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

Farmers market prices compare well with the supermarket produce aisle

Farmers market prices are competitive with supermarkets.
Many shoppers believe they can buy cheaper produce at supermarkets than at local farmers markets. A new UC Cooperative Extension study dispels that common misperception.

In Placer and Nevada counties, UCCE received a CDFA Specialty Block Grant to encourage consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables and support the local agricultural industry by buying the produce from them. The project led to the creation of the “Eat Local Placer Nevada” campaign.

“Buying locally grown products supports local farmers and ranchers and it keeps land in agriculture,” said Cindy Fake, UCCE farm advisor in Placer and Nevada counties. “Simply put, it's the right thing to do.”

To give consumers extra incentive to eat local, the group launched a seven-month study to compare prices at farmers markets and grocery stores. Volunteers and staff collected price data at four farmers markets and six grocery stores from January to July 2014. Specials and sale items were not part of the study. The data suggests that organic produce at farmers markets is priced about the same as organic produce at grocery stores.

In terms of conventional produce, grocery stores had cheaper prices on 6 out of 11 items; however, consumers would still save money picking up red apples, beets and chard at the farmers markets. The cost of conventional butternut squash and sweet potatoes was virtually equal at the two venues.

“Contrary to many consumers' perception, farmers market prices are competitive with regular supermarket prices,” Fake said. “Some prices are slightly higher, some slightly lower, but they are in the same range. “

However, there are other factors shoppers should keep in mind when deciding to buy supermarket produce or fruit and vegetables grown by their neighboring farmers.

“Produce at the farmers market is sold the same day or the day after it is harvested,” Fake said. “Because of that, its shelf life is two to three times longer than what is found in the supermarket. And because it is so fresh, you have a higher nutrient content and it will taste better.”

Fake said experts believe buying local also supports the local economy. She is collaborating on a project led by Shermain Hardesty, UCCE specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, to document the economic impact of local food systems in Placer, El Dorado, Sacramento and Yolo counties. The researchers will gather data about farmers' purchases of inputs and local sales of produce.

“This project will provide science-based evidence to guide public policy and program design aimed at supporting local farmers and local food systems into the future,” Fake said.

The study – titled Measuring the Impact of Local Food Marketing on the Local Economy – is supported with a $226,048 grant from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 8:21 AM

A disheartening new pest invades California vegetable gardens

Bagrada bugs feeding on a tomato. (Photo: Jennifer Evangelista, San Luis Obispo)
California gardeners harvesting their summer produce may encounter a new pest – the bagrada bug. The native of Africa made its first California appearance in Los Angeles County six years ago and has been moving eastward and northward ever since.

“Citizen scientists have been instrumental in reporting the occurrence of bagrada in various counties and are helping map its current distribution,” said Surendra Dara, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. “This is a very serious pest. It is wiping out gardens, and is of great concern for small-scale and organic growers.”

Bagrada bugs are major pests of cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, but they don't appear to be picky eaters. They have been known to feed on a wide variety of garden vegetables in California, including green beans, cantaloupe, corn, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and sunflower. Even landscape plants are not immune. Bagrada bugs have been found feeding on ornamental plants in the mustard family, like sweet alyssum, stock and candytuft.

Bagrada bugs congregating on sunflowers. (Photo: Larry Adcock, Arroyo Grande)
The adult bagrada bugs are about the size of watermelon seeds and have shield-shaped black backs with white and orange markings. Young bagrada bugs – with their red, black and white markings – are sometimes mistaken for ladybugs. But bagrada bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts which cause dead spots on plant leaves and stems when they feed, and result in stunted growth, plant deformities and plant death.

Dara said scientists had hoped cold winter temperatures in northern counties of California would limit the bagrada's northward march, but that hasn't been the case so far.

“Bagrada bugs can survive the winter or cold nights by entering the top layer of the soil around crops,” he said. "They start appearing again in early spring and move from weeds to young vegetables."

For more information on bagrada bugs, see the Pest Note produced by the UC Integrated Pest Management Program. In addition, Dara regularly posts bagrada bug updates on his blog, Strawberries and Vegetables.

Distribution of bagrada bug in California, September 2014.
Distribution of bagrada bug in California, September 2014.

Posted on Friday, September 12, 2014 at 9:28 AM
Tags: Bagrada bug (1), Surendra Dara (1)

About that lemoncello

One of the hazards of contributing to a shared blog, is that one forgets to post. So in this case, while I said in my last post that we would re-visit the lemoncello in mid-May, here it is September.  Time flies.

The lemoncello is a huge success, we've been enjoying it on the hot summer afternoons that are plentiful in Davis.  And here's how I got from pith to pleasure . . . .

The first steps in the lemoncello process were documented in this early Spring post.  The recipe calls for 6 weeks of steeping the lemon zest in the alcohol in a cool, dark place; preferably, in a place where it won't be disturbed.  I had placed mine in a place so cool, dark, and undisturbed it took me 45 minutes to find it.

But that resolved, I moved to the next step - filtering.

You can see that the zest from all of those lemons has settled to the bottom of the bottle.  Lemoncello aficionados recommend a 2-step filtering process.  The first step is to get most of the zest out using a fine sieve.

Look at all of this zest!

Quite a bit of solid material is left in the liquid after this process.

To remove these last solids, the liquid is filtered through a paper coffee filter. (Lemoncello purists, like coffee purists, would object to the use of a paper filter, saying it imparts a paper flavor.)

The next step is to add the cooled simple syrup.  The basic simple syrup recipe calls for equal parts of sugar and water, but for lemoncello less sugar is used.  For one 750ml bottle of base alcohol, you need 2-1/2 cups of water and 1-3/4 cups sugar.  Add the sugar to the water in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat.  Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.  Let the mixture cool completely to room temperature before adding to the lemoncello base.

Decant the mixture, and put in a cool, dark place for another 45 days.  The addition of the simple syrup increases the volume, so you can't fit your mixture into the original bottle.

This mixture was moved into two tall glass bottles and set aside until early July.

You can put the finished lemoncello in the freezer or in the refrigerator.  Enjoy it alone or in a cocktail on a hot summer afternoon when you need a little something refreshing!

If you want to make your own lemoncello, an excellent resource is the blog LemoncelloQuest.

Posted on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 2:57 PM
Tags: alcohol (4), citrus (10), lemons (2)

UC Davis tomatoes provide year-round healthful eating for college students

Chef Bob Walden, right, and Arnulfo Herrera, a cook, show off roasted tomatoes at UC Davis. (photo: Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)
Today's dorm food is far superior to the tasteless, over-processed foods of decades past. No more mystery meat or mushy vegetables. Campus dining services across the country are providing a diversity of fresher and healthier foods, much to the delight of food-savvy students who want variety, flavor, and nutritious choices. Well... being students, they don't always make the healthiest choices, but educational programs at campus dorms are turning the tide toward more-healthful eating.

At the same time, chefs and food buyers at universities, particularly the University of California, are selecting for high-quality fruits and vegetables, produced locally and sustainably. Universities with strong food sustainability programs are rightfully proud of what they're doing to educate students about food production, health, and nutrition. UC Davis Dining Services prioritizes the purchase of locally grown food (ideally within a 50-mile radius of campus). Most University of California campuses have similar programs.

At UC Davis, fresh roma tomatoes are picked each August from the 300-acre Russell Ranch, part of the campus's Agricultural Sustainability Institute, then processed within hours by campus Dining Services to provide year-round tomato sauce for pizza, pasta, and ratatouille. All told, 10,000 pounds of tomatoes are processed during a two-week period in August. About 29 percent of the total food served in the campus's residential dining halls is from local, organic or sustainable sources.

(courtesy photo: UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute)
The tomatoes grown at Russell Ranch are part of a long-term academic research project that examines factors such as farming methods, irrigation needs, crop rotations, yield, and nutritional content. At the end of the growing season, some of the many tons of tomatoes are purchased by Dining Services at market value.

Emma Torbert, an academic coordinator at the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, noted, “Connecting the food system to the research is really interesting. A lot of times there is confusion about where our food is coming from. The more people are educated, the more educated decisions they can make.”

Many UC Davis faculty and staff are so impressed with the food choices at the dorms that they purchase individual meal tickets and enjoy lunches made with the campus-grown tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables, all of which are part of the daily food array. Public dinners are also offered periodically at the dorms so that community members can sit amongst students to taste and learn about the sustainability programs in the dorms.

Additional Information:

  • Video: Farm to Table, UC Davis Tomatoes; 2010
  • Slide show of this year's UC Davis tomato harvesting and processing system; 2014
  • Sustainable Foodservice Progress Report 2014, UC Davis Dining Services
  • Two videos of UC Davis students who work at the Student Farm to produce food, including one on tomato sauce production
  • “Tomatoes: Safe methods to store, preserve, and enjoy.” UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, free publication
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 11:11 AM

The devil -- er, bacteria -- made me do it

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want.
Many people worry about the outside of their gut – watching their weight and suffering through sit-ups in search of six-pack abs.

Research from UC San Francisco is showing that we also should pay attention to what's inside the gut.

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity, according to an article published this month in the journal BioEssays.

Researchers concluded from a review of recent scientific literature that microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way.

“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said corresponding author on the paper Carlo Maley, director of the Center for Evolution and Cancer with the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF. “There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not.”

We also can influence this diverse community of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, by altering what we ingest, Maley said, with measurable changes in the microbiome within 24 hours of diet change.

“Our diets have a huge impact on microbial populations in the gut,” Maley said. “It's a whole ecosystem, and it's evolving on the time scale of minutes.”

The gut is a growing field for research.

Michael Fischbach, a UCSF assistant professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences, studies gut bacteria and how they could help reveal the causes and new treatments for Crohn's disease and obesity.

“When I look at a person, I don't just see a warm, shiny human being,” Fischbach said. “I see bacteria crawling all over you and living on every surface that's exposed and not exposed in your entire body. And you're lucky that they're there because these bacteria do very important things for you. They make your immune system function properly. They help you digest foods. And they produce important chemicals that serve as vitamins for your body.”

With advancements in genetic sequencing technology, Fischbach and colleagues are mining gut bacteria for natural products – small molecules from microbes – that could hold the key for treating diseases.

“You used to have to travel to the coast of Palau to mine the ocean sediment for drugs,” Fischbach said. “Now we can just check our gut!”

Fischbach discussed his gut research with collaborator Justin Sonnenburg, a Stanford University microbiologist with degrees from UC Davis and UC San Diego, at the recent New York Times Health for Tomorrow conference at UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center.

“The beauty of being in basic research is you don't know where you're going to end up,” Fischbach said after their panel presentation. “It's nice to be on a journey where you don't know where the ship lands. I hope it's going to improve human health.”

Read more:
-Do gut bacteria rule our minds?, UCSF
-Our microbiome may be looking out for itself, New York Times
-The next frontier of medicine, Slate
-Culturing for cures, UCSF

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 10:02 AM
Tags: gut (1), obesity (22)

Next 5 stories | Last story

Webmaster Email: jewarnert@ucanr.edu