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A Sacramento coalition wants to serve 1 million healthy meals to children this summer

When school's out, many children who live in poverty no longer eat nutritious meals like they do during school as part of the free and reduced-cost school lunch program.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Sacramento County has joined a coalition to promote the summer meals program, which is aiming to serve one million meals during summer 2018.

UC ANR's EFNEP program staffed a booth along with the UC Master Food Preserver Program at the Million Meals Summer picnic for Sacramento youth.

The coalition was formed by State Sen. Richard Pan, who invited Sacramento students to the State Capitol for a picnic May 22 launching the “Million Meals Summer.”

“In Sacramento County, on average 1.9 million free or reduced-price lunches are served each month while school is in session,” said Sen. Pan. “For so many of these children, school meals are their primary source of nutrition.”

Sen. Robert Pan, in center with white shirt, dances with children at the Million Meals Summer picnic.

In the summertime, the number of lunches served drops to less than 10 percent of the school-year number.

“Over the last couple of years, my office has worked with a growing number of organizations to help close the gap of child nutrition,” Sen. Pan said.

At the picnic, Sen. Pan, a pediatrician, reminded the children that eating healthy through the summer will get them ready to learn when school starts again.

Students enjoyed a healthy lunch.

Sen. Pan said Kim Frinzel, associate director of the California Department of Education nutrition services division, is leading the effort to set up sufficient meal sites and encourage children to attend.

“You get a great meal,” Frinzel told the students. “You get to hang out with your friends. And you get to participate in fun activities. Clap if you will help us serve a million meals.”

Linda Dean, left, and Vanessa Kenyon of Sacramento EFNEP.

Vanessa Kenyon, EFNEP program supervisor for Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, said EFNEP will provide nutrition education training for Samuel Merritt University nurses-in-training.

“Summer meals are provided at 140 sites in Sacramento County. If the children stick around after eating, they can take part in enrichment programs. The student nurses will fulfill a portion of their service hours by sharing nutrition education resources and activities at the meal sites,” Kenyon said.

The UC EFNEP program, which serves 24 counties in California, assists limited-resource families gain the knowledge and skills to choose nutritionally sound diets and improve well-being.

The United Way California Capital Region heads the coalition of community, business and state partners supporting the Million Meals Summer in Sacramento County.

 
 
Physical activities at the picnic included parachute play.
 
UC Cooperative Extension apiculture specialist Elina NiƱo shared information with students at the picnic about the lives of bees.
 
A few students from American Lakes Elementary School said they would be eating at summer meal sites. Left to right are James Dixon, 9, Yahaira Ramirez, 11, Diana De La Cerda, 12, and Eduardo Liscano, 9.
 
UC ANR marketing and communications specialist Suzanne Morikawa, center, fills in a visitor about EFNEP's role in the community.
Posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 1:19 PM
Tags: EFNEP (8), nutrition (122), school lunches (1), Vanessa Kenyon (1)
Focus Area Tags: Food

Growing gardeners and nourishing communities

Fresh picked beets from a raised garden bed at Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, the main food demonstration garden for the UC Master Gardener Program of Sacramento County.

Spring is here, and oftentimes the busiest season of the year for gardeners to plant edibles with dreams of ripe tomatoes and rows of juicy strawberries. But what about the “non” gardeners, you know the people who struggle to keep a cactus alive? Is there hope for a plentiful harvest for those self-identified terrible gardeners? Absolutely.

Food gardening takes some work, but if you have the determination and are willing to get your hands dirty, UC Master Gardener Program volunteers are eager to help you find success. Across almost every county in California there are passionate UC Master Gardener volunteers eager to turn your dreams of a bountiful summer harvest into a reality.

Mike G., UC Master Gardener volunteer in Solano County, shows participants irrigation parts for their home vegetable garden.

Sonoma County finds success with “Food Gardening Specialists”

The UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County has spent almost a decade perfecting the art of teaching best practices for food gardening. They have found a winning formula for food gardening workshops that focus on hands-on learning and interactive demonstrations in the garden. A group of UC Master Gardener volunteers with a passion for growing edible plants joined forces and started a project aptly named “Food Gardening Specialist.”

Food Gardening Specialists receive initial training in food gardening with curriculum developed by UC Agriculture & Natural Resources experts. After initial training, volunteers continue to grow their food gardening skills with monthly speakers, discussions groups and field trips. These highly skilled and trained volunteers teach food gardening at community or demonstrations gardens across Sonoma County, where anyone is welcome to attend. 

Understanding the need to expand reach in Sonoma County, the project identified four key gardens to engage more diverse communities. Garden “captains” build relationships within these gardens, advising home gardeners and developing gardening workshops that are relevant to their community's needs. One of the core gardens provides year-round fresh produce to a number local food banks and programs that feed the hungry.

Food Gardening Specialist workshop at the Harvest for the Hungry Garden on May 12, 2018. Tobi Brown, UC Master Gardener, demonstrates how to feed and protect the soil as a garden bed transitions from spring to summer.

Stephanie Wrightson: Sonoma County Volunteer of the Year

A shining example of a dedicated Food Gardening Specialist is Stephanie Wrightson, who recently was awarded Sonoma County's Board of Supervisors “Volunteer of the Year” award. Wrightson has been a UC Master Gardener volunteer since 2010 and a member of the Food Gardening Specialist project since 2011. 

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently recognized Stephanie Wrightson with the 2018 Volunteer of the Year Award for her exceptional contributions as a UC Master Gardener volunteer in Sonoma County!

Wrightson has donated more than 3,200 hours to the UC Master Gardener Program, most revolve around food gardening outreach.

“We put on public food gardening workshops, with Spanish translators, and demonstrate sustainable best practices in the garden ... invaluable. We interact, consult, advise. We learn from each other,” Wrightson said. “Food Gardening Specialists share science-based and sustainable food gardening information with garden visitors and workshop attendees. The gardens have quickly become a social hub in the neighborhood, bringing the community closer together.”

It is clear that Wrightson's role doesn't stop at the garden's gate. Wrightson was essential in shaping the vision of the Food Gardening Specialist project while serving on its steering committee and as a project leader. She manages efforts to keep all of the food gardening content updated, posted online or shared on its social media channels. Wrightson also works closely with the translation team to identify the most popular food gardening topics to make them available in Spanish.

“Stephanie brings such an attention to detail and focus on everything she engages in; we are so grateful to have such a talented UC Master Gardener as part of our organization,” said Mimi Enright, program manager for the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. 

Stephanie Wrightson, UC Master Gardener, teaching residents of Sonoma County about sustainable gardening practices and how to grow their own food at the Bayer Farm Neighborhood Park & Garden.

Where is food grown in your community? 

Do you grow your own food or get homegrown food from a neighbor who gardens? Is there a community garden nearby, or a farmers market with locally grown fruits and vegetables?

“It's becoming more important to understand where our food comes from and to make sure everyone knows how to enjoy its benefits,” said Missy Gable, statewide director for the UC Master Gardener Program.

The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with research-based information about food gardening, home horticulture, sustainable landscapes, and pest management practices. It is administered locally by UC Cooperative Extension offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. If you are interested in learning more about food gardening or would like to connect with your local UC Master Gardener Program visit, mg.ucanr.edu

The UC Master Gardener Program has demonstration, community and school gardens across California. Contact your local UC Master Gardener Program to find the closest garden or workshop near you.

Trusted UC Food Gardening Resources: 

Posted on Friday, May 18, 2018 at 9:27 AM
Tags: Food Gardening (1), Sonoma (2)
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Probiotics for plants: A new frontier for boosting crop production

The strawberry industry ended a long good-bye to methyl bromide in 2016. The fumigant had been used for decades to kill a wide range of soil-borne pathogens, weed seeds and insects, permitting the California strawberry industry to flourish. Scientists determined it was an ozone-depleting chemical in 1991, but its phase-out was delayed for years because of lack of equally effective alternatives.

Strawberry farmers now use a combination of approaches, including fumigation with other chemicals, soil oxygen deprivation, biofumigants, and beneficial microbes that improve soil biology. A greater arsenal is needed.

Part of the strawberry field at Manzanita Berry Farms near Santa Maria where UCCE advisor Surandra Dara conducts trials on biologicals and other potential remedies for soil borne diseases, weeds and insects.


“Growers have three or four chemical alternatives, some are used alone and others in various combinations,” said UC Cooperative Extension advisor Surendra Dara. “Now, certain minerals, beneficial microbes and biostimulants are becoming available to enhance plant's natural defenses and improve strawberry growth, yield and health in an era without methyl bromide.”

Nearly 200 pest control advisors, farmers and allied industry representatives attended the UCCE Strawberry Field Day in May.


Dara conducts research and advises strawberry and vegetable growers in the Central Coast counties of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Each year he holds a field day that attracts nearly 200 farmers, pest control advisers and representatives of allied industries to Manzanita Berry Farms outside Santa Maria. The agenda for the May 9 event included preliminary results of trials studying a number of commercially available and soon-to-be available biological and synthetic amendments to improve strawberry plant health, berry quality and yield.

Dave Peck of Manzanita Berry Farms presents research results at the UC Cooperative Extension Strawberry Field Day.


Dara was ill, so Manzanita Farm owner Dave Peck reviewed the handout prepared by Dara for the field day. Manzanita Farms is one of two sites where Dara is testing products in replicated plots. Other studies are conducted in strawberries grown at the Shafter Research Station, a privately managed agricultural research facility in Kern County.

Several products resulted in increased marketable yield of strawberries during the February 2018 to April 2018 study period. See the preliminary results here. Data collection will continue through the end of the strawberry season.

“A challenge was that many people did not have complete faith in biologicals a few years ago,” Dara said. “By conducting multiple studies year after year, we are able to generate critical data that is useful for the farmers as well as companies that produce biologicals. By using different application strategies and rates, and a combination of techniques - as appropriate for their situations - farmers can engage in sustainable strawberry production.”

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Steve Fennimore, right, presented strawberry weed control research results. Rafael Santos, left, provided real-time interpretation in Spanish.
 
Greg Crutsinger of Scholar Farms said drones can be useful in ag production for spotting variations in crop vigor, where farmers can then sample plants and manage problems.
Posted on Friday, May 11, 2018 at 9:04 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Planting Memories for a Lifetime: Happy Mother's Day

Gardening has always been a part of my life, I can remember working in the yard and vegetable garden with my grandmother and mother when I was a young child. Certain trees, flowers and vegetables still bring back great memories of different people and places I've lived or visited.  

Statewide Training Coordinator Lauren Snowden showing off the summer harvest circa 1987

In the course of my job as the statewide training coordinator for the UC Master Gardener Program I'm always interested to know how volunteers started gardening or what their favorite plant is. People's faces light up as they talk about what or who influenced them to take up gardening as a hobby, lifestyle or even as a career. Many of us have cherished plants we received as gifts or had passed down to us from fellow gardeners or family.

Sharing your passion

The UC Master Gardener Program boasts over 6,000 volunteers who have spent 5.4 million hours working with and educating the public about home gardening. This dedication to volunteering and love of gardening is passed on in many families, resulting in multi-generational UC Master Gardener volunteers like Camille White and her mother Pat Bremmer.  Camille and Pat are a mother daughter volunteer duo with a combined 25 years of volunteer service with the UC Master Gardener Program of Sutter-Yuba Counties.

Double Oleander in Key West Florida

“I love all kinds of plants and flowers and with much help from my mom I joined the UC Master Gardener Program…She (mom) is such an amazing talent when it comes to plants,” said Camille. They both volunteer to work the office hotline and attended the 2014 UC Master Gardener conference together in Yosemite.  They just recently returned from a cruise where they had time to admire a Double Oleander in Key West Florida.

Special Plants

Gardeners excel at sharing so it comes as no surprise that they not only share their gardening know how but also their plants. Whether gardeners grow too many plants, tomatoes or zucchini they can always find homes for them, well maybe not the zucchini. Elizabeth Middleton, of Seal Beach, Calif. was gifted with violets from her husband's grandmother, Karen Hardy, who received the violets from her own mother. 

Karen Hardy and her family violets

Elizabeth and her family have been lovingly keeping them alive and moving them from home to home since 1976. The violets have struggled from time to time with the climate conditions and new locations however they have been divided and distributed to more family throughout the years. Four generations have grown these particular violets, the nostalgia they bring is one of peace and love, that all is right in the world for the family. Planted in a pot, or in the landscape this special flower is something to be nurtured.

Connecting

Gardening with others can create positive connections and cultivate a closer relationship between people and the environment. Gardening also engages all the senses, enhances fine motor development, teaches patience and offers unique learning opportunities.

Fairy Gardening fun at the Womack household

Melissa Womack and her daughter started to garden together on a small scale by creating a Fairy Garden.  “Starting a fairy garden,” explained Womack “began as a day project to get outside and create something together. Years later it has evolved into a special place for my daughter and I to connect without any distractions.  Every part of the process is fun for us - from designing the tiny landscape, crafting treasures and imagining the fairies visiting our magical little garden. There have been many giggles and great memories made, I hope that we continue this tradition for many years to come! ”

Thank you

Thank you to all whom have shared their love of gardening, extra plants, been and continue to be that special influence in someone's life. You have helped someone realize that nothing tastes better than fresh tomatoes from their garden or that planting a tree and watching it grow is amazing. 

A tip of the trowel to my grandmother and mother this Mother's Day who gave me my start in gardening. Without their influence, care and patience I would not have gone through UC Master Gardener training and become a volunteer, nor would I be making a career in a field that I love! 

Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at 1:52 PM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Continuing the mission of UC Cooperative Extension

Jennifer Sowerwine helps restore culturally relevant food systems to immigrant and Native American populations

The Karuk Tribe once lived on more than a million acres in remote Northern California. Legally, their ancestral land along the middle section of the Klamath River in Siskiyou County was in the public domain, as the Karuk did not have a reservation. But on May 6, 1905, when President Theodore Roosevelt created the Klamath Forest Reserve, the tribe lost any claim to its aboriginal territory.

Less swiftly but just as conclusively, the tribe also lost access to much of what the rivers and mountains provided: deer and elk, salmon, tan oak acorns, mushrooms, berries, medicinal herbs. And it lost its ability to manage the landscape through prescribed fire in order to ensure the survival of the plants and animals it needed. The Karuk's food system had been broken almost overnight, and has yet to recover. But Jennifer Sowerwine — UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources — believes it still can.

In direct collaboration with Karuk tribal leaders and community members, as well as with the nearby Yurok and Klamath Tribes, Sowerwine has helped put millions of dollars from USDA to work restoring food security — defined as access to sufficient, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods — among those from whom it was once taken.

While this is a challenge to which one could easily dedicate a career, Sowerwine's broader mission to support equitable food systems across the state has also led her to other projects and other communities. In the Central Valley, she has spent years working with Southeast Asian farmers. Closer to home, she recently began studying how community farms and gardens improve food security among at-risk populations in the urban East Bay.

Lisa Hillman, Pikyav Field Institute program manager for the Karuk Tribe, at the Karuk Herbarium. (Photo: Bari Talley)

Restoring ancient relationships to food

Sowerwine's body of work is a manifestation of the University of California Cooperative Extension's long-standing mandate to aid the “welfare, development, and protection of California agriculture, natural resources, and people.” CNR is the home of Cooperative Extension at UC Berkeley, which — now celebrating 150 years since its founding as a land-grant university — is intended to benefit all residents of our increasingly populous and diverse state.

That includes California's first residents: Native tribes like the Karuk, the Yurok (located along the lower stretch of the Klamath River), and the Klamath (upriver, across the border in Oregon). All three were traditionally non-agrarian, hunter-gatherer communities. Loss of ancestral lands that had sustained them for millennia affected not only their diet — leading to a reliance on institutional and heavily processed foods that have contributed to persistent health problems —but also their culture.

In working with the tribes, Sowerwine first had to listen.

“One of the main philosophical approaches in my work is to collaborate with the community to identify what the problems are, co-create research questions, and then support, on the extension side, the kinds of programs they need to attain their goals,” she said.

Among the Karuk, the tribe with which Sowerwine works most closely, “the community is actively engaged in exploring ways to revitalize their eco-cultural system,” she said. “That includes managing the landscape with traditional methods to improve the productivity and availability of cultural foods and fibers, and restoring some of the relationships around Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).”

Beginning in 2012, through a five-year, USDA-funded grant, Sowerwine partnered with all three tribes to help them reclaim control over their food systems using a holistic, community-centered approach. This took a variety of forms, including designing K–12 curricula for local schools around traditional food systems; opening two new herbaria to preserve and share specimens of native food plants; hosting workshops on subsistence skills like butchering, bread making, and canning; and finding appropriate ways of reintroducing sustainable local agriculture into communities for whom traditional farming is linked with colonialization.


This work now serves as a model for tribes across the country.

“There's a lot of interest in all of our programs,” says Karuk tribal member and Pikyav Field Institute program manager Lisa Hillman. In particular, the tribe created a digital library to offer easy access to information about traditional foods and ecological knowledge, which has attracted significant acclaim and earned Hillman invitations to discuss it at national conferences. “Working with [Jennifer] opened a whole lot of doors for our tribe,” Hillman says. The project's success also led to a second, three-year USDA grant that should continue to point the way forward and help mitigate some past harms for the Karuk Tribe.

Interventions for Southeast Asian refugee farmers

Sowerwine began her career studying food security among marginalized residents of a very different part of the world, who nonetheless have much in common with her current collaborators. As a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at Berkeley, she spent two years in the highlands of Vietnam learning how land-use laws and economic policies affected indigenous local farmers from the Mien minority ethnic group and their ability to sustain agrarian practices that were vital to their culture and food security.

After earning her PhD, Sowerwine continued at Berkeley as a postdoctoral researcher. A vibrant community of Mien immigrants exists not far away, in Sacramento, where refugees of the Vietnam War first arrived from Laos in the late 1970s. They were joined by fellow refugees from the Hmong ethnic group, many of whom settled in Fresno. Both groups had traditionally worked the land in Southeast Asia, and they soon developed robust farming networks here in California.

Using a proficiency with the Vietnamese language honed overseas, Sowerwine initially set out to assess the productivity and economic viability of these small farms operated by Southeast Asian refugees.

“I wanted to understand the barriers they were facing in terms of farming in the Central Valley of California, which is arguably the most industrialized agricultural landscape in the world,” she said.

Approximately 100 Mien farmers — part of a Sacramento-area Mien population of about 15,000 — work small plots of land, averaging about eight acres each, outside the state capital. They primarily grow strawberries to sell at roadside stands, but also produce a wide variety of traditional foods, like “sticky” corn, yu choy, gai lan, purple long beans, and bitter melon — mostly for home consumption.

Hmong farmers, who are concentrated in Fresno and Sacramento counties, grow conventional vegetables like cherry tomatoes, green beans, onions, and lettuce — in addition to their own cultural and traditional foods — to sell at farmers markets, Asian grocery stores, and wholesale markets.

A Hmong farmer selling yam leaf and bitter melon at a farmers market. )Photo: Jennifer Sowerwine)


The two groups' successes have not come easy, owing to such challenges as language barriers, differences between traditional and modern farming techniques, and informal labor practices that often clash with state regulations.

In response, Sowerwine designed and led an array of interventions to support the farms' continued viability. These included offering hands-on, native-language training to help Hmong and Mien farmers comply with complex labor and food-safety regulations; teaching farmers how to achieve organic certification or to make and sell “value-added” foods like jams; and providing assistance in accessing new markets for fresh produce, including schools, farmers markets, and wholesalers.

Throughout her career, Sowerwine has worked closely with UC Cooperative Extension advisors around the state, including Richard Molinar — a now-retired small farms and specialty crops advisor in Fresno County — and his successor, Ruth Dahlquist-Willard.

“We accomplished a lot, and we helped hundreds, if not thousands,” Molinar said.

Protecting farmers' livelihoods is only the start, Sowerwine notes. Positive outcomes ripple out to the broader immigrant community, which sees strengthened food security through a steady supply of affordable, culturally appropriate produce, and to the entire regional economy and food system, which benefit from a robust and diverse network of local food producers.

“The land-grant universities were founded for the ordinary people, and not just the elite,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “The original idea was to provide support and training for people in professions like agriculture. It's part of the health of rural communities.”

The power of small-scale urban agriculture

Yet as Sowerwine's work in the East Bay has shown, small-scale agriculture can also be critical to the health and well-being of urban residents — especially recent immigrants. In 2016, she and a team of 12 undergraduate research assistants surveyed more than 100 community, school, and for-profit farms and gardens between Hayward and Richmond. A dozen of the community gardens were included in a subsequent pilot study to learn more about how urban farms can provide immigrants with reliable access to affordable traditional foods.


Jennifer Sowerwine discusses plantings with Jon Hoffman, farm manager of the UC Gill Tract Community Farm in Albany. (Photo: Saul Bromberger)

Despite a combined area of just 10.5 acres, these plots were producing more than 300 distinct crops. Many of these plants have direct ties to specific culinary and medicinal traditions, including nine varieties of edible cactus used for nopales (cactus pads) and tuna (cactus fruit) in Mexican cuisine, and even as a diabetes remedy; gandana, also known as Afghan leek, a critical ingredient in the traditional dishes bolani and ashak; and chinsaga (Cleome gynandra), a plant used by Kenyan women for postpartum healing and infant health.

Late last year, in collaboration with the Berkeley Food Institute, Sowerwine received a grant from the national nonprofit Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to further promote and study Bay Area urban farming. Along with ESPM faculty members Timothy Bowles and Céline Pallud, as well as Charisma Acey from the College of Environmental Design, she'll delve even deeper into urban agriculture across the Bay Area.

The team plans to address a diverse and thought-provoking array of questions, most of which have never been studied so thoroughly in the Bay Area. For example, what is the role of urban farms in supporting beneficial insects and improving soil health? How does food from urban farms find its way to consumers and how can waste along the way be minimized? What cultural or structural barriers may prevent locals from accessing urban-farming products?

As with all of Sowerwine's work, from the Oregon border to the East Bay, the goal is not simply to learn more, but to make a difference.

“There's a need to elevate an understanding of the value and importance of these spaces to local, state, and national government, to figure out ways of securing them for the long-term benefit of our diverse California public,” Sowerwine said. “The goal is to inform policy and create opportunities for tribal communities and small-scale family and urban farmers, to maintain the continuity of their cultural food heritages.”

Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at 8:58 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Food

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