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Larry Yee Supports Sustainable Food Innovation in California

Larry Yee is recognized for his long term susport of sustainable food and farming in Cooperative Extension, the Hansen Trust and the Association of Family Farms

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Larry Yee, Extension Director's Passion for Sustainable Food

Larry Yee, a well known Extension director's passion for sustainable food won't end with his June 2008 retirement.

Larry Yee retires from his duel roles as director of University of California Cooperative Extension in Ventura County and director of the UC Hansen Trust in June, but will continue to be a leader in the national sustainable food movement.

A native Californian, Yee was introduced to Cooperative Extension when he volunteered to lead a cooking project for a 4-H Club in Jackson County, Oregon. In 1976, he was hired as a 4-H Youth Development advisor in Riverside County. Three years later he took the position of 4-H youth advisor in Monterey County, before accepting the county director position in Ventura in 1986.

Hansen Trust for Ventura County Agriculture

A significant accomplishment of his career was the establishment of the Hansen Trust, a University of California endowment that will sustain and benefit Ventura County agriculture in perpetuity.

Beginning in 1989, Yee worked closely with then 90-year-old Ms. Thelma Hansen, who was interested in applying her family's sizable fortune to sustain local agriculture. When she passed away in 1993, she left almost all of the family estate -- nearly $12 million -- to the University of California to create the Hansen Trust to benefit and sustain local agriculture through research and education.

Hansen Agricultural Center

In 1997, funds from the trust were used to purchase the historic Faulkner Farm in Santa Paula. The farm has become the site of the Hansen Agricultural Center, a 27-acre facility for agricultural research and education.

The second half of Yee's 32-year career with UC Cooperative Extension was defined by opportunities in national extension leadership. He was selected to be part of the National Extension Leadership Development Program, served on the National Extension Diversity Task Force and the National Extension Strategic Planning Committee on Agriculture, and, as a Kellogg Fellow, spent five weeks with the Resources for the Future Institute in Washington, D.C.

During these activities, he worked with John Ikerd, a University of Missouri professor Yee calls "a godfather of sustainable food systems." Ikerd believes economic viability, ecological soundness and social responsibility should be considered in all agricultural decision making.

Dee W. Hock, Chaordic Management

A sabbatical leave in 1996 led to further development of Yee's thinking on food systems and organizational structure. For a year, Yee was a modern-day apprentice to Dee W. Hock, the founder of Visa International who at the time was embarking on a second career as an organizational management consultant. Hock coined the term "chaordic" -- the intersection of chaos and order -- to describe the unique business model developed from his understanding of complexity in science and nature that he began sharing with organizations across the country.

In short, Hock believes that ingenuity and effort are wasted on circumventing the rules and regulations of hierarchical bureaucracies. He suggests that "success depends less on authority of the few and more on the judgment of many; less on compulsion and more on motivation; less on external control of people and more on internal discipline," according to his memoir Birth of the Chaordic Age.

Yee Cofounded the Association of Family Farms

In the remaining years of his career Yee worked tirelessly to advance sustainable food system goals using organizational acumen he learned from Hock. In 2001, Yee co-founded the Association of Family Farms, which supports mid-scale family farms through marketing innovations.

In 2003-04 he served as a National Program Leader at USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service working to develop AFF.

"In the 1930s, there were 7 million farms in the country," Yee said. "Today, there are less than 2 million. Most of those lost were the mid-sized family farms. Those disappearing farms produce the kind of food products most people are interested in now -- local, sustainably grown, high quality food."

The AFF is using chaordic principles to organize the supply and flow of such products and ensure the farmers a more fair and equitable profit margin.

Roots of Change Council

During retirement, Yee plans to continue his work with AFF and continue as co-chair of the Roots of Change Council, a collaboration of West Coast foundations and non-governmental organizations interested in supporting sustainable agriculture in California. Recently the group commissioned an 80-page document that envisions a sustainable California food system in 2030 and it is beginning to implement its vision statewide.

Advancing sustainable food systems in California will not take all of his time during retirement, Yee said. He is also planning to travel. For starters, Yee intends to purchase a 30-day North American rail pass and spend a month riding the rails of the United States and Canada.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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