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

Graduate Students in Extension study key California concerns

In 2013, a group of graduate students in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at the University of California, Berkeley sought out faculty support and successfully collaborated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) to launch the Program for Graduate Students in Extension (GSE). Participants receive up to a year of funding to conduct applied research and outreach to California communities, coordinate workshops and training events, and co-author materials with ANR academics. Over the course of the three-year pilot program, 14 students from across the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley have participated.

“There's really no program quite like this, where students can gain hands-on, graduate-level training in extension and outreach,” says ESPM professor John Battles, who chaired the program's steering committee. He adds, “We're grateful to all the UC ANR advisors and specialists who have offered invaluable mentorship to student fellows.”

Image of a schoolyard garden. (Photo: Alana Siegner.)

Sustainable Food Systems and Climate Education

Alana Siegner (Energy and Resources Group, 2016–17 fellow) believes that to ensure the environmental sustainability of agricultural landscapes and to improve health outcomes for young people, it's important that students understand the scientific and social causes and consequences of climate change as it plays out in the U.S. food system. During her fellowship, she adapted existing climate change curricula to fit within farm-to-school programs, integrating food- and farming-specific examples into general lessons on climate adaptation and mitigation. The lessons, designed for students in grades 8 through 10, are hands-on, interdisciplinary, and solutions oriented, unfolding in both the classroom and the school-garden environments. Siegner piloted the curricula and other professional development resources with teachers at schools in Oakland and in Washington State's San Juan Islands. 

Kripa Akila Jagannathan

Climate-Resilient Agriculture

Despite several advances in modeling techniques, climate projections are not widely used in agricultural decision-making. Kripa Akila Jagannathan (ERG, 2015–16 fellow) wanted to bridge this gap between climate science and decision-making needs by improving the understanding of what farmers consider relevant climate information. She interviewed almond growers in California about how they'd previously used climate information, what climatic variables were most relevant to them, and the content and communication methods that could make information on future climate more usable. Jagannathan's interviews showed that almond growers have experienced changes in climate over the past few decades that have affected plant growth. She hopes that providing growers with appropriate information on past trends and future projections can help them to make decisions that are better adapted to future climate.

(Photo: Stella Cousins)

Forestry and Ecosystem Education

Stella Cousins (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) collaborated with the Forestry Institute for Teachers, a free program that provides K–12 teachers in California with knowledge and tools for teaching their students about ecosystem science and forest resource management. In addition to presenting current research to participating educators, she shared do-it-yourself miniature microscopes that can help learners of all ages explore seeds, cells, fur, and other tiny wonders. Magnifying tree-core samples from the Sierra Nevada as an example, she demonstrated how a lesson in dendrochronology can facilitate classroom learning on the ways forests grow and are shaped by climate. Cousins says, “I hope that this project will support existing efforts to make sound and sustainable ecosystem-management choices, and also help foster lifelong curiosity in California's youth about the natural world.”

Conservation and Land Easements

Conservation easements are currently one of the primary channels for protecting private land. Since easements restrict development for both current and future owners, resale value is presumably diminished, and landowners are typically compensated with a one-time payment from a conservation group. Reid Johnsen (Agricultural and Resource Economics, 2016–17 fellow) wanted to explore the relationship between rancher identity, community, and potential preferences for alternative payment structures. He surveyed landowners in Marin and Sonoma counties to gauge their support for different options, including leases and annual payments for ecosystem services. He also constructed an economic model of stakeholder behavior to help assess which payment structure delivers the greatest combined welfare to landowners, conservation groups, and the public.

(Photo: Luke Macaulay)

Hunting and Conservation

Luke Macaulay (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) surveyed private landowners and land managers in California to determine how recreational hunting may influence decisions regarding land-use and conservation practices. He regularly spoke on his survey findings and ran a workshop in Montana to encourage cooperative conservation efforts between hunters and environmentalists. “The feedback from the advisors on my mentorship team was invaluable in improving the quality of my research,” he reflects. The experience also had an impact on his career: In 2016, Macaulay was hired by CNR as a Cooperative Extension specialist in rangeland planning and policy.

Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 9:27 AM

Enjoy nature, but don't love it to death

Spring is here and that means time to get outside and enjoy California's beauty. This year people are out in record numbers to see wildflowers and experience all the recreational opportunities that parks offer. CNN reported triple the usual number of visitors to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Numbers of recreational visits have surged at National Parks across the county with 330 million visitors recorded last year, during the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Recreational bird watchers in Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS.
Recently published research shows there are recreational impacts on wildlife, even from quiet recreation activities such as hiking and bird watching. Findings were based on 274 scientific articles published between 1981 and 2015 describing the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities.

More than 93 percent of the articles reviewed indicated at least one impact of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59 percent) were negative. Hiking, for example, a common form of outdoor recreation in protected areas, can create a negative impact by causing animals to flee, taking time away from feeding and expending valuable energy. Among the negative impacts observed were decreased species diversity; decreased survival, reproduction, or abundance; and behavioral or physiological disturbance (such as decreased foraging or increased stress). These types of negative effects were documented most frequently for reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Park managers often struggle to balance the need to protect wildlife with the importance of accommodating visitors in support of the many essential benefits nature provides people and the importance of spreading conservation awareness. UC California Naturalists can often be found on the trail helping to interpret nature and focusing on leave no trace in an effort to ensure we don't love nature to death. When out enjoying nature please stay on the trail, respect seasonal closures, minimize noise, do not approach animals, and reduce your driving speed – all recommended steps to minimize the impacts of recreation on wildlife. A light touch now ensures wildlife viewing for many years to come.

Death Valley National Park visitors enjoy wildflowers from the road. Photo courtesy of the NPS.

Bananas!

Did you know that a banana tree is not really a tree? It's a giant perennial bulb that grows to maturity in less than a year, producing one flower that becomes one huge bunch of bananas. I learned this fact last month from banana growers while visiting the home of organic bananas, the Dominican Republic.

I was invited by a US AID Farmer-to-Farmer project to spend a couple of weeks as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic, primarily to work with the Banelino Banana Cooperative. Banelino is a banana production and exporting company comprised of approximately 320 mostly small-scale banana producers in the northwest section of the country, near the border with Haiti. All producers are certified, or seeking, organic, fair trade, or Global Gap certifications.

(Photo: Roberta Almerez)

Eighty percent of the bananas grown by Banelino are certified organic, and most of them are fair trade certified. The primary export destination for Dominican Republic organic bananas is Europe.

The growers have been impacted by climate change problems, including strong winds, more frequent and intense droughts and record high temperatures. My assignment, based on my work as UC Cooperative Extension Agritourism Coordinator, was to help Banelino assess the potential for successful agritourism development to diversify their income and carry them through hard times.

Like farmers all over the world, the Banelino banana growers have a story to share with visitors. Part of the story is the fascinating revelation of the annual growth cycle of the banana plant; the other part of the story is about the community. I learned the true meaning for the words "fair trade."  With the premium, or the added income, that Banelino receives by selling in the fair trade program, the company is able to provide schools, clinics and other social programs for the banana grower and banana worker families. We visited schools and talked with teachers, seeing primary grades classes smaller than most California classes, with children engaged in learning. We visited a school for special needs students, paid for through the Banelino fair trade income, that was so modern and well-equipped it would be the envy of most California special education teachers. It had a colorful art room and a fully equipped, small-scale bakery with mixers and ovens for a training program for the older youth.

Banelino Primary school. (Photo: Roberta Almerez)

Also, like other farmers around the world, Banelino growers have a challenge developing a program to attract paying visitors to tour the farms and learn their stories. They will need to create signs and brochures in multiple languages for their visitors. They will need to work with a local marketing professional to develop a website and social media marketing campaign. They will have to analyze their costs and price their tour so that they don't lose money in the efforts. They will need to connect with the local tourism community and get included in visitor guides and tourism maps. They will need to offer familiarization tours to travel agents, tour leaders and hotel staff to entice them to refer tourists from the all-inclusive beach resorts three hours' drive away. They will have to work with their local hotel association to create an attractive itinerary for visitors to the region - enough attractions to keep guests overnight in hotels - to justify the three-hour drive.

Like farmers everywhere who are considering agritourism, the Banelino banana growers will soon be part of the hospitality industry. They have a wonderful story to share of a hard-working and warm-hearted community. Please look them up if you visit the Dominican Republic.

(Photo: Roberta Almerez)
Posted on Thursday, May 11, 2017 at 9:16 AM

Visit a UC Master Gardener demonstration garden, learn and be inspired

Birds are chirping, the sun is shining and flowers are in bloom – it is time to get out into a garden and enjoy nature's beauty. UC Master Gardeners have been working hard to bring demonstration and community gardens to life across California, and volunteers are eager to teach how you can create sustainable splendor in your own landscape.

UC Master Gardener demonstration gardens offer knowledge and examples on how to grow a variety of plants in your garden. Visit one today and be inspired!

The UC Master Gardener Program is in your community

Be inspired. Visit a garden that has the power of the University of California and the UC Master Gardener Program behind it. With thousands of volunteers, hundreds of demonstration, school and community gardens across California and programs in 50 counties plus Lake Tahoe basin it is easy to discover the joy of gardening in your community. 

Hit the road and get excited about gardening

UC Master Gardener demonstration gardens showcase best practices for garden management from plant selection to ground covers and irrigation. Demonstration gardens can appeal to everyone as they often include multiple themes like bumble bees, growing veggies, historical roses and low water–use plants. 

Things you can discover in a demonstration or community garden: 

  • Mediterranean or native plants
  • Roses
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Succulents
  • Orchard trees and vegetables
  • Pollinator habitats
  • Composting
  • Irrigation methods
  • Mulch

Whatever your interest, you'll be sure to take something away from your visit to one of the many gardens across California. Find a location by visiting the UC Master Gardener Program garden map: http://bit.ly/2qqWRM4

Visit one or all of the beautiful gardens across California that UC Master Gardeners play an active role in bringing the garden and educating the public to life! UC Master Gardener Program garden map: http://bit.ly/2qqWRM4

“When on a road trip I love to stop, stretch my legs and walk around a garden in a new town or city. It gives me an opportunity see new and unique plants that grow in different areas, plus I have the opportunity to recharge,” says UC Master Gardener volunteer Lauren Hull. “Recently, I was driving to Lake Tahoe and made a point to stop and visit the Sherwood Demonstration Garden, it was the perfect break during the long drive!”

UC Master Gardener classes share science-based gardening practices

For more direct educational opportunities, attend a gardening workshop hosted by local UC Master Gardener Program.  Workshops are free or very low cost and cover a vast array of gardening topics. To find a UC Master Gardener event in your area, visit: mg.ucanr.edu/Events.

As you plan your summer travel, consider attending a workshop or event where you are vacationing. The UC Master Gardeners of Orange County are teaching the power of perennials on May 20, UC Master Gardeners of Santa Barbara County will present at the Santa Ynez Valley Earth Day celebration May 21, the UC Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County will have a Kids' Day in the Garden on June 3 … and so many more events to choose from!

“Attendees at workshops, classes and on demonstration garden tours can expect to hear from gardening experts in their local community. UC Master Gardener volunteers have been trained by UC scientists to become a 'master' in the garden and are proud to share their expertise and knowledge with an inexperienced gardener or an industry professional,” said Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener Program director.

UC Master Gardener volunteer Lauren Hull stops at a local community garden in Davis, Calif. and helps harvest blackberries for the resident chickens.

Take ideas home

Whether your landscape needs a total overhaul, a few new plants or nothing at all, the knowledge and new ideas gained from workshops and demonstrations gardens is inspiring. Invite bees, butterflies and hummingbirds into your life by adding pollinator friendly plants to an existing landscape. Become more water-wise by adding mulch, changing out sprinkler heads and replacing high water user plants. Continue growing as a gardener by staying connected with your local UC Master Gardener Program, and stopping at demonstration gardens throughout the state. 

The UC Master Gardener Program extends to the public free UC research-based information about home horticulture and pest management. In exchange for the training and materials received from the University of California, UC Master Gardeners perform volunteer services in a myriad of venues. If you are interested in becoming a certified UC Master Gardener contact your local UC Cooperative Extension office.

 

Posted on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 1:46 PM

Rainbow of potential alternative pomegranate varieties

Almost all pomegranates grown in the United States are one variety: Wonderful. John Chater, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, wants to change that.

He would like to broaden the varieties of pomegranates available so that someone going to a supermarket can, like apples, buy varieties of pomegranates that vary in sweetness, seed hardness, flavor profile and color.

With that in mind, he has spent the last four years researching the commercial potential of 13 pomegranate varieties, and also started breeding new types of pomegranates.

He has field trials set up in Riverside and Somis, just east of Ventura, so he can evaluate the difference between coastal and inland climates. He has also chemically analyzed the juice of the varieties for quality.

Preliminarily, Chater, who is a 2016 University of California Global Food Initiative student fellow, has identified seven pomegranate varieties that have commercial juice potential. Three of them – Blaze, Phoenicia, and Purple Heart – were developed by his grandfather, who was a mechanic at a hospital but developed a cult following among fruit growers in California for developing new varieties of pomegranates.

Here are some of the pluses and minuses of each variety compared to Wonderful: 

Al Sirin Nar: Large fruit, with hard seeds, soft peel, and large arils. With its sweet-tart juice, it could be useful for juice applications. Seeds may be too hard to be sold as a whole fruit.

Blaze: Medium sized fruit, juice more sweet than tart. Fruit similar to Wonderful. Could serve coastal and inland growers. Has potential to be sold as a whole fruit.

Desertnyi: Soft-seeded, medium sized fruit with ornamental quality. Delicious balanced flavor that has been described as citrus-like. Trees seem to may need trellis or rootstocks for commercial production. Has potential to be sold as a whole fruit.

Parfianka: Soft seeded variety with sweet-tart to sweet flavor. Very precocious in the field and on both inland and on the coast. This variety is an international favorite for its refreshing flavor and soft seeds. Has potential to be sold as a whole fruit.

Phoenicia: Large fruit with medium to hard seeds. Fruit multicolored with yellow, pink, and reds. Sweet-tart flavor with a tartness that consumers enjoy. Fruit seems to keep well in storage.

Purple Heart: Medium-sized red fruit that has dark red juice and arils. Fruit and juice similar to ‘Wonderful'. Sold as ‘Sharp Velvet' at Dave Wilson Nursery.

Sakerdze: Large fruit, with hard seeds, soft peel, and large arils. Juice is sweet to sweet tart. Fruit can be pinkish to red.

Posted on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at 8:47 AM

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