The Edge of Agriculture: Farming in California

Panel Discussion | September 21 | 6-8 p.m. |  UC Gill Tract Community Farm

 1050 Marin Avenue, Albany, CA 94706

 Campus Gardens

A panel and public discussion with
California Secretary of Agriculture, Karen Ross
Doria Robinson, Executive Director of Urban Tilth
Jennifer Sowerwine, Cooperative Extension Specialist, UC Berkeley

Facilitated by Alexa Levy, Educator and Community Organizer

California has long been the top producer of food and fiber in the US, though it is home to only 4% of the nation's farms. Despite climate change and political upheaval creating increasingly difficult conditions for those who would coax seed from soil, California farmers continue to rise to the challenge, with essential contributions from urban farmers, immigrants, and others working “on the edge”. Panelists will share stories of success and identify leverage points for future innovation, alliance building, and cultural renewal, leaving ample time for questions brought by the audience.

More about the Panelists:

KAREN ROSS was appointed Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture on January 12, 2011, by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. Secretary Ross has deep leadership experience in agricultural issues nationally, internationally, and here in California. Prior to joining CDFA, Secretary Ross was chief of staff for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a position she accepted in 2009. Prior to that appointment, she served as President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996- 2009, and as Vice- President of the Agricultural Council of California from1989-1996.

Before moving to California, Secretary Ross served as Director of Government Relations for the Nebraska Rural Electric Association and as Field Representative for U.S. Senator Edward Zorinsky. Secretary Ross is passionate about fostering the reconnection of consumers to the land and the people who produce their food, and to improving the access of all California citizens to healthy, nutritious California-grown agricultural products, celebrated for their diversity and abundance in serving local, national and global markets.

During Secretary Ross' tenure, the Department has focused on core functions to protect
and promote California agriculture in a time of significant budget reductions, and it has
emphasized change-management to position the agency to more effectively and efficiently serve its stakeholders in meeting the challenges of the 21st Century.

Secretary Ross has strengthened partnerships across government, academia and the non-profit sector in the drive to maintain and improve environmental stewardship and to develop adaptation strategies for the specific impacts of climate change. She has initiated programs to provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in sustainable environmental stewardship practices through water conservation, energy efficiency, nutrient management and ecosystem services.

Secretary Ross grew up as a 4-H kid on a farm in western Nebraska. She and her husband, Barry, own 800 acres of the family farm where her younger brother, a fourth-generation farmer, grows dryland wheat, feed grains and cattle. The Secretary has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a graduate of the Nebraska Ag Leadership Program. She has served on numerous boards and committees in California agriculture and with various academic institutions.

DORIA ROBINSON is 3rd generation resident of Richmond, California and the Executive Director of Urban Tilth, a community based organization rooted in Richmond dedicated to cultivating a more sustainable, healthy, and just food system. Urban Tilth hires and trains residents to develop the capacity to produce 5% of our own food supply.

Raised in a strong church community where her grandfather was the minister, Doria spent weekends and summers on the church’s 350 acre ranch in Fairfield California. It was on the ATOT ranch where she was taught her first strong lessons on the power of cooperative economics by her grandfather Elder Vernon V. Robinson.Doria has also worked on organic farms in Western Massachusetts where she attended Hampshire College, at Veritable Vegetable a women owned organic produce distribution company, Real Food Company and Mixed Nuts Food Co-op.

In 2014 she led the charge to develop Urban Tilth’s first 3 acre urban farm in Richmond, relaunch the Farm to Table countywide CSA using hyper local produce and seeded the Richmond Food Policy Council’s effort to install salad bars in every Richmond school in order to increase access for all Richmond kids to healthy whole foods.

Doria currently lives in the neighborhood she grew up in in Richmond with her wonderful 15 year old twins.

DR. JENNIFER SOWERWINE is a cooperative extension specialist in metropolitan agriculture and food systems in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, and affiliated faculty at the Berkeley Food Institute. Her research and outreach program focuses on engaging diverse stakeholders across the food system through collaborative and participatory methods to examine barriers and opportunities for achieving healthy, equitable, and sustainable food systems. She is currently working on several projects with immigrant, minority and Native American communities related to food security, food sovereignty, urban agriculture, bio-cultural diversity and beginning farmer and rancher training. She is the primary faculty liaison with the UC Gill Tract Community Farm and serves on the Board of the California Small Farm Conference.

ALEXA LEVY is a Bay Area educator, restorative justice facilitator, and community organizer with the Permaculture Action Network, Gill Tract, and beyond.