Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

CDFA announces second year of Spanish-language Farm2Food Accelerator Program

Denise Ruiz, a beneficiary of the Farm2Food Accelerator Program last year, showcases a dehydrated cactus product at a Las Vegas tradeshow.

CDFA is once again partnering with the NASDA Foundation (National Association of State Departments of Agriculture) to launch the second consecutive year of the Spanish language Farm2Food (F2F) Accelerator Program in California.

The California F2F Program seeks to support small-scale, specialty crop farmers and food producers to refine their food and beverage products, target their marketing, and explore expanding into new markets.


The Spanish language track of the Farm2Food Accelerator is now open for applications. Applications close at midnight on December 18, 2023 (Pacific Standard Time). The program will run from January 2024 to April 2024.

The Farm2Food California program in English and Spanish, helped graduates gain access to resources, networking opportunities, and a step process for product development decision-making. The 15-week training program is free to participants and seeks to increase resiliency among small-scale farmers and food producers by creating value-added products or diversifying the products they sell and exploring new markets while increasing their food safety knowledge and processes. The Farm2Food programs also create a supportive community with direct access to industry-leading experts and local resources.

Success Stories

One of the graduates from the Spanish-language track last year learned to develop paste for mole, based on a recipe from Oaxaca, using regional California products. Other graduates are Darlene and Denise Ruiz, with Products from Paradise, a small farming business located in the Central Valley that specializes in growing edible cactus. They have employed a process that dehydrates cactus and turns it into powder that can be added to water to make a drink or to flour for baking or cooking.

Pictured: Denise Ruiz with Products from Paradise showcases the cactus product at the SIAL America tradeshow in Las Vegas in 2023.

For eligibility information, visit the program website. For questions about the program, please reach out to Carla Soto

Note: The English language F2F California is currently underway. The application period closed on October 1.

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Apple Hill going strong and welcoming visitors during busy fall harvest season

For nearly 60 years, Apple Hill has delighted visitors with delicious, crisp apples, fresh squeezed apple cider, and beautiful scenic views. Located along the Sierra foothills near Placerville, the Apple Hill Growers Association represents 50 local family farms. Apple Hill began in 1964 and today it’s grown to include vegetable and fruit farms, bakeshops, wineries, flower gardens, and Christmas tree farms.

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Why is a yellow card in that tree? Invasive species detection — from the Marin Independent Journal

By James Campbell

Have you ever been out on a walk and seen a yellow panel trap attached to a tree? Maybe you have had a pest detection trap in your yard. Perhaps you are like me and wonder what these things are and who put them there. To get some answers, I spoke with Allison Klein, an inspector with the county’s Department of Agriculture, Weights & Measures.

Klein shared that the 611 yellow panel traps placed and monitored around Marin County throughout the year are a cooperative effort between their department and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The pests targeted by these yellow traps are the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which is monitored from March through October, and the Asian citrus psyllid, which is monitored from October through March.

(Note — these traps are placed throughout California and help detect other invasive species, as well, like fruit flies)

You probably have noticed that traps seem to appear or disappear out of nowhere, and that is because they get repositioned during the season to be sure a broad sampling is taken. Typically, a county trapper will knock on the homeowner’s door to let them know they are placing a trap on or near a host plant. If contact cannot be made this way, the county trapper will set the trap in the front yard and leave the homeowner a letter notifying them of the trap placement, the trap type and the location of the host plant. County trappers will never enter the backyards of properties without prior permission from the homeowner. Still, they may place a trap into or near a backyard from a front or side yard access or from a sidewalk.

Klein added that the pest trapping and monitoring that the county conducts with the state is not our only line of defense. The department’s inspectors also conduct incoming plant quarantines. Plant shipments are monitored at retail and wholesale nurseries, aquatic supply stores, FedEx and UPS. Of the 14,287 plant inspections performed in 2022, 108 were rejected.

We must remain vigilant about these invasive pests. It is a matter of when, not if, they will arrive in Marin County.

Read more here

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Secretary Ross on USDA Agricultural Trade Mission to Southeast Asia

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (r) in Southeast Asia with USDA Undersecretary Alexis Taylor and Ambassador Brian McFeeters (ret.),of the US-ASEAN Business Council

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

This week it was a pleasure to join USDA Undersecretary Alexis Taylor and more than 25 companies on an agricultural trade mission to Malaysia and Singapore. These markets represent great opportunities for California exports and serve as a gateway to the greater Southeast Asian market. California’s agricultural exports to the region are valued at approximately $2.5 billion – with dairy, fresh fruit and tree nuts among the top exports.

The visit was an opportunity to celebrate longstanding trade relationships and build new business connections within the export community.  Our schedule included roundtable discussions with importers and retailers, meetings with foreign representatives of U.S agricultural trade associations, and engagement with the US ASEAN Business Council in Singapore.  I also had the opportunity to visit a leading dairy plant and a bakery facility in Malaysia that both use U.S. agricultural ingredients.   

One aspect of the mission that truly resonated with me was a presentation by the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers underscoring the importance of Halal certification. It is a unique value proposition that is a critical aspect of the food and beverage sector in Malaysia and the larger Southeast Asian market. As a speaker from Nestle noted – Halal is not just about meat – it is a market waiting for a diversity of products as well as an acknowledgement of the culture. Halal certification can be applied to many products, from fresh fruits and wine to health supplements.  

This mission served to underscore the market development opportunities that California’s agricultural exporters and trade associations can leverage in the region with the USDA’s new $1.3B investment in the Regional Agricultural Promotion Program. California’s farmers and ranchers, with their diversity of high-quality products, are well-positioned to meet growing international consumer needs while supporting local communities through job growth and expanded economic activity.

This visit was a great opportunity to support California agricultural trade and the farmers and ranchers who make our state the leading agricultural exporter in the nation.

Special thanks to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service for the amazing work they do in supporting U.S. agricultural businesses.

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CDFA participates in 9th annual Latino Farmer Conference in Stockton

CDFA at work at the Latino Farmer Conference in Stockton.

Representatives from across CDFA divisions and programs were on hand at the ninth annual Latino Farmer Conference on November 1 at the Robert Cabral Ag Center in Stockton. The conference had an emphasis on sustainable agriculture, equity, and resources for underserved farmers and ranchers, as well as workshops in Spanish.

CDFA hosted three booths with employees from the Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation, the Inspection Services Division, the Animal Health and Food Safety Services Division, the Office of Grants Administration, the Farmer Equity Program, the Division of Marketing Services, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Division.

Hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the conference is open to all farmers and ranchers, yet is uniquely tailored towards Spanish-speaking growers.

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CDFA’s Farm to School Program and Halloween

CDFA Farm to School Producer Engagement Specialist Michael Ackley-Grady stands beside a table inside the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park during Halloween-themed tours, which ran through yesterday at the mansion. The table contains samples of nature’s candy grown by Farm to School Incubator Grant Program recipient Spork Food Hub.

Governor Gavin Newsom, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and California State Parks offered these special tours to guide visitors through frightfully decorated rooms, each containing plenty of history and oozing with supernatural surprises.

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Specialty Crop Block Grant supports UC “Farm to Corrections” project

Residents at California State Prison Solano enjoying California-grown produce

NOTE — CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, utilizing funds provided by the USDA, awarded a grant of nearly $440,000 to the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources division to facilitate increased access to California-grown produce for residents of the state corrections system. This article from UC ANR explains more.

Serving slices of watermelon on the Fourth of July is a long-standing tradition at some facilities within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. But this July, there was something different about the watermelon offered to the approximately 8,000 residents at California State Prison Solano, California Medical Facility and Folsom State Prison.

It was juicy. It was sweet. It was “scrumdiddlyumptious,” according to one resident. And it was grown on a California family farm.

The three institutions are part of a “farm to corrections” project, Harvest of the Month, which aims to serve seasonal, locally grown produce to people who are incarcerated in California, while opening new opportunities for California farmers.

“We appreciate that someone cares enough to introduce this program that gives us something new,” said Jason Romero, a California State Prison Solano resident. “We look forward to what’s coming in the future – California has the best stuff, right? – and hopefully we get other varieties of stuff.”

The program – bringing together the Nutrition Policy Institute, the nonprofit Impact Justice, and ChangeLab Solutions in collaboration with CDCR – was officially launched with the watermelon delivery in July. Pluots followed in August, and Bartlett pears were delivered in September.

“It’s a ‘multiple wins’ kind of an effort,” said Wendi Gosliner, the NPI principal investigator on the California Department of Food and Agriculture specialty crop block grant supporting the project. “The funding is available because the state is looking for state partners to purchase and expand the markets for California-grown fruits and vegetables. And we know that getting more of those fruits and vegetables on the plates of people who are incarcerated would be a huge bonus for them.”

California State Prison Solano resident Patrick Range said that, after tasting pluots for the first time through the program, the plum-apricot hybrid is now one of his favorites.

“I think I had five of them that day – and I’m waiting for them to have them again so I can get more; they were so good,” Range said. “It’s something I’d never experienced, in the outside world or in prison.”

With rave reviews from residents and staff alike, CDCR – the State of California’s biggest purchaser of food – is planning to roll out Harvest of the Month to all 33 of its adult facilities within the next two years.

“Food brings individuals together and introducing new products can give those in the care of CDCR something to talk about, as well as look forward to,” said Lance Eshelman, CDCR’s departmental food administrator.

Improving conditions for people within correctional institutions is core to the mission of Impact Justice, which is working with partner organizations across the U.S. to bring fresher, more nutritious food to facilities, in support of residents’ physical, mental and emotional health.

“We really want to prioritize the holistic well-being of an individual to help ensure that once they come home from incarceration, they are in a place where they are ready to actually contribute back to society,” said Heile Gantan, program associate with the Food in Prison project at Impact Justice.

Range said that enjoying the fresh produce – and learning more about its nutritional value – is helping him live a healthier, more energized, and hopefully longer life.

“I was a kid that didn’t like vegetables; I didn’t want nothing to do with vegetables…[but] as an adult, being 46 years of age, I want this for myself – I want to be able to tell someone else, to teach someone else about what I experienced when getting these fruits and vegetables that helped that nutritional factor,” he said.

In addition, Gosliner noted that early research suggests better food can benefit not only the well-being of residents but also of staff, with a calmer and safer work environment.

Partnership built on shared values, priorities

Gosliner and Ron Strochlic, academic coordinator at NPI, saw an opportunity to support “farm to corrections” work through a CDFA block grant, which aims to boost the purchase of California-grown specialty crops.

“CDCR is the state’s largest single purchaser of food, so they’re a natural place to consider ways to improve food systems,” said Gosliner, who was awarded the grant in 2020 to work with partners to research and develop pathways that encourage CDCR procurement of California produce, as well as nutrition programs for formerly incarcerated individuals. The project produced a report summarizing the opportunities and challenges in bringing more California-grown produce to the state’s prison system.

The staff at Impact Justice appreciated that the NPI team brought not only research and evaluation acumen to the partnership but also an abiding concern for the people inside correctional facilities.

“Our grant funding was focused on simply increasing access to and consumption of California-grown specialty crops in CDCR prisons, but our team was very much in alignment around values and really focusing on the health and well-being of residents – highlighting and amplifying residents’ experiences and voices,” said Leslie Soble, senior program manager of the Food in Prison Project.

Gantan echoed that sentiment, adding that NPI – which is under the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources umbrella – also contributed its familiarity with regional food systems, particularly food hubs across the state.

According to the NPI team, engaging food hubs – organizations that aggregate, distribute and market food products from local producers – was a logical way to make a “farm to corrections” match.

“The majority of CDCR facilities are located in rural, agricultural regions, so to us, it was kind of a no-brainer to connect those facilities with the local communities and local farmers in the area,” Strochlic explained.

For the Harvest of the Month project, the partners teamed up with Spork, a Davis-based, mission-driven food hub that sources from growers across Northern California. Spork also aggregates the fresh produce from local farmers and delivers it to participating CDCR facilities each month.

“The farmers are very excited to see the change in the systems at CDCR in food and nutrition and what they’re offering to the residents – and they’re excited for the potential that this has for a larger, more consistent market,” said Hope Sippola, co-owner of Spork, which emphasizes working with underserved farmers as part of its mission. “We really needed to dig deep to figure out how to successfully implement this change of CDCR purchasing from large distributors to a food hub who sources from local family farms.”

Read more: News & Events – Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (

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California Farm to School Conference celebrates champions building local, resilient food systems

California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom (right) joins CDFA Secretary Karen Ross at the California Farm to School Conference in a conversation about the progress, champions and future goals of the farm to school movement.

More than 300 school food leaders, farmers and educators joined California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Secretary Karen Ross and the Alice Waters Institute at the 2023 California Farm to School Conference October 24-25.

Strengthened through CDFA’s Farm to School Network and California’s recent investments of $100 million in CDFA’s California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program, attendees celebrated the expansion of farm to school programs across California. Partners also networked for opportunities to collaboratively improve school food and continue to build local, resilient food systems.

“The possibilities of California Farm to School are endless – from improving children’s health and well-being to bolstering local economies and combating climate change,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “While over 1.5 million students are already benefiting from the program, this convening of diverse Farm to School champions is so essential as we continue to break down silos and strengthen collaboration across sectors to expand Farm to School’s reach across California.”

The conference featured educational panel discussions, a farm to school vendor fair, farm tours, a farmers’ market lunch and a conversation between First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, who has advocated farm to school for decades.

“What inspires me most about this gathering is seeing friends and farm to school champions from across California,” Secretary Ross said. “From farms, cafeterias and classrooms from Southern California to the North Coast and many regions in between – our whole state is represented today.”

Also at the conference, eight California school districts were honored by the Center for Ecoliteracy with California Food for California Kids 2023 Leadership and Innovation Awards, including: Fort Bragg Unified School District (USD), Fresno USD, Natomas USD, San Miguel Joint Union School District, Santa Ana USD, Santa Clara USD, Sweetwater Union High School District and Tahoe-Truckee USD. Each school district’s nutrition director accepted an award and received recognition for their outstanding accomplishments in school nutrition and farm to school programs.

To get involved in CDFA’s Farm to School Program or learn more about the California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program, visit or email

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Ag Mission to Spain reveals broad potential for collaboration

Food safety, ag tech, plant breeding, irrigation technology, bioinnovation, automation for precision and sustainability – the opportunities for collaboration run deep and wide, as last week’s agricultural delegation from California discovered during a fascinating, stimulating week in Spain.

Like all great trips this one included a terrific group of Californians:

  • Karen Ross, California Agriculture Secretary
  • Don Cameron, Terranova Ranch/California State Board of Food and Agriculture
  • Jenet DeCosta, Driscoll’s
  • Leonard Diggs, Pie Ranch/ EFA SAP
  • Rolston St. Hilaire, California State University, Fresno
  • Garrett Patricio, Westside Produce
  • Emily Rooney, Agricultura Council of California
  • Ram Uckoo, Wonderful Citrus
  • Christopher Valdez, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California
  • Joshua Viers, University of California, Merced
  • Gabriel Youtsey, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Josh Eddy, CDFA State Director, International Affairs

In addition, it was a pleasure to travel with Karisha Kuypers, the USDA Agricultural Attaché based in Madrid. The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service is an important asset for all businesses wanting to expand international business.

Experimental greenhouses in Almeria, ag tech at IVIA, citrus breeding trials at Anecoop, micro-algae production for biostimulants, pollinator breeding at AgroBio, plant genetics work at Mavi Innovations, and innovative greenhouse production with J. Huete – an Agritech Murcia participant.
Almeria’s greenhouses, ag tech for IPM and hedgerows promoting biodiversity and healthy soils.
Enjoying the culture, history of Spain and camaraderie with participants over paella in Valencia.
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Farm to School Month — video highlights benefits for students and small farmers

As the nation celebrates October as National Farm to School Month, check out the video below highlighting the benefits of California’s commitment to farm-to-school programs! The video was created with funds awarded to Slow Money SLO’s Farm to School project via CDFA’s Farm to School Incubator Grant Program. The SLO (San Luis Obispo) project is working toward streamlined ordering processes for school districts from small farmers as well as providing field trips, nutrition education, and virtual events.

Also, stay tuned next week for more information and celebration about California’s farm to school movement as partners from across the school-food and education spaces gather for the California Farm to School Conference, October 24-25.

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