retailers wouldn’t buy the small farmers’ produce (Whole Foods, say).
The dreams of the farmers that ALBA carries on its trucks and strawberries beamed a rosier light on the distribution building as we left. Tony started his little tour by talking about the ALBA system, where strawberries are the byproducts of their actual products: they grow farmers, not produce.
For today’s blog, I am going to be writing a little about the last two days. On Wednesday, during the afternoon, we went kayaking on Elkhorn Slough after a morning of testing the water quality of various rivers and creeks that flow into the slough. Kayaking along the slough, we saw sea lions, swimming with one flipper raised out of the water, harbor seals (even a mother and her newly born pup!), and flotillas of sea otters, grooming their furry selves and diving in the water. There were also various bird species, pelicans, grey herons, and ducks, all diving for fish. Though we were so amazed by all the animals, after getting back, we realized that all the little creeks and rivers that we had visited in the morning emptied into the slough, and the result of all the sediment and fertilizer run-offs added to the overall environment of the slough. Comparing our visits to the various water testing sites and the majestic beauty of the slough, I could not believe that the contamination from the run-offs was slowly degrading the natural environment that was a home to these animals. The juxtaposition between the stagnant, algae-covered pools and the freely-flowing water of the slough astonished me when I thought about the fact that these bodies of water were actually one and the same. Kayaking the slough really drove home the idea that our environment, the environment of the animals we saw along the slough, the environments of the small creeks and rivers were all one and the same; therefore, all deserved the same attention and appreciation.
Here is a picture of us kayaking.
Now, transitioning to today’s activities, waking up to Grace’s song about mold, we got ready for a visit to the headquarters of the berry farm Driscoll’s and a tour of the company’s aquifer recharge project and wildlife conservation sites on farmlands. As the point person to introduce Driscoll’s to the group, I talked about the history of the family-owned company and its growth globally. Over the course of the morning, we learned about its current production methods, partnerships with other family farms, and “green team” efforts, employee-initiated projects directed towards community involvement in environmental protection. Hearing about the production methods of a large-scale agricultural business, we could really compare the practices and overall messages of ALBA and Driscoll’s. As we were reflecting about the morning and afternoon tours of Driscoll’s conservation sites, Shirley brought up the comparison between the capabilities of a smaller organization and a company like Driscoll’s. Does money really drive action? What can we, our ASB group, do to effect action after our trip ends?
We even got Driscoll’s branded baseball caps!
Today was an excellent day spent planting onions and picking strawberries with ALBA Farms. Located deep within Salinas Valley, ALBA stands for the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association. Offering education and business opportunities, ALBA works to empower aspiring famers by leasing to them land, tools, and teaching them how to grow food sustainably.
As great as picking our own strawberries was, my favorite part of the trip was interacting with Nathan and Sophia, our hosts and guides. Nathan gave us a lot to think about and much to appreciate in our short time together. He showed us around, shared with us the history of ALBA, and even granted us unlimited access to the farm’s experimental strawberry pasture which they were testing a new method of organic pest management.
We also spent a great deal of our time working with Sophia on her own personal strawberry pasture. We helped her plant a few onion companion crops to compliment the strawberries. Spending time with her was great, she reminded me of my parents and their collective passion for agriculture and cultivation. I don’t know where I’ll end up after graduating from Stanford but I hope to cultivate land of my own at some point in my life.
After our morning at ALBA and with out boxes of strawberries in hand, we went to the Monterey County Women, Infants and Children nutrition center (WIC) in Salinas. The WIC is part of a larger partnership, Champions for Change, Network for a Healthy California. In addition to helping pregnant and new mothers properly nourish their babies, they also promote nutritional literacy among the low-income residents of their community. We discussed the successes of and challenges faced by the Network in promoting the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. We spoke with a woman named Chris, who represented the WIC and Charmaine and Maggie, from Network for a Healthy California.
They have done remarkable work in recruiting farm stands to provide additional produce, in encouraging convenience stores with produce to put it at the front of the store, and other measures to encourage more physical activity and consumption of produce at the expense of less-healthy options that contribute to high rates of obesity, especially among lower income groups. Curiously, our speakers cited that apparently the growth in obesity in California has evened out for the first time since 1985. They said that these programs have been relatively well-received. Being interested in popular science and health education myself, I was curious as to how exactly they spread their message and changed behavior. Simply making organic food more prevalent is important, but not the only means of encouraging the adoption of a healthier lifestyle. It turns out that they distribute vouchers (think food stamps for produce), host outreach days with cooking demonstrations, release promotional materials and more.
We even visited the stores after our visit, and found that the produce, which included some non-local crops such as coconuts, was indeed front and center in the store. It seems like their programs are going over well. I was a bit surprised at how receptive their audience has been (for the most part), but their success is reassuring, and means that their model might be scalable.Our conversation certainly gave us a lot of information to digest and connect to the other things we’ve learned in this course!