Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Video – from farmworkers to vintners in “Love on the Vine”

NOTEIn an effort to celebrate and highlight the work of California’s farmers, farmworkers, and everyone whose work helps to keep the food supply chain flowing, Governor Newsom has proclaimed October as California Farmer and Farmworker Month.

This encore presentation from CDFA’s award-winning Growing California video series, “Love on the Vine,” features Ceja Vineyards, founded and operated by former farmworkers and childhood sweethearts.

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Increasing more targeted cattle grazing is a win-win-win opportunity – from AgNetWest

Grazing cattle

By Brian German

A team of ten researchers looked closely at cattle grazing in California and determined that the practice has a great deal of potential in combatting catastrophic wildfires. Cattle are exceptionally efficient at reducing the amount of fine fuels that may be present that present hazards for wildfire if left unattended. The team first set out to understand how many cattle were in California and what their current consumption rate was.

“In 2017 there were 1.8 million beef cattle grazing rangelands across California. Those 1.8 million beef cattle were consuming about 11.6 billion pounds of fuel in 2017. So, it’s quite a large amount of fuel or forage that cattle are consuming across our state,” said Devii Rao, Cooperative Extension Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor serving San Benito, Monterey, and Santa Cruz counties.  “I think what this research gets us to really think about is how can we use grazing as a targeted tool to improve public safety and in many situations improve our grassland habitat conservation goals.”

The research project, ‘Benefits of Cattle Grazing for Reducing Fire Fuels and Fire Hazard,’ was made possible through a grant from the California Cattle Council. The team used information from 2017 because it was the most current and comprehensive dataset available.  Cattle grazing takes place in every county across the state aside from San Francisco. Cattle consume different levels of forage or fine fuels depending on the region. Rao explained that averaging for all regions across the state showed that cattle were consuming approximately 600 pounds of forage per acre.  “Meaning they’re reducing almost 600 pounds per acre of fine fuels across our state on average,” Rao noted.

The research project highlights the value that cattle grazing can have for reducing fire fuels. Rao hopes that it will cause ranchers to start thinking more crucially about incorporating fuel reduction goals into grazing management plans.  There is also an opportunity to increase grazing in high-fuel areas in and around the wildland-urban interface.

“I think there’s really a win-win-win opportunity here,” said Rao. “That triple win would be increasing fuel reduction and improving safety. In many situations, by grazing, we can actually achieve grassland habitat conservation goals. That third win would be increasing the financial sustainability of ranching by expanding the number of opportunities for ranchers to graze.”

Link to story on AgNetWest web site

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#VoteCalifornia with CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

“COVID has disrupted a lot of things in life this year, but it doesn’t have to disrupt your important opportunity to vote. The State of California has made it easy – you just have to have a plan.” – CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

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USDA announces fourth round of Farmers to Families Food Box Program

Taken from a USDA news release

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it has authorized $500 million for a fourth round of purchases for the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program. USDA is issuing solicitations for the fourth round to existing Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) holders and expects to award contracts by Oct. 30 for deliveries of food boxes from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020.

In the fourth round, as in the third round, states have been allocated boxes based on the internal need of the state. The program will continue the purchase of combination boxes to include fresh produce, dairy products, fluid milk and meat products. The program also will continue to require that proposals illustrate how coverage would be provided to areas identified as opportunity zones, detail subcontracting agreements, and address the “last mile” delivery of product into the hands of the food insecure population. Entities who meet the government’s requirements and specifications will be issued agreements and submit pricing through a competitive acquisition process.

Background: The third round of Farmers to Families Food Box program was announced July 24, 2020.

USDA announced contracts for the third round on Sept. 17, 2020, and has purchased more than $2.981 billion worth of food, to date.

In the second round of purchasing and distribution, which began July 1 and ended on Sep. 18, 2020, USDA purchased more than $1.763 billion of food through extended contracts of select vendors from the first round of the program. It also issued new contracts focused on Opportunity Zones in order to direct food to reach underserved areas, places where either no boxes have yet been delivered, or where boxes are being delivered, but where there is additional need.

The first round of purchases occurred from May 15 through June 30, 2020, and saw more than 35.5 million boxes delivered in the first 45 days. Updates to the number of food boxes verified as delivered will continue to be displayed on the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) website, with breakdowns by performance period on the Farmers to Families Food Box Program page.

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Organic farming continues to grow in California – from Agri-Pulse

By Sara Wyant

The number and types of organic operations in California continued to grow in recent years, according to the latest “Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture, 2013-2016,” from the UC Davis Agricultural Issues Center. The number of organic growers in California jumped from 2,089 in 2013 to 3,108 in 2016.

The top 10 organic commodities in terms of sales value in 2016 were cow milk, strawberries, carrots, wine grapes, table grapes, sweet potatoes, almonds, raspberries, salad mix, and chicken eggs, said, said Houston Wilson, director of the new UC Organic Agriculture Institute. “This report highlights the incredible diversity and abundance of organic crops being grown across so many different geographic regions in the state, which reflects California’s leading role in this production sector,” added Wilson.

“This review is critical to understand the changes in the fast-growing organic agriculture sector in the state where more than 50% of the nation’s organic vegetables and fruits are produced,” said Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of the report.

In 2016, California organic sales were $3.1 billion with an average of $1 million in sales per farm, but revenue varied widely among farms. For example, San Diego County had the most organic growers (313) in 2016, but Kern County’s 47 organic farmers earned the most in total organic sales: $381 million on 49,727 acres, excluding pasture and rangeland, according to Muramoto.

Link to article on Agri-Pulse web site

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Urban indoor vertical farm run partly by robots may be glimpse into the future – from LAist

Vertical farming.

By Stefan A. Slater

From the outside, the gray and white warehouse near the corner of Oris Street and Mona Boulevard seems like a thousand other mundane Southern California buildings. But the interior, once completed, will resemble a sketch from a futurist’s daydreams. If all goes well, the 95,000-square-foot Compton facility will house rows of hydroponic towers organized into emerald walls of non-GMO, pesticide-free leafy greens. These plants won’t rely on sunlight in order to grow. Gleaming LED lamps will provide all the light the crops could ever want. Robots will transport seedlings while other machines move the towers as part of an orchestrated production process. Picture a grow room in a futuristic Martian colony and you’re probably on the right track.

The operation is run by Plenty, a San Francisco-based startup that uses vertical farming to create high-quality, nutritious plants “you’d actually want to eat” (their words). Stated another way, they grow crops, often without natural light or soil, in vertically stacked beds in enclosed and controlled environments.

Plenty wants to build at least 500 of these vertical farms around the planet, especially in densely populated cities of at least 1 million people.

The first Plenty farm, in South San Francisco, went into production in 2018, and was upgraded in the summer of 2019 to increase production. For its agricultural second act, the company chose Compton.

Plenty’s long-term goals go beyond tasty salad greens. It wants to combat food apartheid by bringing healthy, locally-grown crops to communities that lack access to nutritious produce.

“We want to invest in places where we can serve a large number of people,” says Shireen Santosham, the company’s head of strategic initiatives. “Compton can help us better serve Los Angeles while also allowing us to invest in a community with a long history of farming.”

The goal for Plenty’s Compton outpost, once it’s running at full capacity, will be to create enough produce to make regular deliveries to hundreds of grocery stores. In early August, the company reached an agreement with Albertsons to provide 430 of its California stores with assorted leafy greens.

Company reps say the Compton site will initially focus on producing kale, arugula, fennel and bok choy before adding strawberries to its repertoire. They expect prices to be similar to organic leafy greens currently on grocery store shelves.

The company was hoping its Compton farm would be able to bring produce to market by the end of 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic altered that timeline. Plenty now hopes to start its first customer deliveries sometime in 2021.

WHY COMPTON?

Los Angeles has for centuries been a land of citrus groves, peachesolives and even vineyards, and Compton was no exception. In the late 1860s, Reverend Griffith Dickenson Compton led roughly 30 people from Stockton to settle in and cultivate the area. Rough weather and tremendous floods nearly destroyed their dreams, but they persisted, and their agricultural efforts eventually began to thrive.

In 1888, Compton donated his land and the area was incorporated as the city of Compton under the condition that a swath of it be zoned for agriculture. That particular area — a 10-block neighborhood sandwiched between downtown Compton and what’s now the 91 Freeway — became Richland Farms, known for a variety of crops including pumpkins, sugar beets and cauliflower. By the 1940s and ’50s, Compton had become a working-class suburb. African American families, many of whom had moved to the West Coast to work in military production during World War II, settled there and were drawn to the Richland Farms neighborhood. With its large lots and agricultural zoning, residents could grow crops and raise livestock to provide for their families and their community.

Richland Farms — home of the Compton Cowboys — remains a living link to Compton’s agricultural past. Drawing on that history, Plenty began designing and developing its Compton vertical farm (located a few miles north of Richland) in the summer of 2019.

“There is just a rich tradition of farming in Compton, and to have Plenty come back in an innovative way is exciting for our community,” Compton Mayor Aja Brown says.

City officials are working with the company to connect its facility with nearby schools so kids can learn about vertical farming and the technologies associated with it.

OK, BUT WHAT EXACTLY IS A VERTICAL FARM?

Compared to traditional field agriculture, which humanity first started tinkering with approximately 12,000 years ago, vertical farming is in its infancy.

One of the first vertical farms was a hydroponic system built in Armenia sometime before the early 1950s, although there’s not much information about it.

The modern vertical farm, at least in the way we think of it, was popularized two decades ago by Dickson Despommier, an emeritus professor of public and environmental health at Columbia University.

In 1999, he wanted students in his medical ecology class to explore ways they could feed New York’s residents on crops grown entirely within the city. They started with rooftop gardens but those barely made a dent in the amount of food they needed. Then, Despommier remembered the city’s abandoned buildings. “What if you could fill up those buildings with the grow system that you’ve instituted on the rooftop and just increase food production?” he says.

The result was a multi-level, urban farm featuring layers of crops stacked on top of one another.

Until the 21st century, commercial vertical farming seemed like the stuff of utopias, a grand if impractical dream evangelized by a handful of futurists and agricultural techies. But the last few years have seen a jump in interest — and venture capital. Between 2016 and 2017, investments in vertical farming grew nearly eightfold.

In 2017, Plenty received $200 million from several high-profile investors including Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. One of its East Coast competitors, Bowery Farming, received a $90 million investment from Google Ventures.

AeroFarms, which uses aeroponics to grow produce, scored $40 million from IKEA and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai. The United Arab Emirates is also hoping vertical farming will boost the country’s limited domestic food production. The Abu Dhabi Investment Office sunk $100 million into four ag-tech companies, including Aerofarms, which plans to build a new vertical farm and R&D center in Abu Dhabi.

WHY DO WE NEED THEM?

Vertical farming is all about efficiency. The process allows growers to control and monitor light, oxygen, nutrients, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels. In a vertical farm, you don’t need to wait for the right season. Growth and harvesting can occur year-round.

Plenty’s approach relies on automation, intricate sensors, machine learning and hydroponic grow towers where plants are cultivated in a nutrient-rich water solution instead of soil. With this method, the company claims it can grow 350 times as much produce, per square foot, as a conventional, outdoor farm — all while consuming a fraction of the water.

“[Vertical farms] are much more water-use efficient than field production,” Neil Mattson, associate professor of plant science at Cornell University, says.

Santosham claims Plenty’s vertical farms will use “about 1% of the land and 5% of the water” required by a comparable traditional farm.

Producing more food with less land is a must if we want to keep humanity fed.

By 2050, Earth will have 9.8 billion residents and two-thirds of them will probably live in a city. In places like Los Angeles or New York, where real estate doesn’t come cheap, vertical farms could be installed without taking up much space.

Produce from vertical farms would also be less likely to spoil since it would, in theory, only travel a few miles to the nearest grocery store, market or restaurant, instead of sitting on a plane or cargo ship for hundreds or thousands of miles.

Plus, vertical farms could help make our food supply chain more resilient.

Since March, the pandemic has impacted everything from beans to strawberries. When the hospitality industry shut down, some farmers had buyers for only half of their crops, so they had to let them rot or plow them back into the soil. Dairy farmers dumped millions of gallons of milk. Meat plants have had to shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Plus, the workers who pick the crops, raise the cows and run the slaughterhouses have been ravaged by the virus. And all of this has been happening while hunger skyrockets. In the last six months, food banks have seen a surge in demand, in some cases by as much as 600% percent.

“I don’t think all of our food is going to come from urban production,” Mattson says. “It does add diversity to our food supply chain to have some of our produce — the nutrient-dense foods — come from close to where they’re consumed.”

With COVID-19 exposing the weaknesses in our food supply chain, Mattson believes indoor growing (which includes vertical farming and greenhouses) and more localized production might get their moment in the high-intensity LED spotlight: “We’re going to see these trends happen even quicker than if we hadn’t encountered COVID.”

A PEEK INSIDE

The Compton farm is still under construction but the company is using its existing South San Francisco facility as a template.

That facility, which started in 2015 as a container farm, features 50,000 square feet of production space and a roughly 10,000-square foot grow room. It provides produce to approximately 40 grocery stores and runs entirely on solar and wind power.

The Compton farm will feature a similar grow system. Employees, referred to as growers, will oversee the process of cultivating seeds into seedlings. Robotics will transfer the seedlings to large vertical grow towers, arranged to form what looks like a vast, green wall.

The amount of time produce spends in the grow room depends on the crop. Nate Storey, chief science officer and co-founder of Plenty, explains that one leafy green crop might go through the entire process from seedling production to harvesting in two to three weeks. That’s significantly less time than if those crops were grown via traditional agriculture.

On a large, outdoor farm in the Salinas Valley, baby kale would typically require 35 to 50 days, depending on the time of year, before it was ready for harvest, according to Richard Smith, a University of California Cooperative Extension vegetable advisor for the Central Coast.

“For something like lettuce, where you might be waiting for several weeks in the field, we’re carving a significant amount of time off that production schedule,” Storey says.

Once the plants spend some time in Plenty’s grow room, robots pick up the towers and retrieve the produce, which is moved to a processing area where it’s packaged. Through it all, human hands never touch the food.

“We’re able to create an environment that’s so favorable to plants and not pathogens or pests that we can deliver a product without ever applying pesticides, which is a big win,” says Nick Kalayjian, senior vice president of engineering at Plenty.

In fact, without bugs or human contact, he claims Plenty’s produce doesn’t need to be washed. Kalayjian also says the small adjustments in temperature, water, nutrients and light result in produce that’s at the peak of flavor.

Plenty sent me samples of their baby kale, baby arugula and Sweet Sunrise mix, a combo of fennel, beet leaves and other greens. Did visions of tree stars seize me and shatter all perception of space and time? No. But they did taste exceptionally fresh. The flavors were strong, clean and… just good. I found myself snacking on the Sunrise mix straight from the package, something I never do with greens.

WHERE DO WE GROW FROM HERE?

Vertical farms aren’t cheap to build. They also require a lot of energy to run, much more than conventional field agriculture or greenhouses. “That, to me, is one of the big sticking points,” Mattson says.

In a 2020 study, Mattson and other Cornell University researchers studied the economic and environmental impacts of bringing leaf lettuce to U.S. cities via field-based agriculture vs. CEA (controlled environmental agriculture) supply chains such as greenhouses and vertical farms.

“We had almost the same carbon footprint of growing in a greenhouse in New York City as compared to field growing and shipping 3,000 miles. The vertical farm had about twice the carbon footprint of either of those,” Mattson says.

In Plenty’s case, making sure their farms operate on sustainable, renewable power is a priority. The South San Francisco facility has a power purchase agreement in place with a renewable provider to supply the farm with sustainable energy. Plenty wants its Compton farm to run entirely on clean energy but that won’t happen until some undetermined point in the future. Company reps couldn’t offer a more precise timeline on when that might happen.

Warehouse-sized vertical farms may someday be common sights in major cities but it’ll take time to scale up to that level. No one, except maybe the most optimistic futurists, thinks vertical farming is going to overtake field agriculture anytime soon.

“We’re an additive technology, not a replacement technology. We simplify the supply chain and allow domestic production in places that don’t currently have it,” Kalayjian says.

Although vertical farming is still in its earliest stages, Despommier urges us to imagine how it might work in 50 years. “We’re looking at a sort of Stanley Steamer [car], not even a Ford Model T,” he says, “We’re looking at the early trials and tribulations of an industry that wants to supply all of your food. Look how fast it took America to go from no cars to two cars per person.”

Maybe by the time humanity has figured out how to colonize other planets and build Star Trek-style replicators, the urban dwellers of earth will rely on skyscraper-style vertical farms. Maybe thousand-acre fields of fruit and vegetables will someday look as obsolete as rotary phones. Until then, we’ll be playing in the dirt, just as we’ve done for thousands of years.

Link to story on LAist web site

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Fresno State celebrates Food, Family & Farm Month

Story from Morning Ag Clips

The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State is launching its second annual Food, Family and Farm Month with a host of virtual events to connect Fresno State students, staff and faculty to the agricultural industry and the community.

The schedule will feature 25 activities from Monday, Oct. 19 to Nov. 20 that will showcase the Jordan College’s seven academic departments, three research centers, student organizations, University Agricultural Laboratory and industry partners.

Jordan College Dean Dennis Nef kicked off the month of activities with a virtual event on Monday, Oct. 19 featuring student-produced items available at the Gibson Farm Market. The series will conclude with a virtual “Wine Down” wine-tasting event on Nov. 19 that will spotlight award-winning wines and specials from the Fresno State Winery.

Most of the Food, Family and Farm Month activities are virtual and free to the public. Topics include seminars on grape and wine topics, irrigation and water management technologies, weed management and the grape and wine industry.

Food, Family and Farm Month was inspired by the campus Ag One FoundationCenter for Irrigation TechnologyInstitute for Food and Agriculture and the Viticulture and Enology Research Center. Each of these entities will host multiple events during the month to showcase innovative technology and practices, projects and industry partners.

  • The Institute for Food and Agriculture will host its 39th annual Agribusiness Management Conference on seven Wednesday and Thursday sessions between Oct 28 and Nov. 19. Topics will target agricultural trends related to economics, sustainability, food security, wine marketing, food service, artificial intelligence and big data, and a national student agricultural accreditation program being developed by Fresno State faculty, staff and students.
  • The Center for Irrigation Technology will host two webinars on Oct 22 and Nov. 18 on irrigation performance systems and irrigation system remote monitoring to save energy and water. The Water, Energy and Technology Center will feature industry leaders presenting on topics on Oct. 23 and Nov. 20 related to California agriculture and the irrigation industry.
  • The Viticulture and Research Center is hosting two crowdfunding campaigns, and the Department of Viticulture and Enology is hosting several events, including its free weekly webinar series featuring industry experts.
  • The Ag One Foundation will feature several events tying together alumni and industry members in support of campus agricultural programs, including the 49th Annual Turf Day Golf Classic and Fantasy Vacation Giveaway, as well as participation in the annual University-wide Day of Giving.

The three research centers fall under the auspices of the California Agricultural Technology Institute within the Jordan College. Together they serve the agricultural industry by engaging with the industry; performing applied research and testing on a wide range of disciplines and topics; and disseminating results through conferences, workshops and meetings. Students may also enhance their educational careers by working under the direction of research faculty and staff while pursuing degrees.

For a full schedule of events, times and registration details on Food, Family and Farm Month activities, visit https://bit.ly/FS20-f3-month-events.

Link to story on Morning Ag Clips website.

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Video – “Acres of Ambition” features farming training program for farmworkers and aspiring farmers

NOTEIn an effort to celebrate and highlight the work of California’s farmers, farmworkers, and everyone whose work helps to keep the food supply chain flowing, Governor Newsom has proclaimed October as California Farmer and Farmworker Month.

This encore presentation from CDFA’s award-winning Growing California video series shows The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association of Salinas (ALBA) providing educational and business opportunities for farmworkers and aspiring farmers to grow and sell crops.

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Carrot hot dogs introduced by California producer – from Bakersfield.com

Carrot dogs.


By John Cox

From the land of tri-tip sandwich fundraisers and 24-hour biscuits-and-gravy sales now comes this: hot dogs made from whole carrots.

Don’t act surprised. Despite its red-meat reputation Bakersfield is home to the country’s two largest carrot growers, the invention of the popular “baby carrot” snack and a carrot-focused innovation lab employing 15 food scientists on East Brundage Lane.

There’s nothing to be scared of, either. Bolthouse Farms, the local ag giant that on Tuesday unveiled the “carrot dogs,” says the grill-worthy product looks and tastes like frankfurters, thanks to the company’s proprietary flavor-infusion process.

“If you close your eyes and you bite into it, you think you’re eating a hot dog, from a sensory and from a flavor experience,” said Phil Kooy, the company’s chief customer officer. “But it’s obviously a carrot.”

That actually sounded pretty good to Erik Estrada, owner of the Wienerschnitzel hot-dog location on Ming Avenue. He figures Bakersfield will eat carrot dogs right up.

“There’s a lot of health fanatics in Bakersfield and so they tend to like to try different things,” he said. Spices may be the deciding factor, he added, because “if it tastes like a carrot then they’re not going to want to eat it.”

Also making their debut Tuesday, in time for a major food convention ending Thursday, were no-carb pasta and rice “swaps” that Bolthouse makes entirely from carrots. Six to eight minutes on the stove and health-conscious consumers have part or all of a meal.

Like the hot dogs, they were brainstormed and developed in Bakersfield — and will be produced and packaged locally as well when the trio, each available in three different flavors, hits U.S. supermarkets next spring.

The products are a big part of Bolthouse’s bold and somewhat contrarian step into the growing market for plant-based meat and carbohydrate alternatives.

Rival Bakersfield carrot giant Grimmway Farms has been innovating lately, too. At the start of this week’s virtual Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Conference & Expo the company introduced rainbow carrot chips — dried, wavy-cut carrot snacks in a resealable, 12-ounce bag — along with baby bok choy in three-count clamshell packaging.

Both companies have for years been expanding their traditional strengths in farming and fresh produce.

At Grimmway, that has led to a focus on organic farming, juices and packaging that weighs less and involves less waste than conventional materials.

Bolthouse has taken a different route after being sold last year by New Jersey-based Campbell Soup Co., which made a high-profile turn away from refrigerated juices and premium salad dressings.

Under the leadership of Jeff Dunn, the man who had served as Bolthouse’s CEO years earlier, the carrot grower proudly makes smoothies, cafe refreshments, protein beverages and “superfood immunity boost” drinks.

The products announced Tuesday are aimed at a growing market for foods geared toward “flexitarians” who don’t necessarily want to avoid meat all the time but see the health and environmental sustainability value of keeping to a plant-based diet.

Kooy emphasized the carrot dogs are not chopped or formed into a new shape but actually soaked in a brine solution that imparts flavor. The company is working on a particular breed that mimics the size and shape of a standard hot dog, he said.

“It’s not a franken-food in terms of a really long list of ingredients you can’t understand,” he said, adding the full trio of new products developed at the company’s “innovation center” on East Brundage are basically just carrots.

When they appear in grocery-store produce aisles next year, the products are expected to cost $4.99 for a package of eight carrot dogs. For the same amount of money consumers will be able to buy 15-ounce carrot fettuccine or riced carrot kits.

Link to story on Bakersfield.com

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Video – California Farmworker Foundation active during COVID-19 crisis

NOTEIn an effort to celebrate and highlight the work of California’s farmers, farmworkers, and everyone whose work helps to keep the food supply chain flowing, Governor Newsom has proclaimed October as California Farmer and Farmworker Month.

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