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Sunpreme raisins a hit at the UC Kearney Grape Day 2017

Excitement over the new Sunpreme raisins was evident at UC Kearney Grape Day Aug. 8, 2017. As soon as the tram stopped, dozens of farmers and other industry professionals rushed over to the vineyard to take a close look and sample the fruit. Raisins pulled from the vine were meaty with very little residual seed. The flavor was a deep, sweet floral with a muscat note.

Sunpreme raisins, bred by now-retired USDA breeder David Ramming, promise a nearly labor-free raisin production system. Traditionally, raisins are picked and placed on paper trays on the vineyard floor to dry. The development of dried-on-the-vine varieties opened the door to greater mechanization. Workers would cut the stems above clusters of grapes, which then dry out in the canopy and are harvested mechanically. The new wrinkle with Sunpreme is that grapes ripen and then start to dry on their own - no cane cutting needed.

Sunpreme raisins drying on their own in a Kearney vineyard.

UC Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist Matthew Fidelibus and UCCE viticulture advisor George Zhuang are now studying the performance of Sunpreme grapes on different rootstocks and trellis systems at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

"We didn't know a lot about this variety," Fidelibus said. "We've found it to be very vigorous."

Fidelibus said the raisins take about a month to dry, and one challenge is the tendency for dried raisins to drop off the vine.

"We want to keep the self drying and stop self dropping," he said.

UCCE specialist Matt Fidelibus is conducting rootstock and trellis system experiments on Sunpreme raisins.

Ramming discovered the Sunpreme variety in a Thompson seedless table grape variety trial in the mid-1990s. He was going down the row, saw clusters of raisins and screeched to a stop. He had discovered Sunpreme. The variety is not yet available for commercial production. 

UCCE viticulture advisor emeritus George Levitt, left, chats with retired USDA breeder David Ramming at Grape Day 2017.

Fighting nematodes with new solutions

UCCE nematology specialist Andreas Westphal in front of a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard where nematode treatments are under study. UCCE farm advisor George Zhuang is holding the chart.

Also during Grape Day 2017, UC Cooperative Extension nemotology specialist Andreas Westphal outlined research underway to keep nematodes at bay.

"There's no methyl bromide in commercial planting," Westphal said. The very effective fumigant was banned because of it's tendency to deplete ozone in the atmosphere and the risk to human health because of its toxicity. Many farmers have turned to Telone as an alternative, however it is expensive and its use is limited by a township cap.

Westphal is comparing alternative treatments for clearing the soil of the tiny worms that feed on vine roots and inhibit vineyard productivity. 

"Some companies are coming up with new chemistry," Westphal said. "Our challenge in the perennial world is that the roots go so deep."

UCCE specialist Andrea Westphal addresses the crowd.

Seven new products and Telon were drenched in different replicated research plots. Some areas were left alone to serve as control. Three times the number of Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in the plots compared to a typical vineyard so researchers could take out plants twice and examine the roots for evidence of pests.

"We are excited to see significant growth differences among the treatments," Westphal said, pointing out a row that was visibly shorter and less vigorous. "It amazed me. Three years after treatment, and it never grew back out of it."

Work is still ongoing, but Westphal said he believes some chemical treatment could be available in the future to help reduce nematode pressure.

To deal with nematode populations, Westphal encouraged growers to sample soil and communicate with the diagnostic laboratory to determine what pest nematodes are in their vineyards, and then use that information for root stock selection.

"Growers should not forget the value of nematode-resistant rootstocks," he said. "Plant material needs to be chosen very carefully when different species of nematodes are present."

Posted on Friday, August 11, 2017 at 11:38 AM

#Collabatition: A new network of food hubs looks past competition to help each other succeed

In today's food system, large scale food distribution has become the standard way food moves from farm to market.  The system works well to feed a lot of people, and has allowed us to eat tomatoes in December and send produce far distances while keeping it fresh. But the system is not without its sacrifices. 

Through large scale food distribution, farmers can lose the ability to set their own prices, and small-scale farmers can be cut out from the system for not being able to fill high volume orders. On the consumer side, this system can make local food harder to find and identify. Institutions interested in providing locally grown produce at their cafeterias may need the efficiency buying from large distributors provides, but find they're unable to source food the way they'd like.

Food hubs are businesses popping up around California and the U.S. trying to create a food distribution system that supports regional food systems. By aggregating food from small and mid-sized farms and selling it to large businesses and institutions, food hubs are able to help realize the consumer's desire for local food while helping small and mid-sized farmers succeed by connecting them with buyers who may otherwise be out of reach.

To help ease the challenge of starting these unique businesses, a network of food hubs in California, organized by the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, is learning how to conquer their business start-up and growth challenges together.

Watch the eight-minute video below to learn about the role food hubs play in regional food systems and how a network can help them better succeed.  

Food hubs as business innovators

Thomas Nelson, president and co-founder of Capay Valley Farm Shop, a food hub in California's Capay Valley, has built his business around a vision of a thriving regional food system where small farmers succeed. Thomas purchases food from 50 different farms in and near the Capay Valley, and sells primarily to corporate food service in the Bay Area.

“Our model is farmer-focused," Thomas said. “Farmers set the price for their food, and we add on our margin. We help tell the story of the farms so that their identity is kept throughout the supply chain. We let our buyers know about new products or new farms we're working with, and our buyers ask for produce by farm name.”

Thomas works closely with his 50 farmers, helping them plan their crops to best meet the demands of their clients, and working with the beginning farmers to get them through the hurdle of learning how to sell wholesale.

“It can be a challenge to accurately predict the next harvest,” Thomas said. “And it's our responsibility to mitigate some of those risks for the buyers as much as possible, but our buyers also get it. The reason they choose to work with the food hubs is they want to support local farms. What really makes this work are shared values.”

What is a Food Hub?

#Collabatition

Thomas is one member of a new statewide food hubs network created in collaboration with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a statewide program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources whose work includes improving marketing opportunities for small farmers. The network, funded in part by the UC Global Food Initiative, brings together food hub mangers to learn from one another and collectively pave the way for successful food hubs in California.

The food hub business model is a relatively young one, few food hubs existed in the United States before 2008. Today, hundreds are in business across the country, and they're all trying to figure out similar things: how to best work with farmers and customers to make the business model effective, how to run a food business in a regulation-laden environment, how to increase efficiency without sacrificing price, quality, and the value of local agriculture.

“Food hubs are really working with farmers in their local areas to help them reach markets beyond selling directly at the farmers' market,” said Gwenaël Engelskirchen, who leads the food hub projects at UC SAREP. “We brought a group of northern California food hubs together for their first convening in February of 2015 and they realized that they all had a lot to learn from each other. They realized that there's opportunity in them working together.”

There's a hashtag on Twitter for what they're doing: #collabatition, or, collaborating with your competition. UC SAREP acts as the organizing body for the food hub network — coordinating resources to help the hubs wade through the many rules and regulations of operating a food business, and working through the visions of their own businesses and the network collectively.

Boxes of melons loaded into Capay Valley Farm Shop's truck, headed for buyers in the Bay Area.

“This is a newish space, so there is a ton to learn and share,” Thomas said. “By having a network we are supporting each other on the journey of growing successful businesses that serve local farms and regional buyers. Working with UC SAREP, we can have conversations with larger buyers that would be hard for us independently to access.”

One of those potential larger buyers is an organization close to home — the kitchens of the University of California.

“UC SAREP plans to interview kitchen directors from UC campuses all around the state to see what keeps them from buying local food, and whether the food hub business model is one that can support the desire they have to incorporate local food into their kitchens,” Gwenaël said.

And past successes show that food hubs can play an important role in linking UC dining programs with local farms. According to a recent report from the UC Global Food Initiative, through a relationship with the food hub Harvest Santa Barbara, UC Santa Barbara is currently able to source 23 percent of its produce from within 150 miles of campus.

“By linking UC food buyers with food hubs, we want to see if that success can be replicated around California," Gwenaël said. "In 2014, UC Santa Barbara alone served nearly three million meals, so the entire UC becoming a local produce buyer could be a major boon to regional food systems.”

The UC SAREP website offers a number of resources that can assist food hubs as well as farmers looking to see their produce wholesale. Find those resources here. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on food hubs in the next issue of California Agriculture journal.

Posted on Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 9:56 AM

Go back-to-school with a garden

It's that time already when the kids start heading back to school and meals go back to a strict schedule. It can be easy to turn to take-out and other convenience foods to make meal times more manageable, especially during the rush of back-to-school. However, there's a long school year ahead and focusing on good habits now can set the tone for the next nine months. The old adage that “food is fuel” rings true - healthy choices help kids maintain a healthy weight, avoid health problems, manage energy levels, and sharpen their minds.

BEFORE: Carthay Center located in Los Angeles County had a perfect underutilized location for a school garden. (Photo: Louisa Cardenas)

AFTER: Carthay Center now uses its thriving garden for hands-on gardening lessons and outdoor learning. (Photo: Louisa Cardenas)

How can we reinforce healthy eating habits during the hustle and bustle of back-to-school? 

School gardening offers children opportunities to get outdoors and exercise while teaching them a useful skill. Gardens containing fruits and vegetables can revise attitudes about particular foods; there is even a correlation between growing fruits and vegetables and consumption of these products. Gardens are likely to transform food attitudes and habits and in school gardens this can be especially impactful when combined with nutrition education.

In addition to health and nutrition benefits, gardening also offers hands-on experiences in a variety of core curriculum which includes natural and social sciences, language arts, nutrition and math. This can play a big part in supporting your kids' education outside of the classroom.

Encouraging children to connect with food through a school garden is a way to establish healthier eating habits. Pictured, students in San Joaquin County learn about vermicomposting.

Benefits of school gardening:

  • Physical health
  • Social and emotional health
  • Academic achievement
  • School and community benefits
  • Enhance nutritional preferences, and
  • Increased self-esteem

Learn more with the UC Master Gardener Program

The UC Master Gardener Program is a community of volunteers across California, under the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, that extends research-based information on gardening to the public. If your school does not have a school garden program, contact the UC Master Gardener Program in your county to learn about the possibility of new school garden programming and other garden-education you and your children can participate in.  

The UC Master Gardener Program can connect you with local community gardens, and or provide the information you need to get started with your own school or home garden.  Many programs have relationships with local schools to support garden-based education. 

Students learning about Propagation at "Dig it Grow it, Eat it" a school garden program in Marin County.

“Dig it, Grow it, Eat it”

The UC Master Gardener Program in Marin County hosts a portable field trip for school-age youth called “Dig it, Grow it, Eat it.” This award-winning program emphasizes engagement and the many learning opportunities that take place in nature. Youth learn all about growing edible plants from seed to harvest and educators get the support of University-trained UC Master Gardener volunteers to deliver the curriculum. 

Whether or not you already have a school garden program your family can engage in, reach out to the UC Master Gardener Program to get the help and information you need to inspire healthy eating and an active lifestyle in your children.  Now is a great time to plan and plant your winter garden, just in time to get your kids back to school and excited to be learning … wherever that learning takes place!

Students who received garden-based nutrition education had improved knowledge of, preferences for, and attitudes toward fresh fruits and vegetables according to research. (Photo: Louisa Cardenas)

The UC Master Gardener volunteers are eager to help with all of your gardening needs. The UC Master Gardener Program can work with teachers and community volunteers to provide gardening information and consultation in the support of school gardens. With local programs based in more than 50 counties across California, there is sure to be a workshop or class near you. Visit our website to find your local UC Master Gardener Program, mg.ucanr.edu.

Posted on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 11:24 AM

Explore tools that UC researchers use with smallholder farmers around the world

Planted in a corner of the UC Davis campus is a display of technologies and vegetable crops that researchers with the Horticulture Innovation Lab have been using with farmers in Africa, Asia and Central America. Led by UC ANR's Elizabeth Mitcham in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, this program harnesses the agricultural expertise of a network of U.S. university researchers to improve how farmers in developing countries grow fruits and vegetables.

More often than not, the learning goes both ways: Adapting solutions for farmers on another continent can spark ideas that might be useful back home too.

So while the Horticulture Innovation Lab's Demonstration Center was built to showcase international work to campus visitors, you wouldn't be the first to wonder, “Would this technology work on a California farm too?”

Recently a team from UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County — led by Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for small farms in Fresno and Tulare counties — worked with the Horticulture Innovation Lab to learn how to build one of these technologies, to try out with local farmers.

UC Davis and ANR researchers attach clear plastic to a "chimney" frame in Fresno as they work together to build a chimney solar dryer for local growers to try. This low-cost technology was originally designed for Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers to use with farmers in developing countries. From left: Carrie Waterman of UC Davis, Jacob Roberson of UCCE Fresno, UC Davis student Michelle Boutelle, Michael Yang of UCCE Fresno and Angelos Deltsidis of UC Davis. Photo by Archie Jarman/UC Davis

 

Here is a working chimney solar dryer on the UC Davis campus. Grad student Nick Reitz, left, adjusts the plastic cover over trays of sliced mango with help from Archie Jarman, right, of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. Reitz was practicing using the dryer before working with farmers in Ghana.
 

The low-cost technology they built, called a “chimney solar dryer,” combines continuous air flow with solar heat  to dry fresh produce more efficiently than a traditional solar dryer. It was designed by the innovative duo Michael Reid and Jim Thompson, both emeritus specialists with UC Cooperative Extension who have worked on multiple inventions with the Horticulture Innovation Lab. The chimney solar dryer is usually built with basic materials, such as plywood, dark plastic, clear plastic, and food-grade mesh. Read more about how the chimney solar dryer can help farmers add value to crop surplus (PDF).

Here is a quick look at a couple of other technologies that visitors can see at the demonstration center:

 
A low-cost cold room - equipped with a CoolBot, solar panels and household air conditioner - is on display to show UC Davis visitors one way to cool and store fresh fruits and vegetables off the grid. These visitors were participants in the UC Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops short course this summer. Photo by Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

This solar-powered cold room uses a tool designed by an American farmer, called a CoolBot. In a well-insulated room, a CoolBot can trick a household air conditioner into bringing temperatures down low enough for cool storage of fresh produce. Cooling fruits and vegetables soon after harvest from the field can reduce postharvest losses and extend shelf life. So far teams with the Horticulture Innovation Lab have used the CoolBot with farmers in Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and Honduras.

Read more about how this farmer's invention is reducing postharvest losses around the world.

A delegation of deans from agricultural colleges in Ethiopia listen to a short presentation about building a zero-energy cool chamber (ZECC) with bricks and sand, led by Khush Bakht Aalia, center, and Angelos Deltsidis, right, both of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. Photo by Brenda Dawson/UC Davis

The zero-energy cool chamber (known as ZECC) is a simple structure built from brick and sand that can help cool fresh produce, in conditions where evaporative cooling is effective. By regularly wetting the sand and brick, farmers or even marketers can keep the temperatures low and the humidity high for fresh produce such as leafy greens. Researchers with the Horticulture Innovation Lab have been testing what specific conditions — such as hot, arid climates with easy access to water — make this tool effective for farmers to use to cool their fresh fruits and vegetables.

More information about the ZECC is available from the UC Postharvest Technology Center.

This week the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center hosted a media crew from Tajikistan, shown here talking with Angelos Deltsidis, center, about using solar dryers for drying apricots in Tajikistan. Photo by Khush Bakht Aalia for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.

Recent visits to the Horticulture Innovation Lab's demonstration center have come in many shapes and sizes — from people walking by who stopped to read some of the signs, to group activities planned in advance. Recent tours of the center have included a delegation of deans from agricultural colleges in Ethiopia, a television news crew from Tajikistan and high school students from California learning about innovation and human-centered design.

Next time you're on the UC Davis campus, consider dropping by the Horticulture Innovation Lab demonstration center. You can find it on the campus map, or contact the team for a more focused tour.

Maybe it will spark an innovative idea that you can use in your fields?

More information:

Led by UC Davis, the Horticulture Innovation Lab is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Posted on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 7:51 AM

Food waste is an ethical and environmental issue

Summer brings an abundance of luscious and healthy fruits and vegetables. It's easy to buy more than we can eat, which sometimes results in #foodwaste.

In a guest blog post for the UC Food Observer, UC researcher Wendi Gosliner (part of the team at UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, a cutting-edge unit that's using research to transform public policy) shared this observation:

“Food waste presents a major challenge in the United States. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of the food produced nationally never gets consumed, causing substantial economic and environmental harms. Wasted food utilizes vast quantities of precious land, water and human resources, yet rather than nourishing people, it feeds landfills, producing methane gasses that poison the environment. Much of the food waste (43%) occurs at the household level."

 

This poster played an important role in discouraging food waste and encouraging food conservation on the American home front during World War I. Noted artist Edward Penfield created the poster. It's held in the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

What history can teach us

Here's my take on food waste. It goes back in part to lessons I've learned from studying World War I (WWI), when the American government set food conservation goals (along with goals for local food production via Liberty – later Victory – Gardens). I'm a big proponent of both reducing food waste and producing more food in communities via school, home and community gardens. Big point: the World War I poster included in this post has advice we'd be well served to heed today.

It's an iconic poster from World War 1. Food…don't waste it. The image is regularly shared on Twitter and Facebook.

Poster from the collection of the Museum of Ventura County. (Credit: Aysen Tan)

Period piece or photoshopped image?

The original was produced in 1919 by the United States Food Administration, under the direction of the newly appointed food “czar” – Herbert Hoover.

The poster was reissued during World War II. It's been revised in recent years by individuals and organizations interested in encouraging an ethos incorporating local foods and sustainability.

While I'm the UC Food Observer, I also dabble in the history of wartime poster art. I'm often asked if this is a contemporary mock-up made to look and feel vintage.

It's not a mock-up. It's the real deal, produced 95 years ago, with messages we should embrace today.

The original poster: Yes: ‘buy local foods' is rule 4

The original poster has six rules that we'd be well served to follow today. The fourth rule – buy local foods – is somewhat of a surprise to people today, because the notion of buying local seems somewhat modern. But in WWI, the U.S. government encouraged the local production and consumption of food, in part, to free trains to more effectively ship troops and war matériel.

Tackling food waste through preservation: today's Master Food Preserver Program

Many land grant institutions, including the University of California, host master food preserver programs. These programs teach best practices on food safety and preservation to volunteers. The extensive training program prepares the volunteers to work in their community educating others on the safe practices of food preservation, including pickling, drying, freezing, canning and fruit preserves.

Thinking about gardening? Do we have resources for you!

The University of California sponsors the state's Master Gardener Program, which fields more than 5,000 volunteers in communities across the state. The Master Gardener Program is a national program, housed at the land grant institution in each state, but it's also connected to the USDA. Free gardening resources are available here. Advice to grow by…just ask.

Takeaway message?

Food waste is both an ethical and environmental issue. It should concern us that we waste nearly 40% of the food we produce and purchase in this food-abundant nation.

For an interesting comparative statistic, consider this: our nation produced about 40% of the fruits and vegetables we consumed on the American home front in World War II in school, home, community and workplace gardens. That was the result of the iconic Victory Garden program (which actually got its start in WW1).

Three messages then: participate in the national effort, commit to wasting less food, and if you can, produce some food of your own.

Notes: There are many additional resources about #foodwaste.

Connect: ReFED, a collaboration of nonprofit, government, business and foundation leaders, released a report in 2016 that identifies a number of potential solutions to the food waste challenge.

Read: Dana Gunders of the National Resource Defense Council authored a 2012 report called Wasted that sparked much of this work. Dana also authored a book called Waste Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money by Wasting Less Food, both of which are great reads. 

Read this piece about the relationships between food, farming and the environment (including food waste).

Eating what's on your plate is one of the best ways to tackle climate change. View this episode of Climate Lab, a six-part series produced by the University of California in partnership with Vox. 

Posted on Friday, July 14, 2017 at 11:46 AM

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