Governor Brown approves bill that could improve food access for needy families – from the San José Mercury News



By Annie Sciacca

California Gov. Jerry Brown has approved a bill that could boost a program increasing access to healthy food for low-income families through farmers’ markets that has already grown considerably in the Bay Area.

The governor has approved a state budget that includes $5 million for the California Nutrition Incentives Act, which sets up a program to discount fresh produce at farmers’ markets for low-income shoppers. Signing the bill allows the state to take advantage of federal matching money through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program and thus double the impact of its investment in the program.

The largest operator of that program is Market Match, which has so far been funded with a grant from the USDA. But that grant will run out in one year. The Ecology Center, which administers the program statewide, will have to apply through the USDA to get the matching funds, according to the center’s food and farming director, Ben Feldman.

More than 200 nonprofit organizations and individuals including Roots of Change, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, American Heart Association and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network have worked to secure funding for the program over the last three years and consider the new approval a success after Gov. Brown cut the $2.5 million that the legislature requested for the program in 2015.

“With this funding, the state of California has put its money where its mouth is in terms of supporting healthy eating for low-income families,” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, in a statement. “The demand for Market Match has consistently outstripped the supply of funds. The additional $5 million will allow us to expand the program towards our goal of offering Market Match at every farmers’ market in the state.”

Under Market Match, which was established by nonprofit Roots of Change, shoppers using federal assistance benefits can go to the farmers’ market manager, indicate how much they want to spend using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, and get tokens to be used at stands with fruits and vegetables. If a shopper wants to spend $10, the program matches it to $20, giving them double the credit to use at the market.

“I think it’s important because it not only increases people’s access to local, fresh produce, it gets them actually more for what they’re spending,” Cristal Banagan, a Richmond resident who uses Market Match at Oakland and Richmond farmers’ markets, told Bay Area News Group earlier this month.. “If you use EBT … you don’t have the finest food, and you’re in need of this.”

Market Match is on track to connect nearly 240,000 low-income shoppers with 2,200 of the state’s small farms through farmers’ markets, generating $9.8 million in fruit and vegetable sales. In the Bay Area, local farmers have earned $1.1 million directly from the program.

Link to article

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Thousands of pounds of illegal fireworks seized at CDFA’s Truckee and Yermo Border Inspection Stations – from the Sierra Sun

Illegal fireworks confiscated this month at the Truckee Border Inspection Station

Illegal fireworks confiscated this month at the Truckee Border Inspection Station

By Kevin McMillan

If you’ve been wondering why westbound lanes of Interstate 80 have seemed overly backed up near Truckee’s agricultural inspection station the past several days, it’s due to increased enforcement from state officials looking for illegal fireworks.

Earlier this month, CalFire led a multi-agency fireworks seizure operation across several days at the California Border Protection Station in Truckee, often referred to as the “bug station,” which wrapped this past weekend.

In all, more than 1,882 pounds of fireworks were confiscated, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said Tuesday, resulting in 20 misdemeanor citations and seven felony arrests.

A similar operation in San Bernardino County (Yermo station, I-15) resulted in 25,406 pounds of illegal fireworks, along with 51 misdemeanor citations and two felony arrests.

CDFA's Border Inspection Station along I-15 at Yermo.

CDFA’s Border Inspection Station along I-15 at Yermo in San Bernardino County.

“Wildfire activity has significantly increased during the last several weeks, and California continues to experience explosive fire conditions as a result of five years of drought,” Chief Ken Pimott, CalFire’s director, said in a statement. “Everyone needs to understand the dangers associated with the use of illegal fireworks or misuse of legal fireworks.

“Any person who starts a fire from fireworks — even accidentally — can be held liable for the fire-fighting costs as well as property damage costs.”

The Truckee bug station is part of a network of 16 along the state’s eastern and northern borders, said Jay Van Rein, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which operates the stations.

An average of 35 million vehicles enter the state each year through these stations; about two-thirds are private vehicles and the remainder are commercial. Vehicle traffic through the Truckee station is roughly 4.8 million per year.


Typically, the Truckee station, which operates year-round, is staffed with 26 to 30 employees during the year, Van Rein said, with 30 being the max for the summer season. For the most part, staff in Truckee and across the state inspects vehicles for illegal plants and pests.

In 2015, for example, Van Rein said the 16 stations intercepted 22,594 shipments of prohibited plants (including plant material such as soil, roots, leaves and cuttings) and 5,793 pests.

“The most common interceptions include fruits and vegetables, fruit trees, garden plants, household plants and firewood,” Van Rein said. “Beehives shipped into the state to pollinate crops are also inspected to make sure ants and other pests aren’t hitchhiking.”

In addition to inspecting for agricultural pests, the stations serve as “a convenient platform for other agencies,” Van Rein said, such as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to inspect watercraft for invasive species, or CalRecycle to prevent fraud in the state’s beverage container recycling program.

Over the past several days, the CalFire-led fireworks checks involved inspecting vehicles traveling through from Nevada, with officials at times asking drivers to step out of their vehicles and to open doors for officials to take a closer look inside.

Officials this week reminded motorists that the inspections are indeed voluntary, and that authorities are not conducting illegal searches.

“Although submitting to inspection is voluntary, vehicles and commodities are not allowed to enter until released by an inspector,” Van Rein said. “A driver seeking to deny/avoid inspection of a vehicle would have the option to turn around and not have the vehicle enter the state.”

Berlant reiterated that point on Tuesday, saying that all laws were followed during the fireworks operations, when both seeking to inspect and when — for those who gave consent — searching vehicles.

Link to complete article

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Debate on Stanford study showing deep groundwater reserve in California – from the Washington Post

By Chris Mooney

In a surprising new study, Stanford researchers have found that drought-ravaged California is sitting on top of a vast and previously unrecognized water resource, in the form of deep groundwater, residing at depths between 1,000 and nearly 10,000 feet below the surface of the state’s always thirsty Central Valley.

The resource amounts to 2,700 billion tons of freshwater, mostly less than about 3,250 feet deep, according to the paper published Monday in the influential Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And there is even more fresh or moderately salty water at more extreme depths than this that could potentially be retrieved and desalinized someday for drinking water, or for use in agriculture.

“There’s a lot more fresh groundwater in California than people know,” said Stanford’s Rob Jackson, who conducted the research with the university’s Mary Kang, the study’s lead author. “It’s like a savings account. We can spend it today, or save it for when we really need it….There’s definitely enough extra groundwater to make a difference for the drought and farmers.”

But two other groundwater researchers contacted by the Post questioned aspects of the findings, or their framing, suggesting that the freshwater portion of the resource may already have been used, or that its existence would do little to change California’s water plight. The response suggests the new research could prove controversial among scientists trying to interpret what it means for a state that has battled over water, and its distribution, going back many decades.

The problem is the type of water involved: groundwater, which accounts for 95 percent of the planet’s freshwater that is not contained polar glaciers and ice sheets. This is the water originating as rain and snow that does not end up in lakes or rivers, or getting drawn up by plants. Instead, it slowly penetrates ever deeper into the ground, so long as there are still cavities that can hold it.

The vast groundwater resource at question in the study is, in many cases, very deep — and the deeper in the ground it lies, the more likely it is to be salty. The resource’s huge size, Jackson said, is related to the mountainous terrain — water cascades off mountains and pools in deep underwater pockets over very long periods of time.

But extracting this deep groundwater could be expensive and would run the risk of causing considerable land subsidence, as the empty cavities that once held it collapse. It would also mostly be a one-time fix, according to Jackson: The deep groundwater resource would not replenish for hundreds to thousands of years.

And perhaps most troubling of all — oil and gas companies, whose data provided the basis for the discovery, may already be despoiling some of this water with their activities, the research suggests.

The new study “improves the estimates for the total possible volume of groundwater, and how deep it is, and a little bit about its quality, primarily salinity,” said Peter Gleick, a water resources expert and president of the Pacific Institute, who also edited the study for the journal. “But it doesn’t say anything about whether that stuff’s going to be economic to pump, or sustainably managed in the long run, or an important contributor to solving our water problems. Those are unresolved issues still.”

To uncover the new finding, Jackson and Kang pored over data reported by what Jackson calls “really the only industry that cores deeply into the Earth” — oil and gas. The researchers say that they examined data from nearly 35,000 wells, as well as 938 “oil and gas pools,” spread across eight counties in the Central Valley and beyond.

The study then extrapolated for the entire Central Valley. Most pertinently, it found 2,200 billion tons of fresh and somewhat salty water within about 3,000 feet of the surface, making it the most accessible.

Still, the study suggests that desalinating this water would actually be cheaper than withdrawing larger amounts of salt from seawater, as a new California desalination plant in the San Diego area has begun to do.

At the same time, the research also wades deeply into ongoing social and political controversy by suggesting that there is likely to be at least some overlap between oil and gas extraction activities in the state, and these previously unknown deep groundwater repositories. And here the research is singling out not only hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but also the practice of wastewater disposal in deep geological reservoirs.

“Oil and gas activities happen a lot out West directly into and around freshwater aquifers,” Jackson said. “And there aren’t any restrictions to that practice.”

To be clear, Jackson is merely noting this risk — he is not asserting that any specific damage has been done. While some deep or shallow freshwater in the Central Valley may have been contaminated, he said, “I think most of it is fine. But I don’t really know.”

In a statement, Sabrina Lockhart, communications director for the California Independent Petroleum Association, countered that “It is not accurate to say that underground injection is not regulated.” Lockhart noted that wastewater injection wells require permits and state and EPA permission for siting, saying these regulators “have strict criteria that ensures that there is no harm to potential sources of drinking water.”

The new research prompted skeptical reactions from two researchers asked to comment by the Post.

“A lot of the water that they’re talking about may actually be gone, when you think about the Central Valley, right now, where the average depth of the water table is already at 2,500 or 3,000 feet,” said Jay Famiglietti, a water expert with both NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California, Irvine.

Famiglietti did agree about the deeper, saltier water sources, though, and praised the study for “highlighting that brackish groundwaters may eventually be an important water source.”

“Just because they’ve seen that the depth of freshwater in this basin is deeper than people thought, does not mean that you can go pump more freshwater out of this system at all. It unequivocally does not mean that,” added Graham Fogg, a hydrogeologist with the University of California-Davis. Fogg did not dispute the new study’s overall numbers, so much as whether the finding would be useful in the context of trying to supply more water to the state.

The problem, Fogg said, is that there is a difference between the amount of water that may exist below the ground and the amount that can be extracted either safely — without major ecological impact — or sustainably.

Stanford’s Jackson agreed that when it comes to replenishing of the deep groundwater resource, “very little of it, at that depth, is sort of immediate.” But he still thinks the state has an unexpected resource that it can now decide how to use — and manage.

“I hope it prompts a conversation about monitoring and safeguarding our groundwater,” Jackson said. “We’re lucky that we have more than we expected. Now we need to use it wisely and take care of it.”

Link to article

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Secretary Ross thanks CDFA’s Rick Jensen for more than 40 years of service

Secretary Ross with CDFA Director of Inspection Services Rick Jensen, who is retiring this week after 41 years of service to the Department. Secretary Ross commemorated Jensen's retirement with a proclamation congratulating him for his distinguished career.

Secretary Ross with CDFA Director of Inspection Services Rick Jensen, who is retiring this week after 41 years of service to the Department and the State of California. Secretary Ross commemorated Jensen’s retirement with a proclamation congratulating him for his distinguished career.

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Apps for Ag Hackathon scheduled for July 15-17 at UC Davis


From the Apps for Ag website:

Apps for Ag is a series of agriculture focused hackathons. Our purpose is to bring together the seemingly disparate worlds of software development and commercial farming into a collaborative event.

Our mission is to develop useful technology to address the needs of today’s grower, and to seed new enterprises in the AgTech and FoodTech sectors which will create new jobs.

The series will travel throughout the agricultural production areas of California and beyond. We welcome developers with diverse backgrounds, levels of experience and specialties to our events.

Our next event (July 15-17 at UC Davis) is going to be hosted by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), with the final round of judging to take place at the California State Fair.

Hackathons are a time tested Silicon Valley tradition. The purpose is not at all to “hack” into computer systems for malicious purposes. Rather, the term is based on the positive connotation of the word “hack”: to write clever software programs that solve an old problem in a new and optimal way.

Hackathons are typically 24-48 hours long and are an endurance challenge of ideation, iteration, collaboration and focus. Participants will put in long hours, some don’t even sleep, as they rush to develop as much of the concept as possible before judging. The event culminates in a judged contest, or “Pitchfest”.

The makeup of the judging panel reflects all of the respective industry stakeholders. It will include experienced growers, software engineers, entrepreneurs and investors. Judges are asked to rate each team on 1.) the impact of the concept, 2.) a compelling story of collaboration and 3.) the technical merit of the concept. Participating growers benefit by giving voice to their needs during the “Industry Panel” that kicks off each event.

The growers and industry representatives who participate may very well realize a purpose-built software application to address their stated challenge. They also get to observe what software development looks like, to see how challenging it can be, to learn a new vocabulary, to try something different and to discover many commonalities with another industry. Developers benefit by showing off their skills, networking within their industry, obtaining domain expertise in a new industry, learning about the technology that already exists in agriculture and, ideally, making a productive impact on the nation’s food chain.

Link to more information

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Climate Smart Israel – a visit to the ‘Financial Innovations Lab’

Secretary Ross at the Financial Innovations Lab at the Milken Innovation Center in Israel

Secretary Ross at the Financial Innovations Lab at the Milken Innovation Center in Israel. State Board of Food and Agriculture president Craig McNamara is at the far left.

Secretary Ross traveled through Israel this week with a California delegation interested in adaptation strategies for climate change and drought

Yesterday, as our travels through Israel neared their conclusion, our delegation participated in the Financial Innovations Lab of the California-Israel Global Innovation Partnership, sponsored by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies Milken Innovation Center.  The topic of the day was accelerating the growth of agricultural technology in Israel and California, a focus resulting from the 2014 M.O.U signed by Governor Brown and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Given our week of travels learning about Israel’s water solutions, the subjects of technology, increased efficiency, and recycled water utilization were all top of mind for us Californians!  But the discussion was much broader – identifying the conditions, barriers and opportunities facing agricultural producers, and the range of technologies that could be deployed to ensure global food security in the face of climate change.  Meeting future global demand will require investments in a combination of yield improvements, resource optimization and loss reduction.

A discussion about the barriers to Ag tech financing really focused on the issue that Ag tech doesn’t generate the rate of return compared to other elements of the tech industry, and the discussion touched on the need for patience due to the seasonality of production agriculture.

In addition to talking about the need for investment to stimulate accelerated and wide-spread adoption of Ag technologies, there was a spirited discussion about infrastructure: the importance of objective third-party-generated data and demonstration projects; the value of publicly funded research; new opportunities for public-private-philanthropic partnerships; the critical role of getting government policies right; and the proven success of offering incentives to accelerate the adoption-curve of new technologies.

Over and over again, we stressed how important it is to clearly understand problems from the growers’ point of view and develop technology solutions in concert with growers to shorten the cycle for commercialization. Too often in recent years, technologies have been presented that are disconnected from the realities in the field and time is lost to screening the sheer number of new technologies being offered. This is where the value of incubators and the example of the Western Growers Innovation Center were offered as solutions.

It was a stimulating discussion, and I look forward to a report on the session and draft recommendations. Following all that, our final afternoon in Israel ended with a tour of Old City Jerusalem before our 9 p.m departure for Ben Gurion Airport.

Secretary Ross with members of the California climate change delegation and several of their Israeli hosts

Secretary Ross with members of the delegation for the California Climate-Smart Agriculture Policy Mission


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California State Fair honors “Best of Show” in wine, beer, cheese and olive oil


For more than 160 years, the California State Fair has showcased the best of the Golden State. This year’s competition welcomed an impressive range of wine, cheese, beer and olive oil entries, and the “Best of Show” honors were awarded at a ceremony earlier today on the west steps of the State Capitol. The complete list of winners can be found at

The 2016 California State Fair will take place July 8-24. Tickets available at


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Climate Smart Israel – to Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee


The Sea of Galilee

Secretary Ross is traveling through Israel this week with a California delegation interested in adaptation strategies for climate change and drought

Yesterday took us north to the Sea of Galilee. The sense of history here leaves me in a state of awe.  The Sea of Galilee is also known as the Kineret. It is Israel’s largest fresh water reservoir and the country’s largest and most important source of drinking water.

We met with top officials of the plant breeding company Kaiima Ltd in Moshav Sharon which was listed in 2014 by MIT in its top-50 smartest companies. It is a very small company among giants like Amazon, Google and Tesla. It’s two founders have backgrounds in plant breeding and genetics, and they developed a non-GMO genetics platform to improve yields and characteristics for resiliency. The World Bank is an investor. It’s main focus is on the major crops in the world: wheat, soybeans, rice, corn, canola, tomatoes and peppers. Top Seeds is its subsidiary that specializes in vegetable seeds. The company’s plant breeding process can shave 2-3 years off the plant breeding cycle which can take up to ten years. In addition to improved productivity Top Seed is innovating to deliver better taste and longer shelf life. A member of our delegation, Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, takes us on a quick tour.

We then traveled to Jerusalem – a sprawling, hilly city mixing the very modern with some of the oldest history we know. State Board chairman Craig McNamara, Josh Eddy, the board’s executive director, and I left our delegation for a meeting at the Knesset with the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Uri Ariel.

Secretary Ross with Israel's Minister of Agriculture and Rural development, Uri Ariel

Secretary Ross with Israel’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural development, Uri Ariel

Minister Ariel and I agreed to establish a work group to develop a couple if areas for joint projects and collaboration. In addition to water and climate smart agriculture, he is interested in advancing aquaculture, the use of satellites and drones to improve agriculture, and agri-tourism.

We joined our delegation at a dinner hosted by the Milken Institute in preparation for today’s Innovation Lab visit. Delegation members were energized by their earlier discussion with the dynamic manager of Hagihon, the water delivery and wastewater entity for Jerusalem.


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Climate Smart Israel – the Negev Desert

An experimental vineyard in the Negev Desert

An experimental vineyard in the Negev Desert

Secretary Ross is traveling through Israel this week with a California delegation interested in adaptation strategies for climate change and drought

Yesterday we visited the Ben Gurion University Desert Research Institute. Ben Gurion was Israel’s first prime minister. He believed in the potential of the Negev Desert and said, “If the state does not liquidate the desert, the desert may liquidate the state.” (He is buried here overlooking a vast desert valley.) The Desert Research Institute was established specifically to address dry land issues and how to make the desert suitable for humans to live in. The Negev represents 60 percent of Israel’s land mass and contains 8 percent of its population.

The delegation discusses water and climate change on the bus to the Negev Desert

The delegation discusses water and climate change on the bus to the Negev Desert

Dry land covers one-third of all the land on earth. Within the Desert Research Institute are three divisions to address water issues; dryland agriculture and biotechnology; and, environmental studies and solar science (this includes social sciences and architecture). Climate change studies are a part of all these.

According to the United Nations, by 2050 forty-five percent of the world’s population will live in countries chronically short of water. Historically, we have thought of the lack of water as a problem of the poor in developing countries, but not any more.

Plant science and microbiology are the heart of the Ag program. Researchers are focused on root studies. As one said, “Understanding roots will lead us into the second green revolution!”

We ended the day with a stop at a newly opened small case production winery in Moshav Givat Yeshayahu. Here we met with the coordinator of water and stream rehabilitation for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. It was a lively discussion about how to work with farmers and policy maker to restore stream flows and river restoration. Throughout its history the emphasis has been to build for a new nation and the organization is concerned that the impacts to nature must be mitigated before it is too late.


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Climate Smart Agriculture – California and the Netherlands to co-host joint webinar on July 7


The California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands will co-host a joint webinar on Climate Smart Agriculture on July 7, 2016. The webinar will feature discussions and presentations addressing salinity in specialty crops within California’s Central Valley and along coastal areas.

“Climate Change is furthering collaboration around the globe among farmers and researchers to address strategies for improving agricultural production and sustainability,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The Netherlands is a good example for practices and approaches on climate smart agriculture that can be beneficial to California.”

The webinar will be held on July 7th from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in California and individuals can register for free at – The webinar can also be viewed live at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 1220 N Street – Main Auditorium, on the day on the event.

Saline agriculture, the ability to produce crops with brackish water and in high salinity soils, could potentially be of interest to California farmers who encounter these growing conditions.  This webinar will feature an overview by Arjen de Vos of Salt Farm Texel, a producer of saline agriculture in the Netherlands, as well as perspective from California State Board of Food and Agriculture member Don Cameron, of Terranova Ranch, a diversified farming operation in the Central Valley. Researchers from Wageningen UR and University of California will also provide perspective.

The Climate Smart Agriculture webinar is the first in a series of online discussions on Climate Smart Agriculture to be hosted in the coming months in collaboration with the University of California’s World Food Center.



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