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Posts Tagged: vegetables

Building trust in food systems – here and in Cambodia

What is the role of trust in our food system? Here in the United States, our trust in food is often implicit. We can generally trust that the fruits and vegetables we buy at a grocery store or farmers market are safe to eat — and we are often free to shop without even thinking about that trust.

Between farmers and agricultural scientists too, trust often plays an important role. If you're a farmer, you need to be able to trust that investing your time or money in a new technique or in attending a workshop will indeed improve your business.

But it can be easy to forget that trust is a critical first step in many of these agricultural relationships.

Thort Chuong (now a Fulbright scholar and UC Davis grad student) welcomes us into a nethouse in Cambodia, owned by a farmer who tried it after joining a savings group and hearing about this new way he could grow vegetables without spraying pesticides. Karen LeGrand of UC Davis stands inside, among the leafy green seedlings in the nethouse.

Establishing trust between actors in a food system has been critical for a Horticulture Innovation Lab project in Cambodia, focused on increasing the amount of safe vegetables available to Cambodian consumers.  Project leaders from UC Davis and UC ANR — Glenn YoungJim Hill, Cary Trexler, David Miller and Karen LeGrand — are actually traveling right now in Cambodia to launch a new phase of this project. They are partnering with scientists from Cambodia's Royal University of Agriculture and the University of Battambang. The researchers plan to expand upon their past successes, working together with farmers, marketers, and input suppliers to build trust while building safe vegetable value chains.

One key to their past success was that before introducing farmers to new agricultural technologies, the researchers first connected with farmers socially, by starting community savings groups. In these savings groups, farmers could build relationships and trust, while increasing their own savings and accessing small loans.

This social aspect of the project was the focus of a video made by UC Davis graduate students Thort Chuong, Elyssa Lewis, and Katie Hoeberling. This 3-minute video was a finalist in the World Food Day Video Challenge:

Building trust and resilience in a safe vegetable value chain in Cambodia Interviews for the video were conducted as part of a student thesis and supported by the U.S. Borlaug Graduate Research Fellowship program. 


Though he is now studying at UC Davis as a Fulbright Fellow, Chuong was originally hired to work with farmers on the first phase of this project in Kandal province as an agronomist and field facilitator.

“At first I just wanted to focus on the agronomy part,” he said. “But then I saw the advantages of being a [savings group] member and thought, wow, this is a great thing to do.”

In fact the advantages were so great that on the weekends he returned to his hometown, gathering his neighbors and relatives together to start their own savings groups. Members have a safe way to save money, an easier way to secure small loans, and earn a little interest too.

Farmers in these savings groups were able to save considerable amounts of money and provide loans to each other for things like seeds, field preparation, labor costs, school fees, wedding costs, even in one case a new house — with each member contributing $5-25 per week for a year.

With trust and community established, some of the farmers in the savings groups also decided to try out a new agricultural technology in partnership with the scientists, using nethouses for pest management to avoid spraying pesticides. (In many countries where pesticide information is inaccessible to the average farmer, it is not uncommon for farmers to keep a separate garden to feed their family — in order to avoid eating even their own crops that they are selling to the market.)

The new, safe vegetable value chain they were part of grew and strengthened, as the international team connected these farmers to a marketer who needed to source vegetables grown without pesticides. That marketer then sells those vegetables to consumers in the capital city of Phnom Penh, who were able to trust the vegetables they bought from her are indeed safe to eat.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab is led by a team at UC Davis, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, as part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future. Learn more about Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers and their projects in Asia, Africa and Central America.

Savings group members count out Cambodian riel, during an annual ceremony where members are repaid their share of funds (their own savings plus interest), after repaying all of their community loans. After the Horticulture Innovation Lab research was complete in their community, these farmers have continued to expand both their savings groups and their use of new agricultural technologies.

 

Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 8:50 AM

More irrigation for climate-smart farming and food security in Guatemala

Connecting 9,000 rural households in Guatemala with improved water management and climate-smart agriculture strategies is the goal of a new project led by a team at UC Davis, to ultimately increase food security and reduce poverty in Guatemala's Western Highlands.

Meagan Terry, left, a UC Davis researcher with the Horticulture Innovation Lab in Guatemala, discusses conservation agriculture with a Guatemalan consultant and a local youth group member. (Photo by Beth Mitcham)
Called MásRiego (“more irrigation”), the project aims to increase farmers' incomes and their use of climate-smart strategies, including drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, reduced tillage, mulch use and diverse crop rotation. To enable farmers to adopt these new practices, the team will not only provide trainings but also build partnerships to increase farmers' access to needed micro-credit financing and irrigation equipment.

“The opportunity to impact so many farmers' lives on this scale is exciting,” said Beth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “We're taking lessons learned from our previous research — in Guatemala, Honduras and Cambodia — and building a team to help more small-scale farmers apply our findings and successfully use these innovative practices.”

The new project is part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. The project represents an additional $3.4 million investment in the UC Davis-led Horticulture Innovation Lab by the U.S. Agency for International Development's mission in Guatemala.

The project's international team also includes representatives from Kansas State University; North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; the Centro de Paz Bárbara Ford in Guatemala; Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala; and the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano, in Honduras.

“The learning shared between these three U.S. universities and the universities in Honduras and Guatemala will be enriching for all of the institutions involved,” said Manuel Reyes, research professor at Kansas State University who is part of the team. “I find it satisfying that these academic institutions will be investing intellectually in marginalized groups in Guatemala's Western Highlands — and in turn, learning from them too.”

Helping youth envision a future in agriculture

Miguel Isaias Sanchez has started farming with drip irrigation and a water tower, using information from one of the first MásRiego trainings. (Photo by Beth Mitcham)
The new MásRiego project will focus on helping farmers, particularly women and youth, grow high-value crops on very small plots of land (200 square meters minimum), in the Quiché, Quetzaltenango and Totonicapán departments of Guatemala's Western Highlands.

By partnering with local youth groups and agricultural schools, the team will better prepare students for jobs in commercial agriculture and agricultural extension with knowledge of climate-resilient conservation and water management practices.

“Our local team is training youth as entrepreneurs, to see agriculture as an economic opportunity instead of just back-breaking work,” said Meagan Terry, UC Davis junior specialist who is managing the project in Guatemala for the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “They can envision a future in agriculture, with innovative ways to create value-added products or grow high-value crops for niche markets.”

As rainfall patterns vary with climate change, farmers in this region are expected to face increased competition for water. Practices such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and conservation agriculture will become more necessary for small-scale farmers.

Climate-smart lessons from conservation agriculture, drip irrigation

In previous research, the Horticulture Innovation Lab has found that combining drip irrigation with conservation agriculture practices can successfully grow vegetables on small plots of land, without significant yield reductions. These practices improve soil structure, moisture retention and soil health.

Additionally, women farmers who participated in the Horticulture Innovation Lab studies in Cambodia, Honduras and Guatemala favored using these practices for another important reason: reduced labor in relation to controlling weeds, vegetable bed preparation and manual watering.

“I dream for many women, youth and their families, that their lives will be better off because of 'MasRiego' and the science behind this work,” Reyes said. “As for the research, we are learning how to improve this suite of practices so they can be tailor fitted globally. I am convinced that if this picks up, steep sloping lands can be farmed with the soil quality not being degraded — but even being enriched.”

These lessons, as well as findings from the program's “Advancing Horticulture” report about horticultural sector growth in Central America, lay the foundation for this new project.

A previous version of this article was published by UC Davis News Service and on the Horticulture Innovation Lab blog


Curious about partnering with the Horticulture Innovation Lab? The Horticulture Innovation Lab builds partnerships between agricultural researchers in the United States and researchers in developing countries, to conduct fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries. The program currently has three research grant opportunities for U.S. researchers: one focused on tomatoes, another on apricots, and a third on integrated crop-livestock systems. 

Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 at 8:02 AM

Teens put their food smarts to the test

Grocery shopping can be the most anticipated or the most dreaded necessity of daily life. A trip to the market can end with a smile over the thrill of victory from finding great bargains or end with a frown from the agony of defeat over budget anxieties. For most of us, budget is the primary factor in our food experiences. Low budget or no budget is often the culprit that leads to unhealthy food choices.

A healthy snack.
Armed with nutrition knowledge acquired through the University of California 4-H Food Smart Families program with the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, teens from Parlier High School in Fresno County are teaching Parlier youth ages 8-12 how to get around budget roadblocks on the path to healthy eating. The program uses a “Teens as Teachers” approach, with teens educating younger youth through a series of hands-on, interactive nutrition lessons after school.

Food connections to local agriculture are highlighted through the partnership with the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. The center will host agriculture tours and family nutrition education activities at a Wellness Fair later this month to wrap up the program.

According to recent United States Department of Agriculture studies, nearly 16 million children live in households where they do not have consistent access to food throughout the year.

UC 4-H Food Smart Families empowers families through food knowledge and education to build sustainable solutions that confront food insecurity and improve health. Youth are engaged at a critical age for growing skills and establishing behaviors today that become sustainable, healthy habits for their families and communities tomorrow. Youth learn they can prepare food themselves and parents learn about working together as a family to plan healthy meals.

Grocery store shopping is part of training.
Teen teachers put their new skills to the test on a recent field trip to the local grocery store. After a store tour and 4-H training on perimeter shopping, unit pricing and the downfalls of impulse buying, they were given a shopping challenge. The goal was to purchase, within the assigned budget, three items from each of the vegetable, fruit, grain, dairy and protein food groups to create healthy meals at home. As the teens had been learning while teaching their younger counterparts, eating healthy on a budget is achievable with a little nutrition education and careful planning.

Thoughtful discussions, and sometimes passionate debates, ranging from whole grain pasta versus whole wheat pasta to the tasty virtues of hummus, mixed with youthful laughter. The teens were pleasantly surprised to discover they had additional budget to spare. Return trips were made to the produce department for more fruit, vegetables and even hummus.

Comments from the teens told the story of their success. “Now I know what my mom has to go through when she's shopping for food,” and “Look at my cart. Food Smart Families is really influencing me!” Who knew grocery shopping could be so much fun?

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion offers these 10 tips for affordable vegetables and fruits:

• Use fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season.
• Check your local newspaper, online and at the store for sales, coupons and specials.
• Plan out your meals ahead of time and make a grocery list.
• Compare the price and number of servings from fresh, canned and frozen forms of the same vegetable or fruit.
• Buy small amounts more often to ensure you can eat the foods without throwing any away.
• For fresh vegetables or fruits you use often, a large size bag is the better buy.
• Opt for store brands when possible.
• Buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form.
• Start a garden for fresh, inexpensive, flavorful additions to meals.
• Prepare and freeze vegetable soups, stews or other dishes in advance.

Posted on Monday, May 9, 2016 at 8:58 AM

Simple steps for preparing, caring for and harvesting a vegetable garden

The Good Life Garden an edible garden at the at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science includes vegetables, herbs and flowers. Photo credit: Claire Napawan
Whether in containers, raised beds in your backyard or community garden space or integrated into your landscape, growing edibles can be a rewarding experience if done properly. Oftentimes it is easy for gardeners new to growing edibles to become frustrated and give up after one or two attempts because their experience was less than desirable or overwhelming.

There are several ways to overcome these gardening pitfalls to help ensure you have a successful warm-season vegetable gardening experience.

Plan, plan and stick with your vegetable garden plan!

Planning is a key component to having a successful vegetable garden, but is frequently forgotten or overlooked. Planning includes selecting an appropriate location for your garden, choosing the correct varieties of crops for your space and developing a garden plan for what you would like to grow.

When selecting a location it is important that the site receives at least eight hours of full sun, is close to a water source (hose, irrigation or hand-watering) and has good soil for optimal growth. Once you have an appropriate location picked out, creating a garden plan will help contribute to your growing success.

Too often the overall size of the garden area and the size of mature plants is not considered. Keep in mind a young plant can become established and quickly overtake a small garden lot, challenging or dominating other plants for resources.

A garden plan should contain the types of crops, how many, and dates of planting and harvesting.(Photo credit: California Master Gardener Handbook, Figure 13.1)

“A well planned garden can provide fresh or preserved vegetables for use year-round. The plan should contain crops and amounts to be planted, dates of planting and estimated harvest, planting location for each crop, specific spacing between rows, and trellising or support required,” according to the California Master Gardener Handbook (see Figure 13.1 on Page 342).

Invest a little time and develop a detailed plan to help guide you on where, which type and how many plants you will need for your space. Your vegetable garden plan will keep you focused while shopping at your local nursery and prevent impulse buys of tempting transplants!

Caring for your vegetable garden

Irrigation is a key component in a successful vegetable garden. Consistent, deep and sufficient watering will produce better tasting and superior quality fruits and vegetables, especially during the hot summer months when it is easy for the soil to quickly dry out.  

“As a rule” the handbook says on Page 349, “it will be necessary to irrigate your vegetable garden one to three times a week in summer ... The frequency will be determined by the depth of crop roots, soil texture, and weather conditions. Wet the soil to just beyond the bottom of the root system at each watering.” 

Even in a time of drought, vegetable crops require the soil to remain moist during their crop cycle. Poor irrigation practices and infrequent watering will produce smaller yields and poor quality fruits and vegetables. 

Weed prevention and maintenance is an important piece in caring for your vegetable garden. Without monitoring and controlling weeds, your crops could quickly become overrun by these pesky unwanted plants. Apply a three- to four-inch layer of organic mulch to discourage the growth of weeds. Prevent weeds by hand-weeding before they become established and go to seed. The UC Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program has detailed information available on its website about sustainable weed management in the home landscape.

Harvesting (and enjoying) your crop

Food harvested by UC Master Gardeners a "Our Garden" located in Contra Costa County.
After all of your hard work, time and dedication growing your warm-season fruits and vegetables remembering when to harvest can be just as important as growing them. UC Davis' Postharvest Technology Center has easy to navigate Produce Fact Sheets to help guide you on when to best harvest your crops.

“To get the most from your vegetables, harvest them when they are at the best stage for eating and store them under conditions that will keep them as close to garden-fresh as possible,” recommends The California Garden Web. “Vegetables will be crisper and cooler when harvested in the early morning.” (cagardenweb.ucanr.edu)

Once harvested don't forget to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor. Few experiences can compare with the gratification of eating homegrown fruits and vegetables for the first-time!

Learn more with UC Master Gardeners

Interested in learning more about how to grow a thriving edible garden or home landscape? The UC Master Gardener Program has University trained volunteers who are eager to help. Volunteers are available to answer questions about preparing your soil, fertilizing, mulching and more. With local programs based in more than 50 counties across California there is sure to be a workshop or class near you. Visit our website to find your local UC Master Gardener Program, mg.ucanr.edu.    

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 2:01 PM

Gardens contribute vegetables, ease hunger among San Jose residents

A Santa Clara County resident works in a community garden.
People who grow their own vegetables in a garden typically consume enough fresh produce to meet the USDA Dietary Guidelines for a healthy diet, according to a recent UC Cooperative Extension survey of San Jose residents.

A diet containing lots of vegetables is lower in calories and higher in fiber and good for our health. Yet, not everyone has easy access to fresh vegetables in the United States.

“Growing vegetables and having a garden is an effective intervention to promote increased vegetable consumption among all Americans,” said Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Santa Clara County, who conducted the survey. “This is evidence for bringing back popular home gardens or ‘Victory gardens' of the past rather than investing exclusively in SNAP benefits for purchased foods.”

SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps), now allows participants to buy seeds with their benefits, which helps low-income people who want to grow their own veggies, she said.

Vegetable consumption falls well below the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in much of the U.S., particularly among African American, Latino, low educational attainment, and low-income populations.

Algert and fellow UC Cooperative Extension researchers looked at background characteristics, vegetable intake and program benefits of people who cultivated a home garden versus those who participated in a community garden.

“The home gardeners were significantly younger, had lower incomes, were less likely to have completed college and were more ethnically diverse than the community gardeners,” said Algert, who specializes in nutrition. “In other words, the background characteristics of the two groups varied significantly. In spite of these significant demographic differences, both groups increased their vegetable consumption from the garden to the same extent, by about two servings.”

In fact, by supplementing with food from their gardens, both groups met the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for recommended daily servings of vegetables to promote optimal health.

A lack of experience as gardeners didn't affect the results much. Fifty eight percent of the home gardeners reported having less than two years of experience whereas only one-third of community gardeners were novices.

“This study demonstrates that growing fresh vegetables in either a home or community garden setting can contribute significantly to a person's nutritional intake and food security at all income levels by making it a more affordable to maintain a healthful diet,” said Algert. Urban gardeners also experience a number of other benefits including exercise, stress release, and learning about gardening from their peers and mentors.

The study was a partnership with the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department of the City of San Jose and La Mesa Verde, a project of Sacred Heart Community Services of San Jose. The UCCE research group worked with the Parks Department to administer a 30 question background survey to 83 community gardeners in four different gardens during April through September 2012. The same survey, slightly modified, was administered to a group of 50 home gardeners participating in Sacred Heart's La Mesa Verde project between September 2013 and April 2014.

Posted on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 1:14 PM

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