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A hub of food and agriculture talk

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, speaking at the GrowRIVERSIDE conference at UC Riverside.

Credit: Carrie Rosema

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, speaking at the GrowRIVERSIDE conference at UC Riverside.

On March 21, much of the Highlander Union Building at UC Riverside was turned into a hub to talk about local food systems.

The university hosted the third annual GrowRIVERSIDE conference, a city of Riverside-led initiative to cultivate food and agricultural activities across the city.

After introductory remarks from UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox and Riverside Mayor Rusty Baily, Glenda Humiston, vice president of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, gave the morning keynote address.

Humiston, who spoke at a previous GrowRIVERSIDE conference, complimented the organizers for pulling together so many stakeholders focused on food and agricultural activities in such a short time.

She spoke about UC President Janet Napolitano’s Global Food Initiative and the UC Food Observer blog.

She also discussed the AgTech Roundtable in California, a group of government and industry leaders seeking to connect California’s Central and Silicon valleys. They have hosted three agriculture focused hackathons. Humiston said UC Riverside would be good site to hold a future hackathon.

After Humiston spoke, there were keynote speeches later in the day from Michael Shuman, an author, attorney and expert on community economics, and Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

There were also break-out sessions on topics ranging from securing capital to grow agribusiness to GIS mapping to connect growers and landowners to career opportunities in food and agriculture.

The careers in food and agriculture session featured three speakers: Valerie Mellano, a professor of plant sciences at Cal Poly Pomona; AG Kawamura, of Orange County Produce who also is former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; and Peggy Mauk, director of agricultural operations at UC Riverside.

All three noted there is increasing demand for workers in a wide-range of agricultural fields.

Mauk, who does research focused on subtropical plants including avocados, citrus and dates, talked about career opportunities in Cooperative Extension, where she found her niche.

She also spoke about UC Riverside’s turfgrass research program, which is the only one in the state, and mentioned that many students that go through the program find jobs at golf courses and parks.

The conference also included a Citrus Circle Farm-to-Fork Dinner on March 21 catered by UC Riverside’s Dining Services and a tour of Riverside’s agricultural assets today (March 22).