Posts Tagged: Rachel Surls
The Los Angeles Times today ran a compelling photo in its blog "Framework," which shares intriguing news images of the past, showing men collecting vegetables in payment for labor during the Great Depression. For information on such cooperatives, Framework directed readers to a blog post written by the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County, Rachel Surls, in June 2010.
Surls reported that many farmers were unable to harvest produce because they couldn’t afford labor, and enormous quantities of food were left in the fields as people went hungry. One response of Los Angeles County residents was to organize into “self-help cooperatives." Self-help cooperatives were based on bartering labor for goods, for example, harvesting farmer’s crops for a share of the harvest.
Cooperatives helped unemployed people who preferred to work rather than accept public assistance. (Photo: Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley)
The public television station in Los Angeles, KCET, has produced a multi-media package on its website that delves into the unique circumstances of Richland Farms, an agricultural district in the heart of urban Los Angeles County.
The series, called Departures, is an oral history project that thoroughly explores neighborhoods through the people that live there. Director of UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County Rachel Surls provided commentary in four online videos. She noted that LA County was the United States' top ag county until the 1950s
"It sort of dates back to the founding of Los Angeles when people first came and looked at Los Angeles as a potential site for a mission," Surls said. "They saw that it had great soil, they saw that things grew well here and they thought, 'ah ha, perfect place for farming.' So that's how it started."
Other industries have since become more important than farming in LA, but agriculture hasn't been erased. According to the website, when the city of Compton was formed in 1898 on land donated by Griffith D. Compton, he stipulated that certain acreage be zoned for agricultural purposes only. Large lots in what came to be known as Richland Farms enabled residents to grow food and tend livestock.
"It's like being out in the country, but you're right in the middle of this huge urban area," Surls said on the second video.
Today, interest in urban agriculture is growing. Surls said a survey found a 19 percent increase in home vegetable gardening between 2008 and 2009 and she attributes it to two things: the economy and a new way of thinking about the environment and nutrition.
"Even though we haven't been a huge agricultural producer since the 1950s, I'd like people to remember that food matters in Los Angeles."
Surls said she hopes UC Cooperative Extension can help reintegrate the practice of urban agriculture in communities such as Richland Farms and provide working "pilot" models for other communities across the county and throughout the state. The Departures website suggests visitors take a look at Surls' curation of links in her Twitter stream to see why.
Here are links to view Surl's four videos on Departures:
- An overview of agriculture in SoCal
- Information about Richland Farms
- Agribusiness in Los Angeles
- Farming during the Depression and beyond
Rachel Surls appears on four "oral history" videos on the Departures website.
When President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, he not only sent thousands of Americans to serve the cause of peace in the developing world, he set them on a course of service that continued when they returned to the U.S. A significant number came to work for UC Cooperative Extension.
One of them is Jim Grieshop, a now-retired UCCE community education development specialist, who was profiled in an article in the February issue of Alaska Airlines Magazine marking the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary.
Acceptance into the Peace Corps helped Grieshop achieve his personal goal of living and working in Latin America, the article said. In May 1964, he arrived in Cayambe, Ecuador, to spend two years as a science teacher. He quickly learned to be flexible.
"The science teacher in the village didn't really want me to teach science," Grieshop was quoted in the story. "So I taught English in primary schools and the high school . . . . We put on a rodeo, we did some summer programs - I was kind of making it up as I went along."
Here are some of the other UCCE academics, past and present, who served in the Peace Corps:
Monica Cooper, viticulture farm advisor in Napa County, volunteered in an agrarian community in Panama.
Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC Kearney Agriculture Research and Extension Center, served for three years in the Republic of Niger.
Chris Dewees, retired specialist in Cooperative Extension marine fisheries, volunteered in Chile.
Morgan Doran, livestock and natural resources farm advisor in Solano County, volunteered in Ecuador.
Ben Faber, Ventura County farm advisor, served in Togo, Africa.
Mark Gaskell, small farm advisor in San Luis Obispo County, served in Ivory Coast, West Africa.
Juan Guerrero, farm advisor emeritus for Riverside and Imperial counties, worked with subsistence farmers and large-scale commercial farmers in Paraguay and Peru.
Susan Laughlin, retired regional director, spent three years in Colombia.
David Lewis, watershed management advisor in Marin County, volunteered in Niger.
Mike Marzolla, 4-H advisor in Ventura County, coordinated a school and community garden program in Guatemala.
Richard Molinar, small-scale farm advisor for Fresno County, served in Honduras.
Jeff Mitchell, cropping systems specialist, UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, served in Botswana, Africa.
Rachel Surls, UCCE director in Los Angeles County, served in Honduras.
Jack Williams, the retired Sutter/Yuba county director, worked alongside farmers in Kenya, Africa.
Ken Wilmarth, former 4-H advisor in Stanislaus County, and his wife, Jenny, spent two years in Chavin, Peru.
Have I missed any UCCE Peace Corps volunteers? Please post a comment letting me know.
President Kennedy greets Peace Corps volunteers in 1961. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)