See the Speaker Schedule for times, rooms, and signup links for all of the talks.

Leigh Adams is an educator, eco-sensitive designer and horticultural interpreter at the LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens. She has trained many county agencies in regenerative practices as well as conducting hands-on workshops with local schools and professional groups. Her love of collaboration and education infuse all aspects of her work, leaving participants with a profound sense of empowerment. Currently I have multiple artist’s residencies at the LA Arboretum, Metabolic Studios and New Horizon School. I have received a Global Citizen Award from the United Nations, an Angel Award from the City of Los Angeles and an Outstanding Citizen Award from the County of Los Angeles.

Marita Cantwell ( is Faculty and Postharvest Specialist Emerita in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. She conducted an applied research and education program on postharvest physiology, quality, and handling of horticultural crops for more than 30 years. Marita continues to be an instructor in annual workshops conducted by the Postharvest Technology Center ( Marita has a B.S. in Biology from the University of Michigan, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Plant Physiology from UC Davis. Prior to working at UC Davis, she was a professor-researcher at the ENCB-IPN and CIAD in Mexico.

John Chater is a punicologist at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Chater earned his Ph.D. in Plant Biology with a concentration in Plant Ecology from UC Riverside; an M.S. in Agriculture from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; and a B.A. in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Dr. Chater is currently a postdoctoral scholar in Jia Lab at UC Riverside in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences. He teaches postharvest physiology of horticultural crops at Chapman University and health science courses at Riverside City College as adjunct faculty. John has conducted research examining effects of foliar applications on pomegranate nutrition, quality, and fruit split for his MS research. His Ph.D. and postdoc research have largely focused on establishment, eco-physiology, and fruit and juice quality of USDA pomegranate germplasm. Dr. Chater has over a dozen publications on germplasm cultivar evaluation, descriptions, selection and using consumer sensory panels (taste testing) to determine consumer acceptance. He established and manages the pomegranate research and breeding program at UCR, its cultivar trials, and is currently involved in genomic and metabolomic investigations involving fruit and juice quality, effects of climate on fruit biochemistry, genome annotations of USDA germplasm and comparative genomics of pomegranate with its closest relative (Punica protopunica), a threatened species.

Elvira de Lange is a researcher on sustainable pest management in strawberry at the University of California Davis. She uses drones to detect pest problems from the air, and to potentially distribute biological control organisms. Also, she contributes to the development of a smartphone app to optimize pesticide spray coverage, reducing overall pesticide use. Elvira obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. For her PhD, which she obtained at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, she worked on insect pest resistance in modern corn and its wild ancestors, the teosintes. Before moving to California, she worked as a researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she evaluated the use of volatile lures to attract natural enemies in cranberry.

Norman Ellstrand: At age 4 Norm’s parents helped him match a picture of a Scarlet Tanager to a bird in the yard, starting his interest in biodiversity. In 1979 he started his first (and only) academic job at UC Riverside. He has always conducted research on plant sex, usually in the guise of applied evolutionary genetics. The topics have ranged from cherimoya identification to the evolution of invasiveness to hazards associated with the escape of engineered genes. Ellstrand has presented his research to audiences ranging from congressional staff to Cuban biotechnologists. Ellstrand’s honors include a Fulbright Fellowship to Sweden and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Bird-watching remains a passion as Norm’s “life list”inches beyond the 1100 milestone. He is married to Dr. Tracy Kahn, Givaudan Endowed Chair and Curator of UCR’s Citrus Variety Collection. Their son, Nathan, is at Loyola University of Chicago where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in History.

Ben Faber: I frequently ask myself who, how and why I am serving. Some days I feel like a traveling salesman, a day laborer, a truck driver, a school teacher, a scientist, a bureaucrat, a psychologist, a paper pusher, a Lone Ranger, a team player, an orator, a writer, a — you get the idea. No one day is exactly like another when you are a farm advisor (notice we spell it with an “or”, not an “er”, just to be different), and I find myself playing very different roles from day to day. Being an academic with the University of California affords that rare opportunity called academic freedom – freedom to do what we find interesting and potentially profitable to society, individuals, and the environment. This freedom, though, comes with the expectations that we will maintain high academic standards, such as publish research that is recognized by our peers. Peer-recognition does not seem too important when I have just been able to solve a grower’s irrigation problem, just hauled 800 pounds of sulfur 150 miles to start a research project, or just taught a 4-H course in soils. It really only adds to the schizophrenia. My position description is for soil (that’s where most plants grow), water (that’s what most plants need), and subtropical horticulture (avocados, citrus, cherimoya, feijoa, etc.), so it basically means I need to define what I am going to work on, otherwise I would be working on everything.

Eric Focht has worked at UC Riverside with avocados since 1999 in a variety of capacities. Dr. Mary Lu Arpaia initially hired him as an extra hand for the avocado phenology project, which tracked Hass development throughout the year. He then worked on the Lamb Hass maturity project and, later, under David Stottlemyer in the re-establishment of the long running UC Avocado breeding program. In 2005, after Mr. Stottlemyer’s retirement, he took over day-to-day breeding aspects of the avocado program and has continued to try to bring this novel crop into the 21st century. In 2018, Mr. Focht went back to school at UC Riverside with the goal of attaining a doctorate in Plant Biology with a focus on Plant Breeding and Genetics, and he is currently 2 years into the program.

Raquel Folgado holds a Doctorate in Bioscience Engineering (KU Leuven, Belgium). She started her research career in Spain and she has been working in different countries in Europe before she joined The Huntington in 2014. Dr. Folgado is leading a cryopreservation program at The Huntington, which focuses on the conservation of avocado as well as wild plants including aloes, agaves, cacti, magnolias, cycads and oaks. The protocols to preserve plant germplasm in liquid nitrogen will help to ensure a long-term conservation for threatened and rare species. Methods have been optimized for many crops, but more interest is needed for wild species. Dr. Folgado has created in vitro repositories at The Huntington to preserve aloes, agaves and magnolia trees in small space and to allow propagation and distribution of the plants. Besides she is leading to create a seed bank or Cactaceae to preserve those emblematic species. Dr. Folgado serves as a reviewer for several scientific journals, and she is associated with scientific societies. She works in collaboration with researchers worldwide (Australia, Belgium, Mexico, USA, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic).

Julie Frink: I am the Curator for the Avocado Variety Collection, University of California Research Station in Irvine, California, a 200-acre research facility. I’ve been working in the avocado collection since 1992. We started with 50 varieties and now have over 200 varieties of avocado and I have some in my yard that aren’t in the collection. The result of having an interest like this is that you end up living in a jungle.  I grew up in Oregon on a wheat ranch, graduated from Whitman College in Washington with a degree in psychology and education before moving to Southern California. I was an elementary and music teacher for a number of years and taught piano for 48 years. My main interests are fruit varieties, especially avocado, and music. I’ve been a member of CRFG for many years and am a past president of the OC CRFG.

Mark Hagg: I have been teaching Animal and Veterinary Science at Cal Poly since 2010.  Courses include Reproduction and Endocrinology, Beef and Dairy Cattle animal science, Pharmacology, and Bee Science.  Several times per year I host at Cal Poly a workshop for beekeepers to understand the nuances of working in concert with the bees and understanding better the devastation of colony collapse disorder.  Born and raised in Southern California I marvel at how different our climate is compared to anywhere else in the country.  In spite of my southern California city roots I have been involved in Agriculture since high school.  I grew hay, corn and gladiolas in the 1970’s and raised a dozen registered Angus cattle on land where the Brea Mall now sits. We face many challenges feeding our world and southern California is a special place where rare and new foods can survive and thrive.

Kevin Hauser is an amateur pomologist who specializes in growing “high-chill” apples in warm climates. He has tested over 100 varieties of apples at his home in Riverside, California and is the proprietor of Kuffel Creek Apple Nursery, a mail order nursery that ships apple benchgrafts to hot climates and the tropics all over the world, as well as providing education on how to grow apple trees where they have never been grown before.

Mark Hoddle works on the biocontrol of invasive insect pests of agricultural, urban, and wilderness areas. He has a BSC, MSC, and DSC from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Hoddle received his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts in entomology and started working at UC Riverside in 1997.

Anna D. Howell is an entomologist and bee enthusiast working in Ventura County. Before earning her Masters degree in entomology from the University of Arizona, Anna observed and fell in love with native bees during an undergraduate internship. She spent her graduate research in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona focused on conservation, biology and behavior of native bees. For the past eight and a half years, Anna had taken on the role of staff entomologist at the UC Cooperative Extension and developed an entomology program where she provided technical support for farmers, pest control advisers (PCA), pest management professionals, industry, commercial horticulture and landscape professionals home gardeners, and government clientele with arthropod issues and control. She is considered an expert on spider mite management and has served on international and industry working groups. Anna’s loves of native bees and pollinators and known throughout the gardening community. She developed pollinator training workshops for the National Parks Service, planted pollinator gardens in underrepresented areas with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologists, and has consulted with small organic farms on planting hedgerows.

Tracy Kahn is the curator and Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection Endowed Chair for the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Citrus Variety Collection (http://www.citrusvariety.ucr). Tracy received her Bachelor’s degree in Botany from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. in Botany from the University of California – Riverside in 1987. In 2012, Tracy Kahn received the Award of Excellence from the California Citrus Industry for exceptional service to the California Citrus Industry. Tracy Kahn graduated from the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 2005. This intensive two-year leadership development course focuses on critical issues facing California agriculture, and leadership skills. Tracy Kahn and Mikeal Roose are co-principal investigators on a Citrus Research Board funded grant to conduct integrated citrus breeding and evaluation research for the California citrus industry. As part of her position in Botany and Plant Sciences at UCR, Tracy authors publications and provides presentations on commercial citrus varieties and citrus diversity for the industry and for the public. Tracy is also a member of the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology where she teaches the infamous “Dirty 30” (Biology 30), UCR’s “Human Reproduction and Sexual Behavior” course two quarters a year for classes with an enrollment of up to 300 students per quarter.

Ramiro Lobo has been the Small Farm and Agricultural Economics Advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension in San Diego County since 1997. His primary responsibility is to conduct research and educational activities to support small-scale agricultural producers in San Diego County. Ramiro’s work focuses primarily on educating small scale producers on topics related to agricultural business and risk management, new crop development and evaluation, new entry grower education, market development through agricultural tourism and direct marketing, and food and pesticide safety education. Ramiro’s field research has focused on the development and evaluation of new or specialty crops that are more water efficient and which can be viable alternatives for small and medium sized farmers to replace non-profitable crops they currently grow. These research efforts have contributed to the establishment of blueberries and pitahaya or dragon fruit as viable commercial alternatives for producers in Southern California. The acreage planted to these crops and the interest among growers continue to increase as evidenced by participation on educational activities such as the annual Pitahaya Festival & Research Field Day.

Dennis Luby grew up in Bellingham, Washington. After 8 years in the army, an RN degree and an MBA from the Universe of Cincinnati, I settled in Southern California and worked as a RN until I retired in 2014. I have been a rare fruit grower since 1995 and have been working with Julie at the South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine since 2004. We have been speaking at CRFG chapters, the California Avocado Festival in Carpenteria, La Habra Avocado Festival and the Orange County Fair for about 10 years.

Marta Matvienko is a trained plant geneticist. She has worked for companies involved with genomics technologies, next-generation sequencing, and bioinformatics. Currently, she manages the Frinj Coffee R&D site in Davis. She started gardening back in her teens in Central Asia, in the Republic of Uzbekistan, which was a part of the Soviet Union at the time. Later, she tended her plants and gardens in St. Petersburg (Russia), Wageningen (The Netherlands), and New Brunswick (New Jersey). After settling down in Davis, she started her current home plantings in 2001. Since joining the CRFG in 2011, her fruit tree collection grew from a few dozen to hundreds of trees. She enjoys growing stone fruits, pomegranates, persimmons, citrus, white sapotes, and experiments with many other subtropical fruits. She documents some of her findings at Marta is a member of the CRFG board of directors, where she leads the Fruit Variety Registration program.

Andrew Moore grew up in Lake Wales, Florida, just south of the pawpaw’s native range. A writer and gardener, he now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His stories have been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Daily Yonder, Mother Earth News, and The American Gardener. “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit” – a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award nominee in the Writing & Literature category – is his first book.

Steven Murray has traveled to 63 countries looking for rare and exotic fruits. Collecting rare fruit species including more than 500 species of over 2,000 varieties of fruits, largest private collection of fruiting plant species in Western USA, love foreign languages, running my rare fruit page on facebook, “Steven Murray’s Rare Fruits”, using language skills to collect rare fruit from across the world.

Charles W Portney is a life member of the CRFG (WLA and LA chapters as home base), Seed Savers Exchange and Native Seed Search. He has guest lectured on edible horticulture for Santa Monica College, UCLA, multiple CRFG chapters, and local public and private schools. CRFG’s Fruit Gardener magazine has published many of his articles and letters. His strictly organic and intensively planted garden is in a coastal canyon with at least 200 fruit trees and berry bushes, multiple herbs and spices, and he grows well over 100 types (often multiple varieties of each) of vegetables each year. He is always looking for and finds new fruit trees and vegetables to grow. He then shares them with CRFG members by donating more than 1,000 plants each year that he has propagated to multiple CRFG chapter sale/raffles. He found and named a banana variety after his daughter: Becky’s Mystery Banana.<

Robin Rivet is an ISA Certified Arborist, urban forester, landscape designer and horticulturist, who has provided consulting services in San Diego County for over 25 years. She served as the professional arborist on the City of San Diego’s Community Forest Advisory Board, was a state board member on the California Urban Forests Council, and currently serves on the Environmental Sustainability Commission for the City of La Mesa. In 2010, she launched a regular monthly gardening column for the San Diego Horticultural Society called “Trees Please” and maintains certification as a UCCE Master Gardener. At home in La Mesa, she helps tend a ½ acre backyard fruit orchard, vegetable garden and wildlife habitat.

Annemiek Schilder is the Director of the University of California Cooperative Extension Office in Ventura County and the Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Santa Paula. She grew up in an extended family of dairy farmers in the Netherlands. She studied Agronomy at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana, followed by Plant Sciences at Wageningen Agricultural University in Wageningen, The Netherlands. Her graduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York focused on diseases of wheat. She then spent 3 years as a researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria, and 20 years as a small fruit pathologist at Michigan State University. Fungi are the “common thread” in her career.

Giselle Schoniger: In her 35 years in the Garden Industry, Gisele has accumulated a wide range of experience and knowledge. She earned her degree in Ornamental Horticulture from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. She has owned an Interiorscape company, worked for the State Department of Agriculture, practiced as a horticultural therapist with senior citizens and launched an outstanding sales career by helping establish top-selling organic gardening products. She is currently the Organic Gardening Educator for Kellogg Garden Products and shares her vast knowledge with the sales team, provides product knowledge trainings, and speaks to groups educating them on organics & soil health.

Pieter Severynen: Landscape Architect and Consulting Arborist Pieter Severynen studied agriculture and landscape architecture in the Netherlands and California; he has pruned fruit trees for over 50 years. After California careers with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the design-build environmental organization North East Trees, he is now an independent consultant. He specializes in emotionally appealing, environmentally sensitive, ecologically sustainable plantings with productive, character revealing trees that due to good planning and maintenance, can potentially grow old and beautiful. He is a public speaker, storyteller, writer and teacher; he speaks on a variety of environmental and horticultural issues.

Rachel Surls and Judith Gerber are co-authors of the book “From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles,” published by Angel City Press in 2016. Their book earned the Gold Medal in the category of Regional (Adult Nonfiction) in the 2017 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards. Rachel Surls directs the UC Master Gardener Volunteer program in Los Angeles County, which helps residents learn to garden sustainably. She also leads UC programs related to urban farming. Judith Gerber writes about sustainable farming, food, and gardening, contributing to over a dozen books including the Farmers’ Almanac. She is the author of “Farming in Torrance and the South Bay,” and was the City of Torrance 2007 Excellence in Arts Literary Arts Awardee. A UC Master Gardener, Gerber created the Torrance Memorial Medical Center Gardening Program where she teaches community members how to garden.

Ty Tiessere loves fruit and fruit trees love water. He focuses on water-wise irrigation strategies that he has applied to his home garden in Pomona. Ty shares his passion by teaching greywater system design and build techniques with the non-profit organization He dabbles in growing edible mushrooms, observing compost under the microscope, and raising worms on his rabbits’ poo. He’s always exploring passions like brewing herbal-infused beers or building earthen ovens with friends. Ty has been an active member of the CRFG for 5 years and is an ISA certified arborist.

Dianne Velasco: A native Napan, Dianne grew up during the transition of the Napa Valley from a strictly agricultural community to tourist destination and briefly worked in the wine industry. Dianne received her PhD in Genetics from the University of California, Davis in 2019. Her studies focused on the evolution and domestication of almond, peach, and their wild relatives. She is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Davis where she also worked prior to her PhD. Her research interests are in understanding and describing the genetic diversity of the fruit and nut tree collections, connecting crop traits to genetics, and developing improved rootstocks for walnuts, almonds, and pistachios. She along with her willing but reluctant husband and flock of chickens dream of one day having a small farm.

Jon Verdick: I grew up with all sorts of edibles: fruits, nuts, and vegetables, really from birth. I don’t ever remember not being in the garden. The love of fresh, tree-ripe fruit has been a life-long pursuit. I joined California Rare Fruit Growers ( more than 30 years ago with 2 goals: finding Cherimoyas and Passion Fruit. That led to Sugar Cane, Bananas, Canistel, Che, Pitangas, and a whole world of other fruits; oh, and Figs. When I was a child, figs were for Newtons only, but, as a CRFG member, owning a tree became an obligation (everyone else had them). So, I acquired a couple, and wanted just a couple more good ones. Long story, short, the hunt for a couple great varieties turned into a collection of about 1000 varieties. All of the information I collected in an attempt to understand my figs eventually led to a website (why not share:, taking tens of thousands of pictures, visiting the USDA collection at UC Davis, trading cuttings across the country, and making a lot of great fig friends. I still grow all the other stuff, including 100 varieties of bananas, but figs have truly been the most fun of all. Other pursuits have paid the bills, but gardening has always supplied the passion and the fun, in addition to great fresh food.

Melody Wallace: Dr. Wallace is a veterinarian and educator at California State Polytechnic University Pomona. In addition to teaching courses in Animal and Veterinary Sciences, she teaches the Bee Science Lecture and Laboratory classes for the Plant Science Department and is one of the advisors for the Bee Science club. She is currently enrolled in the California Master Beekeeper Program at UC Davis and frequently speaks at local Beekeeping Organizations on Honey Bee Diseases and Parasites. She has been a beekeeper for several years and currently keeps bees at her home and helps to manage the apiaries (bee yards) at Cal Poly Pomona. It was her love of plants and gardening that initially interested her in beekeeping. There are several rare fruit trees thriving in her backyard.

Bruce Wasson:

Since 1990 Bruce has grown premium specialty organic citrus to top local restaurants from his small NOP-exempt grove in Altadena CA.

I grew up in Glendora, CA in the 1960s. Then and now I have tended to think that few things are more beautiful than productive commercial citrus groves.

Fast forward to 1990. My wife and I returned to Southern California and bought our first home, in Altadena. I was so focused on pricing the house right I didn’t pay much attention to the 16 citrus trees in back. After closing on the house I realized I had one sick grove. That got me to reading and appreciating how generously the University of California shares its information.

One thing lead to another and ever since then we’ve been growing premium organic specialty citrus for local restaurants that like a hyper-local product.

We’ll be learning how to manage a water budget that takes into account the water holding characteristics of your soil, your local area’s degree-days, and your crop’s irrigation coefficient. A little math is involved for getting these variables set up. After we’re done with the 8th grade math, the process ends up being quite easy. Best of all, you’ll no longer be giving your crop less water than it needs. You’ll also stop sending into the aquifer water your crop can’t use.

If this discussion still interests you, Congratulations! You’re one of the few! Most would rather be handed a silver bullet. Unfortunately those silver bullets end up creating extra disease, expense, work, and poor yields. Instead we’ll be adapting a commercial method for best practices use on a residential scale.

Don Winterstein has had a lifelong interest in plants and gardening, but he got serious after retiring from a career in seismological research in 1999, when he got access to a large (by suburban standards) utility easement area behind his backyard. This became his garden, over the Edison Company’s dead body, so to speak. Soon after, he joined the Orange County Chapter of CRFG and has been happily growing a wide variety of fruiting perennials (and veggies) in his big garden ever since.

Apart from a college course in plant physiology Don has had no formal training in horticulture but has picked up most of what he knows about the subject from hands-on experience, reading and listening. His garden soil and environment fortuitously turned out to be well suited to vegetation, so, except for watering and pruning, his many fruiting plants largely take care of themselves.

Katie Wong: MOTHER NATURE’S HELPER — I was born in Kweilin in Southwest China and lived in Hong Kong before coming to the US in 1963. I have lived in Arizona and New Hampshire before settling in California. My garden reflects the flora of the various climates I have lived in. It’s a hodgepodge of plants from Cacti & Succulents to Water Plants and Herbs and everything in between — all to attract birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. My horticultural knowledge comes from training in the Master Gardeners Program and being a member of various plant societies. I have come to the realization that most of the real knowledge comes from others who have shared with me. I served several years as the CRFG-Silicon Valley Chapter newsletter editor and the Question & Answer coordinator for the Fruit Gardener Magazine. Currently, I’m dabbling in Chinese herbs. My goal is to make my front yard my pharmacy and my backyard my supermarket!

Glen Woodmansee worked his way through import restrictions to bring many of New Zealand’s delicious feijoa (pineapple guava) varieties to the U.S. for the first time. They are now producing fruit at “The Huntington’s” new collection. Glen is an amateur feijoa and video enthusiast whose popular chapter talks incorporate video clips.

Rick Yessayian: A retired Educator with 35 years of experience, Rick has Degrees in Psychology, Education, Administration, The Teaching of Science, Thermography, and a host of experience in Astronomy. He was one of the applicants to the ill-fated 1985-86 NASA Teachers in Space Program. Rick worked for JPL (the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Pasadena with a number of programs as an Education Consultant for over 15 years.

He is a noted speaker and educator and has traveled to many countries sharing his love for science and rare and unusual fruit. As a proponent of “edible landscaping”, he now tries to keep ahead of the weeds and gophers in his “high altitude”, cold weather place in Running Springs, Ca. There he raises 5 varieties of currents, some gooseberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, jostaberries, plums, peaches, a young quince, a medlar, apricots, apples, cherries, some huge Bartlett pears, and huge numbers of active gophers. He has been to 50 countries around the world, with an interest in rare and unusual fruit.

Rick has been on the Board of Directors for CRFG Inc. for the past 6 years and is retiring from that this year. He will still continue on the BoD of the Orange County CRFG. In 2017 he put a large tropical garden in a beautiful home in Newport Beach. This Garden was recently on the Newport Beach Garden tour, with over 500 people attending.

Come join Rick at the Festival of Fruit in creating Your Dream Garden.