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 Food Blog

Southern Californians get another reason to love pizza

The newly planted pizza garden at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville.
People love pizza, so they are sure to enjoy the new garden growing at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. A circle planted with wheat, tomatoes, bell peppers, herbs and spices, the garden looks like and produces the ingredients for pizza.

“Pizza can be a healthy meal, if you build it right,” said Stephanie Collins, outreach assistant at the Desert REC. “We can teach kids to add vegetables and educate them about whole grains and non-fat cheese.”

Collins initially envisioned the pizza garden teaching tool when she joined UC Cooperative Extension four years ago as a nutrition educator. The recent removal of a large tree stump made the location available.

The pizza garden will be part of the center's UC FARM SMART program, in which about 5,000 school children and “snowbird” winter residents annually visit the station to learn about UC's ongoing agricultural research in the desert area, tour the 255-acre facility on a hay wagon and taste products that are grown in the vicinity.

Green peppers growing in the pizza garden.
When they visit the pizza garden, they'll learn many of their favorite foods come from plants grown nearby in the productive agricultural region. The garden is divided into four wedges. The wheat, which is used to make the pizza crust, and alfalfa, which is an important feed for dairy cows, the source of cheese, is grown in one wedge.

“Alfalfa is cheese in the making,” Collins said.

Tomatoes, onions and arugula are planted in the next wedge. The tomatoes are used for traditional sauce and onions are a healthy and flavorful topping, but arugula?

“Arugula is great on pizza,” Collins said. “It has a strong, peppery flavor.”

In another section, visitors can smell, feel and taste the herbs that season pizza sauce. Oregano, basil, sage, thyme, chives, parsley and rosemary fill the third wedge.

The fourth section holds bell peppers and rhubarb.

Fresh herbs and spices fill one wedge of the pizza garden.
“The rhubarb is just for fun,” Collins said.

The garden is encircled with marigolds for the appearance of crust, and the wedges are dotted with a variety of non-pizza plants, like ornamental kale, vinca and lavender. These plants also serve an educational purpose, said Sam Urie, the UC FARM SMART manager at the Desert REC.

“A diversity of plants attracts beneficial insects, so they help the garden out,” Urie said.

The mostly senior citizen visitors pay $20 per person for the station tour, which includes a homemade lunch featuring locally produced foods. This year, the centerpiece of the meal will be carrot-ginger soup.

The visitors' fees help offset the cost of the tours for local children, who pay just $3 each.

For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Urie at (760) 791-0261, surie@ucanr.edu.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 8:05 AM

Picture this: UCCE focuses on healthy meals for Healthy Weight Week (Jan. 18-24)

USDA MyPlate
Photos of sumptuous dishes are nearly as numerous as cat photos on social media. To sharpen people's focus on healthful eating, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition experts are using photos of food.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a new food graphic, MyPlate, to remind consumers to choose healthier foods. Work by Cooperative Extension in California that began years earlier influenced the adoption of MyPlate by USDA. Nutrition educators in California began using a plate graphic with USDA's My Pyramid several years ago in a research project with Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program participants. While evaluating the use of their graphic, which was very similar to USDA's MyPlate, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisors found that a graphic depiction such as the one USDA is using for MyPlate is abstract for many families.

“We discovered that our clients need to see photos showing real food combinations in order to apply the MyPlate message to real food choices,” said Cathi Lamp, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor. “They prefer to learn by viewing photographs with foods and meals they eat to see how it works and how they can implement the guide in their lives.”

A child places food on the MyPlate template.
In a project with more than 200 Latino consumers participating, the UCCE nutrition advisors learned which foods Latina, African American and other women would serve their families. Lamp and her colleagues developed materials with photographs of the preferred foods for nutrition education.

They evaluated the behavior of consumers who were trained with the revised Plan, Shop, Save and Cook curriculum with photos of food and compared it with the results of the original version of the lessons.

UCCE curriculum makes healthy eating easy.
“We found that the group receiving the revised Plan, Shop, Save and Cook and MyPlate materials reported the greatest change in the frequency of using MyPlate to make food choices, after considering differences among groups in initial behaviors and participant characteristics,” Lamp said.

UC CalFresh shows examples of healthy foods on plates.
Given the success of the photographs, UC Cooperative Extension created “My Healthy Plate” posters. Photographs of healthful food served on plates appear in all the EFNEP and UC CalFresh nutrition education materials, including the revised Plan, Shop, Save and Cook curriculum.

“Everybody enjoys looking at pictures of foods,” said Lamp. “So what we have now in our nutrition classes are lots of photographs of healthy examples.”

To listen to an interview with Cathi Lamp about My Healthy Plate in Spanish, visit Enseñando a comer ‘con sabor latino' con MiPlato at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Spanish/Noticias/radio/?uid=5983&ds=199.

For more than 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 8:35 AM
Tags: Cathi Lamp (3), EFNEP (5), Nutrition Education (15), UC CalFresh (11)

Avocado production in the San Joaquin Valley gets closer

Planting avocados in research plots at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center.
The San Joaquin Valley is the heart of California agriculture, but hasn't been a hospitable home for commercial avocado production. UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mary Lu Arpaia is conducting research to change that.

Avocados are native of semi subtropical high elevation rainforests in Mexico and Central America. A delicious and highly nutritious fruit, the cultivation of avocado has spread around the world. In California, growers are having commercial success in areas with year-round mild climates, such as San Diego and Ventura counties.

Though avocados are frost sensitive to be sure, it is not the cold winter climate that is the greatest impediment to avocado production in the state's inland valleys. It's the heat.

“Plant leaves have stomata, small openings that allow water vapor to move out of the plant to cool the leaf surface,” Arpaia said. “It works something like perspiration on people. Moisture exits the pores and cools the skin.”

The stomata on the leaves of Hass avocados – the variety most favored by California consumers – close when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. No moisture is released from the closed stomata and the plant overheats, causing fruit drop.

“To grow avocados in the valley, we need to have a variety that can tolerate heat better than Hass,” Arpaia said.

An avocado variety currently named 465202-99 was planted in 2013 and already has a substantial crop for 2015. It looks nice and has performed well in taste panels.
Over the past four years, Arpaia has planted avocado varieties selected by UC Riverside at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center near Exeter. Twelve different varieties are now growing in the plot. The UC Riverside selections have undergone rigorous testing for yield, the length of time ripe fruit can remain on the tree, and eating quality.

“The ones that we're testing in the field have eating quality comparable to Hass,” Arpaia said.

Lindcove is situated where the valley floor is gently rising toward the Sierra Nevada. The slope allows cold air to slip down to lower elevations, giving farmers in the area an advantage of a few degrees in the winter. The geography has made the area an important location for citrus production. But heat-tolerant avocados could be an alternative.

East-side citrus farmers may be looking for other options if Huanglongbing (HLB) disease makes its way to the area. Already, the pest that spreads HLB, Asian citrus psyllid, is established in some parts of the valley and spreading. Once a tree is infected with HLB, it cannot be cured.

“Growers have made good money on avocados,” Arpaia said. “In the San Joaquin Valley, water is relatively cheap and we have better water quality than San Diego County. There are good, well-drained soils. Avocados' frost sensitivity is similar to lemons. If farmers have property where they can grow lemons, they could try avocados.”

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 8:18 AM
Tags: avocados (3), Mary Lu Arpaia (3)

Scientists ask USDA to add water to MyPlate

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute would like MyPlate to include an icon for water, such as the one shown above.
The brightly colored divided plate that lays out the USDA's model for healthy eating needs one little tweak, says the director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute Lorrene Ritchie. Don't take anything away, but add H20.

Ritchie has joined with dozens of nutrition and health professionals around the country to ask that the USDA put water onto MyPlate.

“We don't have all the answers to overcoming obesity, but the research on sugar-sweetened beverages is very clear,” Ritchie said. “When you drink beverages like soda, sports drinks or punch, the sugar gets absorbed very rapidly and the body doesn't recognize the calories. The result is excess calories and weight gain.”

The USDA introduced MyPlate in 2011 to reflect the message of its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Federal law requires that the guidelines be reviewed, updated and published every five years.

“USDA officials say that, in order to change MyPlate, there must be more information in the dietary guidelines about water,” Ritchie said. “We are working through the public comment process to ask the advisory board to promote water as the beverage of choice.”

The ultimate goal – a new water icon on MyPlate – is important because of its high visibility. MyPlate is found on elementary school classroom walls and cereal boxes; at community gardens and the grocery store produce aisle.

Drinking plain water is important for child nutrition and obesity prevention.
In preparing for a visit with USDA officials at their Washington, D.C., headquarters, Christina Hecht, UC Nutrition Policy Institute coordinator, asked UC Cooperative Extension specialists in California for input on MyPlate. Their enthusiasm was unanimous.

“They see MyPlate as the face of the dietary guidelines and are very supportive of using the image as a teaching tool,” Hecht said. “They also supported the idea of adding a symbol for water.”

She shared the California educators' thoughts on MyPlate with her USDA contacts. “When they get a story from the field, it really matters to them,” Hecht said.

Ritchie and her colleagues around the country submitted a “Best of Science” letter to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee imploring them to strengthen the language for drinking water.

“Current research indicates that children, in particular, are subject to ‘voluntary dehydration' from low intake of plain water,” the letter says. “Between 2005 and 2010, more than a quarter of children aged 4 to 13 years old in the U.S. did not have a drink of plain water on two consecutive days.”

Instead, they are drinking sugary beverages. National surveys in the early 2000s found that, on any given day, 84 percent of 2- to 5-year-old children drank sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sports drinks and fruit punch. The calories amounted to 11 percent of the children's total energy intake.

Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Insitute, testifies at a congressional hearing about strategies to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S.
Since the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were issued, knowledge about the magnitude of risk and extent of adverse effects from sugar-sweetened beverages has increased. The Best of Science letter outlines for the advisory board many of the proven consequences of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in America:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages – including sodas, juice drinks, pre-sweetened tea and coffee drinks, and fortified or energy drinks – are among the top sources of calories for children and adolescents.
  • Between the late 1960s and early 2000s the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages doubled.
  • While the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men, the average U.S. consumption is 17 teaspoons per day.
  • Low-income populations have higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beveragesand Latino children drink more of them than white children.
  • Cardiovascular disease, present in more than one-third of American adults, is now understood to be exacerbated by the inflammatory effects of excess sugar consumption.
  • Excess sugar consumption is a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a precursor to diabetes.
To learn more, read the Best of Science Letter signed by 14 prominent nutrition educators from around the nation by clicking the link below.
Posted on Wednesday, January 7, 2015 at 7:15 AM

Protecting California’s parsley crop

Parsley with disease symptoms.
When most people think about parsley, they likely think of it as an inedible garnish a chef places on their plate. But parsley is widely used in dried spice mixes, soups and other prepared foods as well as in salads and other recipes. Currently, California produces almost 2,600 acres of parsley at a value of $18 million a year, with Monterey and Ventura counties accounting for 49 percent of the state's parsley production.

California parsley is produced typically in high volumes and with high quality. However in the past few years, growers began to observe unfamiliar disease issues in their parsley fields. Leaf spots, blighted foliage and yellowed plants contributed to loss of quality and reduced yields. Steven Koike and Oleg Daugovish, UC Cooperative Extension advisors in Monterey and Ventura counties respectively, stepped in to investigate the new parsley problems. They collaborated with farmers and pest control advisers to understand the extent of the problems and to obtain samples of the diseased crops. 

The UC Cooperative Extension plant pathology diagnostic lab in Salinas was successful in isolating and identifying several pathogens that were responsible for causing the disease symptoms. Working with USDA, they found that three new diseases were present in California parsley crops: bacterial leaf spot, Stemphylium leaf spot, and Apium virus Y disease.

Two of these problems are seedborne, so future management will include the use of pathogen-free seeds. The Apium virus Y pathogen is found in weeds, so growers will need to remove poison hemlock, among others.

Previous to this research, some growers were spraying symptomatic fields because they believed that a disease called late blight was responsible for the disease symptoms. Growers have now ceased making these sprays, eliminating the use of unnecessary chemicals and saving costs.

Click here for more on this research.

California produces almost 2,600 acres of parsley at a value of $18 million a year.
Posted on Tuesday, January 6, 2015 at 11:03 AM

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