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.
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.
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.
Fighting nematodes with new solutions
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."
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."
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
Scientists at UC Riverside investigating the composition of particulate matter (PM) and its sources at the Salton Sea have found that this shrinking lake in Southern California is exposing large areas of dry lakebed, called playa, that are acting as new dust sources with the potential to impact human health.
“Playas have a high potential to act as dust sources because playa surfaces often lack vegetation,” said Roya Bahreini, an associate professor of environmental sciences, who led the research project. “Dust emissions from playas increase airborne PM mass, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and mortality.”
Study results appeared recently in Environmental Science and Technology.
Bahreini's team set out to test whether emissions from playas change the composition of PM10 (particulate matter with diameters up to 10 microns) near the Salton Sea. The team assessed the composition of playa soils (recently submerged underneath the Salton Sea), desert soils (located farther from the sea), and PM10 collected during August 2015 and February 2016.
They found that dust sources contributed to about 45 percent of PM10 at the Salton Sea during the sampling period while playa emissions contributed to about 10 percent. Further, they found that playa emissions significantly increased the sodium content of PM10.
Her team also found that playa soils and PM10 are significantly enriched in selenium relative to desert soils.
Bahreini explained that selenium can be a driver of aquatic and avian toxicity. “Additionally, higher selenium enrichments in PM10 during summertime suggest that selenium volatilization from the playa may become an important factor controlling the selenium budget in the area as more playa gets exposed,” she said.
Alexander L. Frie, a graduate student in environmental sciences and the first author of the research paper, urges that the Salton Sea be paid close attention since, although it is widely considered a large ecological disaster, with no serious monitoring and remediation efforts the sea may also create a human health crisis for the surrounding area.
Samantha C. Ying, an assistant professor of environmental sciences and a coauthor on the paper, stresses that monitoring the increase in dust sources over time is necessary to quantify its contribution to local health problems.
“Our study shows that the shrinking Salton Sea is contributing to dust sources in the region,” she said. “Even considering just the small area of playa that is exposed now, the contributions are significant.”
Another concern the researchers point out is that water that is currently diverted from the Colorado River and directed into the Salton Sea is scheduled to end before 2018. The resultant decrease of inflow into the sea will likely cause a decline in water level, exposing more playa, and therefore emitting more dust.
“With more playa being exposed, we expect total PM10 concentrations to increase and human exposure to these particles in downwind areas will also increase,” Bahreini said. “Therefore implementing any project, for example, creating shallow water pools over the playa, that limits formation of salt crusts on the playa will be valuable.”
Bahreini, Frie and Ying were joined in the study by Justin H. Dingle, a graduate student in Bahreini's lab.
The study was funded by UCR Regents' Faculty Development Award, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a UCR Provost Research Fellowship, the U.S. Geological Survey and ANR's California Institute for Water Resources.
KPBS, David Wagner New Study Traces Airborne Dust Back to Shrinking Salton Sea
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For 48 hours, innovators and entrepreneurs at the Apps for Ag Hackathon labored over laptops at The Urban Hive in Sacramento before pitching their ideas to judges at the California State Fair. More than 40 people, some from as far as New York and Texas, competed for a $10,000 grand prize and assistance from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources to turn their ideas into commercial enterprises.
Ultimately Dr. Green, a mobile app to diagnose plant problems, took the top prize on Sunday (July 30). The second-place Greener app also helps people diagnose and treat plant diseases. Farm Table, an app that promotes agritourism, came in third place.
One goal of the hackathon was to produce solutions for military veterans who are becoming farmers. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was a major sponsor of the event and leaders from Washington D.C. were on site all weekend participating.
“There was an amazing range of applications this year,” said Gabriel Youtsey, chief innovation officer for University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, which hosted the hackathon.
Twelve teams pitched new ways to apply technology to improve the food system.
“There was an application to take a picture of a plant and it'll identify the plant disease – which can help anyone from backyard gardeners to professional growers – all the way to an application for community-supported fisheries, which helps fishermen better scale their businesses and allows for customers to get the freshest fish,” Youtsey said.
There was an app to match unemployed veterans with farm jobs, an online resource for bees, an app to simplify shipping logistics, an app for detecting mold on produce and many more solutions for food-related problems.
1st Place: Dr. Green
Figuring out why a plant is ailing can be time-consuming for a new farmer or backyard gardener. The plant doctor is always in with Dr. Green. The app created by Sreejumon Kundilepurayil and Vidya Kannoly of Pleasanton will help people identify crop diseases quickly through artificial intelligence and machine learning. The app can incorporate data from sensors monitoring temperature, light and soil moisture to alert growers to problems. Using a smart phone, backyard gardeners and growers can take a photo of plant symptoms and get a diagnosis or use the messaging feature to ask a question about symptoms and receive advice immediately.
Kundilepurayil and Kannoly won $10,000 and tickets to the UC Davis Food and Ag Entrepreneurship Academy, $3,000 worth of Google Cloud Platform credits, plus other resources to help the team start their venture.
2nd Place: Greener
Using a smart phone, home gardeners can take a photo of plant symptoms and quickly get a diagnosis and recommended IPM treatment from the Greener app, created by Scott Kirkland, John Knoll and Shiang-Wan Chin of Davis and Calvin Doval of Oakland. They won $5,000 and $1,000 worth of Google Cloud Platform credits and other resources to help start their venture.
3rd Place: The Farm Table
The Farm Table app aims to make farms more economically sustainable and educate the public about food through agritourism. Heather Lee of San Francisco teamed up with Will Mitchell of Sacramento and Zhenting Zhou of New York City to create the agritourism app.
“We are making agritourism accessible to farmers by building a platform that's connecting visitors with farms,” said Lee. “This is going to help educate our communities on where their food comes from and create an additional revenue source for farmers.”
They won $2,500 and $1,000 worth of Google Cloud Platform credits and other resources to help start their venture.
Growing the pipeline of young innovators
Judges included Joshua Tuscher of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Robert Trice, investor and founder of The Mixing Bowl Hub; Jenna Rodriguez, product manager at Ceres Imaging; Ann Dunkin, chief information officer for the County of Santa Clara; and Jessica Smith, vice president of Strategic Partnerships at AngelHack.
Apps for Ag is a food and agriculture innovation event series hosted by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) and sponsored by IO Labs, The Urban Hive, California Community Colleges and the California State Fair.
“We're growing the pipeline of young innovators, getting entrepreneurs and technologists interested in applying technology to solving problems in the food system,” said Youtsey, who led organization of the hackathon.
“UC ANR is the original innovation engine in food, agriculture and natural resources in California and has been so for over 100 years. This is just taking another spin at tackling innovation in food and agriculture through an innovative competition style format with technology,” he said.
Additional support for the hackathon was provided by Valley Vision, The Mixing Bowl, Farmer Veteran Coalition, AngelHack, Nutiva, Google Cloud Platform, Royse Law Firm, Hot Italian, GTS Kombucha, Startup Sac, AgStart, StartupGrind Sacramento, Future Food, Internet Society San Francisco Bay Chapter, Sacramento Food Co-op, Balsamiq and YouNoodle.