UC Cooperative Extension consultant who promotes school gardens, city farming to retire after 35-year profession
A walk through a leafy, green garden can offer one short-lived remedy for life’s cruelty. Throughout her profession, Rachel Surls has actually utilized gardens to cultivate much healthier neighborhoods, whether they are growing healthy food or offering science lessons for trainees.
Over the previous 35 years, Surls, University of California Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems consultant in Los Angeles County, has actually seen numerous modifications– such as promoting public occasions on Instagram instead of typing and mailing news release. A constant and soothing existence has actually been the UC Master Gardener Program, part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
” As I recall, the UC Master Gardener Program has actually been a continuous in my work. It assists many individuals,” stated Surls, who signed up with UCCE as a school and neighborhood garden planner in 1988.
” My brand-new task with UCCE-LA was my dream task. I arranged neighborhood gardens around the county and supported instructors who wished to begin school gardens,” remembered the Michigan local, who prepares to retire at the end of the year. “I had a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and was newly out of a stint with the U.S. Peace Corps in rural Honduras. My work there motivated me to pursue neighborhood advancement work associated to gardening.”
Louisa R. Cardenas, trustee of Los Angeles County Natural History Museums, was a UC Master Gardener volunteer for 25 years.
” Among Rachel’s numerous abilities and possessions are her desire to listen to and think about concepts from Master Gardeners that ultimately empower and reach Los Angeles County homeowners to grow food that supplements their dietary requirements,” Cardenas stated.
To match the nascent UC Master Gardener Program in Los Angeles County, Surls arranged “Gardening Angels,” a cadre of volunteers to deal with trainees and instructors to establish school gardens. She modified a guide for moms and dads, volunteers and instructors to construct gardens for kids.
” I satisfied Rachel in 1992 and was so blessed to come up through the ranks with her,” stated Rose Hayden-Smith, UCCE emeritus consultant in digital interactions in food systems and extension education. “We remained in surrounding counties, and had numerous comparable programmatic interests, consisting of school gardens. Her research study notified my work and was so handy to me.”
Advancing food security, neighborhood nutrition
In 1994, after making her master’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona in farming science with a concentrate on farming education, Surls accepted a recently developed position: UC Cooperative Extension city gardening consultant.
To keep Los Angeles County financing in 1992, the UCCE personnel had actually entered into the county’s Housing Authority/Community Development Commission. As the UCCE city gardening consultant, Surls was charged with establishing gardens at 5 public real estate websites. At one of these places, Carmelitos Housing Development in Long Beach, she dealt with neighborhood partners to choose landscape trees, employ a greenhouse specialist and style a cultivation task training program for public real estate homeowners. This website ended up being referred to as the Growing Experience Urban Farm.
” I’m delighted that 29 years later on, the Growing Experience is still an active neighborhood farm where UC Master Gardeners use workshops for the neighborhood,” Surls stated.
In 1997, when George Rendell retired as director of UCCE in Los Angeles County, Surls looked for the task. For the next 14 years, she supervised more than 70 workers and regional programs, consisting of the 4-H youth advancement program, which released afterschool, hands-on knowing for kids.
Surls, who took part in 4-H herself as a kid, worked carefully with 4-H funders. She assisted protect grants, agreements and presents for 4-H in addition to the UC Master Gardener Program and UCCE nutrition programs for tasks that motivated Angelenos to consume more vegetables and fruits.
” Rachel was ingenious and extremely imaginative as a leader,” stated Hayden-Smith, who functioned as director of UCCE in Ventura County. “Rachel designs a type of peaceful management that welcomes individuals into the procedure, honors the group and moves work forward in essential methods.”
While working, Surls made her Ph.D. in college administration at Claremont Graduate University in 2008, with an eye on pursuing other management functions. Rather, the worldwide monetary crisis motivated her go back to working straight with Los Angeles County homeowners on city gardening to minimize food insecurity.
To concentrate on outreach, the UCCE sustainable food systems consultant handed her UCCE director responsibilities to Keith Nathaniel, UCCE 4-H consultant, at the end of 2011.
Developing, sharing resources for city farming and gardens
In 2012, she arranged coworkers within UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and neighborhood partners to study the requirements of city farmers and start providing workshops for them. She led the advancement of an urban agriculture website, with resources covering company management, food security, marketing and guidelines. She served on the management board of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council and started recommending cities on policies that would make it much easier for homeowners to grow food.
” These have actually been my preferred and most efficient years of my profession,” Surls stated.
Drawing on abilities she started sharpening as an undergrad at Virginia Tech as a news author for the Virginia Extension Service, Surls co-authored a book about the history of farming in Los Angeles County, called “From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles.” She is presently dealing with a 2nd book about city farming in the U.S.
The Grow LA Gardens Initiative— which assists hopeful garden enthusiasts begin their own gardens rapidly– is one source of pride for Surls. Numerous individuals have actually taken the four-week course and, after getting involved, almost 70% planted gardens.
In 2018, Surls was bestowed the Bradford-Rominger award by the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis for her work promoting neighborhood gardens, school gardens and city farming.
With neighborhood gardens and school gardens now prevalent, Surls laughes as she remembers seasoned UCCE coworkers recommending her to pick a more “major” scholastic focus early in her profession.
” It’s pleasing to see many individuals in academic community dealing with farming in cities, school gardens and neighborhood gardens,” Surls stated.
Advocating for equity
In 2022, while Surls was on sabbatical, she and Cardenas– the long time UC Master Gardener volunteer– asked for and gotten $100,000 from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to employ an equity, addition and variety planner and to money outreach. This UC Master Gardener task promoted by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl particularly reaches underserved populations within the county. “Such a substantial accomplishment would not have actually been possible without Rachel’s support and assistance,” Cardenas stated.
After she retires, Surls prepares to offer her knowledge for online training of UC Master Gardener volunteers statewide. To support their program efforts consisting of outreach to the Spanish-speaking neighborhood and scholarships for underserved neighborhoods, Surls has actually vowed to offer $5,000 as a coordinating present to contributions to the UC Master Gardener Program in Los Angeles in between Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28, and Dec. 31 at https://ucanr.edu/LAmastergardener.