UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program
University of California
UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program

Posts Tagged: garden

Planting the seeds for garden-based education

Students explore pumpkins with UC CalFresh staff.
The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Santa Barbara County (UC CalFresh) is planting new ideas and possibilities to increase teacher use of school gardens.

Each school day, teachers must carefully plan and account for their instructional minutes. For each grade level has specific time recommendations for math and English language arts, so teachers often feel they do not have the time to include extra activities in their already packed schedules. When UC CalFresh gave a brief survey to teachers a Santa Maria school last year, teachers identified the following barriers to using their school garden for instruction:

  1. Lack of instructional time or preparation time
  2. Lack of curriculum and learning activities
  3. Too many students to manage in the outdoor setting

These concerns reflected comments that UC CalFresh nutrition educators frequently heard from teachers who were invited to bring their students to the school garden.

Taking these concerns into consideration, UC CalFresh developed innovative strategies to meet the needs of school teachers, showing how instructional minutes in the garden don't have to be “extra” and can include hands-on learning for English language arts and math, with a focus on nutrition. The strategies include:

  1. Clearly aligning garden-based nutrition education with common core lessons
  2. Providing garden-based curriculum and materials for learning activities in the garden
  3. Hosting Garden Open House Days, during which teachers can bring their students to the garden when UC CalFresh Educators are present to increase educator-to-student ratios.

Students explore pumpkins in the garden with their teacher.
To meet the needs of partnering teachers, UC CalFresh educators developed “No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits,” enabling teachers to teach common core-aligned nutrition education lessons without having to use prep time to make copies or create materials of their own. This year, based on the survey data, UC CalFresh expanded the No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits to include lessons that could be taught in the garden.

The first No-Prep Garden-Based Nutrition Education Kit was piloted in October and featured pumpkins. The No-Prep Kit became fondly known as the Pumpkin Kit. The Pumpkin Kit encouraged teachers to take the lesson out to the garden, increasing students' physical activity time while providing opportunities for students to practice common core skills. The kit focuses on nutrition and cooking while reinforcing math, science and language arts. The kit includes books, worksheets, an oven, and several different pumpkins for measuring, cooking, estimating, and tasting. This kit requires no teacher prep time, is adaptable to any primary grade level, and is an easy introduction to garden-based lesson delivery.

During a Garden Open House Day hosted by UC CalFresh in October, kindergarten students and their fifth-grade buddies came out to the garden. The fifth-grade buddies worked with the kindergarten students to use observation skills (five senses), learn adjectives, and draw the pumpkin life cycle. The older buddies gained teaching and language arts skills while working with their little buddies in the garden. Students got to dissect the pumpkins in teams and used the seeds for counting. Each kindergartener took 20 seeds home to practice counting with their parents, which also served as a budding connection for students' families and the school garden.

"If we had something like this every month, we would be able to go out into the garden more and maybe we could get more teachers to come. This is what we need, curriculum that can be used in the garden," said kindergarten teacher Mrs. Joaquin.

Seed counting and sorting.
Moving forward, UC CalFresh is piloting bimonthly No-Prep Kits for garden-based lessons, featuring the USDA's DigIn! curriculum, as well as other UC curricula. Teachers can teach with the kits on their own in the garden or come during UC CalFresh hosted Garden Open House Days for extra educator support. By easing teachers' paths into the garden, students get to spend time outdoors, engage in physical activity, and participate in learning that reinforces their science, English language arts and math skill development.

“The program has been awesome," said one fourth-grade teacher. "[UC CalFresh] incorporated math, science, social studies into lessons. Students were excited and engaged. Many tried new vegetables they'd never had before and liked them! Kids learned responsibility and pride in designing, choosing plants, maintaining and harvesting in school garden.”

For more on UC CalFresh of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties see the Facebook page at facebook.com/uccalfreshslosb 


UC CalFresh nutrition education is offered in schools jointly by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and USDA. 

Posted on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 8:33 AM

What's in your compost?

For home gardeners, spring is a busy time of year and there’s never a tomato with more flavor than one grown to full ripeness on the vine. But there are also many safety precautions to follow to prevent contamination of fruits and vegetables with pathogens that cause serious food-borne illnesses. 

Michele Jay-Russell, a veterinarian and research microbiologist at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS) and program manager of the Western Center for Food Safety (WCFS), recently co-authored a study that highlights the need to be aware of the hazards associated with using raw animal manure to fertilize home gardens. (Read full article here.)

The basis for the study began in July of 2010 when a shire mare from a rural Northern California farm was brought to the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital for treatment of colic. Following protocol, the veterinarians on call screened the horse for Salmonella to avoid infecting other horses during hospitalization. She tested positive and after successful treatment for colic, went home. Her owners then notified the veterinarians that some of their other draft horses were sick as well — all 8 were tested and 6 came back positive for the same Salmonella Oranienburg strain, including the mare that still had the infection. 

Jay-Russell heard about the case from her colleague John Madigan, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the school. The farm’s owners invited Jay-Russell and Madigan to the farm to see if they could uncover the source of the Salmonella infection. They sampled water from horse troughs, manure storage piles, wild turkey feces and soil from the family’s edible home garden where raw horse manure had been used as fertilizer. Each of those locations had a percentage of positive samples over the sampling period from August 2010 to March 2011.

“We showed the owners how to continue collecting samples and provided them with a FedEx number to ship them to UC Davis,” Jay-Russell said. “During that whole time, the garden soil kept coming back positive, which showed that this strain of Salmonella could persist for months.”

While the researchers couldn’t be completely certain about the original source of Salmonella on the farm, they suspect that a recent surge in the wild turkey population on the property introduced the bacteria to the horses by pooping in the horse corrals and in the water troughs. They speculated that the wild turkeys brought the Salmonella onto the property, although they couldn’t rule out the possibility that the birds were exposed on the farm or to other potential sources of Salmonella

“What is clearer is that the raw horse manure applied as fertilizer was the most likely source of garden soil contamination,” Jay-Russell explained. “We suspect that the damp climate in Mendocino County may have contributed to the longevity of this bacterium in the soil long after the owners stopped applying the horse manure to the garden. Fortunately, the owners didn’t get sick, but our investigation showed the potential for widespread dissemination of Salmonella in a farm environment following equine infection.”

To promote safe gardening practices, Jay-Russell has teamed with Trevor Suslow, a Cooperative Extension food safety specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences, to speak to groups of small farmers around the state about best practices. They also use a brochure in English and Spanish, “Food Safety Tips for Your Edible Home Garden,” that includes information about safe uses of animal manure and ways to minimize animal fecal contamination.

“It’s good to let people know about the risks and to correct misinformation about ways to treat the compost pile before using it in the garden,” Jay-Russell said. “The biggest take home message from this experience is to be very careful about using manure from sick horses — and to be cautious about offers of free manure — you don’t know what’s in there. Commercial compost should be bought from a reputable source.”

She urges gardeners to take a class and learn how to compost correctly and safely. Each county in California has UC Cooperative Extension advisors and many have Master Gardener programs offering information on food safety.

Additional resources:

Center for Produce Safety

UC Food Safety


Posted on Monday, April 8, 2013 at 8:33 AM

Resources for beginning vegetable gardeners develop from LA initiative

Home vegetable gardening has always been popular in Los Angeles County. At the UC Cooperative Extension office in Los Angeles, we have a long history of teaching people how to garden through our Common Ground Garden Program. We began to get even more inquiries than usual from beginning gardeners starting three or four years ago. As it turned out, this was part of a larger trend. A national survey showed a 19 percent increase in edible gardening in U.S. households in just one year, between 2008 and 2009. We were excited about this new enthusiasm for home food production. However, based on experience at the community level, we were aware that new gardeners often floundered and might not continue gardening without support and a taste of success. 

Grow LA participants at the Natural History Museum.
To address this growing audience of beginning vegetable gardeners, we developed a four-session workshop series, led by seasoned Master Gardener volunteers, to help new gardeners gain the fundamental skills needed to become successful. We call this the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative. Training groups are kept small, 10 to 15 people, and are largely hands-on. New gardeners learn to prepare soil, plant seeds and transplant seedlings, water effectively and control pests. After training, the new gardeners continue to meet with their group leader informally, encouraging one another and sharing gardening tips. 

This initiative has been popular and successful. Since we kicked off “Grow LA” in spring, 2010, we have trained 1,130 beginning gardeners at more than 40 sites around the county, including community gardens, parks, churches, libraries, schools and museums. 

One outcome of this project has been the development of a manual for participants, the Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners. Our staff, led by Yvonne Savio and Valerie Borel, compiled the basics of vegetable gardening into a 44-page manual. With support from the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation, we were able to print the manual for participants, and translate it into Spanish. Thanks to the efforts of UC ANR News and Information Outreach in Spanish, the Spanish-language version has just become available. Both versions are available free on-line, and we hope others will find them helpful as well.   

Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-English
Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-English

Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-Spanish
Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-Spanish

Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Grapefruit wonder

I have this huge grapefruit tree in my garden. It is at least 30 feet high and just as wide.  It must be at least 70 years old and yields hundreds of pounds of grapefruit annually. The variety is an old standard variety called "Marsh." Marsh grapefruit were introduced in Florida in 1860 and it has been in the industry ever since. It is relatively cold hardy variety and has survived many hard freezes here in northern California. Even though our grapefruit tree gives us a lot of fruit and it has a very long harvest period (February to August), I have to say it isn’t the best tasting variety of grapefruit I have ever had. No, that honor would go to some of the more recent grapefruit introductions. There are several hybrid varieties that yield large and very sweet fruit. They are just now beginning to harvest many of these and they will be in your farmers markets and grocers soon. The trees could be in your garden too but I would wait until spring to plant since the young trees can be very susceptible to frost injury.

One of my favorite "grapefruit" varieties is one that is similar to my Marsh but sweeter and has an earlier harvest period. It is a "Cocktail" hybrid. However, it really isn’t a grapefruit at all but rather a hybrid of a mandarin and a sweet pummelo. Its juice and fruit are so sweet and delicious. It does have seeds but the flavor is amazing and truly worth planting in the garden for its wonderful juice as well as for fresh eating. It begins to ripen in January and will hang on the tree through March.

Another great variety with an even earlier harvest period is a grapefruit called "Oro Blanco." Oro Blanco is a hybrid between a white grapefruit and a sweet pummelo and was introduced in 1980. This one is also very sweet, but it is seedless and has a much earlier harvest period, from December to March. The only thing that may be a bit off putting is that it has a greenish yellow rind rather than the bright yellow gold of other varieties. Nonetheless, I find this one to be a winner in my book. In fact, in Citrus Variety Collection Notes at UC Riverside, it says:

"10/1988, EMN: My opinion, for what it might be worth, regarding Oroblanco vs Melogold, is this: For maximum returns as a cash crop, plant your acreage to Melogold; but save one space near your back door for a tree of Oroblanco for your own use."

Melogold is another hybrid and a sister variety to Oro Blanco. It was introduced to the industry in 1986 by the Citrus Research Station at UC Riverside. Melogold is fairly similar to Oro Blanco but the fruit is a bit larger and the rind is more yellow at maturity.  Both are winners in my book.  For more information on this and other citrus varieties for your garden, read the free online publication "Tried and True or Something New: Selected Citrus Varieties for the Home Gardener."

Now, what can you do with grapefruit besides just eat the fruit or squeeze the juice for breakfast? Well, there is always grapefruit and fennel salad, grapefruit sorbet, grapefruit glaze for fish, grapefruit and pomegranate juice martinis, and one of my favorites this time of year is a cranberry-grapefruit conserve that my mom used to make. Here is the recipe:

Mom’s Cranberry-Grapefruit Conserve


  1. One large grapefruit (red or white)
  2. Water
  3. 2 1/2 cups sugar
  4. 1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries


  1. Peel strips of the rind from the grapefruit.  Include a small amount of white pith.
  2. In a medium saucepan, blanch the strips by bringing them to a boil over moderate/high heat.  Drain and repeat once more.
  3. Dice the blanched peels into about ¼ inch pieces; reserve.
  4. Juice the grapefruit.
  5. Combine the grapefruit juice, cranberries, 1-1/2 cups of the sugar and 1-1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by half and the cranberries are cooked down, about 1-1/2 hours.
  6. In a medium saucepan, mix the diced blanched grapefruit peel with 1 cup of sugar and one cup of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the peel is translucent, about 40 minutes. Add the peel and syrup to the cranberry mixture and simmer together over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 3 cups, about 25 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.  This conserve can be stored for up to a month in the refrigerator.

Note:  I like to pour the slightly warmed conserve over cream cheese to spread on crackers or I also serve it with fish or turkey.

Happy Holidays


Posted on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 8:19 AM

From 'backyard to belly'

Corn, peas and dahlias in a raised bed garden.
So you may have heard of ”farm to fork” or “farm to table”? Well, I like to think even more locally than that. I think in terms of “backyard to belly” . . . food so fresh you can eat it while standing in the garden without cooking it or with a little more effort, carrying a basket of fresh tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplants, peaches, corn and beans into the kitchen to create wonderful meals for your family.

I have a few tips on getting quality food from your harvest. So often we lose a lot of our homegrown produce because we don’t harvest at the right time. It is important to harvest at the peak of perfection - not before and not after. My worst food experiences from my garden have come from waiting too long to harvest. The corn gets starchy (and the corn earworms get more of the kernels than I do), the beans get tough, the melons, when overripe, are not even worth cutting open and peaches will not hold up well when they are cooked or canned. To be a good gardener and a good chef of ”backyard to belly” foods, you really have to stay on top of the harvest and not let it get ahead of you. I know that if you work full time, you just may not have the time to harvest when you need to, but if you don’t take the time, then you have pretty much wasted your time and garden resources.

One thing that can help is to invest in a separate cold storage system, I call it my “fruit fridge” (just a used refrigerator in the garage), in which you can store your harvested produce until you can process it either by cooking, or for longer term storage canning, freezing or drying. Your regular household refrigerator will work just fine but often there is too much produce and you won’t have enough room. Refrigeration will help to keep the produce fresh longer and allow you a little more time to process. For example, I have too much corn ready at one time. Corn is best eaten within a few hours after harvest since the conversion to starch occurs quickly. While it would be fun to have a corn feed or share with all my neighbors, I really would like to store some for the winter. I harvest my corn so that it is just mature but not too mature. Typically, the ears will be filled with kernels and the tips of the silks will begin to dry out. The “milk” from the kernels should be clear and not white. After harvest, I quickly move the ears to the refrigerator since that slows the conversion rate of sugar to starch. When I have time within the next day or so, I will prep them for freezing. The sooner you can process the corn, the better the quality will be.

Peaches are another crop that tends to be ready at one time. One thing I do is write the approximate harvest date in my calendar for the next year so I won’t schedule a vacation during the harvest period. Second, peaches are best harvested for longer term storage (canning, freezing and drying), when they are fully ripe but still firm. You can then leave them on the counter until they are at the stage you prefer them at for fresh eating. If you intend to can, freeze or dry the fruit, it is best to process them shortly after harvest. If you have to wait to process, then store them in your fruit fridge until you are ready, but you should do it within a few days.

If you want more information on proper harvesting and storage of home garden vegetables and fruits, visit these pages on The California Garden Web and The California Backyard Orchard. If you are new to preserving foods, The National Center on Food Preservation has free guidelines for you.

You may also want to visit the Postharvest Technology Center webpage for more information on storing fresh fruits and vegetables for better taste.

Posted on Monday, August 22, 2011 at 10:02 AM

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