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Enhancing the Productivity and Economic Viability of Southeast Asian Refugee Farmers in California's Central Valley

Getz, Christy
University of California - Berkeley
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Goals of this integrated project are 1) to enhance the visibility, marketability, and profitability of Southeast Asian refugee farms in California's Central Valley and 2) improve the productivity and ecological sustainability of their farming methods.

Objective 1: Conduct research trials to identify new strawberry varieties with improved yields and longer shelf life to reduce postharvest loss and enhance marketability and profitability.
Outputs: Testing six new UC-developed varieties in replicated trials.

Objective 2: Develop integrated, non-chemical alternatives to fumigation to improve soil health, reduce cost, increase strawberry yields and reduce reliance on chemical applications near residential areas.
Outputs: On-farm trials; publish results in relevant journals; a Mien extension publication.

Objective 3: Develop and distribute educational materials (DVDs) related to food safety and Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), integrated pest management (IPM), postharvest handling and record keeping in relevant Southeast Asian languages (Mien, Hmong, Lao).
Outputs: Educational curriculum and DVD

Objective 4: Provide on-farm training in pest management, food and worker safety, postharvest handling, and farm traceability.
Outputs: timely written summaries of pest and crop production results and recommendations to the growers; dissemination of certificates to farmers who demonstrate 90% adoption of GAPs and integrated crop and pest management. Sixty growers will be trained in IPM, Integrated crop management, and food safety/GAPs practices.

Objective 5: Enhance farmer visibility through public education in the form of: a) establishing a Sacramento Mien Strawberry Grower's Association and web-site, b) creating and distributing a strawberry patch (farm stand) map, c) developing and distributing educational materials to local schools, d) distributing educational materials at local farm stands.
Outputs: a Sacramento Mien Strawberry Grower's association, a website, a Sacramento Strawberry map to be posted on the web and distributed to retailers, school lunch programs, and restaurants, information/education packets for school district lunch programs and farm stands.

Objective 6: Implement and evaluate five innovative direct marketing trials including a) farm to retail, b) farm to school, c) U-pick, d) farm to flea market and e) off-farm fruit stand (school, church, train station).
Outputs: Up to 20 farm-to-market linkages. Reports summarizing findings that will be presented at annual growers' meeting, a direct marketing workshop, and distributed through cooperative extension personnel.

Objective 7: Evaluate current land tenure arrangements and collaborate with local homeowner's associations, public and private property owners and Farmlink to identify and secure new farmland with fair contracts for SEAsian refugee farmers.
Outputs: production of a report outlining landlord-SEAsian farmer lease arrangements with key recommendations on how to negotiate a fair contract (for growers). Compilation of a list of homeowner's associations and property owners in Sacramento and Fresno who are interested and/or have property available for lease.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The goals of this integrated proposal are to 1) enhance the marketability, profitability and visibility of Lao refugee farms in California's Central Valley and 2) improve the productivity and ecological sustainability of their farming. Integrated research, education and extension address six fundamental needs of these farmers and meet all three program priority areas of the Agricultural Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms Program. Since the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of farmers from Laos have been resettled in California. These refugees face many production, marketing and land tenure challenges in trying to maintain viable agricultural livelihoods. At the same time, concerns about food safety, environmental health and quality are demanding increasing accountability from farmers statewide. Linguistic and cultural obstacles have made it difficult for both farmers and extension personnel to develop comprehensive strategies to meet these demands.

As such, to achieve these goals, we focus on six objectives with corresponding methods:
1) develop and distribute educational materials to growers related to good agricultural practices (GAPs) and food safety in Mien, Hmong and Lao languages
2) conduct strawberry variety and solarization trials to enhance both economic and ecologically sustainable farming practices
3) provide on-farm training in GAPs, IPM and food safety with advice from a pest control/food safety adviser,
4) identify economically viable direct marketing (DM) approaches through 5 DM trials,
5) identify and establish secure land tenure for Southeast Asian growers.
6) develop and distribute public outreach materials about Lao growers for potential buyers including an association, website, information packet, and farm stand materials.

APPROACH: By integrating inter-related components that are often addressed separately: production, food safety/GAPs, marketing, and land tenure, this project uses a variety of methods to foster the expansion of buy local collaborative relationships and raise awareness of the challenges confronting small SEAsian refugee farms. Improving production and post-harvest handling practices will enhance environmental sustainability and economic value of the land. Developing curriculum and instructional materials in Southeast Asian languages to train farmers in GAPs, crop and pest management and record keeping will position these farmers to demonstrate accountability to customers. Linking research with education and extension will result in the application of cutting edge science-based knowledge to real world applications.

Variety Trials: We will establish two on-farm trials, one in Fresno and one in Sacramento, in early July with the Chandler variety, which is more susceptible to soilborne pathogen problems. Five treatments with four replicates each will be established and include: plots with and without compost, with and without solarization, and a Vapam chemical fumigant control.

Curriculum and DVD: The curriculum will be developed from an assemblage of disparate sources: the California Strawberry Commission's "Take the Next Step" food safety materials, Cornell GAPs materials (Hmong and Lao materials), Molinar and Yang's solarization, food safety, and bilingual (Hmong/English) IPM fact sheets on insect and disease controls and UC IPM's pest management guidelines. Once assembled, we will tailor the curriculum to suit Mien and Hmong needs in California's Central Valley with the assistance of cultural consultants Michael Yang (Fresno) and Lo Saetern (Sacramento).

Strawberry Growers' Association and Strawberry Map: In an effort to raise consumer awareness, enhance marketing networks, improve farm traceability, and support collaborative farmer initiatives, we intend to work with a self-identified group of Mien strawberry growers in Sacramento to establish a grower's association. The association can serve as a liaison between buyers and farmers, between recently trained farm-advisers and new entrant farmers, supporting farmer-to-farmer training, and would disseminate educational DVD materials to new farmers. And to serve the dual goals of enhancing visibility and public knowledge about Southeast Asian farmers and to increase their sales, we will collaborate with the Sacramento Mien Strawberry Association, the Sacramento Convention and Visitor's Bureau and Sacramento County Farm Bureau's Grow Local initiative, to develop and distribute strawberry patch maps.

Marketing Trials: We will first evaluate successful case studies and resource guides and develop a culturally appropriate strategy for SEAsian growers for the following direct marketing approaches: a) farm to retail, b) farm to school, c) U-pick, d) farm to flea market, and e) off-farm fruit stand. Approximately four growers for each market trial (20-25) will be recruited from our current list of interested growers.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Bacterial Pathogens