On a hot June evening, UC Merced Professor Josh Viers joined farm advocate and small farmer Tom Willey on his front porch near Fresno to talk about California’s water, disadvantaged communities, agricultural production and the future as part of the new “Down on the Farm” podcast that’s now available for all to hear.
Willey is an organic grower and soil scientist, and Viers, the director of UC Merced’s branch of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute, is a watershed expert whose research focuses on balancing agricultural productivity with California’s increasingly water-limited future.
“I think an infusion of technology can minimize some of the harder impacts on people and the environment,” Viers said.
He believes adopting new practices and technology in California will change the global food system.
“We have the means, the knowhow and, as a society, we have the will,” he said. “The question is: How do we, as a society move to a place where we want to invest in regenerative agriculture and work together to be able to have a diverse agro-ecosystem?”
Viers and Willey talked about California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, groundwater extraction over the past 150 years and Viers’ long-term research into groundwater-recharge in the Cosumnes River watershed.
Viers also presented an idea that has remained in the governor’s budget despite the state’s $50 billion shortfall: the Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation Corridor. Partnering UC Merced and Fresno State researchers, boots-on-the-ground community partners and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources with the Central Valley Community Foundation, the F3 initiative will bring new high-value jobs “with spillover effects that could raise the entire economy.”
“Most of us came to UC Merced because it was an experiment: Can higher education make a difference in a place that definitely needs it?” Viers said. “I believe it will.”
In addition to Viers, agro-ecology Professor Rebecca Ryals has been a guest on Willey’s podcast. She spoke with him about turning organic waste into “black gold.” Novel research with the Marin Carbon Project and ventures around the globe became food for discussion between Ryals and Willey.
“Down on the Farm” airs on the first Friday of every month at 5 p.m. on KFCF 88.1 FM and is accessible online.