Commentary: Supporting agriculture and our rural communities

Commentary: Supporting agriculture and our rural communities

University of California community development efforts seek to boost farming and rural California.

Commentary: Supporting agriculture and our rural communities
Alexis Zaragoza

Keith Taylor



By Keith Taylor and Alexis Zaragoza


Agriculture is the lifeblood of California’s rural communities, and a thriving rural California is essential for the success of 21st century agriculture. These days, strengthening the economic future of farming and supporting the well-being of communities increasingly rely on access to technology. That calls for making new agricultural technologies available and expanding broadband in rural areas to help the farm workforce and farm families.

While agriculture is a significant component of rural California’s economy, we cannot put the responsibility for rural California’s health on agriculture alone. Producers need to stay focused on the ever-evolving landscape of agriculture, while being able to rely on a healthy rural California to meet their business and household needs. Farming families need a workforce trained in digital agriculture. These families also need affordable housing and a good quality civic life.

That’s where the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources’ new community economic development programming comes in.

UC ANR provides the Cooperative Extension arm of the UC system. We are your county and regional-based researchers, linking rural California to world-class researchers located at any of our 10 campuses. Many rural Californians know us for our 4-H youth and master gardeners programming. You likely know us for our expertise in agriculture and food, with dozens of Cooperative Extension advisors focusing on agricultural commodities production, integrated pest management, food systems resilience and more.

Recently, the state Legislature provided an unprecedented investment in UC ANR programming, recognizing its role in connecting rural California communities to the UC system’s innovation ecosystem. Thanks to the public’s investment, UC ANR is expanding our footprint into community economic development, or CED.

It became clear to UC ANR that we needed not only to do work across the state but also to empower communities by offering them our educators, specialists and researchers to use. Starting in 2021, UC ANR, in partnership with the California Stewardship Network out of California Forward, began building out a new cohort of CED advisors around the state.

UC ANR has added more than 44 new advisors. Combined with our pre-existing advisors, we now claim more than 65 advisors and specialists or community-based professors serving CED programs and practices. These advisors directly assist community leaders, practitioners and individuals in specialized research such as natural disaster resiliency, small farms advising, broadband and more. They provide generalized assistance such as organizing a community performing arts initiative, advancing a workforce development initiative or attracting new businesses.

At the heart of our mission is a resolute commitment to supporting historically marginalized populations. By bridging disparities and empowering underserved communities, we strive to cultivate an inclusive economic landscape where everyone can prosper.

UC ANR is carving out a unique space nationally as a leader in inclusive CED. The effort is laser-focused on ensuring its programs have a broad-based economic benefit for rural Californians. That means providing programming for:

• Small and medium businesses that have not gotten as much attention in policy despite their central role in our community’s fabric.

• Historically marginalized populations that are the missing pieces in a robust California economy.

• “High-road” workforce development that is focused not just on job creation but good quality jobs that enhance a community’s overall well-being.

• Entrepreneurial support infrastructure to help new, young and aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to start new ventures.

We are embracing the vision of workforce development, inclusive entrepreneurial support infrastructure—including small and micro businesses—and empowering communities in value-added agriculture, food production and nurturing farm families and their workers.

California’s agriculture community is the envy of the world. But for too long, the health of communities for our farm families has flown under the radar. UC ANR recognizes this and is moving rapidly to address these challenges.

As we move forward, we welcome open dialogue and collaboration to shape the future of our CED programming. Your insights are paramount. Together, we will continue to lead the way in pioneering inclusive community economic development to build up even more resilient and thriving rural communities.

(Keith Taylor is a professor of Cooperative Extension and Community Economic Development at the University of California, Davis. He may be contacted at Alexis Zaragoza is a community economic development policy analyst for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted. However, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation