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

New guide promoting local fresh fruit and vegetables is doing a lot of good

The front cover of the new guide.
Connecting farm fresh produce with local families supports good health and a strong community. That's why the UC Cooperative Extension office in Santa Cruz County worked with health care professionals and farmers to create a pocket-sized guide for selecting and eating fresh, healthy local food.

“Santa Cruz County farmers provide an array of quality fresh fruits and vegetables that can help residents to be healthier,” said Laura Tourte, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and one of the project's coordinators. “Everybody wins.”

The 40-page booklet – titled Fresh • Starts • Here – was developed by UCCE, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) and the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. It assembles a wide variety of resources into a compact form, with information about the seasons for local fruits and vegetables, nutritional information and directions for choosing, storing and preparing healthy foods using some of Santa Cruz County's top crops. Six farmers are profiled in the booklet along with four medical doctors and a registered dietitian, who provide suggestions about accessing fresh fruits and vegetables and reasons for eating them.

“It's not often you'll find stories about farmers and doctors in the same place, but it's a natural fit,” Tourte said. “Doctors know the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and farmers grow them.”

Dr. Karen Harrington, a family medicine physician, shared a seasonal salad recipe that includes cabbage, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, scallions and parsley.

“Making a salad that uses many different fruits and vegetables and keeps for several days is a great and convenient way to help improve your health,” she said.

Pediatrician Casey Schirmer is pictured in the guide with his cousin Joe Schirmer, owner of an organic farming operation in Santa Cruz.

Farmers and medical foundation staff teamed up to distribute the guide and other health information at outreach events.
“Your body is all about being balanced,” Dr. Schirmer says. “It wants not too much of anything in particular. Feed it a variety of fruits and vegetables and it will grow healthier and happier in all ways.”

The development committee, local farmers and physicians donated their time and effort to the project. UCCE funded the printing of the first 2,000 copies of the booklet. The guide was recently the focus of three outreach events at PAMF clinics, where farmers and PAMF staff teamed up to distribute the guide and other health information at no cost to PAMF patients, visitors and staff. A Spanish language version – which was funded with contributions from UCCE, PAMF and Lakeside Organic Gardens – is in press and expected to be available to the community later this month.

Tourte said the committee has received more requests for the guide than they can currently accommodate. They are now seeking funding to print additional copies, and planning to partner with others in the community to share the information.

“This guide, two years in the making, is our group's foundational piece. It is the beginning of many more activities and educational events we have planned for the future,” Tourte said.

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 Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 8:05 AM

Oh the weather outside is fungal - It’s like a mushroom jungle

Mushrooms are popping up all over California thanks to the wet rainy weather we have had across the state recently. They seem to magically appear overnight, like umbrellas on a sunny beach day. This fascinating occurrence doesn't actually happen overnight as it may seem, but they appear once moisture becomes available. Mushrooms expand rapidly by absorbing water from the surrounding soil and consequently ‘pop' out of the ground.

Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus and come in myriad shapes, sizes and colors. They are typically the only part of a fungus that can be seen because the mass of the organism is located underground.

There are approximately 14,000 different classified species of mushrooms, here are a few of my favorites:

Agaricus campestris (fairy rings): According to UC IPM, fairy rings get their name from the ancient belief that mushrooms grew in circles where fairies dance. Fairy ring fungi can cause circular rings in grass, ranging from 1 to 12 or more feet in diameter. (Photo: UC IPM / Jack Kelly Clark)

 

 

Boletus edulis (king bolete): A mighty mushroom of the mycology world, king bolete can be an exciting find. With a cap up to 10 inches across and a thick stem, these club like mushrooms have a wide range. In the home landscape, they can most commonly be found under conifer trees planted in turfgrass. (Photo: Strobilomyces)

 

Laetiporus sulphureus (chicken of the woods): A showy and beautiful shelf-like mushroom, chicken of the woods is easy to spot because of its bright yellow color. They most frequently grow out of wounds on trees and each ‘shelf' can be up to 10 inches across. (Photo: Bruce Hagen)

 

Nidula Candida (bird's nest): Like their name implies, these small mushrooms are reminiscent of birdsnests, complete with tiny eggs. These mushrooms are most commonly found on decaying wood, typically on fallen trees or in soil with bark mulch. These tiny mushrooms aren't easy to spot as the largest caps are only ½ inch across. (Photo: Nathan Wilson- Mushroom Observer)

The next time you see mushrooms, consider what might be happening underground in your soil. For more information on mushrooms including identification and management, visit UC IPM online.

Enjoy the wet weather and the next time you find yourself excited over a new fungal find, here is a jingle to celebrate the season:

Let it Rain (sung to the tune of ‘Let it Snow')
by Ann King Filmer

Oh the weather outside is fungal
It's like a mushroom jungle
But since we've got much to gain
Let it rain! Let it rain! Let it rain!

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 10:26 AM

Five ways NOT to poison friends and family during the holidays

The food-safety danger zone is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.
‘Tis the season for gathering with friends and family and eating. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus for the rest of us, many of us invite people to our homes during the holidays and leave food out to graze. Leaving food out for more than two hours can be hazardous to your health and that of your guests, caution UC Cooperative Extension nutrition experts.

You may be thinking, “My family has eaten food that has been sitting on the table longer than two hours and survived.” Consider yourself lucky.

“We keep learning more about foodborne illness,” says Patti Wooten Swanson, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor in San Diego County. “We probably did get sick, but we thought it was something else, like the 24-hour flu.”

She added that kids, diabetics, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

For the holidays and all year long, Wooten Swanson offers these food safety tips:

  • Thaw turkey or meat in the refrigerator.
  • Don't wash raw meat or poultry in the sink before cooking.
  • Use a meat thermometer to determine when meat or poultry is done.
  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.
  • On the fourth day, throw leftovers away.

Guacamole and salsa shouldn't be left out for longer than 2 hours.
Thawing foods correctly and storing them at the right temperatures is important, said Wooten Swanson.

“Bacteria grow very rapidly,” she said. “From 40 degrees to 140 degrees is what we call the danger zone. We encourage you to get food out of that temperature range as soon as possible. Don't let food sit on the table after you finish eating and go to watch TV.”

While you're watching football, she also recommends not leaving food out the length of a game.

“Chips are fine to leave out,” Wooten Swanson said, “But put the salsa and guacamole in small containers, then put out new bowls at halftime. Take away the original containers to wash or discard.You don't want to refill a bowl that has been out for 2 hours.”

Washing your hands can prevent bacteria from spreading to food.
Food safety begins with clean hands.

“We put an emphasis on hand washing because it can prevent cross-contamination, which helps prevent foodborne illness and can keep us healthy during the flu season,” said Connie Schneider, director of the UC Youth, Families and Communities Statewide Program.

She recommends rubbing your hands together with soap and water for 20 seconds to thoroughly clean them.

The UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) teaches hand washing as a food safety practice in its nutrition classes for adults and children. After taking the class in San Diego County, 72 percent of the 340 participating adults improved their safe food-handling practices and 55 percent of 1,231 children improved, said Wooten Swanson, who oversees the nutrition and food safety education program.

For more food safety resources, visit UC Cooperative Extension's  "Food Safety for the Holidays" website http://ucanr.edu/HolidayFoodSafety and Nebraska and Iowa State Cooperative Extension's food safety website at http://www.4daythrowaway.org.  For USDA recommended temperatures for cooking meat, visit http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/05/25/cooking-meat-check-the-new-recommended-temperatures.

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 8:30 AM

New GMO alfalfa holds exciting possibilities, UC expert says

Growers can produce more nutritious alfalfa using new low-lignin variety, says UCCE's Dan Putnam.
Good news for dairy cows. Science has found a way to produce alfalfa with less lignin, a component of the plant that has no nutritional value. The new alfalfa variety – genetically modified in a way that puts brakes on the lignin-producing gene – was deregulated by USDA in November.

“In general, a reduced lignin trait in alfalfa is very welcome,” said Dan Putnam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “The low-lignin trait has some interesting potential implications for dairy cows and other ruminants, as well as for yield, agronomic efficiency, and even energy and water use efficiency.”

The new variety, called KK179, was developed by Forage Genetics International, Monsanto and the Nobel Foundation. Some of the field testing took place at UC Davis and the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake, Calif.

KK179 differs from most other GMO agricultural crops in that the modification improves the plant quality. Other common modifications, such as glyphosate resistance and addition of a Bt gene, were designed to help with pest control.

Another difference is the source of the modified gene, Putnam said. In glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa, for example, the plant was modified by inserting a bacteria gene. Gene segments reducing lignin were derived from alfalfa itself.

Lignin is a fibrous part of cell walls in plants. It strengthens stems, helping the plant grow upright. However, its concentration in alfalfa is high compared to other forages, a drawback for what is considered the premiere forage of dairy cows.

“Farmers often try to cut early to reduce lignin,” Putnam said. “Unfortunately, yields are decreased by early cutting, often by many tons per acre. If growers were able to harvest later and still obtain good quality, yields would improve.”

That leads to the potential energy- and water-conserving aspects of the KK179 alfalfa.

“If growers reduce harvests by one each year and increase yields with no quality penalty, energy use would decline,” Putnam said. “Also, the amount of milk produced per unit of water used to grow the feed may be increased.”

KK179 won't be for everybody, Putnam cautions. Some export markets reject GMO technology, so growers should check whether their markets will accept alfalfa with the low-lignin trait. Another concern is the possibility of gene flow for farmers who grow alfalfa seed for organic production or export.

“Further research and experience by farmers and researchers are needed to fully understand the importance and implications of reduced-lignin alfalfa on farms,” Putnam said, “but this trait holds some very exciting possibilities.”

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, December 16, 2014 at 8:13 AM

Teaching teachers about the environment outdoors

Mike De Lasaux demonstrates how foresters determine the age of a tree by taking a core sample and counting the rings.
One approach to improving science literacy of children is to train their teachers in environmental education. Using the forest as a classroom, Project Learning Tree, now a program delivered through UC Cooperative Extension, educates teachers about the environment and provides ideas and the tools needed for integrating environmental education into their core curriculum. 

The primary goal of PLT is to teach people how to think, not what to think, about complex environmental issues. This has been the vision of PLT since the mid-1970s, inspiring educators to teach and students to learn about their environment, by doing.

At the outdoor workshops, foresters demonstrate forest practices and talk about forest science. For example, Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Plumas and Sierras counties, leads participants out to take tree measurements and shows them how foresters determine the age of a tree by taking a core sample and counting the rings.

“The program is designed for teachers and other educators, parents and community leaders who work with youth from preschool age up through grade 12,” said Sandy Derby, UC Cooperative Extension statewide coordinator.

Tom Catchpole leads participants through a Talk About Trees activity to gain a better understanding of forestry science and to practice applying the knowledge to activities they can do with their students.
Studies have shown that when environmental education and outdoor learning activities are integrated into curricula, student achievement increases, including their test scores in science and math.

Recognized as a leader in environmental education for more than 35 years, the program started by the American Forest Foundation enhances critical thinking, problem-solving and effective decision-making skills, Derby said.

How does it all work? Project Learning Tree collaborates with a network of more than 200 facilitators, natural resources professionals and researchers across the state to provide three types of trainings: educator workshops, training with the Forest Institute for Teachers and train-the-trainer workshops.

Project Learning Tree's educator workshops are six to eight hours on one or more days and offered at UC ANR Research and Extension Centers located around the state. They focus on introducing the goals and vision of teaching and learning using PLT best practices. Each educator receives a PLT guide for use in the classroom.

Teachers learn how to take tree measurements from Mike De Lasaux and Tom Catchpole at a Forest Institute for Teachers workshop.
Every summer, PLT participates in the Forest Institute for Teachers, a six-day intensive training offered at four locations. The participants spend the mornings with forestry experts or researchers on field excursions to learn about science, current research and issues, and management challenges from different perspectives. Their afternoons are spent applying that knowledge, working in grade-level teams to engage in best practices of integrating content into experience-based teaching.

After taking the PLT educator workshops, graduates can take a two-day training to learn how to train others. Train-the-trainer workshops are offered a few times each year in different locations. 

Project Learning Tree in California was delivered by CALFIRE for 25 years before becoming part of UC Cooperative Extension. In 2013, under UCCE advisor De Lasaux's guidance, Project Learning Tree was brought into UC Cooperative Extension to create more collaborative partnerships, engage more natural resources professionals and to expand the number of educators trained to use PLT materials.

For more information about Project Learning Tree, updates on workshops, or questions on how to become part of this expansive network, contact Sandy Derby at stderby@ucanr.edu or visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/PLT_UCCE. To learn more about the Forest Institute for Teachers, visit http://www.forestryinstitute.org.

For 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 Friday, December 12, 2014 at 8:30 AM

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