Meet the Farm to Fork Ambassadors

Archi's Institute for Sustainable Agriculture

Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Escondido, California

After leaving active duty, many veterans are faced with the decision of “where to go from here” and for those involved in active combat, a healing process is often involved in this transition. Attention has been placed in recent years on teaching veterans farming skills, not only to provide a viable career option but also therapeutic relief from past experiences. Recently the Office of Farm to Fork partnered with Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture to support veterans learning farming skills through their Organic Agribusiness program. Students follow a rigorous 6 or 12 week schedule learning the details of growing fruits and vegetables organically and hydroponically.

Students chosen by the Office of Farm to Fork will share their stories and the journey many like them are taking to create a new career path in farming after leaving the military in three blog posts here on Tales from the Field. Many of the students are exploring niche markets in California by developing business plans to grow less traditional fruits and vegetables or to support often overlooked populations.

Michael Lupacchino

bitter-melon cdfa farm to fork

My military experience and training in procurement and acquisitions and data mining taught me to understand the concepts of business entrepreneurship, statistics and mathematics. I will also bring the discipline and mental agility learned from the military and apply it to start a thriving hydroponics business. Recently I have searched for various career opportunities because I will retire from the US Army in 2017. The Department of Agriculture is offering enticing incentives for veterans to become farmers. I would like to continue to serve this country, and I believe that hydroponics farming is one way for my family and I to continue serving this country.

I chose the bitter melon for my business plan because I see the potential for economic benefit for the farmer. By targeting niche neighborhoods and businesses that use the bitter melon, one can make this plant a profitable crop. Because I’m Filipino, I know how hard it is to find a constant supply of fresh bitter melon in commercial supermarkets in the United States. The Bitter Melon is a beautiful plant with deeply lobed leaves and eye-catching fruit that shifts from green to yellow to orange as it ripens. The taste is an acquired one for people in the United States. However, Filipinos and Asians love the taste of this plant. Some people say that it is more bitter than an unripe grapefruit or very dark chocolate. Acquiring a taste and love for the bitter takes a while if you are not used to it but after a while, don’t be surprised if you become addicted to this melon’s strong flavor.

Dara Morganbeehive cdfa farm to fork

My original farming goal was to establish a dragon fruit farm that provides a form of healing for Veterans suffering from severe traumatic brain injuries and/or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My original intent was to show the viability of growing dragon fruit in California, which would benefit the industry as a whole, and my efforts would show veterans the healing benefits of farming that would in turn help the community. However, this has changed. Through my studies, I have learned multiple things.
The first and most important  is that having a therapy farm, which in a sense is a “u-pick farm,” will not allow me to raise enough crops to sell. Having frequent and multiple “visitors” will wreak havoc on the land, bringing in outside contaminants that I cannot control, which will be detrimental to my crops. In order to balance the cash flow issue, I plan to raise bee colonies for fruit and vegetable pollination. Bees are in huge demand and require a small amount of real estate. By having several colonies, this will also help to pollinate my crops. I plan to have the colonies on one side of my farm and the therapy section on another.
In addition to the importance and need for beekeeping, I have discovered an additional niche that I plan to take advantage of – seedlings. From my studies, I have learned that raising seedlings is a very labor-intensive process, which many farmers do not have the time to grow for themselves. My current idea is to open two “mini-farms”- #1 bee colonies #2 seedling mass production. Having the two “mini-farms” will allow me to raise capital, which will help to fund the PTSD Therapy farm.

Joe Laguna

cherries cdfa farm to forkI grew up in Salinas Valley the son of a trucker that hauled fresh produce to market. This background in farming explains why through my 20 years in the Navy I always had some sort of garden going wherever home was. In the past 5 years gardening has become more of a passion, which is always driving me to better myself. Just this summer my garden was so productive my family and neighbors could not keep up, so we started selling our produce at our local farmer’s markets. I have learned so much from my market experience I know I have to take this opportunity to a higher level and the knowledge, experience and partnership I will gain from my studies at Archi’s Acres will truly benefit not only myself and my family, but also the community by sharing with them more about the specialty crops of fruits and vegetables – how healthy they are and how to best grow them. We plan to have peach, apple, oranges, apricot and cherry trees to start with.

Alyssa Ponce

radishes cdfa farm to forkWith experience of 5 years of early mornings and late nights in the military as a Food Service Specialist I’m well aware of hard work. I am in my last year of my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resource Management and Entrepreneurship from National University and it has provided me with a tremendous amount of information I can carry over to my farming needs.
I hope to represent and help communities establish community garden areas and expand them throughout Southern California for communities with little to no backyards. My project will benefit the specialty crop industry by creating awareness and increasing nutrition literacy to provide an easy way for communities to become more involved in living a healthier life. To help develop programs and include community gardens for neighborhoods with apartment complexes with little to no backyard I would collaborate with the governor’s office of planning and research to update general plan guidance to include food access considerations and zoning recommendations. By informing the communities of what they can and can’t do with flyers, social media and word of mouth it can help with the confusion most communities have. By creating a guideline and answering community questions it can stir more conversation rather than not doing anything at all.
Working closely with these communities and local agencies we can expand on existing programs and broaden new ones. Not only would specialty crops help communities but connect and collaborate diverse groups and inform the public to avoid confusion and bridge the gap between communities and farmers. This connection will benefit the community and industry as a whole.

This post is part of a series featuring Farm to Fork Ambassadors from Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Students chosen by the Office of Farm to Fork share their stories and the journey many like them are taking to create a new career path in farming after leaving the military in three blog posts here on Tales from the Field. Many of the students are exploring niche markets in California by developing business plans to grow less traditional fruits and vegetables or to support often overlooked populations.

Families Projected to Spend an Average of $233,610 Raising a Child Born in 2015

Child on Swing 650

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the 2015 Expenditures on Children by Families report, also known as “The Cost of Raising a Child.” The report, developed by economists at USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), estimates that for a child born in 2015, a middle-income* married-couple family will spend between $12,350 and $13,900 annually (in 2015 dollars) – or $233,610 from birth through age 17 – on child-rearing expenses. Families with lower incomes are expected to spend $174,690 and families with higher incomes are expected to spend $372,210 from birth through age 17. Many state governments use this annual report, first issued in 1960, as a resource in determining child support and foster care guidelines.

“As the economy continues to improve, USDA is committed to supporting the nutrition and health of individuals and families through our research and programs,” said Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “This report, which we have produced for 55 years, gives families a greater awareness of the expenses they are likely to face, and serves as a valuable tool for financial planning and educational programs, as well as courts and state governments.”

“Understanding the costs of raising children and planning for anticipated and unexpected life events is an important part of securing financial health. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, among other Federal agencies, has a wealth of information and tools that can help Americans plan for their future. can help you make a budget, find assistance with child care costs and save for emergencies or big purchases like a home or college education,” said Louisa Quittman, Director of the Office of Financial Security for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. “ can also help you provide money management lessons for your children to help them be more prepared for their financial future.”

The report details spending by married-couple and single-parent households; for married-couple households, spending in various regions of the country are examined. Housing (29 percent) and food (18 percent) account for the largest share of child-rearing expenses for middle-income, married-couple families, followed by childcare/education (16 percent), transportation (15 percent), and health care (9 percent). Clothing was the smallest expense, at 6 percent, and other miscellaneous child-rearing necessities from birth to age 18 accounted for 7 percent. This report does not include costs related to pregnancy or college costs.

“When CNPP first issued this report in 1960, housing and food were the two highest expenses, just as they are today,” said CNPP Executive Director Angie Tagtow. “But while housing costs have increased over time, changes in American agriculture have resulted in lower food costs, and family food budgets now represent a lower percentage of household income. For families who wish to lower their food costs even more, we offer a variety of resources at”

Across the country, costs were highest in the urban Northeast, urban West, and urban South; while lowest in the urban Midwest and rural areas. Much of the regional variation in expenses was related to housing. Differences in child care and education expenses also contributed to regional variation. Overall, child-rearing expenses in rural areas were 24 percent lower than those in the region with the highest expenses, the urban Northeast.

It is important to note that child-rearing costs vary greatly depending on the number and ages of children in a household. As family size increases, costs per child generally decrease. Report author and CNPP economist Mark Lino, PhD emphasized how significantly costs are impacted by the number of children in a household.

“There are significant economies of scale, with regards to children, sometimes referred to as the ‘cheaper by the dozen effect.’ As families increase in size, children may share a bedroom, clothing and toys can be reused, and food can be purchased in larger, more economical packages.” said Dr. Lino.

As a result, compared to a child in a two-child family, families with one child spend 27 percent more on the only child and families with three or more children spend 24 percent less on each child.

CNPP economists used data from the most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey to present the most recent and comprehensive estimates. The full report, Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015, is available on the web at The CNPP website also offers downloadable infographics and an interactive Cost of Raising a Child Calculator that can be used to view costs associated with different geographic locations, income levels and family sizes.

*For the purposes of this report, a middle-income family is defined as the middle third of the income distribution for a two-parent family with children.

Link to full news release


RSVP TODAY – Statewide Child Nutrition Director Training



The California Department of Food and Agriculture, Office of Farm to Fork will hold Child Nutrition Director Trainings with three outstanding Food Service Directors with successful Farm to School programs. Directors will talk about their programs, discussing past as well as current work, obstacles they have faced, and how they have overcome them. After completion of the training, participants will come away with concrete ideas of how to start or expand their farm to school efforts.

Registration is free and open to school nutrition program directors, managers, supervisors and operators. Qualifying continuing education topics for professional standards will be covered with the opportunity to earn up to 4 CEUs per event.

Workshop Dates and Locations

Central California Training
Friday, February 3rd, 2017
Scott Soiseth, Turlock USD
Focus: Marketing and techniques to support local purchasing

Northern California Training
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
Pilar Gray, Fort Bragg USD
Focus: Food hubs, future purchasing, and integrating school gardens into food service

Southern California Training
Friday, February 24th, 2017
Lea Bonelli, Encinitas USD
Focus:  Integrating school gardens into food service, preparing unprocessed fruits and vegetables, and nutrition education to support farm to school efforts

Please RSVP to with the training you are interested in attending. Each training can accommodate up to 20 participants. Please feel free to contact the above email with any questions. We look forward to seeing you at the Child Nutrition Director Trainings!

Happy New Year from the Office of Farm to Fork

year in review

2016 was a busy year for the Office of Farm to Fork. From developing the California Nutrition Incentive Program to supporting veterans learning farming skills, the Office worked diligently to support Californians in need of access to healthy foods and to expose the next generation to the benefits of a career in agriculture. The Office looks forward to…. Continuing reading–>


Celebrating Farmers Contributions to California’s Farm to Family Program

December is Farm to Food Bank Month

Branch of mandarins

Over the years California’s farmers and ranchers have donated more than 200 million pounds to the California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family Program. Here is a glimpse of the generosity that has occurs every year.

Fowler Packing Company donates each year to the program. To date, they have donated 19,204,399 mandarins over the past 12 years!

To date, Harris Fresh has donated more than 14 million onions over the past 12 years!

Pile of yellow onions

Farmers and ranchers are asked to Celebrate ‘Farm to Food Bank Month’ by making a future donation pledge today!  Every donation helps – it’s good for families and good for farmers. Please contact Steve Linkhart of the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) at 866-321-4435.Thanks to CA GROWN for all of your support!

***Cross-post from Planting Seeds Blog***

Farmer Spotlight: La Rosa Family of La Rosa and Sons

La Rosa Family Farms fruit stand

La Rosa Family Farms fruit stand at California school.

The La Rosa Family has been farming in Hughson, in Stanislaus County since the 1920’s. La Rosa Family Farms currently has over 60 acres of their own land in production and is also part of a fruit grower’s cooperative in the western region.The La Rosa Family is passionate about farm-to-school programs and works closely with several School Foodservice Directors in the Central Valley for procurement of fresh produce. La Rosa & Sons is also one of the USDA approved vendors for the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits & Vegetables.

The farm participates in various farm-to-school events, such as Ag Venture, as well supporting local clubs like Future Farmers of America and 4H. They also offer an internship to local Ag students to provide hands on training in an agricultural business environment.

La Rosa Family Farms produce various vegetables as well as all types of stone fruit, apples, pears, melons, kiwi and more. Take a look at their current offerings on the California Farmer Marketplace under La Rosa and Sons, LLC.

What’s in Season?Five carrots growing in length from right to left

Carrots enjoy a nearly year-round growing season throughout California. Perfect as a standalone snack, they can also be added to soups, salads, stir-fries, and baked goods. Don’t discard the tops either as they can be turned into a carrot-top pesto. Visit our Pinterest page for more ideas. Find out who is currently growing them on the California Farmer Marketplace.

The Season of Giving – December is Farm to Food Bank Month

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross at the Farm to Food Bank Month Event

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross at the Farm to Food Bank Month Event at Second Harvest Food Bank in San Jose (Dec 2014).

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross & Bryce Lundberg, Lundberg Family Farms and member of the CA State Board of Food and Agriculture

Over the years more than 200 California farmers and ranchers have contributed more than one-billion pounds of food to the California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family Program. This is just a small accounting of the many generous donations individual farmers make within local communities to charitable organizations, faith-based groups and schools.

These donations help to support food banks across the state in providing healthy and nutritious farm products to people who need it most. With California’s great diversity of farm products and our abundant agricultural bounty, giving back to local communities is part of the farming character. We’re pleased to recognize the great work that so many organizations and individuals do in helping our fellow residents. As part of Farm to Food Bank Month we once again ask our farmers and ranchers to consider donating or making a future donation pledge to the Farm to Family program. Coordinating with the California Association of Food Banks is easy. A donation can be picked-up at a production facility or a farm and delivered to food banks across the state in just a short amount of time.

To schedule donations, make a donation pledge, or even inquire on how the program can work best with a business – please contact Steve Linkhart, California Association of Food Banks at 866-321-4435.

The California Association of Food Banks represents over 40 food banks joining with 6,000 charities to provide food to 2 million Californians in need.

We ask California’s farmers and ranchers to show support for the Farm to Family Program and make a donation or future donation pledge today.

***Cross-posted from CDFA Planting Seeds Blog***

Elementary School in Central Valley Partners with School in Sierra Foothills to Share Love of Ag Education

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One of the great challenges of farm-to-school programs is taking the message from rural communities, “preaching to the choir,” if you will, to communities with cultural frames of references other than agriculture. They could be urban communities or communities with geographical differences that make them, by nature, less familiar with farming and ranching.

In September, at the annual conference hosted by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, we saw just such a partnership come together, and it’s already paying dividends. Second-grade teacher Jami Beck of Three Rivers School, in a community of the same name in the Sierra foothills, watched a presentation by Visalia sixth-grade teacher Julie Cates and struck-up a classroom friendship that has resulted in their students becoming pen pals.

Last school year was Cates’ first year teaching, and she has already made quite an impression. Cates incorporates her passion for nutrition and agriculture into her classroom each week through activities she shares on Twitter. Cates received a $500 Literacy for Life grant from Ag in the Classroom for teachers promoting hands-on agriculture. She used it to establish the #FindYourFavoriteFridays project, allowing her to bring different fruits or vegetables each Friday for students to taste. For her work in this area Cates was named the 2015 Outstanding Educator of the Year by Ag in the Classroom.

“I am in love with agriculture and nutrition education,” Cates said. “I enjoy sharing my passion with students and opening their minds to all agriculture has to offer. I also try to help other teachers learn how they too can make agriculture part of their classrooms.”

Beck, who has been teaching for 12 years, recognizes the importance of teaching students about agriculture. Her community is immediately surrounded by oak woodlands and foothills but lies within California’s top agricultural county, Tulare County, where the most valuable communities produced are milk, cattle and calves, oranges and grapes. However, prior to attending the conference, Beck thought teaching the science aspect of agriculture seemed like a daunting task.

“I was always intimidated when it came to agriculture because I thought you needed to have a strong background in science,” Beck said. “The conference gave me the confidence, connections and resources I needed.”

Conference attendees could almost see the wheels turning in Beck’s mind as she listened to Cates speak. The idea of introducing students to California-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts through was intriguing, and Cates made it sound practical.

Beck was inspired. She immediately returned to her classroom, and before the second-graders entered the room on Monday morning she had created a new bulletin board display titled, “I’m Ag-Excited, are you?” The next day the second-graders experienced their first #TryItTuesdays tasting – an opportunity to experience what may well be new fruits and vegetables for them.

“You should have seen my young students’ faces when they saw the bulletin board. They can’t wait to learn about agriculture,” Beck said.

The students were not the only ones excited to learn more. Cates and Beck met up within three weeks after the conference to attend a seed propagation workshop. Before long, they had developed a new a project tying writing and agriculture together: a pen pal Ag-Venture.

“Dear 6th Grader,” one of Beck’s students wrote. “My name is Alice. I am in second grade. I love Try it Tuesday. My favorite thing so far was honeydew melon. What was your favorite thing to taste? What is your name? Do you like working in your school garden. Your friend, Alice.”

Just like that, new friendships have sprouted between the two teachers and their 40 students. Both teachers have created agricultural experiences within their classroom walls, and they have opened their student’s eyes to the agriculture that surrounds them.

The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom helps connect, inspire and equip teachers throughout the state so they can make agriculture a part of their classroom. Follow @cates_julie and @mrs_jbeck on Twitter to keep up with their journey, and watch their seeds and students grow. For free teaching resources, grants and other agricultural education opportunities, visit

Cross posted from Planting Seeds, by Jennifer Ray, California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom

Latino Farmer Conference coming up November 15th in Monterey

Various vegetables in boxes

The second annual Growing Together Latino Farmer Conference will be held Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Monterey, California. This annual conference is unique in that it is conducted in Spanish and translated into English for all attendees.

“Hispanic farmers and ranchers are a dynamic growing demographic in California and this conference aims to help Spanish-speaking farmers share, learn and grow in their native language,” said Carlos Suarez, NRCS state conservationist.

To see a video recap of last year’s conference, please visit here.

Hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the conference is open to all farmers and ranchers, yet is uniquely tailored towards Spanish-speaking growers. The program will be translated into English, with translation headsets. Conducting the conference in Spanish will provide an enriched learning experience.

The conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Monterey, located at 1 Old Golf Course Rd, Monterey, California, 93940. The conference is free to all attendees and will include breakfast, lunch and light appetizers. Please contact Victor Hernandez at (530) 792-5628 or Thea Rittenhouse (530) 792-7338 with any questions pertaining to the conference.

Three different workshops will follow an opening keynote address by Javier Zamora, an organic farmer and leading conservation steward and educator. The courses will be held in two 90-minute blocks. This allows each attendee to choose two different subjects of interest throughout the day. The workshops topics will cover: Access to Capital and USDA Resources; Soil Health; Efficient Use of Water; Bee Keeping and Marketing. The conference will conclude with a farmer panel representing a diverse cross section of California agriculture.

Attendees must register in advance, as space is limited. Please visit to register.

***Crossposted from CDFA Planting Seeds Blog***

Growing Food and Minds in West Sacramento

romaineWhen you look out the window of Washington Unified’s Yolo High School, you see rows of lettuce and squash. That’s because right next door is Fiery Ginger Farm, a West Sacramento farm that grows a variety of produce – including tomatoes, basil, squash, and lettuce.

Fiery Ginger Farm plays a big role in Washington Unified’s Farm to School Program. Hope Sippola, co-founder of Fiery Ginger Farm, works with the district to host a farm-site education program. Yolo High students come every week to help plant seedlings, tend to them, and harvest the vegetables – seeing up close how the chemistry and biology they learned in the classroom works in the field.

fiery ginger 4fiery ginger 5fiery ginger 6fiery ginger 10

It’s not just the high school students that get to enjoy the farm – students throughout the district get to eat the produce as part of the school meals program. Washington Unified purchases tomatoes from Fiery Ginger to cook into pasta sauce and uses lettuce from the farm to serve in its salad bars. It’s hard to get more local than that!

Schools don’t have to have a farm right next door to have a farm to school program. Fiery Ginger also sells produce to other schools in the area. Davis Joint Unified uses Fiery Ginger’s basil to make their very own home-made pesto.

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Programs like this have been growing across the country – the most recent Farm to School Census found that 42% of schools are participating in farm to school activities. These farm to school programs help students better understand where their food comes from and form healthy habits that will last them a lifetime – all while supporting local farmers.

To learn more about how to support a farm to school program in your area, check out USDA’s resources on building and implementing farm to school programs.



Natomas Unified School District celebrates National Farm to School Month

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School Districts across California are taking advantage of National Farm to School month in an effort to connect students to the farms and farmers who grow their food. Last week 45 students from Leroy Greene Academy, Natomas High, Inderkum High, and Discovery High visited Vierra Farm in West Sacramento. The farm regularly sells produce to Natomas Unified School District and the visit gave students an opportunity to see where and how their food is grown.

“In education, we are in the business of teaching kids about things they do not know they love yet. This is as true for fruits and vegetables as it is for math. Taking our students to the farm shows them all the passion and hard work that goes into agriculture” remarked Vince Caguin Director of Nutrition Services and Warehousing at Natomas Unified School District.

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The Office of Farm to Fork will continue to report on farm to school efforts this month celebrating Californians connection to agriculture.