Strengthening California Farmers’ Climate Resilience: Meet Harol Gonzalez Gallardo, AFT’s California Agricultural Specialist
On a given day, you might find Harol Gonzalez Gallardo conducting site visits to farms, leading workshops on the latest soil health practices, or fielding technical calls to strengthen California farmers’ climate resilience in the nation’s leading food producing state.
With a strong international background in agronomy and plant biotechnology, this AFT specialist is well suited to handle the task in the Golden State. As California deals with historic weather challenges such as floods, droughts, and wildfires, it’s never been more important to support farmers and ranchers with their climate resilience.
“What I enjoy most about my position at AFT is working directly with growers and helping them transition to sustainable agriculture through regenerative practices,” says Harol.
His Career Path Towards Supporting California Farmers
Getting this agricultural specialist to his current job, however, was not typical. Harol was born in Cuba under an authoritarian government that strictly limited his freedom and opportunities.
“Living under a communist country influenced all of our social, student, and work life,” he explains. “This was particularly true in our working life. Excessive government control over agriculture has harmed creativity, innovation, and development since everything is subject to state mandates.”
Despite the political situation, Harol received a degree in agronomy and a master’s degree in plant biotechnology from the Central University of Las Villas in Cuba. His parents became university professors and his brother a medical doctor, but Harol wanted to stay true to his agricultural roots.
“My family comes from a farming background,” says Harol. “My grandparents and uncles were farmers all their lives. That’s how I became interested in plants and agriculture in general. My grandfather used to grow crops like peanuts, rice, bananas, sweet potatoes, and avocados. He also raised cows, which he used to give milk to his family.”
International Experience in Multiple Crops and Growing Systems
When Harol’s brother went on a medical mission in another country, he escaped to the United States in search of a better life. As a result, he was permanently banned from visiting his family in Cuba. This restriction led Harol and his parents to later emigrate to Ecuador, when the opportunity presented itself, so they could see each other again.
While living in Ecuador, Harol contributed to a team who created the curriculum for the agroecology degree at the Pichincha Technological Institute in Quito. This curriculum was later approved by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education.
“The curriculum is designed to provide students with technological and scientific knowledge in agroecology,” he explains. “They learn how to design, execute, and evaluate the impact of the ecological footprint in the processes. They also learn how to manage agroecological cooperatives and the use of ancestral growing methods.”
Ecuador’s main agricultural products are bananas, cacaos, and flowers such as roses. Flowers especially are challenging environmentally, due to the industry’s chemical use for high quality exports. The excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides are contaminating the groundwater, which is why agroecology knowledge is so valuable for building soil health and protecting water quality in the nation.
Eventually, Harol and his family were able to reconnect the family once again in the San Joaquin Valley. And over the years, this certified crop advisor has built expertise with farmers and ranchers growing diverse crops ranging from almonds, pistachios, corn, wheat, citrus, bananas, sugar cane, milk, and more.
With more than seven years under his belt in California, Harol can easily compare different agricultural systems.
“Of the countries in which I have worked, the United States has the best infrastructure, human resources, and material resources for agricultural production,” he says.
Encouraging Regenerative Agricultural Principles
In his work with AFT, Harol is committed to supporting California farmers with their climate resilience through regenerative agriculture practices.
“Regenerative practices are very important for sustainable food production,” explains Harol. “Growing practices including nutrient management, composting, irrigation management, cover crops, minimal soil disturbance, and renewable energy have significant climatic advantages. These practices increase the soil’s ability to retain water and reduce the need for irrigation. They allow the sequestration of carbon in the soil, which reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Renewable energy allows the reduction of fossil fuels by clean energy.”
As he looks ahead in his work with California farmers, Harol considers how his past experiences might be of service to others.
“During my professional career I have received a lot of help from my co-workers,” recalls Harol. “Their support has allowed me to acquire my agricultural knowledge. And this influences my work at AFT, because it allows me to help farmers grow their crops in a sustainable way.”
Fun Fact about Harol: If you’re thinking that Harol must be a common name in Cuba, you might be surprised to learn his name was originally Harold, but Cuban officials spelled his name incorrectly on his birth certificate. He’s been Harol ever since.