A greener vision of the home landscape is taking shape throughout California with the help of volunteer master gardeners and the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH).
The center, a statewide program begun at UC Davis in 2007, is holding educational workshops in various locations that will help master gardeners and other gardening enthusiasts learn more earth-friendly gardening techniques.
The first five “Your Sustainable Backyard” workshops were held in 2009 and 2010 and focused on roses, fruit trees, and edible landscaping. More than 800 people attended those events.
Five more workshops are in development for 2011. Two have been confirmed:
- “Your Sustainable Backyard: Landscaping for California” — April 9, 2011, the ARC ballroom at UC Davis. Speakers include landscape architect and author Bob Perry and author/garden photojournalist Deborah Baldwin.
- “Your Sustainable Backyard: Roses” — April 30, 2011, Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis. This event will also include a rose sale.
The idea for the workshops grew out of the “Global Climate Change in your Backyard” conference held at UC Davis in 2008. “The feedback we got indicated a strong desire for hands-on demonstrations of specific gardening tasks,” said CCUH program manager Missy Borel. “So we brainstormed and came up with these cost-effective, high-quality educational workshops for gardeners to learn usable skills they could take home and share with other people.”
Master gardeners are public educators trained by university experts in horticulture, pest management, and related home gardening topics. California Master Gardener programs, currently serving 45 counties, are experiencing phenomenal growth. UC’s Statewide Master Gardener coordinator Pamela Geisel says they’re seeing a 28 to 30 percent annual increase in the number of master gardeners, totaling about 4,700 individuals as of early 2010.
“We’re seeing greater attendance at all our workshops,” Geisel says. “In the past, you might have had six people show up to learn about vegetable gardening. Now, they’re filling up right away, with long waiting lists.”
Geisel says it’s not just about locally produced food. “More people than ever are interested in learning how to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, to conserve and protect water resources, and to eliminate landfill waste through green waste composting,” she said.
“Gardening practices are going to change because of climate change, water shortages, and other factors,” Borel adds. “Our workshops empower people to do that correctly. We’re setting them up for success.”
Geographic information system (GIS) models developed at UC Davis are being used to pinpoint the best farmland for conservation in the Central Valley. A new landscape-scale method, described in a recent issue of California Agriculture journal, was applied in Fresno County, and the approach is being extended regionally in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Policy programs and local planning agencies must assess farmland before implementing policies and programs aimed at farmland conservation,” lead author Evan Schmidt wrote in California Agriculture. “The application of GIS to existing land-assessment practices can update and reinvigorate [currently used] techniques.”
The method involves integrating environmental and human factors into a GIS to develop maps of strategic farmlands to be targeted for conservation. These five factors are:
- Soil productivity, based on maps developed by the California Department of Conservation’s Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP).
- Water cost and reliability, based on maps developed by California agricultural commissioner’s offices.
- Microclimate, to identify areas with optimal growing conditions.
- Environmental sensitivity, to incorporate state and federal designations of vernal pools and wetlands.
- Urban growth pressure, to identify areas within and adjacent to existing cities that are expected to be developed in coming years.
With extensive input from the public, agency officials and land-use professionals, the method expands upon farmland assessment frameworks developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FMMP soil classification maps.
The Fresno County GIS-based assessment identified 343,321 acres of “very-high-value” farmland, mostly in the eastern and southern county and located in areas without existing or projected urban development. “High-value” farmland, totaling 491,613 acres, was similarly situated but included more acreage in the western county.
“In Fresno County, we found that the majority of growth to 2050 could fit into existing spheres of influence,” Schmidt and co-authors wrote. “This important information challenges decision-makers to set and maintain policies that encourage compact growth and infill development in order to preserve Fresno County’s highest-value farmland.”
Invasive weeds can be very problematic, affecting agricultural productivity, public health, natural resource biodiversity; increasing the risk and severity of wildfire; and reducing water quality and quantity.A nationwide program designed to map invasive weed locations online was started at the University of Georgia in 2005. What’s Invasive! Community Data Collection provides a way for people to map invasive weeds they see while visiting national parks.
The U.S. Forest Service is instantly alerted to the location of habitat-destroying species. This information is useful for increasing knowledge about the location and establishment of invasive species and directs limited U.S. Forest Service personnel and funds in a straightforward and efficient manner to minimize further spread of these species.
Before visiting a park, participants can view photos and information about what to look for in different parts of the country. Sightings can be added through phone apps or through the website.
As of today there are 973 registered users, with 3,019 invasive species observations in 19 participating parks. New parks can be easily added by users.
The $20 million, 34,000-square-foot teaching-and-research complex is the first winery, brewery or food-processing facility expected to earn LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is intended to become self-sustainable in energy and water use.
Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, said, "It will serve as a model for industries throughout the nation that are also committed both to environmental excellence and production efficiency."
The complex houses a brewery, general foods-processing plant, milk-processing laboratory, and a teaching-and-research winery which will serve as a test bed for production processes that conserve water, energy, and other resources. The complex is adjacent to a 12-acre teaching-and-research vineyard.
Its environmentally friendly features include on-site solar power generation, a large-capacity system for capturing rainwater and conserving processing water, and many other features. The facility is expected to be carbon zero in carbon emissions.
Growing concern about social issues related to agriculture – working conditions for laborers and environmental impacts, for example – is giving rise to consumer and retailer interest in buying products that were farmed using “sustainable” methods.
“Sustainable agriculture” is not easy to define. In general, the system puts an emphasis on practices that have long-term environmental and social benefits – such as reducing pollution and providing stable jobs. Sustainable products are perhaps not as familiar as “organic,” but examples of retailers capitalizing on the concept are numerous.
- Walmart is training 1 million farmers and workers worldwide on crop selection and sustainable-farming practices
- Sysco asserts online that it offers products that come from suppliers that take care of the land
- Del Monte Foods formalized its environmental goals in three key areas - waste, greenhouse gas emissions and water
Understanding farmers’ perceptions about adopting sustainable farming is a goal of research by Mark Lubell, professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis. To document whether winegrape farmers and other experts believe the environmental and economic benefits of adopting sustainable practices are worth the cost, Lubell analyzed data from three sources: a survey of viticulture outreach professionals, including UC farm advisors, campus-based researchers and vineyard management consultants; a 2008 survey of winegrape growers who are part of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program; and 16 interviews with winegrape growers in the Lodi, Napa Valley and Central Coast winegrowing regions.
Many “sustainable” practices were perceived to have economic benefits and are likely to be adopted by growers, Lubbell found. Of the practices where economic benefits outweigh the costs, the practices with the highest environmental benefits are perceived to be:
- Spot spraying for pest problems instead of treating entire vineyards
- Pheromones to disrupt pest mating
- Computer models for disease forecasting
- Dust reduction with cover crops
- Monitoring evapo-transpiration to determine when to irrigate
“Important challenges to the adoption of sustainable practices arise when economic benefits are low and when growers have uncertainty about benefits,” Lubell said.
The take-home message for advisors and crop consultants: Outreach programs should focus grower education on activities with both economic and environmental benefits. Reducing uncertainty should be a primary goal of all outreach programs and requires research to demonstrate the effectiveness of agricultural practices.
Lubell believes adopting sustainable methods makes sense for winegrape growers.
“The market for sustainability is not mature enough now to get a price differentiation,” he said. “But a ‘green’ market is emerging. Some people are willing to pay for it and more will pay over time.”
For more information, read the research brief The Perceived Benefits and Costs of Sustainability Practices in California Viticulture.