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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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California kids get a taste of science and leadership at UC's 4-H summer camps

Canoeing on a mountain lake, telling stories around a campfire, sleeping under the stars — it's the quintessential summer camp experience — and for thousands of California kids it's also their first introduction to UC's 4-H program.

And just like the popular program that teaches children to raise and care for animals, 4-H summer camp is as much about leadership training and science education as it is about making new friends and getting out in nature.

“So many of the kids live in the city and for a week they get to escape,” says Tiffany Marino, who joined the Monte Vista 4-H Club in Chino as an 8-year-old and has loved it ever since — especially summer weeks spent at Camp Seely near Lake Arrowhead, with the Los Angeles 4-H program.

Stephanie, a teacher from Mills Middle School in Rancho Cordova, and happy paddlers are all smiles. Though learning is paramount at 4-H On the Wild Side, fun is never compromised. (Photo: Marianne Bird)

The camp is set on a hill with cabins, a fire circle, a mess hall and lodge. There are volleyball and basketball courts, and a pool. “It's all surrounded by trees and greenery. It's so beautiful. It's this one week in summer where everything is OK,” Marino says.

Kids from all over Southern California come to this magical spot, making tight friendships and getting a breather from city life. 

But the thing that really makes the camp special is not the setting, Marino said. It's that the teachers and counselors are themselves kids — high schoolers who spend months before camp working together to plan it out, developing educational programming and other fun activities for the week.

A growth experience for teens and campers alike

With nets, eye-droppers and hand lenses, campers explore Lake Vera and delve into science in an engaging, hands-on way. (Photo: Marianne Bird)

When summer comes, they put their plans into action, getting first-hand experience teaching classes, leading activities and ensuring that campers have a memorable time.

Adult volunteers keep an eye on things, but the teens themselves run the show, said UC Cooperative Extension's Keith Nathaniel, the Los Angeles county director & 4-H youth development advisor.

Along with archery, nature walks, swimming and other traditional camp activities, the teens hold science-based classes that challenge campers to work in teams to come up with solutions for things like how they would improvise a shelter to get out of bad weather.

“The teens come up with the activities,” says Nathaniel. “It's an applied experience where they get to use the leadership skills they've developed in a really meaningful way.”

Building confidence

Rose Clara and Connor Gusman, rising seniors at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, have both spent time as teen leaders with On the Wild Side, a 4-H camp that brings fourth through sixth graders from disadvantaged communities out for a weekend in the mountains near Nevada City.

The goal is to give campers a chance to explore and learn about the natural world in a way that is fun and builds confidence.

“The kids are so excited to be on a camp-out, but sometimes they are sort of scared too — for some of them, it's their first time away from home,” Clara said. “It's super cute to see how excited they are by everything. By the end of camp, they're hugging you and crying and they give you their name tag so you'll remember them.”

Clara helps her young campers quickly feel at home by playing an icebreaker, like the game where each person names a favorite thing — maybe a food or an animal — and everyone else who likes that same thing steps into the circle with them.

“It's a way to unite everyone,” Clara says.

‘You can inspire someone and cause a change'

Both she and Gusman discovered that they liked teaching and bonding with the kids so much that they went from being camp counselors to joining the program development committee, a team that chooses the curriculum and plans the whole camp.

Gusman even helped write a grant that secured $500 from the Sacramento Region Community Foundation to help off-set the cost of buses and meals for the campers.

“Most of the kids haven't been outside Sacramento. They haven't seen the stars or had a camp experience before,” Gusman said. “They always love the campfire and the songs.”

One of his biggest surprises was learning how much of an impact he could have as a teacher.

He used the small lake by the camp to show the kids how to assess water quality, including analyzing the prevalence of indicator species that can tell you if the water is clean and healthy.

“Going through the process of developing the lesson, I wasn't totally hooked until we were at camp. There was one really shy girl who on the first day said, ‘I don't like science.' Then at the end, she was like, ‘I really loved it and I'm going to take as many science classes as I can,'” Gusman said.

“I wasn't a pessimist before, but I also wasn't super positive that there was a magical moment when you could inspire someone and cause a change. The camp has shown me that you can do that. You can help other people grow to love science and the earth, and see them grow like that.”

Cultivating citizens

Campers are surprised by the small, living organisms found in the lake. (Photo: Marianne Bird)

Marianne Bird, the 4-H youth development advisor in Sacramento County who oversees 4-H On the Wild Side as part of her work with UC Cooperative Extension, said that teens are particularly effective as teachers.

“They have a rapport with the little kids that as adults we don't always have,” Bird said.

Both she and Nathaniel evaluate the camps once they end, and survey both participants and teen leaders about their experiences. The responses on both sides are overwhelmingly positive.

One of the questions they ask the teenage teachers is whether they feel that they've made a contribution to their community, Bird said.

“That's a big part of 4-H — citizenship. Not just voting, but being a part of your community and believing that you can make a difference on issues that are important to you.”

The proof comes in seeing how these young leaders grow and change from their experiences.

A lasting legacy

Rose Clara, for instance, knew she liked teaching before she started volunteering with 4-H, but the camp experience has given her a new passion for advocacy and political science. She has joined the California Association of Student Councils and used her newfound leadership skills to host a mental health awareness week at her school.

“I think that comes from 4-H — stepping up like that. I want to help people,” Clara said.

Marino, who as the youth director was in charge of the entire week at Camp Seely last year, says simply of 4-H:

“It has taught me so much and given me everything: leadership skills, people skills, role models.”

At 19, she has now reached that bittersweet moment where she has “aged out” of 4-H. But through its programs, she learned to raise and show animals, came to understand civics through trips to Sacramento, and developed her leadership skills and style.

A sophomore majoring in business at Cal Poly Pomona, 4-H has taught her that she can succeed.

“It's definitely given me lots of confidence and substance — I know that I am capable.”

This article courtesy of the UC Office of the President.

View a video about 4-H Summer Camp:

Posted on Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 10:48 AM

Connect more deeply with nature and contribute to a greater good

Have you ever been on a walk and observed an interesting plant you couldn't identify? Encountered an unusual insect trapped in your home?  Have you noticed you used to see certain species in nature that you don't now? Or have you thought it might be neat to compile a species list for a special place, like a favorite park or your own backyard?

There's an app (and website) for all that!

The free iNaturalist app is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. Available for android, iPhone, and by a website, iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society that allows users to upload one or more pictures, provide a location, and make relevant notes like whether the subject is captivate or wild.

In response, the artificial intelligence in the app suggests what the species might be based on visual similarity and whether the species has ever been observed nearby. Once the observer has made an ID, the observation is available on the web for the world to see and verify or dispute via crowdsourcing. The individuals that verify observations are often experts in their particular field who leave encouraging messages or identification tips about the observation to help the original observer. Members and organizations can set up projects and download data within defined taxa or locations to follow presence and absence, abundance, seasonality and change over time.

Verified observations are sent to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international network and research infrastructure funded by the world's governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on Earth. Valuable open-source data is available to aid scientific research, government and conservation organizations, and the interested public. Nearly instant gratification for species ID combined with the ability of members to contribute to a greater good whenever they venture outdoors are huge motivators for much of the existing iNaturalist community which currently exceeds one million users and 14 million observations.

California Naturalists (USC Sea Grant and LA Conservation Corps Sea Lab) document a harlequin bug on iNaturalist

In a world where the term “nature deficit disorder,” coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, is widely understood to refer to the modern maladies that occur as a broken bond between children and nature, we need to provide culturally and contextually relevant outdoor exploration time for kids. Many children love technology, and in response iNaturalist recently developed the Seek app, which differs from iNaturalist in its safety features where no user data or location information is gathered or stored. Kids make observations in the same way, but they can collect badges and learn facts about the nearby biota.

The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources California Naturalist Program has required participants to join iNaturalist and log at least one observation during their certification coursework since the inception of the program. To understand and protect California's unique natural resources, we need all the information we can gather across many different disciplines. Community or citizen science is one crowd-sourced approach to gathering that information, and iNaturalist is one useful tool in a broad toolkit.

While some individuals don't feel that technology has a place in the observation of natural history, through the use of iNaturalist, many others have had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of their local area, create online journal pages, keep species lists, contribute to specific iNaturalist observation projects of their favorite organizations, and participate in BioBlitzes with other community scientists across the state. Our partner organizations benefit from the concentrated focus on their land, the discovery of new species, and the long-term data sets that accrue. The UCANR Hopland Research and Extension Center's 5,500-acre iNaturalist project, initiated in 2013, boasts 1,075 observations of 498 species. 

This review of iNaturalist isn't an ad, but a testament to the power of the iNaturalist community to assist with conservation efforts globally. Used by an individual, it can be a simple social tool to learn more about nature and find others that also think certain species and places are special. Used by an organization, iNaturalist can assist with data collection, training, and naturalist recruitment. Globally, iNaturalist is a powerful way to connect humans more deeply to nature and generate scientifically valuable biodiversity data from personal observations.

The UC ANR Hopland Research and Extension Center's 5,500 acre iNaturalist project boasts 1,075 observations of of 498 species.
Posted on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at 8:41 AM

University researchers and organic farmers to build soil as nature intended

A USDA grant will allow a group of California organic farmers to team up with researchers from the University of California, Chico State and Fresno State to determine whether tilling less soil on the farm will improve production of vegetable crops.

The aim is to duplicate the soil environment found in natural areas – typically concealed by plants, leaves and other organic debris – to improve agricultural soil health, increase production, reduce water use and avoid leaching nutrients out of the root zone.

“Tilling the soil is common on farms, but our research shows that it often isn't necessary, and can even be detrimental,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist. “In nature, organic matter on the soil surface creates a protective layer and promotes biological activity that is beneficial to plants and the environment.”

A group of organic farmers, shown above, are working with UC researchers to minimize tillage and optimize soil characteristics on their farms.

The three-year project, funded with $380,000 from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's Conservation Innovation Grant program, involves six organic farmers who are already experimenting on their own with cover crops, compost and minimum tillage to grow high-quality organic produce.

“This is a group of outstanding farmers,” Mitchell said. “It's very encouraging to see this sort of care for the soil. They recognize that taking care of the soil biology is useful to produce crops.”

One of the participants, Scott Park of Meridian, Calif., 50 miles north of Sacramento, has been building the soil on his farm for 38 years.

“We put 10 to 15 tons of biomass on every acre every year,” Park said. “This has given me good soil structure, water percolation and water retention, and we're having some really good results.”

Park said he tweaks his farming practices each year. To date, he has tinkered with reduced tillage, but isn't sold on a no-till system.

“I'm doing minimum till now, but it can be better,” Park said.

Teasing out those improvements is a goal of the project, which includes trials on four farms and two 12-acre demonstration plots, one at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points and the other on the Chico State campus.

“Each of us will be trying to get closer to the goal of reducing tillage to promote soil health. We all want to develop strategies that might work, and not repeat mistakes,” Mitchell said.

The USDA grant funds will enable the farmers and researchers to gather accurate data about the agronomic and economic impacts of the new farming systems and use state-of-the-art equipment and technologies as they experiment with new techniques.

For example, the team is working with a Salinas company that is bringing a Spanish transplanting technology to California. The company, Tanimura & Antle Produce, will allow a demonstration of a plant tape that holds sprouts spaced ideally for a broccoli field planting in the West Side REC plot. (See video below or on YouTube at https://youtu.be/6pkmQVNjH1I .) The technology holds promise for reducing tillage, cutting back on labor, using less seed, and bringing the crop into production earlier in the season.

Planting cover crops is another way farmers and researchers will seek to improve soil health, though this process is a challenge in organic farming systems. On conventional no-till and minimum-till farms, the cover crop may be sprayed with an herbicide before planting seedlings in the cover crop residue. Possible solutions are chopping up the cover crop or using a roller-crimper machine.

“These technologies would provide considerable advantages in organic systems, but very little research has been done to quantify how these practices might influence soil function and cropping system resilience in California,” Mitchell said.  

As part of the project, a farmer network will be developed for information sharing, 18 public extension events will be held, six videos will be created and curriculum will be developed to extend the research outcomes.

For more information, contact Jeff Mitchell at jpmitchell@ucanr.edu, or (559) 303-9689.


 

In the video below, see an overview of transplanting technology developed in Spain that will be part of the soil building research.

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 8:34 AM

New tariffs could cost U.S. nut and fruit industries over $3 billion

Sweet cherries are among the agricultural industries expected to experience economic losses due to new trade tariffs, according to a UC Agricultural Issues Center report. In 2016-17, $145 million of sweet cherries were exported to China and Hong Kong.

The ongoing international trade turmoil between the U.S. and other countries has prompted import tariffs on many U.S. agricultural commodities in important export markets, which could hurt U.S. farmers.

A new report released by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center estimates the higher tariffs could cost major U.S. fruit and nut industries $2.64 billion per year in exports to countries imposing the higher tariffs, and as much as $3.34 billion by reducing prices in alternative markets.

“One way to mitigate the impact of the tariff impacts would be to offer assistance to shift the products to completely new markets where these displaced commodities could be delivered without causing price declines,” said co-author Daniel A. Sumner, director of the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. 

California's almond industry stands to lose about $1.58 billion due to trade tariffs.

When nuts and fruits are diverted back into the remaining markets for their crops, Sumner and co-author Tristan M. Hanon, a UC Davis graduate student researcher, expect farmers to lose revenue from lower prices.

The agricultural economists foresee major losses for many commodities caused by diverting the produce from high tariff countries to sell in the remaining markets.

Almonds alone could lose about $1.58 billion and pistachios could lose about $384 million, according to Sumner and Hanon.

The authors looked at the impact of tariffs on almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, apples, oranges, raisins, sour cherries, sweet cherries and table grapes. All 10 nuts and fruits are perennial crops, growing on trees or vines, so growers cannot easily change their production quantities or plant a different crop. 

Pistachios could lose about $384 million as a result of new tariffs, according to the Agricultural Issues Center study.

The U.S. exports 13 percent of its almonds, 14 percent of its pistachios and 22 percent of its pecans to countries imposing the new tariffs. China and Hong Kong are major export markets for U.S. fruits and nuts. In 2016 and 2017, China and Hong Kong spent over $500 million to buy 40 percent of all U.S. almond exports, and nearly $600 million for most of the exported pistachios. Some of the exports to Hong Kong are transshipped to other markets, but most of it stays in the China market. 

The new tariffs apply to all ten crops that are exported to China. “We consider most of the exports to Hong Kong with China because we understand that most of the U.S. fruit and nut exports to Hong Kong are destined for China,” Sumner said. 

To avoid paying tariffs, there are clues that Hong Kong's open market is the entry point for nuts ultimately shipped to China, in what Sumner calls “leakage.”

“The 7 million people in Hong Kong would have to eat 20 times the pistachios consumed by people in other countries if they aren't sending them on to China, the Philippines and other Asian countries,” Sumner said. “China turns its back on leakage, but those commodities may be vulnerable if China decides to crack down.” 

The U.S. exports 22 percent of its pecans to countries imposing the new tariffs.

After the Trump administration imposed tariffs on an additional $16 billion worth of Chinese goods, China announced duties on $16 billion of American goods. Another round of new tariffs has now been scheduled.

In India, Mexico and Turkey, new higher tariffs apply to selected fruit and nut products. India, which buys roughly half of all exported U.S. almonds, applies new tariffs to almonds, walnuts and apples. Turkey's new tariffs apply to almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Mexico's tariffs target apples, for which the country paid about $250 million last year.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced up to $12 billion in federal aid to farmers to soften the impact of tariffs.

“The U.S. government could purchase the commodities that would have been exported,” Sumner said. “Of course, the produce must be diverted from remaining markets to new market channels to avoid driving down prices.”

The full report “Economic Impacts of Increased Tariffs that have Reduced Import Access for U.S. Fruit and Tree Nuts Exports to Important Markets,” along with details on data, sources and methods, can be downloaded for free at the UC Agricultural Issues Center website at http://aic.ucdavis.edu.

[This article was updated at 10 pm, Aug. 14, to update the dollar estimates in this sentence: "Almonds alone could lose about $1.58 billion and pistachios could lose about $384 million, according to Sumner and Hanon."]

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at 2:07 PM

Why 'AA' is for Avocado Addict

Avocado addicts know the avocado as a veritable green goddess that never disappoints, never deceives, never dissatisfies. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

If you're like most of us, you “go bananas” for a banana for breakfast.

It's healthy, nutritious and packed with potassium.

But wait! You should probably go bananas for another fruit--that pear-shaped avocado. Did you know the avocado provides more potassium than a banana?

It does. A medium-sized banana yields 422 milligrams of potassium, while a medium-sized avocado, a whopping 708 milligrams.

Dietitian Linda W. Adams
Dietitian Linda W. Adams of UC Davis Occupational Health Services (among her responsibilities: teaching a 52-week UC Davis Diabetes Prevention Program) says “I think my favorite part about avocados, in addition to their wonderful flavor, is that they are full of monounsaturated, heart-healthy fat AND have more potassium than bananas! These two nutrients are lacking in many Americans' diets.”

“Eating more unsaturated fats -- as opposed to saturated fats and processed carbohydrate -- is a delicious step we all can take to maximize cardiovascular health,” Adams says. “Avocados are such a delicious way to do that!"

We love our avocados, our veritable green goddess that never disappoints, never deceives, never dissatisfies, whether we “butter” them on toast in the morning for breakfast, or slice or chunk or cube them for our salads at lunch and dinner. Health-conscious folks call them a superfood, and even mash and freeze them to ensure a steady supply in the winter. There's even a website on “50 Things to Love About Fresh Avocados.” 

This year, California's 2000 avocado growers anticipate a yield of 374.6 million pounds. That crop forecast, according to Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission, is nearly double the yield of the 2017 crop and “despite the ravages of Mother Nature in California's avocado growing regions.”

UC Cooperative Extension adviser and avocado researcher Ben Faber of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, points out that the avocado is really a fruit, not a vegetable. “The Supreme Court classified the tomato in 1920 or so as a vegetable because that's the way people think of it and it was taxed differently for tariffs. Politics or botany separates a lot of things in our lives.”

“The avocado is an amazing fruit,” Faber says. “It grows on a tree and comes to maturity, reaches certain oil content and a stage at which it will ripen, but it does not ripen on the tree. It needs to be removed from the tree before it will soften. If the fruit is removed before it has reached maturity it will not soften, and will remain rubbery and inedible.”

“One of the problems is that the fruit will hang on the tree for an extended period of time and it is hard to know when they are mature,” Faber points out. “Avocados are not like apricots where you have about two weeks to get the fruit off before it falls off. As the fruit stays on the tree, it gradually develops more and more oil content and has a richer flavor.”

What if the fruit stays on the tree too long? “It can develop an almost rancid flavor,” Faber says. “So it is good to know when the best, acceptable flavor is. Avocado varieties fall into general seasonal periods when they are mature, such as ‘Fuerte' and ‘Bacon' in winter, ‘Hass' in spring/summer, ‘Lamb-Hass' in summer/fall.”

An avocado must be removed from the tree before it will soften, says UC Cooperative Extension advisor Ben Faber. (UC ANR Photo)
We've all had our share of rock-hard avocados that seem as if they will never ripen. Sometimes they're as hard as the pits within! “Given time, they all soften,” Faber says. “But they all don't soften evenly, which is a reflection of their maturity or how they were handled in the food chain, stored at the wrong temperature or with too many bananas.”

The fruit will typically be ripe in seven to ten days, Faber advises. “If you want to speed things along a bit you can take three or four avocados and place them in a loosely closed paper bag with two or three Red or Golden Delicious apples or ripe kiwifruit. The purpose of the apples or kiwifruit is that these fruit produce a natural plant hormone, ethylene, that will help stimulate the avocado to produce its own ethylene. Apples and kiwifruit are known to produce lots of ethylene. The Delicious apples are varieties that produce more ethylene than other apple varieties. You can keep them even after they are shriveled and they will be producing ethylene.”

Never place your avocados in a plastic bag “unless you keep it open since the fruit needs to breathe during this process,” he says. “Just keep the fruit on your kitchen counter or in a warm place; 68F is the ideal temperature. Lower and higher temperatures both actually slow the process.”

Plant scientists trace the origin of the avocado (Persea americana) to south central Mexico. The avocado belongs to the flowering plant family, Lauraceae. Growers and gardeners glean tips on pest management from the industry and from the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.

Of the many known varieties, avocados fall into three broad categories based on whether they are of the Mexican, Guatemalan or West Indian races of Persea americana, the avocado species and the crosses that occur between these races. Generally speaking, California varieties have been the result of crossing between the Mexican and Guatemalan races. West Indian race varieties are not common here because of their generally lower cold tolerance.”

Ben Faber, like Linda W. Adams, enjoys avocados. He usually buys them “whenever they are reasonably priced.”

“One of the reasons I do research is that all the downed fruit is not salable because it is against food safety restrictions to introduce it into the food chain and all that fruit either gets eaten by coyotes or me,” he quips, adding “The tree is too big to fit into my backyard.”

The avocado, often thought of as a vegetable, is really a fruit and it's packed with potassium. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Looking for a great recipe? The California Avocado Commission offers many recipes, including what it calls “The Best Guacamole Ever."  

Dietitian Adams shares one of her favorites at https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a19872947/avocado-tomato-salad-recipe/.

Avocado Tomato Salad
Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp. cumin
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3  avocados, cubed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1  small cucumber, sliced into half moons
1/3 cup corn
1  jalepeño, minced (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Directions
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. 

In a large serving bowl, combine avocados, tomatoes, cucumber, corn, jalapeño, and cilantro. Gently toss with dressing and serve immediately. 

Enjoy! The avocado keeps good company!

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at 8:22 AM

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