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

Cottage food law not the answer to small-farm woes

'The new law doesn't help us at all,' said Annie Main, who with her husband Jeff farms in the Capay Valley.
When the California Homemade Food Act went into effect early last year, it was hailed as an exciting new opportunity for small scale farmers to boost profits. The law allows for certain foods prepared in home kitchens to be sold directly to the public at farmers markets and roadside stands.

The UC small farm program held a series of two-day workshops around California to outline the provisions of the new law. Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, was the coordinator and an instructor for the series. The class was popular, but many of the farming participants found that the letter of the law tended to hinder their creativity rather than open new business avenues.

Hardesty said the Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) was designed to, among other things, help farming families take their surplus produce and make dried products, jams, jellies and butters. However, the California Department of Public Health is requiring cottage food operators to do all of their processing in their home kitchen, to comply with the Statutory Provisions Related to Sanitary and Preparation Requirements for Cottage Food Operations (Excerpts from the California Health and Safety (H&S Code, including H&S 113980 Requirements for Food), specifically, the CDPH requires that cottage food operators comply with the following operational requirements:

"All food contact surfaces, equipment, and utensils used for the preparation, packaging, or handling of any cottage food products shall be washed, rinsed, and sanitized before each use. All food preparation and food and equipment storage areas shall be maintained free of rodents and insects."

Cutting fruit and laying it in the sun to dry, for example, is not permitted. For jams and jellies, the law stipulates sugar-to-fruit ratios that require more sugar than fruit. For some cooks, the rules defeat the unique character of their homemade, gourmet products.

“I really try not to put a lot of sugar in my jellies. I want it to taste like fruit,” said farmer Annie Main, who took the UC class.

Main and her husband Jeff run an organic fruit, vegetable, flower and herb operation on 20 acres in the Capay Valley of Yolo County.

“I've been doing value-added for 20 years,” Main said. “In the '90s, I started making jams and jellies in a rented certified kitchen. But it's a trek to get labor, jars, supplies and fruit to the restaurant kitchen after hours and then work till midnight. We thought with the new law, I could do it in my own kitchen, which would be fabulous.”

However, she found that the rules of the law are so restrictive as to be prohibitive.

“Farmers in the class were asked whether the law extended their ability for economic return on their products. Every single one shook their heads,” Main said. “The new law doesn't help us at all.”

Hardesty said there may be other options for these producers to process and sell their foods. She is planning to offer another class this fall, “Cottage Food Plus,” to help growers find workable mechanisms for selling their food.

“They may be able to use a co-packer to do the processing or a commercial kitchen or become registered as a processing food facility,” Hardesty said.

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Connecting wildfires to climate change and drought

Longer summers, less moisture and warmer climates are predicted for California's Sierra Nevada mountains. These changing patterns bring frequent droughts and extended wildfire seasons — as seen from the current extreme drought. The question no longer is whether wildfires will be more common or more intense — they already are — but how forest managers want these fires to burn.

Jens Stevens, a postdoctoral researcher in disturbance ecology at the University of California, Davis, has tracked how forests thinned for wildfire react to high-intensity burns. The answers he found touch on growing concerns over how the state can protect its forests.

Under the context of climate change, Stevens studies how understory plants recover from wildfires, measuring the effects fuel treatments — such as the thinning of small trees — have on the way these forests burn.

Postdoctoral researcher Jens Stevens (right) inspects an untreated forest after a wildfire.
Historically Sierra forests had gaps and openings, which prevented the spread of fires. More than a century ago land management agencies began a campaign of extinguishing all wildfires. Today's forest floors are blanketed with litter — fallen branches, leaves and shrubs — and many of the fire-tolerant pines have been replaced by firs, which handle shade well but act as fuel sources.

Stevens' research showed fuel treatments encourage resilience to wildfires, giving forests a greater ability to withstand a burn. Under really hot, dry summer conditions this makes a powerful difference.

“If you get warmer temperatures you're going to dry out the fuels,” says Stevens. “If we want to retain forest-dominated landscapes, we don't have the choice of doing nothing, because eventually these stands are going to burn."

To preserve forests, Stevens looked to native plant diversity under each management strategy. After a high severity fire, the tree canopy is non-existent. This new high-light environment favors other species, such as shrubs and flowering plants, which crowd out young trees.

A treated forest has more resilience to high-intensity wildfires.
In treating a stand before a fire, land managers are already encouraging plant diversity and when the stand burns, diversity increases even more, Stevens discovered.

While the treatments do protect the forest and encourage plant diversity, they are expensive and lead to uncertainty over how sensitive wildlife species are affected. Yet these areas will burn eventually, Stevens argues. The choice is either a more open forest or no forest at all.

He points out research by UC Davis ecologist Malcolm North, which shows the current pace of treatments can't keep up with the extent of Sierra forests that have been fire suppressed. The US Forest Service can treat up to 40 percent of a forest before managers must start over for follow-up treatments. The other 60 percent doesn't get touched.

“So the only real way to address that is to let the fire do the work for you,” says Stevens.

The proposal North and his colleagues arrived at relies on “firesheds.” These fire-prone areas would have boundaries that allow officials to efficiently manage the fires. If a burn begins after a treatment, they don't put it out. Allowing the fire to burn fuels they would otherwise be removing frees up resources to treat other areas.

“So if it's going to burn,” says Stevens, “you need to figure out ways the fire's going to give you your desired outcome.”

Watch Stevens explain more in his seminar.

This post was adapted from a longer piece by the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
 

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Growing healthy kids in a Pixley garden

Third-graders at Pixley elementary with their summer garden.
An old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. The teachers at Pixley Elementary School have found that it takes not just a village, but a unique combination of community agencies, good curricular materials and a little bit of dirt. That's right, dirt. In Pixley, they are growing healthy kids in a school garden.

A motivated third-grade teacher, Fidel Garcia, applied for grants from the Tulare County Farm Bureau, California Ag in the Classroom, the Dairy Council of California and LifeLab. He invited UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Grilda Gomez into the classroom to share the UC Cooperative Extension “Nutrition to grow on” lessons. A local nursery, Bonnie Plants, donated seeds and transplants to grow cabbage, zucchini and onions in the school garden.

Garcia asked the other Pixley Elementary third-grade teachers to be involved. David McGrady's class researched and planted herbs. Garcia's class and Ralph Gutierrez' class planted the main garden. All the students regularly visited to weed, irrigate and watch the vegetables grow.

At harvest time, UCCE's Gomez worked with the students to prepare a fresh coleslaw using vegetables representing the six plant parts they learned about in the classroom – stems, seeds, leaves flowers, fruit and roots.

UC nutrition educator Grilda Gomez prepares coleslaw with Pixley Elementary third-graders.
Following is the recipe the third-graders prepared:

Crunchy coleslaw

8 cups finely shredded cabbage (2 ½ pound medium head)

1 cup finely sliced celery

½ cup shredded carrot (1 medium carrot)

½ cup sliced green onion

¼ cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons salad oil

Pinch celery salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup wine vinegar

Directions:

Combine cabbage, celery, carrot, green onion and parsley. Pour on salad oil and toss until slaw is evenly coated. Sprinkle on and toss in seasonings. Finally, add wine vinegar and toss.

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 8:36 AM

President Napolitano launches UC Global Food Initiative

On July 1, the University of California announced our new Global Food Initiative to address one of the critical issues of our time: How to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.

UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is already a critical partner with California's farmers and consumers, providing growers and ranchers with scientifically tested production techniques, educating families about nutrition, improving food safety and addressing environmental concerns. With programs in every California county, our research and extension network in California reaches from Tulelake to El Centro and more than 130 countries working to solve agricultural problems at home and abroad.

The initiative will align the university's research, outreach and operations in a sustained effort to develop, demonstrate and export solutions — throughout California, the U.S. and the world — for food security, health and sustainability.

Check below for some key highlights from UC ANR and our 10 campuses. For more information about the initiative, visit: http://www.ucop.edu/initiatives/global-food-initiative.html

President Napolitano joins UCLA student Ian Davies in student-run garden.

UC ANR 

  • In the past 10 years, 500 million citrus trees have been grown from disease-free budwood provided by Lindcove Research and Extension Center (REC).
  • Desert REC has 1,300 carrot varieties in production for USDA's carrot improvement program.
  • California became one of the leading producers of fresh blueberries after UCCE researchers identified varieties that could thrive in California, so long as the growers acidify the soils and maintain acidic conditions in the irrigation water.
  • 5,400 UC Master Gardener volunteers play a key role in helping Californians grow food in their own backyard, working in 50 California counties to teach research-based gardening techniques that minimize the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Currently, more than 1,200 community, school and demonstration gardens in California are managed by UC Master Gardeners.
  • Through our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program (also known as SNAP-ED), UC Cooperative Extension works with community agencies and schools todeliver nutrition education to low-income families, improving their health and food security and helping preventchildhood obesity. EFNEP and CalFresh programs are currently operated in 33 counties reach 222,000 members of the public each year.

UC Berkeley

  • The Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) is an interdisciplinary institute launched in 2013 dedicated to research, education, policy initiatives and practices to support sustainable food and agriculture systems. BFI is catalyzing and fostering transformative changes in food systems, to promote resilience, justice, diversity and health, from local to global scales.
  • The Atkins Center for Weight and Health (CWH) works with community groups to develop and evaluate programs to support healthy eating and active living, with a focus on children and families in diverse communities.

UC Davis

  • As the largest UC campus, with more than 3,000 acres specifically devoted to agricultural research and teaching, UC Davis is addressing the pressing food and agricultural challenges that face California, the nation and the world.
  • In addition to the World Food Center, UC Davis hosts 26 centers with a significant emphasis on agriculture and food, including the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, Center for Produce Safety, Foods for Health Institute, Seed Biotechnology Center, Postharvest Technology Center, Plant Breeding Center, Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, Center for Food Animal Health, and Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
  • In April, UC Davis unveiled the largest anaerobic biodigester on a college campus, using technology invented by one of its engineering professors to turn organic waste into renewable energy. The system, now in commercial use, is designed to daily convert 50 tons of organic waste to 12,000 kWh of renewable electricity, diverting 20,000 tons of waste from local landfills each year. 

UC Irvine

  • Anthropologist Michael Montoya leads the Community Knowledge Project, an action-research partnership with community organizations in Santa Ana. Past projects have tackled obesity prevention and school lunch/food access. Upcoming project on diabetes prevention in Fullerton. 
  • In AY 2014-15, the Sustainability Initiative, in conjunction with social ecologist John Whiteley and UC Irvine's oceans faculty, will host a regional conference at the National Academies of Sciences' Beckman Center on Ocean Health, Sustainable Fishing, and Food Security.
  • The Sustainability Initiative convenes The Garden Project, which coordinates the four campus community gardens (three of which are student-run) and builds links with the broader community involved in sustainable food production in Orange County, particularly in low-income communities.

UCLA

  • The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UCLA–USC Center for Population and Health Disparities — among other centers — are actively involved in research and community projects to help improve food availability and security.
  • The Student Food Collective holds farmers markets in UCLA's main plaza and manages a food-buying co-op. Multiple produce gardens on campus increase sustainability practices, provide more healthful options and serve as educational tools to facilitate healthy lifestyle choices by the campus and surrounding community.
  • The UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden promotes plant diversity and ecologically sound practices.
  • UCLA faculty, students and staff collaborate with LAUSD food services and medical staff on research and programs to promote healthy eating for the school district's 600,000 students. 

UC Merced

  • Public Health Professor A. Susana Ramirez and her students this summer will interview with customers at a mobile farmer's market that travels to different parts of Merced County to better understand food access issues facing Merced County residents, and the relationship between access to healthy foods and obesity.
  • UC Merced is working to form a Farmers Consortium to promote the campus's interest in doing business with local farmers, in addition to direct communication with local farms.
  • UC Merced's 400-square-foot community garden was developed on campus in spring 2014 by Engineers for a Sustainable World. Fruit and vegetables harvested will be donated to local food banks. The site will eventually be used for education and outreach.
  • The campus's Early Childhood Education Center serves as a delivery point for Rancho Piccolo, a community- supported agriculture. Many faculty and staff are members and are able to get local, fresh fruit and vegetables every week. 

UC Riverside 

  • A chemist has applied chemical tests to juice products sold as pomegranate juice or pomegranate juice blends, in order to authenticate their content. Another researcher is studying the effects of pomegranate juice on prostate cancer progression. 

UC San Diego 

  • Food and Fuel for the 21st Century supports the development of innovative, sustainable and commercially viable solutions for the renewable production of food, energy, green chemistry and bio-products using photosynthetic organisms — including converting solar energy into food and fuel, without the use of fossil fuels.
  • Department of Literature students can enroll in “The Politics of Food” course that utilizes UC San Diego campus gardens for summer research. Students learn how community gardens are governed, planting their own seedlings and identifying campus markets for the produce they grow. In the Division of Biological Sciences, courses such as “Fundamentals of Plant Biology” introduce students to plant genetic engineering, plant disease and stress and sustainable agriculture.
  • The UC San Diego School of Medicine's Child Development and Community Health program initiatives include Network for a Healthy California: Campaigns and programs focus on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity levels and food security among low-income families. Healthy Works: This program initiates new farmers markets, promotes additional school and community gardens and helps residents to stay physically active and eat nutritious foods.

UCSF 

  • In 2009, UCSF launched the Smart Choice Smart U program http://smartchoice.ucsf.edu) in partnership with MyFitnessPal, a leading mobile application and website and Fitbit, an activity tracker, that combines food tracking with physical activity to give real-time feedback about personal wellness goals.

UC Santa Cruz 

  • The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UC Santa Cruz has developed cutting-edge programs in food systems and organic farming research and extension, national and international work in agroecology, and a renowned apprenticeship program.
  • The nearly 1,500 graduates of its Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture have carried hands-on experience into teaching, farming and advocacy positions worldwide for more than 45 years.
  • An on-site affiliate, Life Lab, uses the Farm for K–12 school tours, teacher trainings, summer camps, and the “Food What?” youth empowerment program.
  • The Central Coast School Food Alliance (CCSFA) is a collaborative initiative that serves school children fresh and wholesome food in Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties. Stakeholders include food service directors, non-profit leaders on community food systems development, researchers, educators, as well as elected local, state, and federal officials.
Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Peel back the layers and see what the onion is all about

Red onions. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
For crying out loud, who doesn't love an onion? Whether you enjoy them in burgers, broths, sandwiches or soups, or deep-fry them as onion rings or serve them with liver, they're to die for and to cry for.

The average American eats 21 pounds of onions per year. Indeed, our appetite for the fresh green as well as yellow, red, and white bulb onions is increasing in the United States, up 70 percent from several decades ago. A valued crop generating $1.2 billion a year, the onion currently ranks No. 2 in the vegetable industry, right behind the potato. Yellow onions account for nearly 90 percent of all onion consumption, followed by red and white varieties.

Onions, cultivated for more than 5,000 years, are one of the most versatile vegetables. They are found in every ethnic cuisine from breakfast to lunch to dinner and are rich in vitamin C and fiber. As Julia Child noted, “It's hard to imagine civilization without onions.”

With a thriving onion industry comes a “crying” need for onion seed planting stock; onions have to flower and set seed. California is a major worldwide supplier of onion seed, with growers producing about 3,000 acres of hybrid onion seed worth about $12 million, and generating an additional $40 million annually in subsequent retail sales. The major growing areas in our state are the Imperial Valley and Colusa County.

Seed companies from around the world contract with growers here in California to produce hybrid onion seed. The many different varieties include red, yellow and white bulbs, including types that are adapted to different day lengths from our northern to southern hemispheres. Growers plant onion bulbs or seedling transplants in late summer with distinct male (male fertile) and female (male sterile) onion lines in the same field. Generally, the field ratio is one row of males for every three female rows and they're tough to tell apart from a distance, but males produce pollen.

Honey bees visiting an onion umbel. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
In Northern California, flowering occurs for a short four to five weeks the following May and June, with scapes from each bulb producing a white umbel with multiple florets. Growers rely on honey bees for cross pollination, that is moving the pollen from male to female rows. Each acre usually includes 10 to 12 hives. Native bees are also important for pollinating onion flowers, as are flies. No pollinators? No onion seed production.

Thankfully, there are few pests of onion seed, although the recent introduction of the iris yellow spot virus vectored by the onion thrips has resulted in increased insecticide use to control this potentially devastating pest and disease. Recent research by UC Cooperative Extension specialists in Yolo County and UC Davis, however, documented that more than three insecticide sprays applied pre-bloom per year can reduce honey bee visitation to flowers. Insecticides may also interfere with the ability of female flowers to receive pollen; that is, sprays applied near to bloom time can lead to overall lower pollen germination. As a result, growers are now careful to minimize insecticide use in onion seed production fields to ensure good pollination and yields.

Monitoring honey bee activity in onion seed production
Likewise, growers must carefully manage their irrigation water to ensure that the onion flowers produce good nectar rewards to maximize honey bee visitation. Honey bees are attracted to flowers with ample nectar production. Fields that are too wet or too dry show reduced floral nectar rewards and a decrease in honey bee visitation.

After cross-pollination occurs and seeds are set, growers knock down the male rows to remove them to facilitate harvesting of female lines and ensure purity of the seed. Once the female umbels dry down, they are harvested primarily by hand, placed on tarps to fully dry, and then the tiny black seeds from the florets are mechanically threshed with a combine, and cleaned and packaged for retail sales.

Although a small acreage crop in California, onion seed is an important specialty crop that significantly boosts our agricultural economy, as well as providing needed seed for farmers throughout the world.

But, before you can slice them, chop them or dice them, you have to grow them and our California growers do it best.

Additional information on onion seed production can be found at:

http://ceyolo.ucanr.edu/Custom_Program/Seed_Crop_Production/Onion_Seed_Production/

 

Onion umbel with seeds
Onion umbel with seeds

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 8:27 AM

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