- Author: Adina M. Merenlender, UC Cooperative Extension Specialist, UC Berkeley
- Author: Mary Tran, Spring 2021 intern and recent B.S. graduate, SF State University
Field research in agricultural and natural resource science has been ongoing at UCANR Research and Extension Centers for over 70 years, making an impact on the food we eat and the management practices we recommend. What afforded us the opportunity to have these living laboratories? The University of California is a land grant institution and is directly linked with the federal Morrill Act of 1862, also known as the Land-Grant College Act. The Act granted land mostly taken from indigenous tribes to states that used the proceeds from the sale of these lands to fund colleges specializing in agriculture and the mechanical arts.
A recent article in High Country News, "Land-Grab Universities," provides interactive spatial data revealing the direct connection between the ~10.7 million acres of stolen Indigenous land and land-grant institutions. Many of these Morrill Act parcels were in California and, thanks to Andy Lyons at UCANR IGIS, we can view the overlap between UC land and these parcels in a geographic information system.
We created an ESRI Story Map to provide a synoptic history of the land that Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) currently occupies before it became part of the University of California. The map is the result of a collaborative effort that included the UC ANR Native American Community Partnerships Work Group, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, HREC staff, local long-time residents, and UC ANR IGIS. Our hope is that educators, researchers, landowners and other Hopland community members will learn about the historical context of the area, including injustices Indigenous people endured, and develop a sense of appreciation and admiration for the land we study.
This story map builds on an acknowledgment of the Shóqowa and Hopland People on whose traditional, ancestral and unceded lands we work, educate and learn, and whose historical and spiritual relationship with these lands continues to this day. It contains some details on the Indigenous history, a brief history of the Spanish/Mexican land grant and other facts from the early colonial period, a timeline of notable events, and ways HREC and neighboring Indigenous communities are collaborating to foster a sincere and mutually beneficial relationship for the land and the community. Please explore HREC's land history story map and if you are interested in building your own see our methods in the reference section.
- Author: Olivia Henry, UC Davis graduate student intern
As California strives to recover from the pandemic-induced economic slump, Keith Taylor is taking an unconventional approach to economic development. In the world's sixth biggest economy, where do you start? Taylor, who was hired in 2017 as UC Cooperative Extension's sole specialist in community economic development, started by tackling a couple of the state's thorniest sectors: cannabis and utilities.
Participatory research in Mendocino County
In 2016, the passage of Prop. 64 legalizing recreational cannabis ushered in an era of both opportunity and headaches for Mendocino County growers. The county's permitting program has been the source of significant confusion and debate: Between 800 and 1,100 growers have received county permits, but many have not been able to obtain permanent state licenses because of a lack of clarity around the county process and compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The burden of uncertainty is one reason why only a fraction of Mendocino growers have pursued licenses, says Taylor, who is based in the Department of Human & Community Development at UC Davis.
While these regulatory battles play out, Taylor says better economic coordination between small growers could buffer them against large capital interests moving into cannabis. Virginia-based Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is investing in cannabis and filing patents for cannabis-specific vaporizers. Individual legacy growers have the crop experience and market share, Taylor says, but don't have shared institutions through which they can exercise collective power — especially down the value chain in processing, distribution and consumer technology. Taylor believes that creating a small farmer-centric system will involve the creation of more interest groups, associations or cooperatives.
“For too long in agricultural and rural communities, we've encouraged people to do things alone,” Taylor said in an October 2020 presentation to the UC Davis Cannabis and Hemp Research Forums. However, if you look at parts of the world where rural economies do very well, they work together.”
With help from a Cannabis and Hemp Research Center grant, Taylor has been working on a wide-ranging participatory action research project in Mendocino County. Taylor's team — comprised of two faculty members, one post-doctoral researcher, and two student researchers — is producing research publications, policy recommendations and public events about ways that the emerging cannabis industry can support high-quality livelihoods and environments for county residents.
“The more we make folks aware of these good actors, the more likely we are to get challenges to the incumbents in terms of climate mitigation and economic developments,” Taylor said.
West Business Development Center, Economic Development & Financing Corporation and Mendocino County Supervisor John Haschak have been allies in the process so far. Haschak says Taylor brings valuable knowledge, resources and networks to bear on local challenges.
“There's a lot of opportunity for doing this whole new industry in a new way, and I think that's what Dr. Taylor sees too,” Haschak said. “There's a lot of potential here for structuring the industry along the lines of what our community values already are.”
As Taylor's team releases their findings, they intend to host forums at the Hopland Research and Extension Center to help the county harness the legal cannabis sector for economic impact.
Power to the people
Shortly after arriving at UC Davis from Illinois, Taylor published a book about the benefits of community ownership of wind energy in the Midwest. The turmoil surrounding California's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, could have been ripped from the pages of his research. PG&E equipment has ignited half of California's most destructive fires since 2015, and experts pin much of the blame on the company's lack of investment in the grid.
In the months following the 2018 Camp Fire, which burned an area roughly the size of Chicago andkilled85 people, Taylor was one of the first advocates to propose converting PG&E into a user-owned nonprofit cooperative. This conversion would remove the extractive role of investors and give customers a voice in big-picture decisions about the company, Taylor wrote in an op-ed pushing the idea of customer ownership in The Mercury News in February 2019. By December, more than 100 elected officials across 10 counties endorsed the idea. The federal bankruptcy judge overseeing PG&E's case did not endorse the plan, although it's still possible for the state to take over the company under certain conditions. Other attempts to gain local control of PG&E's grid — including San Francisco's bid to buy the city's power lines from the company — also stalled.
Taylor isn't discouraged. He is working closely with the Golden State Power Cooperative, an association of the state's three community-owned electric utility co-ops, to push forward what he calls a “Rural Electrification Act for California broadband.” Taylor often references this New Deal-era law that gave federal loans to rural communities seeking to expand the electrical grid to their area. The act gave rise to the nation's more than 900 electric cooperatives today, including the three in California. With their help, Taylor sees opportunity in legislation or programs that would catalyze community-initiated, community-owned internet services. Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative is already bringing broadband to the rough terrain of its mountain customers.
“When you first set foot in California and are exposed to the giant that is PG&E and their influence over policy, you think that it's an obstacle that's too difficult to overcome,” Taylor said. He tries to elevate the visibility of people who are making inroads and recently featured Kevin Short in a webinar about community economic-development innovations.
Short is the general manager of Anza Electric Cooperative in California's high desert and current board president of the Golden State Power Cooperative. He said there are “tremendous opportunities” in the idea of growing cooperative broadband entities, especially with the attention on infrastructure at the state and federal levels. Short said the effort will take some creativity and willingness to depart from existing models: “The old saying among us here is if you've seen one co-op, you've seen one co-op, because it's going to be different everywhere you go.”
In both of these areas — cannabis and utilities — Taylor says his role is networker and facilitator. As the only economic development specialist at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, he spends a lot of time researching and meeting people to understand where his efforts can be the most strategic. “In order to scale, I've got to go small, root and build and be comfortable with that process,” he said.
Small works for now, but Taylor remembers an associate dean telling him, “You've got a great job, now make it work for 40 million Californians.”
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
As the Beckwourth Complex Fire and Dixie Fire spread in Plumas and Lassen counties, Ryan Tompkins reminded residents of ways they could help limit damage.
“If you're under evacuation orders, abide by the evacuation notice, because lingering too long can complicate tactics of emergency responders,” said the University of California Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor, who recommends packing up important documents and valuables with an overnight bag in advance for a quick exit to safety.
Plan for pets and livestock and water access for a quick response to falling embers that ignite fires. The Plumas County resident said he packed a “go bag” for his dog filled with dog food and other necessities. Every year, Tompkins clears defensible space around his house, including defensible space around his chicken coop in case a fire starts while he isn't home. During wildfire season, he keeps a shovel and a backpack sprayer filled with water staged near his woodshed for easy retrieval if a fire were to start in his yard. If Tompkins needs to evacuate, he switches his circuit box to his generator so any firefighters performing structure triage can access his well water when the power grid shuts down.
To document possessions for insurance purposes if the house burns, Tompkins recommends shooting video. “Just walk through the house with your phone shooting video and narrating to document the household assets.”
Residents outside of the wildfire evacuation area can take more steps to improve the odds their homes will survive a wildfire.
Even with fire imminent, there are several actions you can do to help prepare your home to withstand fire exposure. UC Cooperative Extension guidance can help residents prepare their home in the days or hours before wildfire exposure.
If you believe you have at least a couple of hours before fire exposure, review the area around your home and outbuildings for flammable items that could lead fire to the structures, said Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
She recommends the following:
- Move combustible items inside or away from the buildings, especially within the first 5 feet of any structure or attached deck
- Clean gutters and other places where pine needles and leaves accumulate on or near the house
- Move BBQ propane tanks away from structures
- Bring in cushions from outside furniture
- Move doormats away from the house
- Seal vents (attic, foundation, drier, etc.) with plywood or heavy foil to prevent embers from entering
- Close all windows and pet doors
“The goal is to remove combustible items away from structures so that embers don't ignite these materials and result in flames touching the house,” Valachovic said. “Temporarily sealing up vents can help prevent embers, or small bits of burning vegetation, from being blown inside the home.”
If first responders get to your home, Valachovic says you can help them by leaving a ladder against the house, placing buckets or garbage cans of water around the home, and leaving connected garden hoses in easy-to-locate places. Also, leave out a shovel or other tool that could be used to put out small spot fires.
“After you have packed your essentials and your go bag, dress for the evacuation by wearing cotton or wool clothing, a hat, boots, bandanna or mask to protect your nose and mouth, and pack leather gloves,” she said. “These items will help you be prepared if you have to get out of your vehicle or move fallen trees during your escape to safety. Additionally, it may be helpful to pack a shovel, digging bar, chainsaw, or other tools just in case your evacuation route gets blocked.”
As you evacuate, Valachovic suggests leaving gates open or unlocked so first responders can access your property.
If time allows, turn on the lights in your house to increase visibility and leave a note on the door indicating where you went and who is with you. These instructions can help you reunite with your loved ones.
Thinking through these steps and implementing them if fire is near can help your home and your family survive wildfire. For more evacuation guidance, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Safety/Evacuation.
If you have more time to prepare for wildfires, UC Cooperative Extension provides more information at https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare, including a fire map and tips for home hardening and defensible space strategies.
How to Harden Homes against Wildfire, a free 20-page publication by University of Nevada, Reno Extension, UC Cooperative Extension, Tahoe Resource Conservation District and CAL FIRE is also available online at http://ucanr.edu/HomeRetrofitGuide. It includes recommendations for 12 vulnerable components of homes in wildfire-prone areas, including roofs, gutters, vents, siding, windows, decks and fences.
Contrary to the messages we are exposed to from popular culture, media, and public health about body size, focusing on how much a person weighs isn't necessarily an effective way to promote health. These messages play a role in reinforcing what some call “diet culture” and others have called “anti-fat bias.” Diet culture associates weight loss and thinness with health despite mounting evidence of the negative impacts of dieting. Anti-fat bias can persist in workplace, healthcare, and educational settings, threatening both the emotional and physical health of obese or overweight individuals.
Research is showing that weight is not a reliable indicator of an individual's health nor is a weight-centric approach helpful in improving overall well-being. Weight-centric, or weight-normative, approaches emphasize weight, body mass index (BMI), and weight loss as positive indicators of health and well-being. This type of approach values thin body types over others and can have negative consequences such as weight stigmatization, discrimination, and body dissatisfaction; consequences that are associated with weight gain, unhealthy eating behaviors, and depression.
While some weight loss interventions may reduce weight or improve health metrics in the short term, these interventions typically involve other behavioral changes such as increasing physical activity or changing eating patterns which make it difficult to attribute the cause of health improvements. Is the improvement in health due to the reduction in weight or to the increase in physical activity?
Also, while some people on weight loss diets lose weight in the first year, if followed for more than one year, people in peer-reviewed studies typically regain most of the weight back within the following five years. Repeatedly losing and regaining weight, or weight-cycling, increases the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and is an independent risk factor for poor health outcomes, even in normal-weight individuals. Studies reveal that losing and regaining weight may be worse for a person's physical and psychological health than consistently staying at a higher weight.
Due to the issues with long-term ineffectiveness of weight-centric interventions, and increasing recognition of the relationship between racism and anti-fat bias, there is a need to shift focus to weight-inclusive or weight- neutral approaches. Weight-inclusive or weight-neutral approaches emphasize improving access to health promoting resources and reducing weight stigma. Studies have shown numerous health benefits, even in the absence of weight loss, are achievable and sustainable in the long-term using a weight-neutral approach.
One example of this approach includes Health at Every Size (HAES). HAES principles promote the acceptance of body diversity, intuitive eating not focused on weight control, support for policies that equalize access to resources, respectful care towards ending weight discrimination, and inclusive physical activity. Weight-inclusivity does not promote the message that everyone, in every body size, is healthy. What it does promote is that everyone, regardless of their body size, can be working on health-related goals without focusing on changing their body size.
Weight-inclusive approaches that are rooted in a social justice and systems-oriented framework can powerfully acknowledge the social and political roots of health inequities. To be most effective, and to avoid other forms of stigma or shame, these approaches should consider the influence of life factors such as poverty, discrimination, stigma, and job insecurity and how these factors constrain or support health behaviors and personal choice.
Research spanning the last decade has been showing that the HAES approach is associated with improvements in blood pressure, health behaviors, self-esteem, and body image and has done so more successfully than weight loss treatment. Further, studies show that interventions that encourage individuals to eat intuitively help participants abandon unhealthy weight control behaviors, improve metabolic fitness, increase body satisfaction, and improve psychological distress. Results from literature reviews favor the promotion of programs that emphasize a non-restrictive pattern of eating, body acceptance, and access to health promoting resources rather than weight loss.
There is a growing body of research showing that HAES and weight-inclusive approaches are better able to address overall health and wellness than focusing on BMI or weight reduction. Shifting focus away from weight loss, thinness, obesity prevention, and looking a certain way to achieve better health could potentially make us a healthier and more equitable society. Despite these movements being met with hesitation, weight-inclusive approaches have been demonstrated to be effective health promoting strategies.
Shifting the focus of health interventions away from losing weight as an end goal is not new and it doesn't even have to be that revolutionary. Many of the governmental recommendations to be physically active and follow a balanced diet following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that UC ANR nutrition programs and CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE programs teach in communities across California could be used in either a weight-centric or weight-inclusive approach. In our San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara county nutrition programs we have advocated for books to be removed from curricula if they promote anti-fat bias and have started making changes in how we talk about our work to prevent chronic disease and promote health instead of preventing obesity. Still, the idea of obesity and overweight as the central concern for public health and popular media has stayed with us longer than has proven necessary or effective for actually improving the health of individuals and society.
Do you have unconscious bias toward overweight or obese people? Consider taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test for Weight.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
The University of California Cooperative Extension and its community partners have received nearly $500,000 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to expand farm to school projects. The CDFA Office of Farm to Fork's 2021 California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program has awarded $8.496 million in grants to 60 farm-to-school projects throughout the state, including the following two UC Cooperative Extension projects.
Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project
UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra received $248,457 to work on the “Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project” with Jamestown Elementary School District, Office of Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools, Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office and local farmers.
UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra will work with the sheriff's office to expand an existing farm education center on land owned by the county detention center, to provide educational opportunities for public school students and juvenile detention center students.
“We're really excited to offer more learning opportunities for young people in Tuolumne County,” said JoLynn Miller, director of UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra. “At the farm, we will be able to teach students about growing food with hands-on activities and field trips and provide incarcerated residents with job training.”
UCCE and the Sheriff's Office plan to start a sustainable egg-laying operation to supply public schools and other public institutions with locally produced eggs. At the juvenile detention center, UCCE will provide monthly gardening and cooking lessons to juveniles. UCCE also will support school gardens through the School Garden Network and expand Harvest of the Month education and tastings to more public schools and to the juvenile detention center. School food service directors will get help increasing procurement of California-grown foods for their menus to reinforce the Harvest of the Month education. Through Kids' Day at the Market events, they plan to introduce public school students to farmers markets as places to buy healthy foods.
Local sourcing of food across Los Angeles
In Los Angeles County, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College received a $250,000 grant. Occidental College is partnering with Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Adventist Health Glendale Foundation, Big Green, Enrich LA, Garden School Foundation, Los Angeles Food Policy Council, National Health Foundation, Sage Garden Project, Seeds to Plate, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles and UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.
The “Farm to Classroom: Sourcing Local for Farm to School Education Across Los Angeles” project will help farm-to-school educators purchase fresh produce from local farmers markets for in-class taste tests, garden lessons and recipe demonstrations. They will also offer teachers farm-to-classroom educational materials on food systems, farmers and agriculture, featured produce items and nutrition.
"We are thrilled and excited to be a partner on the project,” said Keith Nathaniel, UCCE director and 4-H youth development advisor in Los Angeles County. “Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County is poised to provide quality educational materials that support the farm to school learning continuum for young people. Cooperative Extension will continue to build on its expertise to develop relevant impactful materials designed to engage learners to meet their educational outcomes."
A “Los Angeles Harvest of the Month” calendar will be designed for Los Angeles Unified Food Services and be available to others in Los Angeles County to use. The calendar will feature local produce items that are highlighted in the educational materials and available to buy through a purchasing app. Coordination between school food services and teachers will help Los Angeles Unified align their lessons and garden planting schedules with foods offered in the cafeteria. The project team plans to launch a pilot of the program at select Title 1 schools, then analyze evaluation data from the pilot program and modify the program model as needed before sharing it with farm to school educators across LA County and offering an accompanying training.
The California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program focuses on supporting local and regional farm to school projects that promote nutrition education, sustainable food production and procurement, and high-quality student engagement through experiential learning.