- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
"I guess the fact that my parents told me whatever I set on my mind I would be able to achieve set me up for success," Diaz Carrasco stated. "Once I enrolled in Food Science Engineering, I loved school so much that when I was done with that degree, I pursued two more."
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is committed to developing an inclusive and equitable society by reaching all segments of the state's population. On the front lines building trust and credibility are professionals who bring their unique skills, passion and commitment to make California a better place.
"The most rewarding is the opportunity to build bridges between the university's research-based programs and our local communities. When they do not fit, I have fun creating new programs or adapting from what we do have. I do believe science mixed with traditional knowledge has an infinite power to change people's lives," said Diaz Carrasco.
A native of Atizapán de Zaragoza, México, Diaz Carrasco has been part of UC ANR since 2015 as Youth Development Advisor focusing on Latino and /or low‐income youth and families. She faces many cultural and economic challenges to achieve her mission; thanks to her tenacity, dedication and hard work, she and her team have turned their goals into a reality.
"When I joined ANR, there were really few people in the state and around the country doing work intentionally with Latino youth development and 4-H," she said.
Since joining 4-H, she has been instrumental in increasing Latino participation in 4-H programs statewide. Her geographical area of work is the Inland Empire, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties. These are two of California's largest counties, with almost 5 million residents, and 65% are Latino.
"About 60% of school-aged youth in Riverside and San Bernardino are Hispanic/Latino," said Diaz Carrasco. "Since the beginning, the primary focus of my position is to develop, implement, evaluate, strengthen and expand local 4-H programming to serve the current under-represented population better."
In an environment that is generally not friendly to changes and challenges, Diaz Carrasco faces a daily array of obstacles to achieving her goal. Among them are high levels of poverty in the families she serves, high crime rates in some communities, and a lack of interest from the parents, who in most cases work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
"The success of my work as the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) advisor relies on how effective my extension team and I can be in sharing knowledge. We have gained this knowledge through research, education, program evaluation, and transfer these into the communities we serve in ways that are relevant for their day-to-day lives while embracing their cultural context," said Diaz Carrasco.
The knowledge that Diaz Carrasco and her team bring directly to the youth, their families, and communities in the Inland Empire creates positive changes and healthier lives. "The way we educate the public matters, and who are our educators matters. Science and culture are at the core of every program we have implemented since I started," she said.
She gives two reasons why her work is penetrating the thick layers of the communities she serves. The first is that she is an immigrant, like many of the families she works with. "I approach my work knowing that a lot of people are going or have gone through the same process I went through in 2014."
Diaz Carrasco also cites thinking out of the box as a reason for success. "I believe creativity and flexibility are at the core of any programs I develop," she stated.
For example, Diaz Carrasco and her team partnered with the Mexican Consulate in San Bernardino, where they held a successful summer camp and strengthened the partnership with the Consulate. Youth could participate in this unique program that aims to help them embrace their Mexican identity, even when, in some cases, they or their parents cannot travel outside the U.S.
The summer camp program was designed to increase positive ethnic identity, and to provide youth development reflecting the Latino and immigrant youth experience and the physiological and social effects of discrimination. The program also responded to economic challenges by assisting families with transportation, providing snacks, and in some cases other items such as toothbrushes, water bottles, or connecting families to health and food agencies. "Above all, we hold the camp in a place that the families were already familiar with and felt safe. This place was the Consulate!" said Diaz Carrasco. "Yes, we turned their art gallery, where official agreements are signed, into a playground. That is what I mean by out of the box,” she added.
The program's interest was visible from day one; in a matter of hours, they reached 100% of the participant count. In the end, the parents expressed their gratitude for offering the programs in an accessible way.
Thinking out of the box has also allowed Diaz Carrasco to partner with major companies in Southern California to benefit the youth.
In five years, she has increased 4-H membership in her area from 667 to 6,021. The overall percentage of Latino youth in 4-H went from 28% to 85%, and the number of volunteers grew from 175 to 354.
Diaz Carrasco measures her success by the words of Sofia, a Moreno Valley student and one of the participants to the 4-H Juntos conference: "Juntos 4-H provides a home and a place where you can safely feel like it is your community. I hope expanding the program gives more students, not only myself but an identity also as to what the community is like and that there are people that care for them and have someone to relate and trust."
Diaz Carrasco has a straightforward message to all those girls who contemplate the idea of getting into the sciences: "My success in science has more to do with resilience than with knowledge. So, the ultimate thing is to pick something you like, have fun doing it and find people around you that also like it or are willing to support you when things get hard."
In the spring of 2020, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC (CFHL UC) Program faced the unprecedented experience of shelter-in-place and school closures due to COVID-19. Both federal nutrition education programs relied on in-person contact by UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education staff as a means of building and sustaining relationships with community members, stakeholders and partners serving vulnerable populations.
CFHL UC and EFNEP state office staff, in collaboration with the Center for Nutrition in Schools, reacted quickly to serve their clientele's needs. The coordinated effort of state office teams resulted in the dissemination of a staff needs assessment, which culminated in the training of over 150 educators and supervisors to quickly pivot lessons for online and distance learning. State staff and educators began designing online curricula delivery models to re-engage students, creating a library of virtual lessons with distance-learning strategies. This included using Zoom, social media platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube, and learning platforms such as Google Classroom. To provide quality assurance, reach and outcome measures also began undergoing adaptation for this new learning environment.
Examples of new remote learning capabilities include:
More than 60 online lessons under development for children pre-kindergarten through 8th grade that emphasize healthy eating, active living and gardening.
CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE county programs are developing the online delivery of five adult curricula, including UC-developed Plan, Shop, Save and Cook and Making Every Dollar Count that provide food resource management tips, as well as ideas for how to stay active and purchase healthy food on a limited budget. These lessons are particularly valuable at this time of high unemployment.
EFNEP's Technology and Social Media Plan includes a pilot of ‘blended learning' using mail, phone and video chat for our UCCE Connects to You Series. CFHL UC also utilizes mailings and phone call follow-ups with this curriculum.
Further, CFHL UC educators are offering lessons and short educational segments online, maintaining school gardens, working at food banks (with the permission of local county directors) and, in partnership with school meal programs, offering complimentary nutrition education and physical activity take-home lessons and resources to students and families at meal pick up locations. Youth engagement projects continue to engage student leaders online through Youth-Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) projects.
In response to COVID-19, the EFNEP and CFHL UC state and county staff continue to build and enhance the skills of our educators while serving California's most vulnerable communities. These efforts are critical to maintain trusted relationships, which both programs successfully established over decades of service to promote healthy people and communities in California.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
The first study of California law that requires schools to test tap water for lead found that the majority completed the testing on time, and only 3% reported any tested taps with lead in the water higher than the state's 15 parts per billion (ppb) limit. About 30% of the 240 randomly selected public schools in the study didn't report their results within three months of the deadline.
The study, Water Safety in California Public Schools Following Implementation of School Drinking Water Policies, was published in the January issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online publication.
“Because we strongly encourage people to drink water rather than sugary beverages, we need to have confidence that tap water is safe,” she said. “But this is a complex issue with shared responsibility among public water systems, school administrators and regulating agencies.”
Access to safe drinking water in schools is essential to help avoid the developmental and health consequences for children associated with consuming contaminated water, under hydration or excessive intake of sugary beverages.
Schools that get water from public utilities can expect the water they receive to meet federal and state water quality standards. However, 16% of study schools received water from a utility that violated health-based standards, such as elevated levels of contaminants or failure to adhere to disinfectant protocols. When water flows into buildings through pipes that contain lead – such as those made entirely of lead, or galvanized iron or leaded brass, or connected with lead solder – and especially when water sits stagnant in lead-containing plumbing, lead may leach into the water before it flows from the tap.
In October 2017, California passed Assembly Bill 746, which mandated that public water utilities sample and test for lead in tap water of public schools that were built before 2010. The law is designed to identify and mitigate sources of lead in water. Funds to upgrade school drinking-water plumbing were also earmarked in the state budget. Working with their local water suppliers, the schools selected taps for sampling. The number of taps that released water with lead was very low, and even those sources are not necessarily unhealthy for drinking, Hecht said.
“When we test tap water, we're not talking about every drop of water that comes from the tap,” she said. “We test the first water that comes out of the tap after it has been stagnant in the pipes. Once the taps are in use and water is flowing, the lead level should drop dramatically.”
Although few schools (3%) had even one tap in violation of California state standards for lead, violations increased to 16% when the federal Food and Drug Administration standard for bottled water was applied. The FDA requires that bottled water not exceed 5 ppb of lead.
The 174 schools in the study collectively tested 1,238 independent water sources – such as playground, hallway and gym drinking fountains, classroom faucets, food service areas and restroom taps in 2019. Some of the tests took place in locations that serve staff, such as teachers' lounges, nurses' stations, distribution sources and maintenance areas. Without detailed guidelines to follow, some schools tested only 1 tap; others tested as many as 76.
“Testing only a subset of taps in a facility prevents full identification of which schools need to undertake lead remediation actions,” Hecht said.
Hecht and her co-authors – Isioma Umunna, Anisha Patel and Lauren Blacker of Stanford University, Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, and Emily Altman of UC Berkeley – conclude that, in the future, states should require schools to test to nondetectable levels of lead for maximum data collection and require that at least one water source in food service areas be tested.
The information and recommendations from the study are already informing California legislation designed to protect children from lead exposure from water. A new law, Assembly Bill 2370, will require all licensed childcare centers to test taps for lead by 2021 and every 5 years thereafter. The inconsistencies experienced in AB 746 compliance revealed the need for detailed guidelines on the number of taps facilities should test, the required locations for testing, clear naming conventions to identify taps and reporting procedures.
- Author: Deepa Srivastava
The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Tulare County conducted virtual nutrition education and cooking demonstration classes last fall, empowering families to support their health with knowledge and skills to adopt healthy behaviors. The training covered nutrition/physical activity, food resource management, food security and food safety.
Step 1: EFNEP integrated virtual food demonstration in nutrition education classes
EFNEP Tulare collaborated with Native American Tribal organizations and Tulare Adult School to provide virtual food demonstration classes integrated with nutrition education to parents with children. Mariana Lopez, bilingual EFNEP adult nutrition educator, led the classes in English and Spanish in four 60- to 90-minute sessions over four weeks.
Step 2. Planning, preparation and implementation of virtual food demonstration
Community partners provided the ingredients to the participants. Lopez found ways to make the virtual food demonstration successful by planning and preparing ahead of time. Participants engaged in hands-on learning about cost-effective cooking at home. Participants learned about food planning, budgeting and shopping, healthy foods, food safety practices and physical activity.
Step 3. Family engagement during virtual food demonstration
Lopez conducted virtual nutrition education classes with 48 families; 38 families graduated.
Community partners expressed their gratitude and willingness to continue with the collaboration.
“The participants really enjoyed the class and wished it was longer. They looked forward to meeting each week and getting their food and cooking together with the nutrition teacher and their families.” - site manager
Participants engaged their families to enjoy the virtual food demonstration classes.
“Thank you. Class was fun being able to cook with my girls and I learned so much.”
~ class participant
Overall, EFNEP Tulare created excitement with virtual nutrition education classes through food demonstrations, promoted family engagement, strengthened community partnerships, and empowered families to be resourceful, eat healthy on a budget and live a healthy lifestyle.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
An international team of researchers has established a connection between ancient Indian rock art painted in a Kern County cave and a common California plant that was used by Native Americans in their sacred rituals.
This is the first time a hallucinogen has been tied to rock art, the researchers said in their article published in the November 2020 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
UC Cooperative Extension advisor David Haviland, a Kern County entomology expert, was able to work with the researchers to confirm the notion that one of the images painted on the Pinwheel Cave in Wild Wolves Preserve is likely a sphinx moth, an insect that pollinates Datura. Datura is a genus of plants native to North America that include the common agricultural pest jimson weed (Datura stramonium) and sacred thornapple (Datura wrightii).
“I've experienced hundreds of sphinx moths pollinating Datura,” Haviland said. “The sun starts to go down, the large white flowers open up and attract the moths. Scientists have reported that, after drinking the nectar with their long proboscises, they fly a little erratically, suggesting that, even to the moths, the nectar has a small narcotic effect.”
An image in the cave appears to show a human figure with a sphinx moth head. In another part of the cave, Native Americans painted a bright red pinwheel shape, which the scientists believe depicts a Datura flower as it swirls open. The most telling evidence that connects the Datura to the cave art is dozens of masticated wads of Datura plant fiber that were found pressed into crevices inside the cave.
“This indicates that Datura was ingested in the cave and that the rock painting represents the plant itself, serving to codify communal rituals involving this powerful entheogen,” wrote the researchers in their PNAS article.
Datura is known to have been used by Native American youth when initiated into adulthood, where the root was processed into a tea known historically as toloache. Datura could also be taken throughout their lives to invoke supernatural power for doctoring, counteract negative supernatural events, ward off ghosts or see the future.
Today, Native Americans' descendants recognize the plant's toxicity and no longer ingest Datura, while still respecting their ancestors' knowledge in using a substance that was dangerous and could result in death if the dosage were miscalculated.
“The authors of the article agree: the plant can be highly toxic and should never be consumed,” said David Robinson, United Kingdom archaeologist and the research leader.
Robinson and his team noticed the clumps of fiber, or quids, tucked into crevices on the wall when they were researching Pinwheel Cave in 2007. Quids are commonly found where Native Americans have chewed vegetation to extract nutrition. The scientists analyzed the quids for ancient DNA evidence, but found none. They did discover the wads of vegetation were not comprised of a typical Native dietary staples.
The scientists used three-dimensional digital microscopy on 15 clumps found in the cave, and identified evidence that the Native Americans' chewed and bit the quids with their teeth to extract atropine and scopolamine – two hallucinogenic alkaloids found in Datura. Almost all the samples are Datura wrightii. One exception was a quid of Yucca.
Fifty-six clearly identifiable quids were found in the Pinwheel Cave crevices, but traces of fibrous materials in crevices indicate there were many more in the past that are now gone. Based on radiocarbon dating, the oldest quid studied contained 400-year-old plant material; the newest one was from 130 years ago.
With the scientific analysis of the quids, the researchers were able to interpret the ancient rock art images.
“Rather than the art depicting what is seen in a trance, the pinwheel is likely a representation of the plant causing the trance,” the article says. “The rock art thus established the space where individuals underwent a deeply meaningful first-hand entheogenic experience within the context of an important communal site.”