- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
“Working with people who feed millions and millions of people is awesome!” exclaimed the UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisor emeritus for Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. “Working with colleagues who share knowledge, willingly, is humbling. Working for an organization that, despite its imperfections, gets the best out of you is fulfilling.”
For the past three decades, Baameur has worked to help family farmers.
“Aziz has been a tremendous source of knowledge and information for South County growers like me,” said Pete Aiello, general manager of Uesugi Farms, Inc. in Santa Clara County.
“He has been especially helpful with my bell and chili pepper programs,” Aiello said. “From studies on irrigation efficiency to fertilizer uptake to pest management to varietal analysis, I've learned a lot about my own crops from Aziz, and have used this knowledge to improve yields and quality while decreasing inputs such as water and fertilizer.”
“This job is a gift from the gods,” Baameur said, adding, “I could have made more money – and faster – elsewhere, but I doubt I'd get the same fulfillment.”
In 2002 he transferred to Santa Clara County, where he continued to work with small-scale farmers, many of them immigrants who grow berries, bell peppers and chili peppers and Asian vegetables such as Chinese broccoli (gailan), bok choy, baby bok choy, bitter melon, daikon, Chinese chive, waterspinach, and Chinese mustard greens.
Baameur and his colleagues conducted research on specialty crops. For example, they evaluated 10 varieties of mini watermelons to provide farmers with data about how the varieties grow in different climates, their yields and quality characteristics.
An immigrant himself from Morocco, Baameur frequently brought interpreters to his meetings to translate his talks for Cantonese- and Spanish-speaking clients.
In 2005, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board began an agricultural waiver program for water discharge, requiring that participating farmers manage their irrigation and run-off water quality. To earn the conditional waiver, growers had to complete a series of agricultural water-quality short courses. By offering the courses in Cantonese, Baameur enabled about 75 small-scale ethnic Chinese farmers to learn how to produce cleaner water run-off and reduce water waste, and thus earn the waiver.
An ethnic Chinese vegetable grower in Santa Clara County who had heard about changes in food safety regulations was concerned that although she did not speak very much English, she was expected to develop a plan and obtain a food safety certification, and that otherwise her sales contracts would be cancelled. To help her and other Chinese growers better understand the new regulations, Baameur developed a training program complete with a bilingual handbook and sample templates. He also helped her to prepare for audits and create a food safety plan specific to her farm.
“I get enormous satisfaction from the fact that I don't sell and I don't buy and I don't advertise products,” Baameur said. “The relationships are based on trust; that has no tangible value. Once in a while, when we help someone out of a tough situation and they smile and thank you, it's like a prayer sung in the still of dawn. Gives you shivers.”
“We will miss his technical expertise and his infectiously great attitude,” said Aiello of Uesugi Farms. “The UC Cooperative Extension has some big shoes to fill!”
Baameur's most recent research has been focused on trying to grow spicier jalapeño peppers by fine-tuning the amount of nitrogen applied to the plants. In retirement, he is finishing his research, but plans to pursue a few hobbies – writing, drawing, painting and photograph – and to stay physically active by hiking, biking and camping.
Baameur and his wife of 41 years, Kathy, look forward to having more time to volunteer in the community. He has joined the board of directors of San Jose-based Abrahamic Alliance International, an organization that brings together Jews, Christians and Muslims to serve the poor.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
“Some people think the seeds make it hot, but capsaicin is what makes chile peppers hot,” said Baameur, who works with vegetable growers in Santa Clara and San Benito counties.
Baameur is trying to grow a hotter jalapeño by studying the variables that raise the Scoville units, which measure a pepper's heat. For the past four years, he has been documenting the effects of different rates of water, potassium, sea salt and nitrogen applied to the jalapeño crop at George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill.
“We're trying to find a way to raise the capsaicin level of the jalapeño and raise the Scoville units, which will then allow us to have spicier peppers,” said Jeff Sanders, raw product coordinator for George Chiala Farms.
The relatively cooler climate of the Santa Clara County area may be the reason the pepper plants produce different results. “I think it's more a relation to heat, ambient temperature, much more than just water,” Baameur said. “Cool years and hot years will result in different heat units for the same jalapeño variety.”
The amount of potassium hasn't made a difference, but adjusting nitrogen fertilizer seems promising.
“High nitrogen is promising because it produces a hotter pepper and also allows for high crop yields,” Baameur said. “Low nitrogen also resulted in higher pungency, it brings a lot of heat in the peppers,” he said. “However it is correlated with lower yields.”
“The trend lately is toward hotter items,” said Sanders, noting a growing popularity of foods containing habanero and even the Bhut jolokia, or ghost pepper. “Both of those are significantly hotter than jalapeños, but the jalapeno is still sort of the standard bearer for a hot pepper,” Sanders said. “Those are the items people consistently want. A jalapeño chip still has more name recognition than a habanero chip. And the hotter you get the pepper, the easier it is to adjust your end product.”
“When you're talking about a small amount of that pepper in your product, just a slight citrus flavor can overpower the heat very easily,” said Sanders. “So it's more important that we reach high heat levels with the flavors that our customers are requiring.”
Consistency of pungency in the peppers is also one of the pepper grower's goals.
“We're trying to get a consistent heat level so that our jalapeños going to the processing plant always reach the same Scoville unit score,” Sanders said. “This makes our end product more consistent, which makes our customers happy because then the product they receive to go into their items is more consistent.”