[ACE 292 Experiential Study Tour to California | Spring 2017]

Starting our day off at 7:30 AM, we took the BART to Walnut Creek to visit Valent. This morning was led by Eric Tamichi. We were also lucky enough to hear the President and CEO of Valent, Michael Donaldson, as well as several other speakers discuss not only what Valent brings to the market but also all of the policy and issues dealing with the market as a whole. Hearing the challenges and issues with not only creating a new chemical but also the maintenance of testing and regulating current products was very interesting for us to learn about. After visiting with Valent, we started walking to our second stop of the day: Granular.

Granular is a software and data company that works closely with farmers to improve their farming operations. We met the co-founder and CEO, Mr. Sid Gorham, who gave a brief overview of Granular and its beginnings. Hearing from Sid was a very inspiring experience because he possesses many great leadership skills we can learn from. We also met with one of the company's customer success specialists, Mr. Andrew Meyers, who went into more detail about the everyday operations of the company and how maintaining relationships with customers is a vital aspect to their business. Mr. Christopher Lee, a sales representative, then gave us an in-depth view of the product, even showing us a demo. Seeing the product in action really made the whole experience come to life and made it obvious that new technology and software is needed in the agricultural field. We ended the presentation by talking to an alumni of the ACE 292 class, Mr. Dylan Bone. He told us his story of how he got to be at Granular and his experience moving from college to the work field. Seeing the great passion Dylan has for his company and how much he loves to work there was a great ending to our trip at Granular. 

After a quick lunch, we headed to Environmental Working Group (EWG). There, Ken Cook had us pull up some office chairs into a circle and began explaining how he ended up where he is today. Cook was a suburban kid with family ties to farms in Missouri. These ties led him to his interest in agriculture and the environment in high school and later in college. He was fortunate enough to attend the first UN Conference regarding the environment while studying abroad in England. The EWG has been a leader in proactively identifying potentially harmful substances used within the agricultural realm. It was interesting to many of us to hear Ken Cook's story of being a suburban kid to now being on 60 Minutes and other media outlets, making an impact in areas that are important and energizing for him.

After visiting with EWG, our group was able to meet Ashley Boren, Executive Director of Sustainable Conservation, and Ann Hayden, Senior Director of Western Water and California Habitat Exchange. Our eyes were opened to the efforts of land preservation, invasive species eradication, habitat loss prevention, and water conservation. It was inspiring for students to hear how the groups are optimistic in their research and findings in regards to the ground water issue in California. Students also said they found it eye-opening to compare and contrast the invasive species pressures and conservation focuses between the MidWest and California. Ivy, for example, is a big issue in California, whereas Garlic Mustard and Russian Olive are some of the main invasive species students have had to tackle on their Midwest farms. However, students were excited to learn that the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) plays a large role with Ashley's and Ann's groups as much as it does in the Midwest. Time seemed to fly by as students asked questions, and it was soon time to head to our final stop at Climate Corporation!

Our last stop, Climate Corporation, is a digital agriculture company recently acquired by Monsanto. They specialize in providing farmers with real-time data on weather, field and soil health, and yields. The open layout office offers private meeting rooms, a kitchen, library, and even a snack bar and rec room complete with ping pong and table football. Emily, our host for the meeting, provided great insight into the progressive atmosphere often associated with technology driven start-ups in the area. This was something many of us were not used to seeing. Climate Corporation's products are built with state of the art programs and models that provide individual clients with a wealth of information to refine and maximize efficiency of their land use with their state of the art software.

Our evening came to a close at 21st Amendment Brewery, a restaurant that offers craft beers and a full menu. Alum Dylan Bone, whom we met at Granular, joined us for dinner to offer further insights into his transition from the University of Illinois to a successful tech startup. Meeting with ACE graduates who now work in the field for fantastic companies such as the ones we saw today was inspiring for current students who are looking forward to applying this trip to their future, just as Dylan did!
Blog Writer
Caroline Helton