- Author: Mike Hsu
The buzz or chirp of an incoming text message started some San Diego County residents on the path to a healthier diet during this past year. In September 2020, most CalFresh participants in the county – more than 172,000 households – began receiving monthly text messages about the benefits of California-grown fruits and vegetables as part of a pilot program.
This novel approach to delivering nutrition messages to California food assistance program participants was developed by a partnership of the Nutrition Policy Institute of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the UC San Diego Center for Community Health and the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, which administers CalFresh in the county.
The HHSA, which had been using its text messaging platform to send administrative reminders and alerts, was receptive to using the tool for sending nutrition-focused information. NPI and CCH partnered with ideas42, a firm that applies behavioral science to solutions for social change, to develop a series of five text messages promoting California-grown fruits and vegetables.
The text messages – originally delivered in English and Spanish, with the addition of Arabic beginning in July 2021 – were friendly and conversational in tone.
“In a text, you have very few characters you're communicating with people, so we wanted to make sure we were using cutting-edge behavioral science to construct those messages to have the most impact,” said Wendi Gosliner, NPI senior researcher and policy advisor.
Each text included a link directing recipients to a website developed as part of the project, with information on selecting, storing and preparing California-grown fruits and vegetables; health benefits; tips to reduce food waste; and recipes – including TikTok videos.
Initially running from September 2020 to March 2021, the pilot program was well-received. Nearly 90% of CalFresh participants responding to a survey said they appreciated receiving the texts. “It is very important for us to eat healthy, to teach our children to eat healthy,” wrote one participant. “I love the recipes…they're so delicious and easy to make…I'm very, very grateful for the help because without you guys, I would be struggling more and I just want a better life for my children.”
Gosliner said it was encouraging to see that two-thirds of the approximately 5,000 survey respondents reported eating more California-grown fruits and vegetables after receiving the messages, and 85% expressed a desire to see more texts.
“What we see is that there's definitely a decent-sized population of people participating in CalFresh –now this is just in San Diego County but imagine the entire state – who would benefit from having this kind of information available to them,” Gosliner said. “And there is at least a subset of people who really liked it.”
UC San Diego's Center for Community Health was instrumental in facilitating the partnership between UC ANR and the HHSA. Further, CCH, in partnership with the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, formed a community council composed of residents representing diverse communities throughout San Diego County. Together, the council facilitated CalFresh participants to take part in focus groups, which provided feedback and guidance on the messaging and design for online resources. Gosliner said the success of the text program has been a direct result of community input and involvement.
“The Center for Community Health-led focus groups were integral to ensuring CalFresh resources were accessible and informative to a wide range of CalFresh participants, and local individuals and families more broadly,” said Blanca Meléndrez, executive director at the UC San Diego Center for Community and Population Health, Altman Clinical Translational Research Institute. “In the process, the text-based campaign also placed a greater focus on the local production of nutritious fruits and vegetables, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, and building new streams of income for the region's farmers and producers.”
This effort also suggests a simple way to reach CalFresh participants and bridge gaps between the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and programming that offers nutrition education and healthy eating resources.
“By combining UCSD and UC ANR knowledge about healthy eating with our outreach capability, we are able to reach thousands of families via text message each month,” said Michael Schmidt, human services operations manager for the HHSA. “With the click of a button, these families are provided with resources to assist them in making healthier lifestyle choices, supporting a region that is building better health, living safely and thriving.”
The effort has been so effective that HHSA has asked for additional messages, beyond the original five months' worth of texts and resources.
“The partnership between UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, UC San Diego's Center for Community Health, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency and San Diego County community residents brought together a great team to develop an innovative, technology-based intervention,” said Shana Wright, San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative co-director at CCH. “Each partner provided knowledge, resources and assets that enhanced the project beyond the initial pilot phase, exceeding preliminary expectations.”
Gosliner said the pilot program has been a “great example and wonderful experience” of partnership in action.
“You can sit with your research or program ideas for a long time but if you don't have people who can help you implement them, then they really aren't helpful in any way,” she said. “In this case, it was just a nice combination of an idea…with partners who wanted to work to make something happen.”
- Author: Rachael Callahan
- Author: Cooper Limon
The COVID-19 pandemic hit farmers hard. Supply chains were disrupted and even non-traditional agritourism revenue streams such as hay mazes and on-farm events had to be canceled due to shelter-in-place mandates.
On the other hand, demand for local farm products skyrocketed, and thus many farmers and ranchers needed a quick pivot strategy and a set of new skills.
UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) was well-positioned to support this shift toward direct sales, pulling in trusted community partners and experienced farmers and ranchers to put together a comprehensive webinar series, “Agritourism and Direct Sales: Best Practices in COVID Times and Beyond”.
Funded by a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant, the webinar series is part of a three-year project, Strengthening California Local Food Networks with Agritourism and Direct Sales, which provides trainings and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers on how to diversify their revenue streams.
The strength of the series, which includes eight webinars that were recorded earlier this year and are available online, lies in the collaborations among the UC SAREP Agritourism Program, UCCE, community groups, and farmers and ranchers.
The series features a range of speakers, including representatives from community organizations, technical experts, academic researchers, and farmers – all coming together to build resilience and adaptability for small-farming operations and the agritourism industry across California during the pandemic and after.
“It's great to collaborate with other organizations and regions, to learn from each other and to broaden our networks, as we are all working to create more resilient and sustainable food systems,” said Carmen Snyder, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, one of the nonprofit partners on this project.
And because of those strong partnerships, the webinar topics reflected the on-the-ground needs facing agricultural producers.
“COVID initially dramatically affected farmers' restaurant contracts, with many losing more than 80% of their accounts overnight,” Snyder said. “CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture], on the other hand, couldn't keep up with the demand, and all of our CSA members were full and had wait lists for the first time ever. Producers pivoted by creating more online stores, including pick-up and delivery options. It was a challenge for them to navigate the new technology and platforms.”
The “Online Sales Options and Methods” webinar, a partnership with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), provided an overview of several e-commerce marketing and online sales strategies that farmers can implement to diversify their revenue pathways and reach new customers. CAFF stressed the importance of farmers enhancing their resiliency through e-commerce.
The webinar also featured Ciara Shapiro, the owner of AM Ranch in Penn Valley, who shared her experience with online marketing and how it helped her and her husband survive the pandemic when the restaurants and farmers markets they sold to shut down. This personal and informative webinar demonstrated the effectiveness of online sales and marketing, while highlighting available resources from groups like CAFF.
The “Safe, Healthy and Successful Farm Stands” webinar was aimed at farms of all sizes and organizations that operate or advise agricultural operations using farm stands as a form of revenue. The webinar provided an outline of the rules and regulations that farm stand operators needed to follow during COVID – as well as during business-as-usual times.
Both farmers saw an increase in farm stand business during the pandemic, which Yagi attributed to the “traffic storm of people” who attended their annual plant sale fundraiser and came to participate in new farm outdoor activities and volunteer opportunities. Yagi also noted the growing number of low-income individuals who were unable to access fresh produce during the pandemic.
The speakers' shared experiences running successful farm stands gave audience members tangible examples and real-time information on how to incorporate farm stands into their businesses.
Carmen Snyder of Sonoma County Farm Trails, which helped circulate the recorded webinars to their network of farmers and ranchers, remarked: “These webinars were extremely helpful for local producers, to get clarity on best pandemic practices during these challenging times and to learn how other producers are adapting and navigating the circumstances.”
What do 4-Hers do during a pandemic? California 4-H youth members decided to learn about disease outbreaks and transmission, public health investigations, personal practices to stay healthy, and much more.
With the emergence of the coronavirus, 4-H in-person meetings had to be canceled, along with schools, sports and other youth development programs. Emerging research shows this gap of in-person socializing, disruption to routines, fear of the virus, and the loss of a sense of personal autonomy has led to an increase in social, emotional and mental health issues for teens. Over half of teens in a National 4-H Council/ Harris Poll stated that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness, and 7 in 10 teens report struggling with their mental health.
Additionally, the team witnessed that Californians were navigating confusing information about the best way to reduce the spread of the disease, with much misinformation being circulated. So the University of California 4-H Healthy Living Team decided to address these issues the best way they knew how, through education.
Anne Iaccopucci, California 4-H Healthy Living coordinator; Dorina Espinoza, UC Cooperative Extension youth, families and communities advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties; and Marcel Horowitz,UCCE healthy youth, families and communities advisor inYolo County, adapted the CDC/4-H Junior Disease Detective: Operation Outbreak project for remote instruction.
The project focused on concepts of epidemiology and included eight sessions covering public health professions, disease investigation, virus transmission, disease outbreaks, vaccines, immunity, prevention (such as how protective actions like handwashing and wearing masks reduce spread) and education. Project sessions were adapted to be as interactive as possible using virtual delivery.
Eighty-nine youth indicated an interest in participating, with more than 45 4-H members from 15 counties across the state enrolling and completing the Virtual UC 4-H Epidemiology Project. Project meeting materials were coordinated online at https://ucanr.edu/sites/DiseaseDetectives.
True to the 4-H experiential learning framework, and to address the research showing that teens are currently experiencing high levels of loneliness, the Project Leaders intentionally created a learning environment that included interactive, fun, challenging and social activities to foster a sense of connection. At the beginning of each project session, youth worked on team-building activities. For example, youth participated in a mapping activity where they “pinned” their desired vacation destination and attempted to guess each other's location with a selected prop as a hint. This activity culminated with a discussion on how we serve as potential vectors of disease transmission. Also, youth learned about the benefits of wearing face masks with an activity where youth were challenged to blow a rolled up tissue from one to six feet away without a mask and then while wearing a mask. Their giggles did not mask the direct learning of how well a mask can contain one's breath.
When youth were asked “What part of this project was fun and engaging?” several responded, “When we did the activities in breakout rooms,” and “The activities at the beginning of the meetings.” This indicates that this dedicated time for talking with peers was a motivator and benefit of continued participation.
To foster healthy youth, families and communities, this project contributed to the UC ANR Condition Change of improved health for all. Specifically, youth adopted healthy lifestyles and decision-making practices and changed attitudes toward, and gained knowledge about, healthy practices.
After completing the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project, youth reported that they were more likely to wash their hands before food preparation (78.1%), after sneezing or coughing (56.2%), and after shopping in a public space (87.5%). The majority (84.4%) of youth also reported that they were more likely to wear a face mask when out in public, compared to before the project. When youth were asked what they learned from the project, one youth stated, “I learned why masks work, I learned how hand sanitizer works, and I learned how I can help my community.”
Youth reported not only improved health behaviors for themselves, but also reported being leaders in the health of their communities. Many of the young participants (62.5%) reported that they can definitely help control the spread of diseases and 71.9% could envision themselves getting involved in their local community to help slow the spread of disease. Following project participation, over half of all participants picture themselves choosing a career in medicine, public health, veterinary sciences or epidemiology.
Participants of the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project have become advocates for health, with 75% reporting that they are discussing disease transmission and prevention with others. When asked what the best part of the project was, a participant stated, “The best part of the project was learning about how to protect myself and keep my family safe in these troubled times." Other youth stated that their favorite parts were “the interactive activities” and “making new friends.” Others responded to the question “What part of this project was fun and engaging?” with, “I enjoyed interacting with others and getting to collaborate on the final project,” and “discussing ideas with the group.” These indicate that learning reached beyond knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors and into youth development domains as well.
Interested in leading this project for youth 12 years and older in your community? Sixty leaders from throughout America have already been trained and 93% reported they would recommend it.
Contact Anne Iaccopucci at email@example.com for information on how to get started.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
The Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas in June on “The Future of Food” showcased technology, innovation and ideas that will make agriculture more efficient, productive, profitable and safe. To make these advancements accessible to all Americans, broadband connectivity must reach currently unserved rural areas, speakers said.
“We've got gee-whiz technology that is dependent on broadband,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the event's keynote speaker. “Rural broadband is a huge issue with transformational capacity to bridge the rural-urban divide.”
A former farmer and governor of Georgia, Perdue said many people who now live in urban areas would welcome the opportunity to populate locations with a slower pace and lower cost of living.
“If they could work from home, if they had connectivity to do their jobs there, many people would choose to live in rural areas,” he said.
Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O'Lakes, Inc., a $15 billion company headquartered in Minnesota, said about 30 percent of farmers across the country have no access to broadband.
“We have a shared future. Rural communities need to be vibrant,” Ford said. “That starts with broadband.”
The effort to extend broadband access to rural communities in California is a priority for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources vice president Glenda Humiston. While it is potentially expensive to bring internet connectivity to every resident of the state – from the far reaches of Modoc County in the north to remote desert communities near the Mexican border in the south – those communities' lack of high-speed internet is exacting a high economic, medical, social and educational cost.
Humiston was part of a Summit panel that discussed how to cultivate the next generation of leadership in farming. The panelists said future ag industry leaders will need traditional leadership skills – communicating and listening well – but with the growth of agricultural technology, digital literacy is imperative. Using these new high-technology tools will also require broadband coverage, Humiston said.
“Technologies that use artificial intelligence are increasingly dependent on high-speed internet connectivity for real-time data uploads and processing in the cloud,” she noted. “If farms cannot get affordable broadband coverage, or if bandwidth is limited, this will greatly hinder their ability to adopt new technologies.”
On the first day of the summit, nine companies competed for a $200,000 investment from SVG Ventures-THRIVE. The startup companies' ideas exemplified the emerging technologies that are being developed to advance the future of food and agriculture. The winner was Livestock Water Recycling, a Canadian startup that has developed a way to treat large quantities of manure from dairies, hog farms, beef feeding facilities and anaerobic digesters. The system separates the liquid from the barn into solids, nutrients for precise fertilization, and potable water.
“Creating clean water from manure is exciting,” said CEO Karen Schuett in her presentation.
ProteoSense won the Food Safety Award and The Bee Corp took home the Sustainability Award. ProteoSense is a biotechnology company in Columbus, Ohio, which developed a tool for quick, onsite food safety testing. The Bee Corp offers thermal imaging with proprietary algorithms for accurate monitoring of bee hive health without disrupting the insects by opening the hive.
Two competitors partnered with UC to develop their innovations. Tensorfield Agriculture used technology tested at UC Davis in its weeding robot. The robot applies heated canola oil to weeds, killing weeds within an hour without herbicides and without disturbing the soil. FarmX combines software and sensors to measures soil, plant and environmental variables and accurately measure water stress. The company counts UC Cooperative Extension emeritus advisor Blake Sanden on its team.
The key role of land grant universities like the University of California in developing, testing and implementing agricultural technologies was noted frequently during the Forbes AgTech Summit.
“The advantage of basic and applied ag research, and delivery by the extension service is what's made the U.S. a superpower of food in the world,” said secretary Purdue. “We're on the cusp of regeneration of agriculture and digitization of agriculture. We have the ability, with land grant universities and extension service, to get on the ground floor of understanding new technology.”
Tara Vander Dussen, environmental scientist and farmer at the 6,000-cow New Mexico Milkmaid dairy, also advised, “If you need sustainability advice for your dairy, go to your land grant university.”
UC ANR was a sponsor at the partner level of the Forbes AgTech Summit, which brings together bright minds and innovative institutions from two key parts of California's economic engine — agriculture and technology.