Farm Food Facts

Diana Campos Jimenez, Al Renner, Syncing Ag Data

November 12, 2019 Episode 50
Farm Food Facts
Diana Campos Jimenez, Al Renner, Syncing Ag Data
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Diana Campos Jimenez, Al Renner, Syncing Ag Data
Nov 12, 2019 Episode 50
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Our Thought Leader is Diana Campos Jimenez, Program Manager at the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.  

The Stories You Need to Know:
• What we can expect from a “Food Safety Modernization Act” Inspection. 
• Syncing Ag Data is a growing Challenge for Industry
• Digital agriculture: the Future is Now

 Our farmer is Al Renner, Outreach Director for Los Angeles Community Garden Council. 



Phil:
0:00
Welcome to Farm Food Facts for November 13th, 2019 I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Remember to watch the new short film from USFRA, 30 Harvests, to see just how farmers provide a source of healthy food while addressing environmental concern for current and future generations. Go to US farmers and ranchers Dot org to view this impactful and heartfelt film. Today we're going to discuss community gardens. They're important, the morale of a community and how they help to nourish it. With two of the most successful leaders of community gardens and both happen to be from Los Angeles where community gardens are thriving. Later in the podcast, we'll chat with Al Renner outreach director for Los Angeles community garden council, whose stories you do not want to miss. First up, our thought leader is Diana Campos Jimenez program manager at the Los Angeles community garden council. Diana was raised in the San Fernando Valley and began to work for the youth speak collective, a nonprofit in Pacoima aimed at providing free services to youth at risk. Now she leads a water and energy conservation campaign and beautification project for the Educare foundation. A nonprofit that focuses on afterschool programs. Her favorite line is effort is a reflection of interest. Diana, welcome to forum food facts.
Diana:
1:28
Hi. Thank you.
Phil:
1:30
So give me the one Oh one on community gardens. How important are they? How are they affecting not only youth but all generations in the area?
Diana:
1:42
Um, thank you for asking that. So Los Angeles community garden council is currently partnered with 42 community gardens in Los Angeles County. Wow. And yes, we're very proud of that. We've been around for over 20 years. We celebrate our 20 year anniversary last year. We've been doing really cool stuff and I feel like having community gardens in the community is important in the sense that it provides a special place, a kind of therapeutic place. A lot of our gardens are located in low income communities that are surrounded by liquor stores and churches or a supermarkets, but very random ones, right? So it's still considered a food desert. So our community garden is a little Oasis to however many families that can fit in there playing. By fit. I mean, so what the community gardens offer are either eight by 10 or 25 by 25 size plots depending on where the garden is located. And these families or individuals have an opportunity to grow their own food so they have a chance to eat healthy and provide for the families in another way.
Phil:
2:43
So you mentioned food deserts and the fact that people are growing their own food. Do you find that because of the morale building of, of having these community gardens that people are just growing food for themselves and their own family or are they sharing with others?
Diana:
3:00
It really depends on what the focus of that particular garden is. Because some gardens are very small and the people that are growing there can only grow for themselves. Other gardens that have larger spaces, they usually have an abundance of food. So those gardens have a relationship with like local food banks or crop swap organizations so that they can help provide this food for other people that need it.
Phil:
3:23
So I've never heard the term before. Crop swap. What does that mean? I think I know what it means, but tell me what it means.
Diana:
3:31
Yeah, a crops up. It's really cool. Um, if you have an abundance of your harvest, whether it's squash or tomatoes, uh, you get together with your neighbor or another person that's also growing food and you just swap what you're growing. So you know, you're going in trip to the supermarket and paying a random price for a tomato that you could, you know, you grew in your backyard and you want to give us your neighbor. So a crop top is just a time and day where people can get together and just switch what they harvested.
Phil:
3:58
Let me take a step back. Pre harvest. What, if anything, are community gardens doing to educate consumers? The public people who are not part of the gardens about how food is, is grown.
Diana:
4:12
The really fun part of my job is when I get to do garden tours. And usually the garden tours consist of elementary school aged kids or sometimes even high school kids or college kids. But it's really fun to see the little kids coming into the garden because you ask them whereabouts to see what ingredients are in pizza. And they get so excited because they're, they're thinking they're going to see some pepperoni in the oven. And I show them what is, you know, where did tomatoes come from? And I've heard the answer in a can, right? So we are educating the youth and seeing food live growing in front of their eyes. And it's really fun to see that in little kids when they realize, Oh, this is what a tomato looks like, this is where tomato comes from. And that's one way we help educate possible gardeners.
Phil:
4:56
What is, if you, if you recall, what is the wackiest question that you ever had on one of these tours, either from a kid or from an adult?
Diana:
5:06
Oh, uh, I had them smell Bazell and they ate it and then they, so I think someone said is this mint? Yeah. And I thought it was the cutest question, but it wasn't the wackiest. Yeah.
Phil:
5:18
So let me ask you another question. What was the question that you were asked? Either by a kid or an adult that really gave you pause and and said, you know, this person is really connecting with farming, with gardening. They get it.
Diana:
5:37
Oh it was one where I was still working for youth to be collective. A youth collective at the time had opened the Tacoma community garden, which I think at the time was called prejudice screen. And I heard my, I had my first batch of high school students and I was giving them a tour of this garden and I was just brand new to the job. So I still learning, you know all these client names, what they look like, what they tasted like. And one girl kept I guess giving the tour instead of me because she was able to kind of name drop all these plants. Right? Oh that's radish. That's cilantro, that's the watermelon, that's a pumpkin. And I'm just like, how do you know this? I'm very impressed. And she said, my parents grow food. We go to Mexico all the time. And I see how my grandparents have their ranch and they take us around and they teach us what is everything. And how you eat it and what you compare it with. And I was just amazed and it's, it was kind of like, okay, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta get smarter. I have to have these skills like the students. So that was just really impressive to me and it really took me back.
Phil:
6:44
And how old was she? Do you recall?
Diana:
6:46
She was maybe 15, 15 years old.
Phil:
6:49
Oh wow. That's fabulous. So what, what is your hope with the community gardens? What do you personally want to achieve by doing this? Is it having these kids and adults getting into farming, understanding what they're eating, being healthier? What's your primary objective?
Diana:
7:06
I guess it's a combination. It's the combination of making people feel like they're home and making people feel like they're safe. Aside from growing your own food. A lot of these gardeners are coming from other countries and they're bringing their skills to our garden. And I get the ability to see what they grow in their culture and how they eat this food and how they share with their neighbors. Like that's the commonality everybody wants to share with their neighbor. And when they bring these skills, they reminisce about home. And I tell them, you're home now too, you know, this is part of what you've done. You've essentially created roots here, not just like metaphorically but like physically with your food. And this encouraged them to, you know, Gav gather every so often. And when the kids do come in for tours, they're eager to educate them as well.
Diana:
7:57
And we had, I want to say we had UCLA volunteers come to a garden in South LA called the good earth community garden. And after the kids were done, the gardeners were like, they were so helpful. What can we give them? How can we repay them? And I said, however you want. And they started just taking down avocados and they started giving like a little pack of bags to every kid that helped out because they were so thankful and grateful for just the community. So it was really nice to see. And so that's my goal, to just make people feel at home and feel comfortable.
Phil:
8:26
Well Diana, you're doing fabulous work. Thank you so much. And thank you for joining us today on farm food facts.
Diana:
8:33
Yeah, thank you. This was a lot of fun.
Phil:
8:36
And now for the news, you need to know what can we expect from a food safety modernization act inspection? The FSM a rollout has been anticipated by the specialty crop industry since the legislation was first signed into law back in 2011 it went into effect finally earlier this year and there's the largest overhaul of our food safety system in over 80 years. The notion behind it is to transform food safety from a reactionary system to preventative structure and considering the vast diversity of the fruit and vegetable industry. That's no small feat. According to the FDA, inspections will be scheduled in advance alongside a pre inspection call in which the investigator will ask questions such as what's being grown on the farm and how the crop is handled and processed. While most inspections will be announced, there could be instances where they're not. For example, if one's farm has had produce safety issues in the past which have not been fully corrected.
Phil:
9:39
If a followup inspection is needed, an unannounced visit may be ideal to observe if the necessary changes are being made. The duration of these inspections will vary by operation size and farm activities. Inspectors will want to see the farm in operation by conducting walk through a field packing and storage areas and other onsite facilities. Inspectors will go over any regulatory concerns and provide farmers with information on resources and technical assistance and other shifts in agriculture systems include those in the digital world. Sinking ag data is a growing challenge for industry these days. Farmers have had a plethora of digital tools available to them. However, accessing them can be problematic. At a recent info ag technology conference, Ben Cracker of the ag data coalition joined other professionals to discuss the challenges of information overload and related obstacles. Navigating through the various platforms can be daunting, if not impossible at times.
Phil:
10:40
He stated that a farmer may have two different equipment manufacturers, two service providers, a seed dealer and a neighbor. All that have data that he might want. That's six systems, four of which the former might not even have access to as a farmer. That's a lot to manage. If you want to put everything together in your plan, he has to report all this whole, all this together for crop insurance, banks, landlords, it's a full time job to manage this. Exacerbating. The problem is the often limited internet service on farms. The recent census of agriculture revealed that 25 to 30% of farms nationwide have no internet service at all. In addition, data collection can be overwhelming even with adequate service. Having so many applications working on different platforms can cause frustration among farmers and service providers. Jeremy Wilson of EFC systems said that the agriculture industry has done many things well including nutrient management.
Phil:
11:39
I bridge selections and traceability in the specialty crop market. However, streamlining data delivery and storage is falling short. He stated we're great at talking about how we're helping the farmer, but it all comes back to data interoperability and how to fix that problem. Challenges or not, we must all accept that we're living in a digital age and digital agriculture says the future is now. Let's start off with defining digital agriculture. Simply put, it's the seamless integration of digital technologies into crop than livestock management as well as other processes in agriculture for farmers. Digital agriculture offers an opportunity to increase production, save costs in the long term, and help eliminate risks for ag tech companies. Digital agriculture is a gift that keeps on giving as the industry drifts increasingly towards automation and use of digital technologies. Commonly used technologies in agriculture thus far include sensors, communication networks, unmanned aerial vehicles, and robotic machinery.
Phil:
12:43
Many see digital agriculture as the future of the industry. Karen plowed from the college of agriculture at Purdue. Stated digital agriculture is already changing the landscape of agriculture research by allowing many more sources of data to be brought together for interpretation. This enables the development of apps with specific functions, realtime decision making and expanding the field of predictive agriculture. In her lab. She studies circadian rhythms of cows using specialized temperature sensors. They can obtain a constant recording of body temperature over a 48 hour period. This is just one example of the many ways researchers can employ digital agriculture technologies.
Phil:
13:26
Al Renner is one of the busiest 80 year olds in Los Angeles and he's a farmer whose passion for farming can be summed up in one of his famous expressions. There's no such thing as a weed, only a misplaced plant. He says, Al, welcome to foreign food facts.
Al:
13:42
Thank you for having this house. Thank you.
Phil:
13:44
So Al, I know a little bit about your background. You were born on a farm in Northern Illinois. When you graduated high school. You said you would never, ever, ever farm again. You moved to Chicago, then to LA, then you were in the military, then you work at the jet propulsion lab in Pasadena, California, and you were working on moon missions. But now you're back to being a farmer.
Al:
14:10
Ha, it seems like I, I learned never to say never. Okay. When I told my parents that. Yeah. Uh, it's a, it's been a rewarding, almost another career for me.
Phil:
14:23
So what I'm intrigued by is how you, how you feel and your passion about community gardens. As I understand, you were walking by some people some years ago that were trying to put together a garden. Your farmer instinct came out, you walked over, you help them. And now some, you know, 25 years later, you're the outreach director for the Los Angeles community garden council.
Al:
14:50
No, that, that's pretty true. Yes it was. You've been doing your research. I must stay. But yes, I ended up with some little gang bangers who coerced me into helping build the community garden. And that started the whole thing. We now have a about 43 or 44 gardens that we maintain and we just literally, all they have to do is farm. We take care of it all.
Phil:
15:17
So let's talk a little bit about community gardens. Why do you think that they're so important?
Al:
15:23
Well, first off, they're important because it's a direct line to food for poor people in our society. That was the, one of the reasons that I started what I was doing. It took awhile for me to get to that track. Okay.
Phil:
15:38
Of course.
Al:
15:39
And I worked for a homeless shelter for a while and I saw the need for food. I knew how food was grown and I just decided that maybe this was the time. And I met the right people at the right time who helped me along the way. And yes, I think we have a nice organization here in Los Angeles. We watch over a lot of farmers and I would see that if we weighed all of our produce, if you just was an average farmer and grew one pound of food a week, we're talking still about five or 6,000 pounds of food grown in community gardens.
Phil:
16:25
Wow. So we know the importance of food, especially for the population that you're describing. What does it do for the farmers? What does it do for the people who are actually working in the community garden besides giving them food?
Al:
16:39
Well, for the people who work and have a plot in a community garden, it's a lot more than just growing the food. It's a place to meet other gardeners. It's a place to meet their families. It's a community that you may not live in directly, but where you could get a plot. So it's a really a social thing that happens all over. But the growing of the food turns out to be the most important thing. And in our organization we have, Nope. We had a situation that came up years ago politically and a big huge garden fell. It collapsed and there were 370 gardeners in that particular garden. They were all farmers, all on plots of about 90 by 90 well, that's way too big for us or for you to have in the city this size, and it was a problem for them to lose their land and so forth.
Al:
17:46
But progress that group of farmers, we in a place in South LA right now, I would venture to say if we could get them to weigh their food and tell us how much they produced, it's gotta be thousands of pounds of food because the garden has 270 gardeners only in 30 by 30 but they're all still doing the same thing they did when they were in downtown LA. They're growing food and with the row, I call it the Roach coach. Okay. With, with the mobile food apps and all of these things that we have, they're not suffering for money. They can sell almost all of their products right out to these, where to the food trucks, you have to go to a restaurant, they don't have to do that and they're up. They don't sell, they take home and eat. It's a pretty good situation they got going.
Phil:
18:46
It's, it's great. And to be honest with you, I never thought about having the community farmers or selling to the food trucks. That's just so smarten and so logical. We talked to a lot of farmers. I'm on the podcast and one thing rings, rings clear for me that probably in half the cases it comes across to being a farmer is a bit of a lonely job. Um, even if you're, if you've got a big family and you're working at, you know, you're not in a community such as you would find in a community garden. So you grew up on a farm. You, you saw that loneliness, if you would for my word for, for lack of anything better. And now you, you see the community farmers all working together. That must make you feel really great.
Al:
19:34
It may, it does make me feel good, but just so that you would know, I would have to share that feeling with lots of other people who have helped me in the 20 some years that we've been going, but it doesn't make me feel good and it does make me feel that we're doing the right thing because we're, most of our gardens are certified to sell products right out of their garden. We work hard to get that. Now you have to be a farmer and if you were to say, visit my garden where I daily practice what I do, we have a community garden of about 35 people. We have an education area where I teach a two or three times a month and it's really beautiful. Okay. Above that, I have a farm that has 29 beds that are 32 by six that's a lot of acreage. I didn't put it together like a good farmer. I Americanized, let's do big wasted time and places and stuff, stuff like that. And then I have a farmer who takes care of the top two acres of my garden. My garden is five acres all together.
Al:
20:54
I told him when he came in, I want this 24 seven three 65 clean. I don't care if you grow weeds, I want it green as this man produces an enormous amount of food and it goes to the grand central market in downtown LA and he carries it down to them. That's how good he is. So we've got a really good thing going and I see that as a reflection of most of the gardens in LA. They are capable of doing that and some of them don't, but some of them do. Yeah.
Phil:
21:34
Well Al, you know you are a gentleman farmer. You are a real farmer and you are a wonderful person to be doing this for this community. So thank you so much for joining us today on farm food facts.
Al:
21:49
Alright, I'm delighted. Absolutely delighted and thank you for having me.
Phil:
21:53
For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the programs and media tab and visit us on Facebook at US farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.
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