June 20, 2000
Editors and Colleagues:
Please post this news release in print and electronic news outlets. Also,
please pass it on to colleagues who may be interested.
--Kristen Kelleher, Western SARE Communications Specialist
News FOR RELEASE: June 2000
Contact: Kristen Kelleher, communications specialist
(530) 752-5987; firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW OFFICERS NOW LEADING
WESTERN U.S. SUSTAINABLE AG EFFORTS
… Mike Somerville, a natural resources state conservationist from Arizona,
starts his term as regional chair of Western SARE, and
… Susan Matsushima, nursery business owner and grower from Hawaii, joins
the program's Executive Committee as chair-elect
Logan, UT - Mike Somerville, age 55, Arizona state conservationist
for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), began his term
as chair of the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
(Western SARE) program at a recent meeting of its governing Administrative
Council. Susan Matsushima, age 57, owner-operator of the Hawaiian-based
wholesale nursery business Alluvion, Inc., was chosen chair-elect at the
Both Somerville and Matsushima became key decision-makers for
Western SARE as their appointments include membership on the region's
Executive Committee, a leadership sub-group of the council.
Western SARE is a multi-million dollar competitive grants program
administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and mandated by the U.S.
According to Somerville, accepting the chair's gavel from Oregon
grower Larry Thompson (who served his leadership term from 1998 to 2000) is
an honor and a challenge: "Larry is a tough act to follow because he has a
passion for sustainable agriculture that's combined with a practical,
grounded perspective as a grower. He 'walks the walk' knowing the reality
of a bottom line."
"I will further the goal set by him and the Administrative Council
to expand use of sustainable agriculture as a means of ensuring the
survival of family farming in the West. Owner-operated farming and ranching
is crucial to the health of our rural communities," said Somerville.
Somerville brings 29 years of experience as a resource
conservationist to the post and a professional track record that
demonstrates his belief in land management partnerships between
agricultural personnel and producers. His earliest roots are in agriculture
going back to a family run cattle ranch in Southeast Utah.
"NRCS has a 60-year history of success in working with local people
in the agricultural and land-use community," said Somerville. He is
confident that the agency's strong connection with rural communities can be
an advantage to Western SARE. In return, he expects the growing cooperation
between NRCS and the sustainable agriculture program to act as a bellwether
to conservationists: NRCS's technical expertise must include sustainable
Somerville was elected chair by his colleagues on Western SARE's
Administrative Council. He will lead the USDA-sponsored program that aims
to expand knowledge and adoption of agricultural production methods that
are profitable, environmentally sound and foster thriving rural communities.
"Mike's new role on the council will build a even stronger bridge
between NRCS and SARE," said Phil Rasmussen, regional coordinator of
Western SARE and a soil scientist at Utah State University. "It's a natural
bridge, so to speak, as resource conservation is a basic tenet of any
sustainable agriculture operation."
Somerville is drawn to sustainable agriculture because of its
emphasis on diversity: "My life experience and career in resource
management confirms to me that biological, economic and cultural diversity
ensures productivity and longevity: on the ground and in the profit margins
of farming and ranching operations, and among rural communities."
In the USDA's designated Western region, he added, we are
especially challenged by the distinct climates, geographies, communities
and crops of the area, which encompasses thirteen states and four Pacific
"Sustainable agriculture in the West means being responsive to the
needs of many. Professional partnerships like this one can help extend the
results of funded sustainable agriculture research and education projects
farther and more broadly.
More Background on Somerville
At NRCS, Somerville has served as a conservationist at the local,
district and state levels. In addition to Arizona, he has worked in New
Mexico, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska and Oregon. He was awarded a Bachelor
of Science degree from Utah State University and has done graduate work at
Oklahoma University in public administration. Somerville received the "1996
Manager of the Year" award from the Hispanic Emphasis Program and Federal
Woman Program Managers of the Phoenix, Arizona area.
Susan Matsushima, Chair-Elect
Matsushima, who became a member of the region's key leadership team
as chair-elect, is a wholesale nursery business owner and grower based on
the Island of Oahu in Hawaii. Prior to her 20 years in this business, she
was an elementary school teacher who specialized in language arts and music.
Matsushima markets the 500 nursery varieties of her company,
Alluvion, Inc., to retailers and individual customers worldwide. At the
same time, she creates agricultural experiences for students by supporting
at-school nursery operations and by organizing fund-raising work parties
for students and parents who pot plants and earn cash for educational
She is as excited by sustainable agriculture's positive effects on
soil productivity as she is about the link it can foster between
agricultural producers and youth.
"Hawaiian agriculture is a case study of how monoculture cropping
and a high dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides can
self-destruct," said Matsushima.
The sugar and pineapple plantations of yesterday have largely
disappeared due to market competition and unfavorable economics, and the
state has been left with soils severely depleted by the plantations' high
use of synthetic chemicals and lack of attention to soil health, according
"One of the first agricultural education projects I did with school
children was about soil: its elements, complexity and ability to produce
food and fiber. I asked students to bring an earthworm to our next meeting
so we could talk about its importance as an indicator of productive soil,
but no one could find one, that's how depleted the soil had become," she
Restoration of the soil through the use of nutrient-rich cover
crops, crop rotations and other sustainable agriculture techniques can
transform "near dead soil" into a living resource quickly and dramatically,
which she likes to demonstrate to students.
"I want young people to experience the effects of soil-building
first-hand," said Matsushima. "When they see a feeble yield of corn from a
plot of ground they've tended turn into baskets of the same crop after
we've restored the soil, they begin to grasp the potential of sustainable
But, she said, healthy crop yields are only part of the picture;
they also need to see the dollars and cents potential of agriculture by
marketing and selling the products.
"I want them to understand agriculture but also see that they can
profit from it," said Matsushima. "That's how we'll draw young people to
farming and ranching in our communities."
"For example, I currently work with four schools that have
developed on-site certified nurseries. They've learned the techniques of
growing so we can now focus on marketing their products," she said.
I know the efforts with school-age children are paying off as the
number of agricultural students at the University of Hawaii increases," she
Matsushima believes sustainable agriculture's goals of
profitability, environmental soundness and thriving rural communities
should influence all of American agriculture. Her professional experience
in youth education and belief in the community benefits of agricultural
businesses will characterize her leadership of Western SARE.
In the late 90s she was nominated as "Entrepreneur of the Year" by
the National Small Business Administration for her efforts to link
education with business. The award nomination drew the attention of the
Wall Street Journal, which published a feature article in 1999 on the
school nursery operation she helped to develop and still supports.
"Susan's incredible business sense, knowledge of agriculture and
strong commitment to youth development will be a real asset to our
leadership team," said Rasmussen. "She is a tireless volunteer at the
local, regional and national levels and has a work ethnic that is as
dedicated to others as it is to her own business."
Matsushima: Education and Background
Matsushima received a Bachelors of Education from the University of
Hawaii, and a Professional Certificate of Teaching from the University of
Washington. After eight years of elementary school teaching, she started
working in the nursery business in 1979. In 1964, Matsushima entertained
U.S. military troops in the Far East as a member of a U.S. Overseas (USO)
About Western SARE
The SARE program, which was authorized by Congress in the 1990 and
1996 Farm Bills, is managed in the West by an Administrative Council. The
committee of scientists, producers and administrators represent a variety
of interests and provide local leadership to research and training efforts.
It operates in cooperation with the USDA SARE office and the Cooperative
State Research, Education and Extension Service.
Utah State University is host to the SARE program in the Western
Region, which includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii,
Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and
the Island Protectorates of American Samoa, Guam, Micronesia and the
Northern Mariana Islands.
Senior Public Information Rep/ Communications Specialist
Mail and contact information:
University of California
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616-8716
FOR UPS, FED-X, or other priority mail:
SARE, University of California
DANR Bldg, Hopkins Rd.
Davis, CA 95616
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