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

UC blogs

Empowering California youth through food smart families

We are what we eat. Unfortunately, we don't always make the best food choices. Sometimes it's simply a lack of will power. In communities struggling with high poverty rates, it's often the result of low incomes and limited food options. Dangerously high obesity rates, especially among youth, are a major public health concern in the United States.

The health of California youth reflects this disturbing national trend. To address the challenge of childhood obesity statewide, the California 4-H Food Smart Families program will be implemented at four sites in Fresno, Orange, Sutter-Yuba and Tulare counties this year. Additional UC partners will include the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and CalFresh.

Youth need to increase consumption of dark green veggies and whole grains, and decrease intake of sugar and saturated fats. The objective of California 4-H Food Smart Families is to increase knowledge and create behavior change related to nutrition, cooking, gardening, physical activity and food preparation. The program engages youth 8 to 12 years old and teens in 4-H Healthy Living programming. Youth will be directly reached through lessons delivered at after-school sites, low-resource elementary schools and organized field days at four UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Extension Centers (REC): Kearney REC in Parlier, South Coast REC in Irvine, Sierra Foothill REC in Browns Valley and Lindcove REC in Exeter. The program is structured around positive youth development curricula and practices which provide an intensive engagement of underserved children, teens, families and other stakeholders. Local 4-H teens will be recruited and trained to deliver programs and assume leadership roles.

The National 4-H Council partnered with the ConAgra Food Foundation to launch the national 4-H Food Smart Families program in 2014. ConAgra sponsored funding to award grants to five states for program implementation. This year, in addition to the original five states, California and Louisiana were awarded grants as new participants. Inclusion of the UC Research and Extension Centers in the California program is a new model that organizers hope will be replicated elsewhere. Youth and families who visit the centers will witness first-hand not only how food is grown, but also the science behind it. Center specific lessons may be added to highlight the unique nature of local agriculture and natural resources and the food crops cultivated and studied at each center.

Programming at California sites will get underway this fall and will continue through the school year. Look for more exciting California 4-H Food Smart Families news in the coming months as programming and activities kick into high gear.

Author: Roberta Barton

Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at 8:46 AM

Families use money-saving shopping tips from UC to buy healthy food

UC CalFresh nutrition educator presents Plan, Shop, Save & Cook lessons.
The contents of the refrigerators and cupboards of five Latino families after they participated in UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) nutrition training was heartening.

Most kitchens were stocked with ample fruit and vegetables, legumes and whole wheat bread. Researchers inventoried the food in the five homes before and after the training, and were able to document significant improvements attributable to UC ANR's signature nutrition education curriculum, Plan, Shop, Save & Cook.

“The classes helped families make small changes that made a difference – leading to modest, but very important savings at the end of the month. If your cupboards are bare, an extra $5 in your wallet is significant,” said Susan Algert, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UC ANR in Santa Clara County. “The families typically turned around and spent those savings on something healthy, which is what we asked them to do.”

A report on the pilot study was published this month in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. The families involved were all eligible for the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which in California is called CalFresh. The educational component, administered by UC ANR Cooperative Extension, is called UC CalFresh.

“Digging through pantries is labor intensive, but revealing,” said Algert, the study's lead author. “This gives us a good idea what changes people make at home after they participate in our training.”

Typically the effectiveness of nutrition education programs are judged by asking participants to answer surveys before and after they attend classes, but errors due to attention, comprehension, memory and recording can lead to inaccurate conclusions.

“Direct observation is the gold standard and is conducted by trained researchers who travel to a subject's home and record all foods present in the home – in the refrigerator, freezer, pantry and elsewhere,” Algert said.

In the pilot evaluation, all the participants were Mexican or Mexican-American women 27 to 50 years old. A Spanish-speaking UC CalFresh educator presented three two-hour classes designed to help families stretch food dollars and increase consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The class sessions included information on the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guide, portion sizes, comparison shopping, label reading, menu planning, healthful fats, limiting sugars, cooking, and saving leftovers.

When the before-and-after food inventories were tabulated, the researchers were able to draw conclusions about the training.

UC CalFresh money-saving tips allowed families to purchase imported fruit, like papaya.
One encouraging trend, Algert said, was that funds realized by money-saving tips in the curriculum were not used to buy junk food, but rather to purchase more pricey fruit like papaya and mango and slightly more expensive whole wheat bread instead of white.

“Having worked with Latinos for many years, this made sense to me,” Algert said. “They wanted fruit that was part of the family culture from Mexico.”

Four of the five families switched to whole wheat bread.

“Whole wheat bread has come down in price to $2.50 or $3 a loaf, so that is a behavior that families could change very readily,” Algert said. “One family didn't change to whole wheat because the mother said the family preferred the taste of white bread.”

Four of the five families were able to shop less often using skills they learning in the UC CalFresh training, including planning menus, making healthier recipes from scratch and making shopping lists.

One participant said, “I used to spend $100 to $150 a week on food. Now I spend the same amount but every two weeks. I'm saving a lot.”

Another participant said sticking to a shopping list helps the family stay within a budget. “Now I avoid taking my kids to 7/11 or convenience stores because the food is not healthy and it just contributes to spending more money,” the participant said. “This way, I am saving the money I can spend on healthier food.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 9:10 AM

New app helps strawberry growers manage pests

A screen shot of the new IPMinfo app.
IPMinfo, the first app from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) that provides integrated pest management (IPM) information to farmers, is now available for free download for iPhones on the App Store. The current version of the app contains information on invertebrate pests and diseases of strawberries and gives agricultural professionals easy one-touch access to quick summaries of various pests, pictures to help identify symptoms, and links to additional resources.

Extending research information is an important part of UC ANR Cooperative Extension. As communication technology is advancing every day, using modern channels of communication are important for successfully reaching out to growers, pest control advisers (PCAs), and other key players of the agriculture industry. Traditional newsletters (Central Coast Agriculture Highlights), blogs (Strawberries and Vegetables and Pest News), Facebook, Twitter (@calstrawberries and @calveggies), Tumblr, and online repositories of meeting handouts and presentations are some of the tools that play a critical role in making important information about the Central Coast strawberry and vegetable extension program readily available to the agricultural industry. The popularity of smartphones has made this information even easier to access.

Smartphone applications are becoming popular in agriculture to provide information and for decisionmaking. However, because there were no such applications to help California strawberry and vegetable growers, IPMinfo was developed. The first version of the app was released in December 2014 and an updated version was released in April 2015.

Growers can find information on invertebrate pests, including as aphids, cyclamen mite, greenhouse whitefly, lygus bug, spider mite, and western flower thrips.  Diseases include angular leaf spot, anthracnose, botrytis fruit rot, charcoal rot, common leaf spot, fusarium wilt, leaf blotch and petiole blight, leather rot, mucor fruit rot, phytophthora crown rot, powdery mildew, red stele, rhizopus fruit rot, verticillium wilt, and viral decline.  Each pest entry has information on biology, damage symptoms, and management options with associated photos. Links provided in the management section will take the user to the UC IPM website for more detailed information, especially about various control options.

To download the app on iPhones, go to the App Store and search for IPMinfo

Author: Surendra Dara, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties

The strawberry aphid is one of the pests included in the new app.
Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 8:14 AM

The public is invited to the California Nitrogen Assessment’s Stakeholder Review Process

California farmers are seeing new nitrogen monitoring requirements they must implement in the years ahead. The state of California continues discussion on how growers can improve nitrogen use efficiency and how California can best respond to increasing concerns about nitrogen's movement through our environment. Nitrogen continues to be a pressing topic for California agriculture.

Lettuce field near Salinas, CA
Dairy manure management process

As part of that discussion, members of the public are invited to participate in the Stakeholder Review of the California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA), a comprehensive examination of the existing knowledge on nitrogen science, policy, and practice in California. Researchers have collected and synthesized a large body of data to analyze overall patterns and trends in nitrogen imports, exports, internal flows and storage throughout the state.

The CNA was designed to respond to stakeholder needs, and many scientists affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources were involved in the writing and review of the document. The review process is an opportunity to hear from stakeholders to understand how well the assessment meets those needs and what improvements can be made to the CNA before its publication. This approach aims to move beyond academic “business as usual” to more effectively link science with action and to produce information that informs both policy and field-level practice.

The Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, the CNA's convening institution, is hosting a chapter-by-chapter public review process to allow stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the document before its final release. 

On Friday, June 12, UC SAREP hosted a webinar of Chapter 8: “Responses: Policies and Institutions.” View the webinar here. The webinar includes an introduction to the chapter by its lead author, Ken Baerenklau, associate professor of environmental economics and policy at UC Riverside, and instructions for how stakeholders can submit comments on the chapter.

Chapter 8, “Responses: Policies and Institutions,” provides an overview of available policy instruments for nonpoint source pollution control and examines outcomes from the implementation of these policies in previous cases to control nitrogen pollution in practice.

This is the fourth in a series of webinars and stakeholder review periods to discuss the California Nitrogen Assessment, which includes:

  • Identification of underlying drivers (e.g., regulations, population growth) and direct drivers (e.g., fertilizer use and soil management, fuel combustion) that affect stocks and flows of nitrogen in California agriculture.
  • Calculation of a mass balance to examine how nitrogen moves through California agroecosystems and the state as a whole (including agriculture, sewage, industry and transportation).
  • Evaluation of the state of knowledge about nitrogen's impacts on ecosystem health and human well-being. 
  • A series of scenarios, or "plausible stories about the future," that provide insights about nitrogen issues that will require attention over the next 20 years.
  • A suite of practices and policy options and the potential effects each would have on agriculture, the environment and human health.

Stakeholder comments for Chapter 8 will be accepted until June 26, 2015. The comment period for Chapter 7, “Responses: Technologies and Practices” is still open, with comments due by June 15, 2015. The webinars for all stakeholder presentations done to date are available on the California Nitrogen Assessment's website.

For more information about the stakeholder review process and to access the chapters currently available for review, visit the California Nitrogen Assessment's website.

Posted on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 5:00 PM

Forest and tree health in a time of drought

The fourth winter in a row of disappointing precipitation has triggered a die off of trees in the Sierra Nevada, most of which is now in ‘exceptional drought' status. The US Forest Service conducted aerial monitoring surveys by airplane in April 2015 and observed a large increase in tree mortality in the Southern Sierra (from Sonora south). Surveyors flew over 4.1 million acres of public and private forest land and found that about 20 percent had tree mortality on it, totaling over 10 million dead trees.

The Forest Service found severe mortality in many pine species especially ponderosa pine. On private lands along the foothills of the Sierras, surveyors found extensive areas of dead pines. Large areas of blue and live oak mortality were also suspected though it was too early in the season to be sure.

Trees killed by bark beetles on the Stanislaus National Forest in 1992. (Photo: Jack Kelly Clark)
On the Stanislaus National Forest, areas with dead trees doubled since last year. Pine mortality, mostly caused by western pine beetle, was common at lower elevations. Over 5 million trees were killed on the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests up from the 300,000 trees killed last year in the same area. Conifer mortality was scattered at higher elevation, though surveyors note that the survey was conducted too early in the year to detect the full extent of mortality levels.

The insects killing trees in the Sierra are all native insects that are multiplying because of drought conditions. Native insects are a necessary part of the forest ecosystem that speed decay of wood back into nutrients, prey on other insects, and provide food for wildlife. They are normally present at low levels and cause tree mortality only in localized areas.

However, drought weakens trees and reduces their ability to withstand insect attacks. Normally trees use pitch to expel beetles that attempt to burrow into the tree through the bark. Weakened trees cannot produce the pitch needed to repel these beetles which are able to enter under the bark and lay eggs. Larvae feed on a tree's inner bark cutting off the tree's ability to transport nutrients and eventually kill it. Attacking beetles release chemicals called pheromones that attract other beetles until a mass attack overcomes the tree.  Many beetles also carry fungi that weaken the tree's defenses. 

Western pine beetle is one of the main culprits killing pines in the Sierra during this drought. It is a bark beetle, one of a genus of beetles named Dendroctonus which literally means ‘tree-killer'. Adult beetles are dark brown and about a quarter-inch long. Adults bore into ponderosa pines, lay eggs which develop into larvae in the inner bark then complete development in the outer bark. When beetle populations are high, such as during drought periods, even healthy trees may not be able to produce enough pitch to ward off hundreds of beetle attacks.

Western pine beetle often attacks in conjunction with other insects. Other beetles causing tree mortality in Sierra forests include mountain pine beetle, red turpentine beetle, Jeffrey pine beetle, engraver beetles (Ips) and fir engravers. Forests with a higher diversity of tree species are typically less affected because beetles often have a preference for specific tree species. Some species may attack only one tree type. For example Jeffrey pine beetles attack only Jeffrey pine.

Boring by adult bark beetles often results in pitch tubes; this one was caused by red turpentine beetle attacking Monterey pine. (Photo:Jack Kelly Clark)
Signs that bark beetles are affecting a tree include pitch tubes (streams or tubes of pitch visible on the trunk), small holes through the bark, or boring dust. If the tree is extremely water-stressed and cannot produce pitch, boring dust may be the only visible sign. Trees with needles that have turned from green to red are dead. Most beetles have emerged by the time trees turn red.

The best defense against bark beetles is to keep trees healthy so they are able fight off insects themselves. Widely spaced trees are typically less susceptible to successful attack by bark beetles since they face less competition for moisture, light, and nutrients compared to densely growing and overcrowded trees. Forest health can be promoted by thinning to reduce overcrowding (so each tree has access to more resources) and removing high risk trees during thinning (such as those that are suppressed or unhealthy).

For landscape trees of high value close to a home, watering may be one option to increase tree vigor against bark beetle attacks. Apply about 10 gallons of water for each inch of tree diameter (measured at chest height) around the dripline of the tree once or several times a month during dry weather.

There are some insecticides registered for bark beetle control, but all are preventative only. Carbaryl may prevent attack for up to two years, while pyrethroids can deter attack for up to a year. Spraying can be tricky because the chemical must be applied up to 50 feet up the trunk of the tree usually while standing on the ground. Since misapplication may have toxic consequences, any insecticide must be administered by a licensed pesticide applicator. All applications must follow the label. Though some systemic treatments applied to the soil or inserted into the tree may work in some cases, there is not a lot of documented evidence that they are effective against western pine beetle. No insecticide can prevent tree death once a tree has been successfully attacked.

Author: Susie Kocher, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor

Posted on Monday, June 8, 2015 at 1:51 PM

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