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School gardens get new life from UC Cooperative Extension volunteers

When children grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables, they are much more likely to eat healthy food, so for decades California politicians, teachers and nutrition educators have advocated for a garden in every school. However, UC Cooperative Extension experts in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties found that garden care can dwindle over time.

“Students and their parents ‘age out' of their elementary schools,” said Shannon Klisch, UC CalFresh community education supervisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. “The turnover in expertise and level of commitment can vary widely, leaving some schools with either weedy, abandoned vegetable patches, or no garden support at all.”

Volunteers gather in the garden before the first outdoor lesson. The course is taught by Lisa Paniaqua, standing on the left, school garden sustainability coordinator for UC CalFresh in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

UCCE offers UC CalFresh, federally funded nutrition education for CalFresh recipients (formerly called Food Stamps). UC CalFresh nutrition educators in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties saw a need to mobilize highly trained community members who could develop, support, sustain and teach from school gardens. UC CalFresh joined with UC's 4-H Youth Development, Master Food Preserver, and Master Gardener programs to launch a pilot project called “UC Garden Nutrition Extenders.”

“We don't have enough staff to work the gardens in every school, so we've started recruiting and training volunteers,” said Lisa Paniagua, school garden sustainability coordinator for the UC Garden Nutrition Extender program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

The Sunshine Garden is a section of the UC Master Gardener demonstration garden adjacent to the UC Cooperative Extension parking lot in San Luis Obispo. It is a model garden that can be replicated at local schools and is used for training the Garden Nutrition Extender volunteers.

“By enlisting passionate volunteers, nutrition educators could significantly multiply the number of students who had access to school gardens, nutrition education, and training in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the garden,” said Katherine Soule, Ph.D., youth, families, and communities advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Klisch said UC Garden Nutrition Extenders are local members of their school communities.

“They are often parents, neighbors or staff and they have a personal investment in seeing the youth and the school environment flourish, which makes for a much more sustainable intervention and increases community capacity to sustain a garden program," she said.

Paniagua, Klisch, and Soule created a hybrid training program integrating volunteers and educators from UC CalFresh, UC Master Food Preservers, UC Master Gardeners and 4-H. They selected a 4-H gardening and nutrition curriculum written by researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, which includes engaging, student-centered, experiential learning while dividing time between the garden and the classroom. The curriculum reinforces goals in Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, policies that guide public school teaching.

“Teachers will want to know we are familiar with curriculum standards. Applying them adds value to these classes,” Paniagua said.

Trainees set out to collect garden items in a scavenger hunt.

In July, the third cohort of future UC Garden Nutrition Extender volunteers gathered at UC Cooperative Extension in San Luis Obispo to learn how they can help schools transform their gardens into fruitful learning activity centers for the students.

One member of the new cohort is Jill Marie, a certified Master Gardener in San Luis Obispo County.

“I live by a school and they have garden beds that are not kept up. I want to get involved and get to know the kids,” she said.

The volunteer teachers learn by conducting the indoor and outdoor curriculum activities and food demonstrations over a four-week period. Their first foray into the UCCE Sunshine School Demonstration Garden began with a mindfulness practice.

“Close your eyes, and just listen,” Paniagua instructed. A moment later she asked, “What did you hear?”

Christina Lawson, director of nutrition at Coast Unified School District, finds 'something round' in the garden.

To encourage students to take a closer look at the garden, the class was sent out with egg cartons labeled for a 12-item scavenger hunt, and later asked to select one item to discuss. Reporting on topics are part of Common Core standards for students in third- through fifth-grades and creates discussion learning topics around science, math, engineering, art, and even poetry.

The practice involved finding something yellow, red, green, brown, round and rectangle shaped. They collected leaves, twigs, flowers, seeds, weeds and edible items.

Back in the classroom, the trainees began work in pairs on the next lesson, “Know & Show Sombrero.” With paper, tape and a bag of craft supplies – balloons, ribbons, foam stickers and construction paper – the extenders made hats that represent everything a plant needs. One group used a yellow balloon to symbolize the sun, another had water drops raining down from the brim. A third group sprinkled glitter to represent the nutrients in the soil.

“Why are we putting these on a hat?” Paniaqua asked the class. “The exercise is useful for kinesthetic learners. It reinforces what they learn. At the end, we talk about it and develop conversation skills.”

Farmer Carla Rosin, left, and nursery professional Wendy Minarik form a paper hat.

The half-day session ended with a tasting of purple, yellow and orange carrots.

“In your journals, write words to describe the smell, sight, taste and feel of the three colors of carrots,” Paniagua said.

One of the volunteers Christina Lawson, director of nutrition for Coast Unified School District, laughed.

“We tried to serve purple carrots. Pfft. Zip,” she said. “I'm excited about this. If the kids try them before coming to the cafeteria, it would make my life so much easier.”

This project is funded through local grant awards from the National 4-H Council in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, which is a joint agreement among the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Food and Nutrition Service (USDA/FNS), the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) CalFresh branch, and the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).

Extender trainee Stacy Henderson explains the symbols on her paper hat.
 
Working in groups of two. In the front are CalPoly master's nutrition student Alyssa Friebert, left, and UC Master Gardener Jill Marie.
Posted on Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 9:59 AM

UC ANR hosts workshops for California's urban farmers

A UC Cooperative Extension workshop series in Los Angeles will help city growers build their knowledge on legal, production, marketing and food safety issues.
In communities around California, urban farms provide fresh produce, community green space, and even job training. However, a 2014 UC ANR needs assessment indicated that urban farmers face challenges, as well as opportunities. They are often beginning farmers, and encounter barriers related to growing in the city, such as zoning restrictions. 

Building on the needs assessment, a team of UC ANR researchers created a resource website for California urban farmers. This year, team members and local partners are conducting a series of trainings for urban farmers around the state, designed to help city growers build their knowledge in key areas. The series just wrapped up in the Bay Area, and will roll out in Los Angeles starting on July 21. The Los Angeles series dates and topics are:

  1.  July 21. Legal Basics of Urban Farming.  Are you an urban farmer navigating the rules and regulations related to growing and selling food? A school or non-profit organization involved in farming? This workshop will help position you for success.
  2. July 28. Production Issues and Urban Farms.  Are you an urban farmer learning the ins and outs of growing and harvesting crops? This workshop is designed to guide urban farmers through common production challenges related to soil, water use, and pest management. 
  3. August 4. Marketing and Business Management for Urban Farmers. From business planning to labor laws, learn the basics to help you succeed.
  4. August 11. Food Safety Basics for Urban Farmers. Learn how to ensure a safe harvest, from the field to the fork. 

Local partners are key to planning and hosting these events, including the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, the Collaborative for Urban Agroecology Los Angeles, Cal Poly Pomona College of Agriculture, Community Services Unlimited, GrowGood, the Growing Experience, and others.

The series will also be held in Sacramento and San Diego in early 2018. For updates and announcements, follow UC ANR's Urban Agriculture blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  And be sure to bookmark our UC Urban Agriculture website which offers resources on production, policies, and more.

Posted on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 8:56 AM

FOOD IT: How will technology shape the future of food?

UC was well-represented at FOOD IT.

More than 300 people gathered in Mountain View for the fourth annual FOOD IT: Fork to Farm on June 27 to discuss the role of information technology in the food system – from managing crops in the field to dealing with consumer food waste.

The event, hosted by The Mixing Bowl, attracted professionals who intersect with every part of the food system, from farmers to scientists, from entrepreneurs to venture capital investors. 

Panelists discussed the shift in power caused by the rise of the tech-enabled food consumer, its effects on food production and supply as well as implications for society.

VP Glenda Humiston announced that UC ANR is launching The VINE, or The Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, to cultivate regional innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in rural communities. Led by Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer, The VINE aims to bring together resources such as small business development centers, community colleges, county cooperative extension offices, makers labs, incubators and accelerators.

“We're trying to go in region by region to catalyze a coalition,” Humiston said. “We want to make sure innovators and inventors can go from idea to commercialization with all the support they need.”

The VINE would connect innovators with legal advice, someone to discuss finances, access to people who can help with business plans and opportunities to partner with the university on joint research projects.

“We want to make it possible for anyone in California to access support,” Humiston said.  “If you're in an urban area or near a campus, you probably have access to those resources. If you're in agriculture, natural resources or more remote rural communities, you typically have little access.”

Ag college deans talk about the need to train new farmers.

On a panel of agriculture college deans from Iowa State, Cal Poly and UC Davis moderated by Humiston, the deans lamented the lagging interest in farming by young people.

"Everybody wants to be a vegetarian, but nobody wants to be a plant scientist,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Cube interviewed Glenda Humiston and Helene Dillard about how UC is changing to address new challenges related to the food system.

Humiston said that farming isn't just for young people. "We see people making mid-career changes."

Throughout the day, several people speculated that Amazon's buying of Whole Foods would mix things up. Dean Andy Thulin of Cal Poly's College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences said tech makes food sexy.

Wendy Wintersteen, dean of Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said that consumers are more informed. Millennials want to know what is in their food and are concerned about food safety, allergens and are willing to spend more on food. 

On a panel discussing “Changing Food Preferences of the Tech-Enabled Consumer,” Walmart executive Katie Finnegan noted that Apeel, a product that coats produce and keeps it fresh longer, could reduce food waste and change the food supply chain. “A small change can have a big impact,” she said.

For years, life expectancy for Americans has gradually increased. Last year, for the first time, life expectancy decreased due to obesity and poverty, said Justin Siegal of UC Davis Genome Center.

Kevin Sanchez said Yolo County Food Bank has been developing relationships with farms to get fresh food.

Kevin Sanchez of the Yolo County Food Bank said he has been developing relationships with farms to get fresh food to people, but added, “We have a storage challenge.” 

Discussing “Upstream Production Impacts of New Consumer Food Choices,Driscoll's Nolan Paul said, “People want to know where the berries are from.” They ask about the tools used for breeding. Paul said Driscoll's will never use genetic engineering unless consumers on board with it.

On the Internet of Tomatoes panel, representatives for Analog Devices, Bowles Farming and Campbells talked about using data on weather, water, soil and other things to grow higher quality tomatoes and using optical grading at processing plants for quality control. Bowles Farming has also have begun using Instagram to engage consumers in conversations about farming issues that commodity marketing groups try to avoid, such as unintended consequences of some policies.

UC ANR was a cosponsor of the event, which delighted conference participants with exhibits featuring array of futuristic devices like printing your own pancake or tortilla.  

 

Posted on Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 12:04 PM

Late-harvest processing peaches produce more profit, new UC studies show

Peaches harvested early in the season have less time to grow so more fruit must be removed to allow remaining fruit to grow larger.

Tree fruit growers can receive premiums for delivering certain extra-early varieties of peaches, but peach farmers may net roughly $800 more per acre from late-harvest processing peaches than extra-early harvest varieties, according to new cost studies released by the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension.

To help farmers make decisions on which peach varieties to plant, UC researchers present sample costs to produce extra-early harvested cling and freestone peaches and late harvested cling and freestone peaches for processing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley in these studies.

Although processors pay more for extra-early harvested peach varieties than late-harvest peaches, the researchers found that yields are higher for late-harvest varieties while costs for hand thinning the fruit are lower.

“Peaches harvested early in the season have less time to grow compared to peaches that get to hang on the tree another month or more,” explained Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County, who coauthored the studies. “Therefore, more fruit has to be removed so the remaining fruit can size. That means it costs you more to produce less.”

The analyses are based upon hypothetical well-managed farming operations using practices common to the region. The costs, materials and practices shown in these studies will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.

Both studies assume a 100-acre farmer-owned operation with 40 acres of cling peaches. The remaining acreage for both hypothetical farms is planted in other mature tree crops. The estimated economic life of the extra-early harvested cling peach orchard and the late harvested cling peach orchard is 18 years.

Some of the major differences between the two studies are return price, yield and fruit thinning cost. The extra-early harvested varieties have a price of $545 per ton, a yield of 17 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,445 per acre. The late harvested varieties have a price of $490 per ton, a yield of 20 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,177 per acre.

Asked if a small farm could save on fruit thinning expenses by doing it themselves, Duncan replied, “I guess it would be possible for a small family operation to do the thinning themselves, but not likely. It can take 20 to 40 minutes to thin a single tree. If there are 151 trees per acre, you can see that it would take one skilled person over a week to thin one acre.”

The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for production material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. Ranging analysis tables show net profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs and the operations with equipment and materials.

Free copies of “Sample Costs to Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Extra-early Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” and “Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Late Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” are available on the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost-of-production studies for many other commodities are also available.

The cost study program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Jeremy Murdock at the Agricultural Issues Center, at (530) 752-4651, Janine Hasey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Sutter/Yuba counties, at (530) 822-7515, or Duncan at (209) 525-6800.

Major differences between extra-early and late harvest peaches are return price, yield and fruit thinning cost.

 

Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 4:19 PM

UC's Pat Crawford weighs in on childhood obesity

Today marks the start of the 9th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference. Since it's founding 18 years ago by UC ANR Specialist Pat Crawford, it has grown from a small gathering of California researchers, educators, and health care professionals to the nation's largest gathering on the topic of pediatric obesity/overweight.

So today seems the perfect time to revisit a 2015 conversation with Rose Hayden-Smith, UC's Food Observer, and Crawford, now the Senior Director of Research at UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute. As Pat stated in her interview—

“Not changing is risky. The United States – along with Mexico – has the highest obesity rates in the industrialized world. With these extraordinarily high obesity rates, we are on a path toward ever-rising chronic disease rates including not just diabetes, but also heart disease and some cancers, increasing health care costs and reducing productivity.

Even more alarming, is a little known fact that 23 percent of the adolescents in this country currently have pre-diabetes or diabetes as measured by actual blood tests in our largest national study of health (NHANES). Something is seriously wrong in a society such as ours where so many children are growing up with such a high risk of preventable disease.”

You can read the complete interview at the UC Food Observer. You'll also find a recent story about the 45 youth advocates from organizations around California joining this year's conference to bring the voices of youth to this vital conversation.

Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 9:07 AM

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