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

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Kern County nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor retires

Margaret Johns
The best way to help people out of poverty, is to help them manage money, says UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Margaret Johns. The Kern County-based advisor followed that maxim throughout her career to help low-income families lead better lives. After 26 years with UC Cooperative Extension, Johns retires June 30.

When Johns was first hired, she taught agencies how to use a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) curriculum called “Money Sense.”

“Since I had just completed 10 years working with the Kern County agency on aging, I was very familiar with the 25 senior centers in the county,” Johns said. “I started a train-the-trainer program with the Money Sense program. We trained 150 agency staff throughout the county and, through them, reached thousands of low-income individuals and families. It was very successful.”

In 1995, funds became available from the USDA to offer the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Kern County. Johns hired the staff and made community connections to offer the education to low-income Kern County families, and she continued to push life skills education for her clientele.

“I have changed more people's eating habits teaching goal setting and financial literacy than I ever did in nutrition,” she said.

Johns shared an example of one woman who lived in a low-income housing project and wanted to buy her own house. When she sat down with a curriculum that outlined budgeting and goal setting, she realized she was spending $300 per month on fast food.

“So the woman stopped eating fast food, cooked at home and in time was able to save enough money for a down payment,” Johns said. “She bought a house and lost 30 pounds! When you set a goal, it's your own choice. You're not being told what to do. If I had told her to stop eating fast food, I'm not sure she would have done it.”

This philosophy shaped another curriculum Johns helped write when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (welfare reform) was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. A team of 25 UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists from around the state agreed that compliance with the law would require former welfare recipients to learn life skills and financial literacy. “Gateway to a Better Lifewas developed.

Completed in 2000, the curriculum taught people with little or no work experience the skills for getting a job, staying employed and balancing the demands of work and home. In time, an abbreviated, lower literacy version of the training – “Making Every Dollar Count” – was created by members of the team and offered as an online, self-paced tutorial. A separate program – “Money Talks 4 Teens” – was another team effort. Called Money Talks for short, the program was designed to teach money management to the younger set using colorful graphics, interactive computer games and professional videos. It is available online at MoneyTalks4Teens.org.

All of the programs were honored with distinguished service awards from UC ANR. Money Talks was also recognized by the Western Extension Directors Association, and continues to be used for training teenagers about financial literacy today.

Johns is seeking emeritus status and, during retirement, plans to serve as a volunteer advisor to a UC Master Food Preserver program to be offered to Native American tribes in Inyo and Mono counties. She said she also looks forward to having the time for her creative pursuits, including scrapbooking, sewing, making jewelry and other crafts.

“I have a Pinterest page with thousands of ideas I want to make,” she said.

Posted on Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 8:47 AM
Tags: Margaret Johns (1), retirement (22)

Long-time leader of UC outreach in Spanish retires in June

Myriam Grajales-Hall says 'thanks' to the University of California for a rewarding 34-year career.
When Myriam Grajales-Hall discovered her penchant for foreign languages, she set out to find a way to use her talent to make the world a better place, a goal she achieved in her 34-year career with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), based at UC Riverside. Grajales-Hall retires June 30.

As manager of UC ANR News and Information Outreach in Spanish (NOS), Grajales-Hall has worked with California's Spanish-language news media, produced radio and video programs, and adapted newsletters, curricula, scripts, brochures and press releases to inform the community on obesity and diabetes prevention, ecologically sound pest management, farmworker safety, emergency preparedness and youth development.

When Grajales-Hall was a teenager studying English in her native Bogotá, Colombia, she set her sights on working at the United Nations. She asked her parents for their permission to travel to the United States for intensive language instruction, never believing they would allow their shy daughter to venture so far from home. But permission was granted.

While studying languages at California State University, San Bernardino, she was hired to do clerical work at a Spanish language radio station in Redlands. The staff soon recognized the pleasant tonal quality of her voice.

“I started doing commercials. Then they asked me to do public affairs,” she said. “I began working on news. That's how it all started.”

A radio station colleague went to work for UC Cooperative Extension, and five months later recruited Grajales-Hall to be his part-time assistant. Two years later she came on full time and six years after that, Grajales-Hall was named the manager.

“I wanted to work for the UN, and ended up with the UC,” Grajales-Hall said. “One letter changed my life. And it couldn't have been any better.”

When Grajales-Hall came to the university in 1982, the Latino population in California was about 5 million. Today, the population has more than tripled.

“I am so impressed that 35 years ago, the University of California and Cooperative Extension had the foresight to establish an outreach service to the Spanish-speaking population,” Grajales-Hall said. “I've had the privilege to work with dozens of dedicated, brilliant UC academics and educators, and to assist them with their outreach efforts. I've learned so much from them.”

The program began with a monthly radio feed to 20 Spanish-language radio stations. As technology advanced continuously over the years, NOS, under Grajales-Hall's leadership, kept up with the times.

Reel-to-reel tapes gave way to cassettes, and then CDs. Now radio spots will be shared in MP3 format. The media needs also changed. In the early 1980s, radio stations welcomed 30 minutes of programming from UC. But in today's world of shortened attention spans, the team made adjustments.

“We still do radio. It's a viable way to get information out to the Latino community. But today we are lucky to get one minute of air time,” Grajales-Hall said. “Some stations only want 30-second spots.”

More information is shared via the program's website, and feeds on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Through the years, Grajales-Hall and her staff made sure timely and practical information from the UC Cooperative Extension reached Spanish-speaking Californians.

“Coming from a different country, as an immigrant, I see the great value in the information and education we can provide to other immigrants in California,” Grajales-Hall said. “I understood their issues and concerns, their difficulty in navigating the system. To be able to make a difference, whether large or small, was always exciting.”

In retirement, Grajales-Hall envisions change, but will continue to serve her community.

“I came across a word doing translation research: ecdysis. That's when an insect sheds its skin and transforms. It's a time of great promise, of renewal, of transformation, and of vulnerability. That's how I feel about retirement,” Grajales-Hall said. “When you retire, you find yourself without the constraints of time and space. I'm looking forward to the time and space to redefine my life.”

In addition to traditional retirement pursuits of travel and relaxation, Grajales-Hall has esoteric endeavors on her to-do list.

“I want to be mindful. I want to see the sunrises and sunsets. I want to walk more on the beach,” she said. “I want to learn Italian, volunteer, scrapbook, spend time with family and friends and teach ESL (English as a second language). I want to serve, I want to give back.”

Click here for the Spanish version of this release.

Posted on Monday, June 20, 2016 at 9:19 AM

Godfather of California olive oil Paul Vossen to retire in June

Paul Vossen, the Godfather of California olive oil. (Click photo for high-res version.)
UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor Paul Vossen was dubbed the Godfather of California olive oil by members of the industry for his personal dedication to producing and promoting the state's olive oil as a healthful and flavorful product well worth a premium price. Vossen retires June 30 after 35 years with UC.

“California producers are now capturing the fresh fruit flavor of the olive,” Vossen said. “When I started, they were getting bad information from old-world producers. After visiting newer olive oil production regions and tasting good olive oil, I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is what we need in California.'”

Vossen launched a tasting panel and put on educational seminars. He studied and researched olive oil production, planted demonstration orchards and traveled around the world to learn from the most experienced producers and researchers.

California growers now use up-to-date farming methods, harvest mechanically or by hand to ensure fruit quality, and replaced antiquated oil extraction techniques with stainless steel decanters and centrifuges. The outcome is olive oil that tastes spicy, peppery and pungent; oil that serves more as a flavorful and valued condiment than an ordinary fat.

Vossen was immersed in extension education his whole life. His father was an extension agent in Minnesota for 40 years. His sister was an extension home economist. Though he went to the University of Minnesota with no intention to follow in their footsteps, he took a botany class and “totally fell in love with plants,” Vossen said. He earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture in 1978.

After graduation Vossen traveled to Happy Camp, near the Oregon border, to visit his brother.

“It was 70 degrees and sunny in the winter. I thought Northern California was paradise,” he said, and he decided to stay.

Vossen enrolled at UC Davis, earning a master's degree in pomology in 1981. Just a few days later he started his life's work as the pomology advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County. He later added responsibility for specialty crops in Marin County.

Over his career, Vossen developed and implemented a comprehensive research and extension program. He wrote hundreds of articles and made many presentations on the production and marketing of apples, Asian pears, kiwis, hazelnuts, chestnuts, berries, heirloom tomatoes and other crops.

He authored some of the first UC Agriculture and Natural Resources publications on organic production, founded the Sebastopol Apple Promotion Committee and a Sonoma County ag marketing program to promote local products, and formed the California Olive Oil Council. His olive oil sensory panel was the first to be recognized by the International Olive Oil Council in the new world.

A significant achievement of Vossen's career was establishment of a UC Master Gardener program in Sonoma County in 1982. At the time, few California counties had Master Gardener programs in place. Vossen enlisted volunteer gardening enthusiasts to be trained by UC academics in research-based gardening systems. The program has continued for 34 years, training 30 new volunteers every year. There are currently 320 active UC Master Gardeners in Sonoma County.

“We were the first to put together a board of directors and develop original programming,” Vossen said. “We made a difference in the community, reducing landfill inputs of green waste, improving water conservation and reducing pesticide use.”

In retirement, Vossen said he plans to garden, travel and enjoy good food.

“I will judge at olive oil competitions, do some private consulting and enjoy continuous summers hiking all over the northern hemisphere May to October and the southern hemisphere November to April,” Vossen said.

Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 8:16 AM
Tags: Paul Vossen (3), retirement (22)

Create apps to solve real agriculture and food problems

UC and State Fair to host 4th Apps for Ag Hackathon July 15-17

Do you have an idea for a mobile app that would simplify a task for growers, ranchers or anyone who works in agriculture? Meet others who can turn your idea into something functional.

The California Apps for Ag, the fourth in a series, will be held July 15-17. The competitive hackathon to solve real problems in agriculture and food is being hosted by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the California State Fair.

Software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, farmers, farm consultants and others in the agricultural industry are encouraged to participate in the hackathon, which will be held at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources building at 2801 Second Street in Davis, from 8 a.m. Friday, July 15 to 11 a.m. Sunday, July 17.

Participants will compete for cash prizes at a “pitchfest” in front of a live audience at the California State Fair on Sunday, July 17, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Prizes will be awarded to the top three apps: first place wins $5,000, second place $3,000 and third place $1,500.

“We would really like to see participants come from all corners of the state,” said Gabe Youtsey, UC ANR's chief information officer, “Let's see what happens when we mix developers from Silicon Valley and Southern California with agricultural experts from the Central Valley, coast and desert regions.”

People who work in agriculture should bring ideas for problems that technology may help solve.

“Apps for Ag Hackathons have already resulted in multiple startups and we want to see this momentum continue to grow,” said Robert Tse, USDA California Rural Development chief strategy officer for agriculture technology and innovation. “There is no better place than the State Fair in the Capitol to showcase the ingenuity of California's ag tech community.”

One startup that has resulted from a previous ag hackathon is Ag for Hire, which connects farm workers who need jobs with farmers who need workers. 

“Apps for Ag is where I met my cofounder, formed the concept and built our first prototype,” said Josh Brown, Ag for Hire founder and CEO. “I would not have been able to find someone so embedded in the agriculture industry on my own.”

“Hackathons are a great way to spur innovation in industry verticals where technology has not been fully adopted,” said Rob Trice, one of the judges and the founder of the Mixing Bowl and Better Food Ventures.

“All roads already point to the State Fair's competitions for other agricultural commodities,” said Jay Carlson, ag programs manager at the State Fair, “This makes the fair a showcase for agricultural innovations as well.”

For more information and to register, visit http://www.apps-for-ag.com.

About Apps for Ag

Apps for Ag is a pro-bono endeavor supported by several AgTech hubs around California, and founded by the AgTech Roundtable, whose members include U.S. Department of Agriculture, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Department of Technology, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Association of Pest Control Advisers and many other organizations.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. Learn more at ucanr.edu.


Patrick Dosier, Apps for Ag, (714) 504-5424, info@apps-for-ag.com                                   

Gabe Youtsey, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, (530) 750-1314, gdyoutsey@ucanr.edu


Posted on Friday, June 3, 2016 at 1:08 PM
Tags: Apps (1), Gabe Youtsey (1), technology (1)

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute drives a drinking water movement

The National Drinking Water Alliance wants to make water the easy, appealing substitute for sugary beverages. (Photo: CC BY 2.0)
The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) in Oakland has been funded to serve as the hub of a new national alliance that works on issues in drinking water safety, access and consumption.

The alliance aims to make plain water the easy, appealing substitute for sugary beverages – soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and sweetened coffee and tea drinks. The alliance is also actively working on the safety of tap water in the nation's schools and childcare settings.

“To make water the beverage of choice will require a movement,” said Christina Hecht, a member of the NPI team. “NPI will build bridges, spearhead the creation of shared resources, align messages, strategies and aims, and coordinate strong external communications.”

NPI was formed by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2014 to conduct, evaluate and share research related to the impact of nutrition and physical activity on public health. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded NPI a $960,000 grant to coordinate the National Drinking Water Alliance for three years.

“Even when water is available, too many children and adults choose sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Hecht, who will serve as the National Drinking Water Alliance coordinator. “In our American diet, sugary drinks are the top source of added sugars for both adults and children, and, remarkably, they are the single largest source of calories for teens aged 14 to 18.”

But Hecht is quick to point out that if people are to make the switch to water, water needs to be easily accessible and they need to know that it is safe to drink.

High consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is associated with obesity and other chronic health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. UCLA scientists reported in March that the diabetes epidemic in California is “out of control.” The study says 55 percent of the state's population has prediabetes or diabetes – many of them are undiagnosed.

“Simply switching to water is a relatively easy lifestyle change that can have a big impact on the intake of added sugar and excess calories, reducing diabetes risk,” Hecht said. “It can also improve oral health.”

The National Drinking Water Alliance includes government agencies, education officials, researchers, water industries, and non-governmental organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, American Academy of Pediatrics Campaign for Dental Health, and the American Heart Association. They believe by sharing knowledge, resources and connections, they will hasten progress toward their common goal.

Fortunately, the current state of safe drinking water in the U.S. is mostly favorable. About 90 percent of Americans get their water from public utilities and 95 percent of those supply safe water. In some areas, however, water can become contaminated on the path between utility and tap, typically with lead. Sometimes other contaminants can leach in through breaks in pipes.

“We all recognize that, if we are going to tell people to drink water, they need to have confidence that the tap water is safe,” Hecht said. “At the moment, we don't know the magnitude of the problem of unsafe drinking water. The alliance is highly focused on policy as the most effective tool to bring about broad change.”

The National Drinking Water Alliance plans a Congressional hearing on national drinking water and is developing best practices for effective access to safe drinking water in schools and childcare settings.

Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 8:48 AM

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