Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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Youth leaders find their photo-voice

This photo, taken by participant Alexa J., shows a hole in the playground. 'It's not safe to go on the playground because you could get hurt. This is about making the playground safer,' she wrote in the photo caption.

An important aspect of positive youth development is engaging youth in meaningful activities, building youth capacity, and helping youth develop leadership skills. As older students on their elementary school campuses, fifth- and sixth-grade student leaders can have a significant role in inspiring peers to make positive and healthy lifestyle choices. Student leaders can also have great impacts on their own families and communities by sharing what they know about nutrition and health in culturally relevant and accessible ways that inspire those around them.

In academic year 2016/17, three school-based 4-H Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC) clubs in Santa Barbara County embarked on a photovoice project using the Children's PowerPlay Campaign Snapshots and Stories curriculum. The 4-H project was co-led by UC CalFresh Nutrition Education and 4-H Youth Development staff in the youth, families, and communities program. The goal of this project was to train student leaders to recognize and identify how their school environments play a significant role in students' personal health decisions. Through this project, fifth and sixth grade student leaders identified, interpreted and advocated for healthy policy or environmental changes within their own schools and communities.

The 11-week photovoice project started with students and project leaders getting to know one another and building trust with icebreakers, energizers and games. The students came together weekly to discuss barriers and opportunities for healthy play, physical activity and healthy food in their schools. Next, students learned to define important terms like “advocacy” and “photovoice.” Through these meetings and discussions students continued to explore what it means to “have a voice” or “a platform to advocate for change” from within their youth perspective.

Over the course of several weeks, students took walking field trips around their school campuses and photographed images of their school environment that they found significant. Although each student took a number of photographs, they each selected one image that was the most significant to them. Each student shared with the rest of their club why that image was significant and how they felt when they looked at it. Students then wrote a short description about their photograph, why they selected that image, what the image meant, and how that meaning was important to them as a student leader and to their school community. The project culminated with the youth sharing their collective voice with other students, school administrators, teachers and parents.

As a result of this 4-H project, the students were exposed to STEM concepts including camera parts and vocabulary, lighting, framing, and computer skills for basic photo editing. They also developed new lenses for viewing their individual health and the health of their school communities. Some students focused on the beauty and health-promoting aspects of their school campus, such as school gardens, trees, flowers, and nature. Some student leaders took action photos of other students participating in healthy play to emphasize how their school campuses provide safe community spaces for physical activity. Other students focused on environmental aspects that could be improved, capturing images of school cafeterias, playgrounds, buildings, and fences to underline how areas could be improved or enhanced. Through the photovoice project, 4-H SNAC leaders met the challenge to identify and express their ideas for promoting health and healthy changes within their schools. No two photographs were alike and the youths gave their own unique perspectives about their school. From school to school these photographs and stories captured different ideas, themes, and styles of photography.

After the months' long project, it was rewarding and humbling to see the student leaders sharing their unique youth perspective. The youths' communities found value in their photographs as well. Images were framed and displayed alongside their interpretative narratives at local school sites, the school district office, the county fair, and other community sites as testaments to youth vision for healthy and thriving school communities. The school district displayed several of these photovoice stories in the halls of the central district building. Three students entered their photos at the Santa Barbara County Fair. This is notable because none of these students had previous experience entering their work at a county fair and they were able to gain wider exposure and recognition for their work. One student won first place and another received an honorable mention in the county-wide youth photography competition.

The UCCE Youth, Families and Communities Program in Santa Barbara County focuses on deepening engagement in nutrition education with youth and families in low-income settings while increasing positive youth development outcomes.This photovoice project was 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).

Posted on Friday, September 22, 2017 at 9:49 AM

Keeping cows cool with less water and energy

Innovative cooling technologies tested on dairy cows at UC Davis are addressing the long-standing challenge of keeping dairy cows cool in heat-stressed California.

Standard livestock cooling methods, such as fans and sprinkling cows with water, require significant amounts of electricity and water. The new technologies, being tested at UC Davis by the Western Cooling Efficiency Center and the Department of Animal Science, are designed to reduce water by up to 86 percent and electricity by up to 38 percent over conventional methods.

Milk production and heat stress

Milk is the most valued agricultural commodity in California, with $9.4 billion in retail sales in 2014. Roughly one in every five dairy cows in the nation lives in California. In addition to disturbing the cow, heat stress is a major cause of diminished milk production in dairy cows, with annual losses directly related to heat stress exceeding $800 million.

“The process of rumination, where cows ferment their food, produces a lot of heat, as does milk production itself,” said Cassandra Tucker, a professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on dairy cattle welfare. “When the outside temperatures also rise, it's a challenge for the animal in how she's going to try to keep cool. This project is trying to reduce the energy and water use associated with that to help both the cows and the dairy producers.”

How it works

The technologies involve two approaches. The first is conduction cooling, where the bedding area is cooled using heat exchange mats placed where cows lie down. To reduce energy consumption, water flowing through the mats is cooled through a novel evaporative chiller called a Sub-Wet Bulb Evaporative Chiller.

The second approach is targeted convection cooling, which uses fabric ducting to direct cool air onto the cows while they lie down and when they eat. The air is cooled using a high-efficiency direct evaporative cooler.

"This is an exciting research opportunity for UC Davis to combine our expertise in engineering with our expertise in animal science,” said Theresa Pistochini, senior engineer at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center. “There is significant potential to apply existing technologies in a novel way to reduce both energy and water used to cool dairy cows. Through this project we aim to design, test and demonstrate an efficient alternative.”

The project is part of a four-year, $1 million grant from the California Energy Commission to help improve water and energy efficiency in California's dairy industry. The data being collected now will help determine which technology the team should use to pilot at a commercial dairy in a future phase of the project.

Cows being cooled by a fan.

For more information, contact:

Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-7704, 530-750-9195 (cell), kekerlin@ucdavis.edu

Paul Fortunato, UC Davis Western Cooling Efficiency Center, 530-752-0280, 916-412-3022, pfortunato@ucdavis.edu

Posted on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 10:41 AM
  • Author: Kat Kerlin

Decreasing forest density will reduce fire risk, build climate resilience

“Actions to arrest the decline in forest health will take place far from urban centers,” said Van Butsic, a coauthor of the report.

California needs to increase the pace and scale of efforts to improve the health of its headwater forests — the source of two-thirds of the state's surface water supply. Management techniques including prescribed fire, managed wildfire and mechanical thinning can help rebuild resilience in these forests and prepare them for a challenging future.

These are among the key findings of a report released today by the PPIC Water Policy Center.

Decades of fire suppression have increased the density of trees and other fuels in headwater forests to uncharacteristically high levels and resulted in massive tree die-offs and large, severe wildfires. Improving forest health will require reducing the density of small trees and fuels on a massive scale.

This will require changes in the regulation, administration, and management of forests. Many of the recommended reforms in forest management can take place at low or no cost. But implementing them will require vision, determined leadership by state and federal officials, and the backing of an informed public.

“Actions to arrest the decline in forest health will take place far from urban centers,” said Van Butsic, a coauthor of the report and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “But all Californians will benefit through continued supplies of high-quality water, natural environments, forest products and recreational landscapes.”

Changing the way forestry work is funded — and in some cases securing new funding — will also be needed to help expedite forest improvements. The authors suggest reforms that will enable the private sector and government agencies to use existing tools and funding opportunities more effectively and collaborate more easily on larger-scale management projects. One key recommendation is to find opportunities to combine revenue-generating timber harvesting with other management work to help offset the costs of efforts to improve forest health.

“Making forest health a top land management priority for public and private lands would be a critical first step in reversing the degraded condition of the state's headwater forests,” said report coauthor Henry McCann, a research associate with the PPIC Water Policy Center.

The report, Improving the Health of California's Headwater Forests, was supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and the US Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to Butsic and McCann, the coauthors are Jeffrey Mount and Brian Gray, both senior fellows at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Jodi Axelson, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley; Yufang Jin, an assistant professor in the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis; Scott Stephens, professor of fire science and co-director of the Center for Forestry and Center for Fire Research and Outreach at UC Berkeley; and William Stewart, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist and co-director of the Center for Forestry and Center for Fire Research and Outreach at the UC Berkeley.

Posted on Monday, September 18, 2017 at 9:05 PM

UC ANR is a natural partner to help bridge California’s digital divide

Even as the digital revolution has changed the world, there are thousands of California residents in rural areas that do not have an internet connection adequate for engaging in modern technology.

With offices in all California counties and several research centers located in remote locations, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Vice President Glenda Humiston and UC ANR Chief Innovation Officer Gabe Youtsey believe UC ANR is in a position to forge partnerships with government, industry, and other academic organizations to connect rural Californians with high-speed internet.

Youtsey testified at a rural broadband informational hearing in Sacramento on Aug. 28 held by the Assembly Select Committee on Economic Development and Investment in Rural California, chaired by Rep. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), and the Communications and Conveyance Committee, chaired by Rep. Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles.)

UC ANR Chief Innovation Officer Gabe Youtsey, far right, testifies before Rep. Anna Caballero (blue jacket), staffer Peter Ansel, and Rep. Monique Limón. (Photo: Anne Megaro)

In his testimony, Youtsey characterized the presence of UC ANR in California for the lawmakers.

“We are a network, not a place,” he said. “We have more than 1,500 very applied academics; I call them academics with muddy boots because our job is really to turn science into on-the-ground solutions.”

While it is potentially expensive to bring broadband internet connectivity to every resident of California – from the far reaches of Modoc County in the north to remote desert communities near the Mexican border in the south – those communities' lack of high-speed internet is also exacting a high medical, social, and educational cost.

“High-speed connectivity is needed in rural communities not just for entertainment,” Youtsey said. “It's about online education, medical care, banking and businesses. Digital inclusion is an issue of economic justice.”

Youtsey likens the spread of broadband internet to a successful initiative in the 1930s to promote rural electrification in the U.S. The program was managed by the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration, one of the agencies created under the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt's sweeping legislation that helped lift the United States out of the Great Depression.

The government's role in “internetification” could be an investment in infrastructure, Youtsey said.

“It is very expensive to bring wired internet connectivity to places where it has never been before,” Youtsey said at the hearing.

At one UC ANR location, the UC Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center, laying a wired connection was cost prohibitive.

“The internet provider had to beam a signal from Marysville, up to the top of the Sutter Buttes, and then beam 26 miles across the valley to our location. That was about a $150,000 one-time set-up cost. That's just not realistic in many cases,” he said.

Youtsey said UC ANR would like to leverage its remote locations as launch points for public-private partnerships for rural broadband, a plan that dovetails an initiative now being considered by state legislators.

Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) has introduced AB 1665, known as the Internet for All Now bill, which aims to ensure social and economic equity for all Californians in the digital age. This bill would approve funding by Dec, 31, 2022, for infrastructure projects that would provide broadband access to no less than 98 percent of California households.

“We support passage of the bill, but we're not going to stand still,” Youtsey said.

A drone flying over sorghum research plots at the Kearney REC collects information on plant height, leaf area and biomass. Working with large data sets, such as this one, requires high-speed internet.

Already, UC ANR is creating partnerships with rural communities to provide shared internet connectivity. One project underway is located at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Centernear Parlier, a 15,000-resident community in rural southeast Fresno County that has one of the state's highest percentages of Latinos. After connecting the center with fast one-gigabit speeds, UC ANR is planning to outfit all 330 acres with outdoor wireless coverage to support research and innovation. The next step will be to pilot a public-private partnership with the local community to work with the center and a vendor to share costs and make affordable broadband upgrades for both the residents in the community and UC researchers.

Another project is located at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center at the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley near Exeter, an agricultural city of 10,000 near the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“We don't have this site lit up yet. We're working hard on beaming a signal from Visalia, 25 miles away,” Youtsey said. “Once we have it here, we're in the heart of the state's citrus region. We're surrounded by commercial citrus farmers who all struggle immensely with getting broadband. We hope to be part of the solution.”

Posted on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 9:02 AM

$1.6M from NSF to Study Water, Land Use in Disadvantaged Communities

The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.6M to UC Davis to analyze the complex relationships between surface water and groundwater supply, agricultural land use and the economic well-being of rural, disadvantaged communities.

The project is led by principal investigator Helen Dahlke, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. The team will develop models to help guide decision-making regarding water management and land use in the state.

Helen Dahlke in field

Helen Dahlke studies how groundwater is used and replenished in California. (Tiffany Kocis/UC Davis)

While the newly funded project focuses on the Tulare Basin in California's Central Valley, it is expected to provide new insights for other regions of the United States facing similar issues involving economic and water security.

The broader impacts of the project focus on helping local disadvantaged communities participate in the governance of water resources. This includes forming “water schools” and engaging K-12 students from under-represented groups in science and policy issues.

The project will also provide interdisciplinary research education and training for graduate and undergraduate students, who will be involved in all aspects of the research and community engagement activities.

The project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human (CNH) Systems Program. The award is one of nine the program awarded across the nation this week, totaling $13 million.

“These awards demonstrate the importance of understanding the connectedness of nature and society in studying the effects of environmental change and socioeconomic stress,” said CNH program director Liz Blood of NSF.

Co-PIs on the research team include Jon Herman in the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Anne Visser and Clare Gupta in the UC Davis Department of Human Ecology; Rebecca Teasley from the University of Minnesota, Duluth; and Laurel Firestone from the nonprofit Community Water Center.

More information

Flooding Farms in the Rain to Restore Groundwater

Kat Kerlin writes about the environment for UC Davis Strategic Communications. Follow her at @UCDavis_Kerlin.

Posted on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 8:27 AM
  • Author: Kat Kerlin

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