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Program Staff


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Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, PhD
Small Farms Advisor, Fresno and Tulare Counties

(559) 241-7513

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Michael Yang
Small Farms and Specialty Crops Hmong Agricultural Assistant

(559) 241-7523

Areas of emphasis: Hmong and Lao translation, Weekly Hmong agricultural radio show, Technical assistance; Education and outreach with Fresno Southeast Asian farmers 

Michael has been with the Small Farms team since 1993. He was born in Laos and fled to the U.S. with his family as a child. They settled in Fresno and became farmers. He is fluent in both Hmong and Lao and has worked diligently to expand extension services for Southeast Asian growers of all backgrounds and experiences in Fresno County for nearly three decades. 

Michael is the host of UCCE Fresno's once weekly Hmong Agricultural Radio Show on KBIF 900AM. He also conducts hundreds of office and farm visits each year with growers. Michael both translates and presents at events and workshops to assist farmers with topics ranging from production to marketing as well as pesticide use and regulatory compliance. 

In 2020, he was a recipient of the UCANR wide Staff Appreciation and Recognition (STAR) Award. 


Marianna Castiaux, MS
Academic Program Coordinator


Areas of emphasis: Healthy Soils Program, Food Safety, Education and Outreach, Equipment Sharing Program, Spanish Translation

Marianna has eight years of practical cross-cultural experience in agriculture, teaching and implementing climate smart agricultural practices as well as summarizing complex topics in a more simplified form to various diverse audiences. She was a bilingual lead educator for community based participatory climate change resiliency programs for sugar cane farmers in Paraguay and coffee farmers in Mexico. Marianna is also experienced and successful in building long-term relationships with growers and industry members building capacity for growing challenges faced in California agriculture.


Jessie Kanter, MS
Staff Research Associate

Areas of emphasis: Research on soil health building practices, Healthy Soils Program technical support, Education and Outreach, Equipment Sharing Program

Jessie grew up in Minnesota and completed her BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After college, Jessie worked on various small, diversified vegetable farms before moving to California to complete a dual master's degree in International Agricultural Development and Soil Science at UC Davis. Jessie is passionate about creating healthy agroecosystems and has always been interested in agriculture education and outreach. While in graduate school, Jessie coordinated the internship program on the UC Davis Student Farm, worked with UC Cooperative Extension to conduct a statewide needs assessment for agronomic crop production, and spent a summer in Cambodia carrying out a research project on vermicompost production with the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh. She also ran an elementary school garden club through Yolo Farm to Fork. Most recently, she worked as a field research assistant for UCCE's Small and Organic Farms advisor in Yolo County and as a volunteer with the International Rescue Committee's urban farm in West Sacramento. She is excited to continue working on research and outreach around topics such as soil health, local food systems, and farmer equity. 

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Lilian Thaoxaochay, MA
Staff Research Associate - California Underserved and Small Producers Program


Areas of emphasis: Small Farm Relief and Support (Natural Disasters and Emergency Responses); Farm and Agricultural Policies and Regulations; Farmer Narratives; Hmong translation 

Lilian is a first-generation Hmong American born and raised in Fresno, CA. Her family have farmed in the Central Valley for over 30 years.

She is an anthropologist by training and has completed her MA in Cultural Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and has a BA in Medical Anthropology and Asian American Studies from Stanford University. Her previous work included studying community racial/ethnic health disparities and public policy advocacy, teaching cultural competency in medical education pipeline programs, and advancing oral histories as political protest. Her current interests include the history of Hmong agriculturalists in Southeast Asia throughout the 20th century, contemporary refugee farming in California, and the futures of small-scale grower families in the Central Valley. 

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Sara Qaderi, MS
Research Assistant


Sara was born and raised in Afghanistan. She received her BA in Agronomy from Kabul University and her MS in Horticulture from the University of Tirana. While finishing her BA, Sara also studied IT at a community college in Afghanistan.

Her areas of expertise include: capacity development, curriculum development, computer programming, project management, budgeting, supporting youth as agents for change, data analysis, M&E planning, equity and inclusion, women's empowerment, and women's leadership development.


Jose M. Paz Villegas
Agricultural Technician



Raluca Pimenta
Administrative Officer


Irene B

Irene Briseno
Community Education Specialist - Food Safety

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Oscar Elias
Grizzly Corps Fellow 2023-2024

Projects: Support capacity for the Fresno Small Farms Team wherever needed - focused on soil sampling, farm visits/assessments, tool lending program, grant implementation, and social media 

Oscar is a first year Grizzly Corps Fellow working for the Small Farms Team in Fresno. Oscar is a graduate of UC Merced with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health. Oscar has worked in both soil ecology and microbiology labs for many years during his undergrad career and has served as a staff lab assistant post-graduation. Most recently, Oscar has been a Park Ranger in Yosemite National Park and the Castillo De San Marcos in Florida. Oscar is interested in building community level health and wellness for people living in the Central Valley by helping to improve air, water, and soil quality through direct and indirect methods.  


Affiliated Staff


Sua Y. Vang, LVN
Community Health Specialist


Areas of emphasis: Food, Recipes and Nutrition, COVID-19 Outreach and Prevention, Hmong and Lao translation

Sua was born in Laos and came to the US at the age of 14. She graduated from Pacific Coast College as a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). She has worked as a Nutrition Educator for over 35 years. Her classes have reached more than 7,500 Fresno County families!

Sua works with the Small Farms team as a Hmong and Lao translator at various events and trainings. She has been instrumental in COVID-19 prevention and outreach for both farmers and community members at large. Throughout 2021, Sua was a vaccinator at FIRM’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics, a weekly event part of the Immigrant Refugee Coalition branch of the COVID19 Equity Project in Fresno County.


Vong J. Moua, BS
Small Farms Community Educator,
San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced Counties
Modesto Office Phone: (209) 525-6800

Areas of emphasis: Education and outreach, technical assistance for grants/applications and Healthy Soils Program, Hmong translation

Vong was born and raised in Merced, California, where he grew up working on various small family farms. He received his BS in Agricultural Economics from CSU Stanislaus. He has over 13 years of hands-on experience with specialty crops and still helps out on the family farm on weekends with harvesting and selling produce at farmers markets. Vong is eager to assist BIPOC farmers because he understands the barriers and issues facing socially disadvantaged farmers. He currently provides support in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced Counties.


Amber Butland
Climate Smart Agriculture CES