Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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Shopping for fruits and vegetables 'like we used to'

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Shopping outdoors and having the chance to freely choose, ask questions, taste, and perhaps haggle a little are some of the reasons for immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere to find farmers markets particularly appealing. Childhood memories of going to open-air markets with their families are probably another big reason for them, but also for many older U.S. born consumers who are becoming regular customers.

Fortunately, as more non-Latinos and non-immigrants discover or re-discover the advantages of buying fresh produce grown by small farmers, we all will have more opportunities to enjoy getting our favorite fruits and vegetables "like we used to."

For my wife, Sylvia, and I is a lot more fun to buy our produce at our nearby farmers markets in Redlands and San Bernardino than shopping at the supermarket in our neighborhood. Going from stall to stall checking out what's offered is a totally different experience, and certainly more exciting. Unfortunately, these markets don't operate during the winter months, so we'll have to wait until next year.

We feel that we get more for our money at farmers markets. Eager to sell, vendors gladly greet you and talk to you as if you weren't a stranger to them. You feel invited to take a closer look at what they're selling. They try to show you that they care about you as an individual customer and want you to be happy with your purchase, just like it used to be before big supermarkets took over our food supply.

Not yet convinced? How about taking a bite of the fruit or vegetables that many vendors have always ready for you to sample? When was the last time they treated you like that at your local supermarket?

For my wife and I, that's the closest thing to going back in time when we went shopping at the produce markets of our childhoods, hers in Nicaragua, and mine in México. It's a tradition that can be traced to the Aztec's tianguis, as those ancient Mexicans called their open-air marketplaces.

Spanish conquerors were marveled at the wide and colorful array of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs sold at the indigenous marketplaces, as described by Bernardino de Sahagún in his Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (General History of the Things of New Spain). They found elotl (fresh corn) and teosintl (dry corn for tortillas and tamales), éxotl (green beans, also sold as dry beans)  tomatl, (tomatos) ayotl (offered as zucchini and pumpkin), aguacatl (avocado), an enormous variety of chiles (peppers), and many other foods native to pre-colonial Latin America that now help to feed the world.

With the help of UCANR's Small Farm Program and its farm advisors, California growers continue to provide us with an ever-increasing variety of fruits and vegetables that are dear to the heart of immigrants from all corners of the world. Many of these can be found at farmers markets close to you.

Granted, the produce at open-air markets may not look as gorgeously tempting as the fruits and vegetables carefully polished and arranged at grocery stores. But my wife and other farmer market regulars swear by the flavor of the goods they get from these modern day nomadic food merchants.

You may have to pay a little more than at chain supermarkets that buy huge quantities of produce at very low prices from giant farms, which may be thousands of miles away or in other countries. But by purchasing at local farmers markets we get the feeling that we are helping to keep our state's agricultural tradition alive.

Buying produce grown at local farms is definitely a way to contribute to your own community. More than often, there's no question about who wins by shopping from these markets.

At a recent visit to the downtown San Bernardino farmers market my wife intended to buy only a few serrano peppers. After paying for them, she was surprised when the vendor gave her a full bag, more than two pounds of peppers!

"What would I do with all that?" she later told me. She took it home anyway and found a recipe to make Chiles encurtidos (pickled peppers). Next time you're this lucky, look for one of the many recipes for preserving fruits and vegetables on the Internet, and tips to preserve produce at home, including a short video with the do's and don'ts to prevent food poisoning.

Like most industries, farmers markets are well aware of demographics and are usually staffed by Spanish-speaking vendors; knowledgeable of Latino immigrants' customs, it's not uncommon for them, as they hand you the goodies that you've bought, to put an extra fruit or vegetable in the bag or in your hand as a token of appreciation.

"This one's for you," they'd say with wink and a smile.

Have you gotten one of those treats lately at your local supermarket?


Shoppers at the Redlands farmers market.

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 9:28 AM
  • Author: Alberto Hauffen

Bee-ing green

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Going green in your backyard doesn’t mean just planting a bee-friendly garden and providing water for the bees.

Have you ever thought about becoming a backyard beekeeper? You can help boost the declining bee population while engaging in a fascinating and rewarding hobby. Your flowers, fruits and vegetables will benefit (as will your neighbors' gardens). Another reward that’s sweet: honey.

There’s another benefit, too. If you’re into photography, especially macro photography, this is a perfect opportunity to “bee” there.

The number of backyard beekeepers in the United States has increased by about 15 percent over the last three years, according to Kim Flottum (top), editor of Bee Culture magazine and author of The BackYard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. He estimates the number at 100,000-plus and growing.

“Backyard beekeepers easily represent more than 80 percent of total beekeepers, but have only about 25 percent of the total hives,” he told us. “They contribute lots to local pollination of small gardens and orchards and plants for wildlife. And, they are responsible for most of the local honey one sees for sale, since most sell close to home in farmers’ markets and the like.”

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (left), member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, also advocates that folks do their part in the honey bees crisis. Don’t just plant bee friendly plants, but plants that bees can forage on in the late summer and fall when food is scarce, he says.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation provides regional lists of bee friendly plants. The UC Berkeley Urban Gardens website maintains a California list.

What are some of the first steps in becoming a beekeeper?

  1. Join a local beekeeping association where veterans can assist you. Bee Culture maintains contact information for beekeeping associations. The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis maintains a list of beekeeping clubs in California. Many 4-H clubs also offer beekeeping projects where youths can learn the not-so-secret life of bees.
  2. Check your city and county ordinances and your county agriculture commissioner for bee-colony regulations.
  3. Contact your neighbors to see if they are allergic to bee stings or if they have any objections to your keeping bees.
  4. Start a library of beekeeping books. Some of the most recent books by bee experts include The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum; Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees by UC Davis retired emeritus professor Norman Gary (his experience spans six decades); and Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination and Health by University of Florida Extension beekeeping specialist Malcolm T. Sanford, with expertise from the late Richard E. Bonney's book, Beekeeping and Hive Management.
  5. Subscribe to bee publications such as The American Bee Journal, Bee Culture and Speedy Bee.
  6. Glean information from the Internet, including YouTube, but be aware that some info is misleading and inaccurate.

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University cautions that you must take care of your bees to ward off diseases and pests. And, if you’re catching swarms, especially in southern California, be aware that some could be Africanized bees.

“The swarms are initially docile, but can become very defensive when they grow and have brood and honey—and turn to a public health issue,” she says.

Cobey advocates that would-be beekeepers find a good mentor and/or bee club that offers beginners’ classes and arranges purchase of good queens.

“Temperament alone will make a huge difference,” she says.

Good advice!

On the light side, once you’re a bonafide beekeeper, you can wear T-shirts like “Show Me the Honey,” “I Have Hives” and “I Smoke Burlap.”

The best part of rearing your very own bees, though, is making an individual statement in a world filled with millions of unanswered questions.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is one of them.

(Editor's note: Kathy Keatley Garvey, a communication specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, comes from a long line of beekeepers tracing back to "at least the 1800s.")

Backyard Bee
Backyard Bee

POLLEN-PACKING honey bee heading toward rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Smoking the Hive
Smoking the Hive

BEEKEEPER smoking a hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Eat, drink and be merry this holiday season…and pay for it later?

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December is a very festive time of year. For most of us, it’s an entire month filled with holiday parties, family gatherings and other social events, typically centered around one thing - food. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the holiday season. This is the time of year when tempting holiday treats trump our usual sensible meals, healthy habits and workout regimens. Stress can also play a prominent role during the holidays as many of us get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the season and forgo our normal routines. We often justify an entire month of overindulging our sweet tooth and allowing ourselves second (and third!) helpings by vowing to eat healthy and exercise it off in the New Year. What can be the harm in that?

Well, according to research published in the August issue of Nutrition & Metabolism, we could see the ill effects of our short-term holiday indiscretions for years to come. The researchers had 18 subjects increase their calorie intake by 70 percent over a 4-week period of time and limit their physical activity to less than 5,000 steps per day. Does this sound like the all-too-familiar Thanksgiving through New Year's free-for-all to you? Not surprisingly, the subjects gained, on average, 14 pounds during this short-term intervention period. Six-months later, most of them lost weight.  The startling results were discovered, however, at the one-year and 2 ½-year follow-ups. The intervention participants had increased body weight and fat mass compared to their baseline measurements. More telling is the fact that the control group – the participants who didn’t go on the four-week eating binge at the beginning of the study - did not experience any weight gain after 2 ½ years. The researchers have left us wondering whether over-eating in the short-term can have lasting effects on our waistlines for years to come.

Clearly, more research is necessary in this area, but before you go spending the entire month of December throwing sensible eating habits and physical activity to the wind, you might want to think twice!      

Tips to stay healthy during the holiday season:
Don’t give yourself a “pass” for the month of December. It’s important to keep portion sizes in check and to limit foods that are high in added fat, sugar and salt. It’s also important to maintain your regular physical activity routine. If you’ve been meaning to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine, no need to wait until Jan. 1 to start. Now is as good a time as ever to get moving. Exercise can help alleviate some of the added stress brought on by the holidays and boost your holiday cheer through the exercise-induced endorphins.

The USDA offers a number of healthy recipes and tips on the SNAP-ED Connection website to help get you through this merry season unscathed by traditional holiday fare.

Do you live in the LA area? Join LA County Cooperative Extension on Friday, Dec. 10 to get great tips on how to have a healthy holiday season. The general public is invited to attend and will learn about healthier options to traditional holiday recipes, ways to stay active during the holiday season, and how to make healthy choices during a time when many of our budgets are stretched to the limit.

For more information about this event, please contact Los Angeles County Nutrition, Family & Consumer Sciences Advisor Brenda Roche at bkroche@ucdavis.edu (323-260-3299) or visit our website calendar for more information.

Don't over induldge, even during the holidays.
Don't over induldge, even during the holidays.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on Monday, December 6, 2010 at 6:35 AM
  • Author: Brenda Roche

How authentic is your pomegranate juice?

You pick up a bottle of pomegranate juice because you’ve learned that, although it costs more than most juices, it is replete with antioxidants that bring health benefits. But wait: Is the juice you’ve purchased really pomegranate juice? Or is the product label you have carefully read promising more than it delivers?

UC Riverside chemistry professor Cynthia Larive is determined to find out. She is playing detective by applying chemical tests to juice products sold as pomegranate juice or pomegranate juice blends in order to authenticate their contents.

“We are measuring levels of unique compounds in pomegranate juice and are able to use this ‘molecular fingerprint’ to discriminate against adulterated juice products,” says Larive, whose research on pomegranate juice is being funded by a nearly $50,000 one-year grant from Pom Wonderful, a company that grows and markets pomegranates and pomegranate-based products.

In the lab, Larive and her graduate student Daniel Orr are measuring levels of biochemicals in juices, such as amino acids, organic acids, sugars, pomegranate pigment compounds and health-producing antioxidant molecules that are unique to pomegranate juice.

“We have received a collection of pomegranate samples from around the world, as well as commercial juices such as beet, grape, apple and pear – to name just a few,” Larive says. “We’re looking at whether or not our molecular fingerprint method can be used to identify products claiming to contain pomegranate juice when they don’t, and products claiming to be pomegranate juice when they are not.”

Larive plans to publish her results soon in a peer-reviewed journal.  For the complete news release about the research, see the UC Riverside media website.

Cynthia Larive and Daniel Orr examine pomegranate juice.
Cynthia Larive and Daniel Orr examine pomegranate juice.

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 9:38 AM

Master gardeners and UC Davis team to 'green' California backyards

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A greener vision of the home landscape is taking shape throughout California with the help of volunteer master gardeners and the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH).

The center, a statewide program begun at UC Davis in 2007, is holding educational workshops in various locations that will help master gardeners and other gardening enthusiasts learn more earth-friendly gardening techniques.

The first five “Your Sustainable Backyard” workshops were held in 2009 and 2010 and focused on roses, fruit trees, and edible landscaping. More than 800 people attended those events.

Five more workshops are in development for 2011. Two have been confirmed:

  • “Your Sustainable Backyard:  Landscaping for California” — April 9, 2011, the ARC ballroom at UC Davis. Speakers include landscape architect and author Bob Perry and author/garden photojournalist Deborah Baldwin.
  • “Your Sustainable Backyard:  Roses” — April 30, 2011, Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis. This event will also include a rose sale.

The idea for the workshops grew out of the “Global Climate Change in your Backyard” conference held at UC Davis in 2008. “The feedback we got indicated a strong desire for hands-on demonstrations of specific gardening tasks,” said CCUH program manager Missy Borel. “So we brainstormed and came up with these cost-effective, high-quality educational workshops for gardeners to learn usable skills they could take home and share with other people.”

Master gardeners are public educators trained by university experts in horticulture, pest management, and related home gardening topics. California Master Gardener programs, currently serving 45 counties, are experiencing phenomenal growth. UC’s Statewide Master Gardener coordinator Pamela Geisel says they’re seeing a 28 to 30 percent annual increase in the number of master gardeners, totaling about 4,700 individuals as of early 2010.

“We’re seeing greater attendance at all our workshops,” Geisel says. “In the past, you might have had six people show up to learn about vegetable gardening. Now, they’re filling up right away, with long waiting lists.”

A survey by the National Gardening Association found that  seven million more households planned to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, or berries in 2009 than in 2008—a 19 percent increase. More people simply want to grow their own produce for improved quality, taste, and cost savings.

Geisel says it’s not just about locally produced food. “More people than ever are interested in learning how to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, to conserve and protect water resources, and to eliminate landfill waste through green waste composting,” she said.

“Gardening practices are going to change because of climate change, water shortages, and other factors,” Borel adds. “Our workshops empower people to do that correctly. We’re setting them up for success.”

To learn more, visit program websites at http://ccuh.ucdavis.edu and http://camastergardeners.ucdavis.edu/.

UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Lynn Wunderlich trains master gardeners on horticultural pest
UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Lynn Wunderlich trains master gardeners on horticultural pest

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:50 AM

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