Research and New Coffee Projects

The “California’s Golden Brew” project is engaged in several local, regional, and national research efforts. We have developed an interdisciplinary and trans-institutional team of growers, private and public educators and researchers, USDA scientists, and private sector with extensive direct experience in part or all aspects of the proposed work. Several of the team members are directly involved in education and outreach activities and the team reflects the connection between producers-extension-research-industry, which is indispensable to promote innovative sustainable endeavors.

Our current and future research directly relates to sustainable agriculture in that it promotes and sustains economic viability of producers. The proposal has the potential to enhance environmental quality and in particular soil quality. Specifically, the timeframe and funds associated with the current proposal will allow us to collect data documenting the effects of this relevant and promising practice in California. The study will inform current and potential methods of coffee integration into avocado systems by assessing coffee intercropping impacts on soil health and profitability across biophysical, management, and socioeconomic contexts furnished by our network of over 30 growers. This work will strengthen the dialogue between producers and researchers in the joint effort to foster agricultural competitiveness and adoption of best practices while enhancing and preserving soil health and promoting soil C sequestration.

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These include:

Whittier-Cal Poly Pomona Experimental Plot –

Coffee Manufactory Collaboration –

“California Grown” Documentary (See Trailer HERE) – “California Grown,” provides an immersive experience for viewers. The structure and style of the documentary relies on a narrative arc propelled by the story of agricultural pioneering entrepreneurs within Southern California’s crowded foodscape.

Our project strives to create an authentic film that is at once approachable but edgy; rich in color and sound but also clean; regional in its context yet global in its implication. “California Grown”is in the tradition of successful PBS-style documentaries such as “Food Forward,” introducing the public broadcasting audience to a new world of possibilities, where pioneers and visionaries are creating viable alternatives to the pressing social and environmental impacts of our industrial food system. “California Grown” encompasses a range of organizational and representational strategies.

Like many other endeavors in California, agriculture in the Golden State evokes images of plenty but also extreme competition for land, resources, and water. California is at once the breadbasket, fruit dish, and salad bowl of the nation and the world. Simultaneously, it is the most urbanized landscape in the country. All of these themes particularly resonate in the Mediterranean climate of Southern California, where coastal city dwellers pay upwards of $5 for a cup of coffee. For a new generation of farmers, coffee beans have become the new gold nuggets in the land of sunshine. Unlike past agricultural booms, though, scarcity (including water, land, population pressures, restricted zoning) has posed constraints (and foresight) on these farmers, leading to new models of innovation and sustainability. Enter two iconic symbols of California’s culinary scene: coffee and avocados.

As the state continues to face long-term water and land shortages, sustainable agriculture has become an essential part of the rural and urban landscape. More than anywhere else, access to farmland is limited in SouthernCalifornia. Faced with extreme competition, some farmers have innovated by introducing an additional cropto existing high value crop systems to remain successful and economically viablewithout expanding their footprint. A relative newcomer to Southern California, coffee remains a niche cultivar since it requires optimalsoil and environmentalconditions. In order to save space on expensive real estate, some growers have adopted more sustainable techniques to maximize land use while protecting soil quality and resources. Over the past five years, sixteen growers mostly clustered around the Santa Barbara region have introduced coffee intercropping in their existing organic avocado production.  The intercropping method is an old one, yet industrial agriculture in California has largely forgotten this more sustainable method of productionthat allows for two separateharvestson the same land. Coffee and avocado growers are thus poised to lead a transformation in the California foodscape—indeed a new agricultural boomthat relies on sustainable organic food production.

Our documentary explores this movement through the lives and voices of its practitioners. Like California’s diverse population, the farmers employing this method represent a wide array of cultural, economic, educational, and historical backgrounds. Similarly, they espouse and practice various agrarian philosophies related to sustainability, community development, and organic growing. Despite these differences, thefarmersin our documentary also face common challenges related to city and county zoning, other farmers, wine producers, citrus growers, and even residents with different visions of what California landscapes should look like. Our documentary captures these sometimes-competing voices that reflect the unique history and future of the state whose mantra can be seen on billboards everywhere: “California Grown.”

National Coffee Research Collaboration – We have developed an interdisciplinary and trans-institutional team of growers, private and public educators and researchers, USDA scientists, and private sector with extensive direct experience in part or all aspects of the proposed work. Several of the team members are directly involved in education and outreach activities and the team reflects the connection between producers-extension-research-industry, which is indispensable to promote innovative sustainable endeavors.

Our proposed work directly relates to sustainable agriculture in that it promotes and sustains economic viability of producers. The proposal has the potential to enhance environmental quality and in particular soil quality. Specifically, the timeframe and funds associated with the current proposal will allow us to collect data documenting the effects of this relevant and promising practice in California. The study will inform current and potential methods of coffee integration into avocado systems by assessing coffee intercropping impacts on soil health and profitability across biophysical, management, and socioeconomic contexts furnished by our network of over 30 growers. This work will strengthen the dialogue between producers and researchers in the joint effort to foster agricultural competitiveness and adoption of best practices while enhancing and preserving soil health and promoting soil C sequestration.

Collaborators include –

Cinzia Fissore, PI; Natale Zappia, Co-PI; Valerie Mellano, Co-PI, Researcher and Educator. Professor and Chair of the Plant Science Department at Cal Poly Pomona; Duncan McKee,Cal Poly Pomona; Francisco Calderon, Co-PI, Researcher. Research soil scientist at USDA-ARS Central Great Plains Resources Management Research: Akron, CO; Scott Murray, Producer and Outreach; Co-owner of Murray Farms, Inc., farming consultant who specializes in farmland preservation projects utilizing smart growth principles. He serves as president of the board of directors for Mission Resource Conservation District based in Fallbrook. He has also worked on conservation projects with the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in California and is being certified by the NRCS as an Organic Technical Services provider to work with organic farmers and carbon farming. He sits on the board of Seeds@City Sustainable Urban Agriculture Program affiliated with the San Diego City College; Jay Ruskey, Producer and Advisor Representative. Founder of Good Land Organics, which grows and markets organic and rare fruits locally and nationally. Ruskey has collaborated with the California State University Agricultural Resource Initiative, California Rare Fruit Growers, Santa Barbara Farmers Market Association, the California University Extension Service, and California Cherimoya Association. In 2010, Ruskey receivedthe innovative small farmer of the year award from the University of California; Burnquist Organics, Producer. Committed to growing organic avocado, citrus and coffee in Vista, CA. Their commitment to sustainability reflects also in their support for on-site research; Puerta De Lomas Exotic Farms, Producer.Located in Fallbrook, CA. Intercropping was established in 2015. This farm is considered one of the most tropically interplanted coffee orchard yet in the region. The grower is invested in innovative techniques; Andrew Margenot, Research Collaborator. Assistant professor of soil science with strong experience on coffee agroecosystems in Central and South America. Dr. Margenot has made his expertise and laboratory resources at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign available for the necessary soil and plant sample analyses; Stephanie Alcala, Industry Connection and Sustainability Expert. Alcala received her MS in plant genetics from the University of Michigan, where she studied coffee genetics in Central America. She now works closely with producers from around the world, including California, to assess sustainability in specialty coffee production.