Empowering Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers to Investigate Nitrogen Management in High-Value Vegetable Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2013: $45,527.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: greens (leafy)
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change


    ALBA’s project, Empowering Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers to Investigate Nitrogen Management in High-Value Vegetable Crops, helped socially-disadvantaged (SDA), beginning and aspiring farmers answer questions related to their own production of high-value organic vegetable crops, as well as increase their understanding of organic nitrogen management. The project achieved these goals through a combination of specific workshops, direct hands-on technical assistance, and farmer engagement in the production of two crops that are increasingly economically important in our region, cilantro and kale.   


    With the help of Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) staff and partners, SDA , beginning, and aspiring farmers improved their capacity to frame, ask, and answer questions related to their own real-life crop production challenges.  ALBA farmers plant an estimated 100 acres of organic kale and cilantro each year, yet there is little guidance available for our region regarding N fertilization management practices for these crops, especially using organic farming methods. Thus, due to the lack of guidance combined with many uncertainties regarding organic N fertility in general, farmers often have to optimize N fertilization through a combination of keen observation, on-farm experimentation, and years of experience.  This challenge exists within the context of an increasing need for accountability of total N applied to crops, particularly due to serious environmental and human health concerns of nitrate contamination of surface and groundwater. Nine ‘core’ SDA farmers conducted field trials on N fertilization rates in the aforementioned crops, with 100+ SDA, beginning and aspiring farmers and agricultural professionals in our tri-county region receiving workshop trainings on performing basic on-farm research, and specific techniques for better N management (e.g., N budgeting).  Informational materials were disseminated to a further 500+ SDA farmers and agricultural professionals to increase awareness on the topics.

    Project objectives:

    • Objective 1. Eighty (80) SDA farmers and agricultural professionals are educated on conducting on-farm research and nutrient management through workshops and field demonstrations.

    Over 100 SDA, beginning, aspiring farmers and agricultural professionals were trained through workshops and field days.

    One workshop on Innovation and Experimentation was held in July 2013 with twenty-two participants in attendance. Two seasoned local farmer mentors were invited to present, Israel Morales (formerly grower for Earthbound Farms) and Jim Leap (USDA-ARS Field Technician, Beginning Farmer Mentor, and former UCSC CASFS Farm Manager) talked about setting up field trials, the importance of observation and innovation, and gave tips for managing fertility.

    One workshop on Organic Nutrient Management was held in July 2013 with twenty-three participants in attendance. This training was presented by Richard Smith (UCCE Monterey County) and Nathan Harkleroad (ALBA) and included a discussion of the environmental and human health consequences of nitrate contamination of surface and groundwater; conventional versus organic approaches to nitrogen fertility; sources of organic nitrogen; timing of application of fertilizer; resources for application rates; and an exercise calculating total applied nitrogen.

    One field day on Nitrogen Management in Cilantro was held in September 2014 with twenty-one participants in attendance. This involved observing the replicated treatments in ALBA’s demonstration field. An experienced non-ALBA cilantro grower was invited to share his experience in growing this crop in both conventional and organic systems.

    Additional workshops/trainings on relevant topics were offered from 2013-2015, including sessions on Crop Health, and Irrigation Principles in ALBA’s Farmer Education Course annually. These trainings reached an estimated 60 participants. Furthermore, a formal workshop was held on Nitrgoen Budgeting in May 2015 that had 8 participants. 

    • Objective 2. Provide direct technical assistance (200 hours) to ten (10) ‘core’ SDA farmers on implementing an experimental design related to N fertilization for organic kale and cilantro production; and directly engage same farmers in the project development, implementation and outcomes.

    Direct technical assistance was provided to 9 ‘core’ farmers on setting up a fertilizer trial. In lieu of a tenth participant, ALBA set-up a replicated fertilizer rate trial in its demonstration field. This field trial directly engaged 20+ aspiring farmers as part of a student enterprise in ALBA’s Farmer Education Course (or ‘PEPA’ Programa Educativo para Pequenos Agricultores). The core farmers managed their trials and recorded yield for different treatments. The core farmers were interviewed, and many of their insights and experiences were captured in the adaptive research reports on kale and cilantro.

    • Objective 3. Provide informational materials to 500+ SDA farmers and agricultural professionals to raise awareness of ways to engage SDA farmer community in solving their own production.

    ALBA’s network of SDA farmers and agricultural professionals received communications related to the project that included one newsletter article, two adaptive research reports, and postcard invitations to events.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.