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

UC Food Blog

Where is food grown in your community?

Youth growing food at the Bravo Lake Botanical Garden in Woodlake, Calif.
Nutritious food is an essential part of healthy growth and a healthy lifestyle. What we eat greatly influences how we feel and how happy we are. Nearly every community in California contributes in some way to food production, from large farms to backyard gardens. But even though California is the No. 1 agricultural state in the county, many residents feel far removed from their food sources, often not even recognizing them in their own backyard.

With demand for food supplies increasing, it's becoming more important for all of us to recognize exactly where (and what) fresh food is being grown around us.

Lend a helping hand

On May 8, 2014, we need your help populating our California food map. Get outside, be a scientist, and tell us where food is grown in your community. Do you grow your own? Do you live in the heart of the Central Valley and regularly drive past acres and acres of farms? Or, does your neighbor or school have a garden?

Participating takes 5 minutes. All you have to do is go online to beascientist.ucanr.edu, and add a dot on our map marking a spot where you know there's a garden or a farm.

Together, we'll be able to have a much better understanding of our food systems in California. When we recognize where our food comes from, we tend to become healthier and more mindful eaters.

On May 8, 2014, get out there and be a scientist. Tell us where food is grown in your community. Your answers will help build a healthier future for your community, and for the state.

Join the fun

View the video:

Content created by Steven Worker, Melissa Womack, Karey Windbiel-Rojas, Marisa Neelon, Jennifer Rindahl, and Pam Kan-Rice. Video production: Alberto Hauffen.

Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 1:36 PM
Tags: #BeAScientist (1)

Lemons are the zucchini of winter - take 2

It's early spring, and that means one thing: I am once again drowning in lemons.  This year with our tree well established, we had a bumper crop.  Even as an espalier, our tree produces more lemons than we can use.  And as anyone with a lemon tree knows - it's almost impossible to give away lemons. Lemons are the zucchini of winter.

The author's backyard lemon tree trained in espalier style.

With a pantry full of marmalade, a batch of salted lemons preserving, and all of the copper gleaming, I was looking for a new way to use my harvest.  A neighbor told me she distributed all of her lemons by having a lemoncello making contest with her friends. Lemoncello, the Italian lemon liqueur, is gaining popularity outside of Italy.  It uses a lot of lemons and is easy to make.

The basic recipe for lemoncello is the same. Lemon zest, alcohol, simple syrup, and time.  While recipes vary little, proportion and procedures are highly guarded secrets of the cognosenti.

Purists insist on using a base of grain alcohol; it imparts no flavor of its own to the lemoncello letting the lemons shine through.  Where grain alcohol is unavailable, a high quality vodka can stand in.  I chose a hand crafted corn based vodka, distilled 6 times, because corn seemed the closest to grain alcohol and it had a relatively high proof.

For my first try, I am halving the basic recipe. The first step was to zest the lemons. A lot of lemons.

A microplane is a must-have tool as you want pure zest with no pith.

Add the liquor to the lemon zest. Put it a cool, dark place. Wait. 45 days.

See you mid-May for the next step.

P.S. After the original mixing of the lemon zest and the vodka, and on an apéritif roll, we decided to make vin de pêche using the recipe from Chez Panisse Fruit.  The large glass jar photographed above was re-purposed for the vin de pêche, and the vodka and the zest were moved into the empty vodka bottle. This is probably a better solution as there is less air surface in the container.

Posted on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 8:57 AM
Tags: alcohol (3), citrus (9), lemons (1)

An energetic musical reinforces nutrition education

UCCE's Shawna Rogers shows the plush organs that are inside of OrganWise Guy.
It would be hard to forget a couple of kidneys singing the blues, or a disembodied heart demanding more exercise. That's what UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators are banking on. The educators are pilot-testing a curriculum called “The OrganWise Guys” to help children remember healthy eating messages.

“The kids are really retaining the information because it is brought to life,” said Shawna Rogers, UCCE nutrition program coordinator. She and her colleagues take a four-foot doll to schools and peel open the chest to reveal plush toys representing all the organs. “Each time we go into the classroom, we focus on one organ and how they can keep that organ healthy.”

The dolls and nutrition curriculum are provided to teachers so they can be used to teach the children throughout the year.

The classroom series culminates with a lively stage play in which the organs come to life (see the video below). The OrganWise Guys curriculum is being tested at Olmos and Rowell elementary schools in Fresno with 688 students and 27 teachers as a possible supplement to traditional UC CalFresh curriculum, which was developed to extend nutrition education to recipients of CalFresh benefits (formerly called food stamps).

“OrganWise Guys curriculum pairs really nicely with the evidence-based curriculum that UC has put together,” said Shelby MacNab, UCCE nutrition program manager. “We teach about nutrition and healthy foods, and then we can show the students how that leads to a healthy body.”

Judging by enthusiasm, The OrganWise Guys is a rousing success. A more formal evaluation will be conducted by surveying the children's parents, said Kristen Stenger, UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Fresno County.

“We will ask parents if the kids have mentioned the OrganWise Guys at home or if they have told them what they learned at school about the body, health and nutrition,” Stenger said.

Once the full educational model has been developed with the OrganWise Guys curriculum, it will be offered to additional school sites.

Posted on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 8:44 AM
Tags: nutrition (81)

Ornamental landscape date palm: An overlooked urban fruit tree

Tens of thousands of mature date palm trees have been transplanted from fruit-producing orchards in the Coachella Valley into urban coastal Southern California landscapes. (D. R. Hodel).
From lemons to loquats, it's common to see fruit trees with an abundant, but unpicked, harvest. Urban fruit often goes to waste, whether on a neglected backyard tree or in a public setting. Under-utilized urban fruit trees have gotten some attention in the Los Angeles area in recent years, with projects like Fallen Fruit, a collective that maps fruit trees growing in public spaces, and Food Forward, a non-profit that harvests unwanted fruit and donates it to food banks.

One fruit, though, is not on the radar of foodies and foragers. Yet it's crunchy, sweet, flavorful, often seedless, and very common in Southern California landscapes. It's the fruit of the date palm, rarely thought of as a food source in our urban environment, more frequently viewed as a nuisance because dates fall off trees, where they create litter that must be cleaned up.

Palm trees produce abundant date fruits that fall into the landscape and become a nuisance. (D. R. Hodel).
Why do we have so much of this fruit? For the last 30 years, Southern California has seen the transplanting of tens of thousands of mature Phoenix dactylifera, the edible date, from fruit-producing orchards in the low-desert Coachella Valley into urban coastal Southern California to landscape homes, hotels and malls from Santa Barbara to San Diego. 

Unfortunately, coastal Southern California lacks the high sustained heat and aridity for proper fruit maturation and curing to produce traditional soft-ripe dates of good eating quality. The dates that fall from the trees have been unattractive to gather for sale and consumption, processes that could help to resolve the fruit litter problem in the landscape.

However, some varieties of dates can be eaten at a less than a mature state, traditionally called “khalal.” Fruit in the khalal stage have attained their maximum size, are typically yellow or red, have a sweet flavor, and are crunchy, somewhat like an apple. Several date varieties, like ‘Barhee,' are sometimes sold and eaten in the khalal stage. Fortunately, from a food standpoint (or unfortunately if you are a landscape manager), date fruits do mature to the khalal stage in coastal Southern California because high sustained heat and aridity are not required to attain this stage of development.

While ‘Barhee' is not too common as a landscape subject, another variety, ‘Zahidi,' is common and typically produces abundant fruits in coastal Southern California. These golden yellow fruits are conspicuous and showy in the khalal stage, are typically on the palm for several months from late fall to spring, and are really good to eat. Also, in many cases, these fruits are seedless! (Note to horticulture geeks: date palms are dioecious - separate male and female trees - and because nearly all edible date palms in the landscape are female, their flowers were pollinated by other species of landscape Phoenix. The resulting hybrid fruits are seedless, or pollination is not required for fruit to set and develop - parthenocarpy.)

Urban foragers looking for their next food adventure, or even a potential enterprise, might want to consider taking advantage of this otherwise nuisance and unwanted fruit. Khalal fruit can be gathered from the ground and cleaned. But it is best to collect them off the palm. Cutting an inflorescence (entire fruit stalk) and lowering it carefully to the ground would be ideal.

Khalal-stage fruits of the date variety ‘Zahidi’ are really good to eat: crunchy, sweet, and flavorful. Also, they are seedless (D. R. Hodel).
Khalal-stage fruits of the date variety ‘Zahidi’ are really good to eat: crunchy, sweet, and flavorful. Also, they are seedless (D. R. Hodel).

Posted on Monday, March 31, 2014 at 1:51 PM

Choosing healthy foods might be easier than you think

Doctors say we'll live longer if we exercise and eat right. Okay, but what does that mean, exactly? You hear so much about super foods and super diets that knowing how to “eat right” can be super confusing.

Dr. Liz Applegate
It doesn't have to be. Liz Applegate, a nutrition and fitness expert from UC Davis, has teamed up with Nugget Markets (a chain of nine markets which serve the greater Sacramento Valley) to present a “21-day Healthy Eating and Exercise Challenge,” an easy plan for making health a permanent part of our lives.

“This isn't about starving yourself or biting off more than you can chew at the gym,” Applegate says. “It's about making good-for-your-body decisions, rather than punishing you with cutting calories and tough-to-do workouts.”

Applegate teaches nutrition at UC Davis, including a wildly popular online and in-person nutrition course that attracts several thousand students each year. She's a triathlete, a sports nutrition columnist for Runner's World, an author of several sports nutrition books, director of sports nutrition for Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Davis, and a consultant for Olympic athletes.

In short, she knows her stuff. And when it comes to healthy eating, she says, don't over-think it.

“Eating well isn't about being perfect, but about finding out what food has to offer, and striking a balance between your needs, personal preferences, culture and family experience,” she says.

That philosophy is central to her healthy eating and exercise challenge, which you can pick up at any Nugget Market or download from its website here. Applegate's shopping list includes a wide variety of tasty foods — a bounty of fresh vegetables, various meats and poultry, fish, eggs, grains, dairy, chocolate and much more. What's not to like?

Applegate suggests adherents to her eating and exercise challenge aim to eat at least 2½ cups of veggies and 2 to 3 pieces of fruit each day.
Even if you don't follow the plan to the letter, Applegate's general rules are manageable and straightforward:

  1. Eat breakfast. A solid morning meal sets the stage for a good day of healthy eating.
  2. Eat some protein at every meal to manage weight and support your exercise.
  3. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat are your friends (unless you cannot tolerate gluten. If so, stick with brown rice and other non-wheat products).
  4. Aim for at least 2½ cups of veggies and 2 to 3 pieces of fruit each day.
  5. Include healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds. Use olive, canola or avocado oils.
  6. Aim for 2 to 3 servings of calcium-rich foods like dairy or soymilk. Each day, eat a probiotic such as yogurt or kefir for digestive and immune support.

As for fitness, the plan provides a do-at-home circuit of strength training exercises, such as planks, push-ups, squats and leg lifts. Her general rules are:

  1. Switch things up. You'll build stronger muscles when you try different types of exercises.
  2. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five to seven days a week. Anything that boosts your heart rate counts — fast walking, jogging, bike riding, swimming, dancing, basketball, you name it. If you can't find time for 30 minutes straight, 10 minutes here and there will do the trick.
  3. Include three to five do-at-home strength-building sessions that help shape and tone major muscle groups while building core strength.

Adjusting to healthy eating and routine exercise takes time, Applegate says, so don't be too hard on yourself.

The joy is in the journey.



Posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 10:03 AM

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