- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Since adopting the stretch along Sausal Creek in Dimond Park in 2012, 20 4-H members ranging from 5 to 12 years old have been pulling out the invasive plants and replacing them with native plants.
“Friends of Sausal Creek provides us with all the plants and gives us guidance on what should go where,” said Genesta Zarehbin, the 4-H adult volunteer leading the project.
“We planted lots of native plants, such as strawberries, bee plant, ninebark, iris-leaf rush, wood rush, and thimbleberry, that look really cool — but it still gives the appearance of more ivy and spiderwort,” said Zarehbin, who lives in Oakland.
“They have field journals and do research to complete a plant page,” Zarehbin said. “The younger kids do observation -- how many leaves does it have? What color is it? How tall is it? It's a natural discussion when you're out there.”
After removing the invasive, nonnative plants, the 4-Hers had the opportunity to redesign the stretch of trail by choosing and planting natives. At monthly meetings held at the creek, the members regularly weed, water and mulch the plants and pick up trash.
“My kids really get into it,” said Zarehbin, whose children include 9- and 11-year-old sons and twin 6-year-old daughters. “They recognize cow parsnip and soaproot when we go out on hikes. In some areas they'll say, ‘This looks like people are taking care of it.' It gives them a sense of place and how humans shape the environment.”
“The first year, everything died,” said Zarehbin. “The second year, we supplemented the water, and we have a number of plants that survived.”
The creek project is educating the 4-H members, and the 4-H members, in turn, are educating park visitors about the vital work of protecting our natural resources.
“Since our work site is in a very visible location, our 4-H members have been able to enlist the assistance of community members and they frequently have the opportunity to share information with curious onlookers,” said the 4-H project leader.
Zarehbin appreciates the autonomy that Friends of Sausal Creek has allowed, something that enables the kids to develop a sense of ownership. “They let the kids control how they want things to look,” she explained. “The Friends of Sausal Creek are willing to work with young kids and let them work hands-on and contribute in a meaningful way.”
The organization often leads middle school and high school students on field trips, but 4-H is one the few long-term relationships they have with younger children.
Friends of Sausal Creek, which manages a 2600-acre watershed with two permanent full-time staff members, depends on the help of others to preserve and protect the creek.
Groups typically work on an adopted site a few times a year, whereas the 4-H members tend to their site at least once a month. At the last 4-H work day, 30 people participated, said Zarehbin.
“Their recurring workdays enable them to maintain the site – weeding around the native plants and watering them until they are established,” said McAfee. “Their work helps to increase the biodiversity in these urban wildlands.”
McAfee hopes the kids' enthusiasm for nurturing the natural environment will spread to other people in the community.
Every year the 4-H club hosts an Earth Day event for a local public school to share what they're learning with other kids their age. Last year, 90 students from Sequoia Elementary School participated, making nature-based crafts and pulling invasive plants to widen the trail. This year the 4-H members have invited Glenville Elementary to join them at Dimond Park on March 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To learn more about participating in 4-H in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, contact May McMann, 4-H program representative at firstname.lastname@example.org or (925) 646-6543. To find a UC Cooperative Extension 4-H club near you, visit http://4h.ucanr.edu/Get_Involved/County.
For more than 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Youth in California will know the thrill of the find as they search out and observe birds in their own communities. The children will be taking part in the UC Cooperative Extension 4-H program's pilot study of new birding curriculum developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Cornell has long offered “Bird Sleuth” materials for use in schools. Now they have branched out to informal educational settings by writing two new curricula, “Habitat Connections” and “Nature Detectives,” which are being pilot-tested in California, New York and Illinois.
“We'll be getting kids to start observing things in nature, making a record and sharing their data with the repository at the Lab of Ornithology,” Schmitt-McQuitty said. “As we go through the monthly meetings, we'll keep a running total of the species we see.”
The classes aren't just about spotting birds and identifying them. The curriculum weaves in a greater understanding of science and environment with sessions on habitat, the food web and bird survival. Each meeting begins with an optional one-hour bird hike, adding outdoor exercise and nature observation to the science activities.
Over the course of the program, the children will identify a habitat need for wildlife at Hollister Hills. At the final class, they will be out in the field addressing the need by placing nesting boxes, planting native plants, removing invasive species or some other habitat improvement.
Other California counties involved in the pilot study are Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Diego and Orange. Cornell received a grant from the Noyce Foundation to create and test the curriculum. Representatives from the Ithaca, N.Y., school traveled to California to offer train-the-trainer instruction to 4-H advisors, program representatives and volunteer project leaders.
The curriculum comes in two versions: Nature Detectives, the one to be implemented by Schmitt-McQuitty in San Benito County, and Habitat Connections, which is adapted for afterschool programs.
4-H community educator in Orange County, Jason Suppes, will coordinate the pilot study of Habitat Connections in an Anaheim affordable housing development, Pradera Apartment Homes. Unlike Nature Detectives, in which each monthly class builds on previous lessons, Habitat Connections lessons stand on their own. The format is ideal for the Pradera program, which doesn't attract all the same children to each meeting.
“I don't expect the kids to all become avid birdwatchers, but I'll be pleased if they are able to identify one or two birds in their community,” Suppes said. “They'll get a greater sense about the environment where they live and what they can do to have an impact on the environment.”
The majority Pradera residents are of Latino descent, and most have had few opportunities to learn about nature. Because of the shifting demographics in California to a population with Latinos representing the largest segment, the stewardship of the state's open spaces and public lands could be passed to people who haven't had access or developed an interest.
“Some of these kids never leave their city block,” Suppes said. “Everywhere in the county, we're within 15 miles of the mountains or the ocean. The majority have never seen either one. In 4-H, we're shaping a new generation of land stewards.”
An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Stratetic Vision 2025.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Because studies show that the habits we start early in life often carry into adulthood, UC Cooperative Extension reaches out to teenagers to develop money-management skills with a program called Money Talks. After completing the UC Money Talks program, teens are more likely to find easy ways to save money.
One feature of Money Talks helps teens improve their eating habits at the same time they work on their financial health. “Hunger Attack!” teaches youth how to buy food and save money.
This curriculum was developed to address connections between poverty and childhood obesity, explained Katherine Soule, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for youth, families and communities in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
“When young people are hungry, they are likely to buy food from the most convenient location,” said Soule. “That could be a fast food restaurant or a vending machine, rather than buying nutritious food at a lower price at a grocery store.”
The Hunger Attack program suggests writing a list of the food items purchased and the price so teens can see how the expenses add up. They may reconsider whether they really need to buy an after-school snack.
“We designed Hunger Attack to provide the teens with consumer facts, as well as develop their decision-making and reasoning skills to make the best nutrition decisions for themselves while making good financial choices,” Soule said. “In other words, we're teaching teens to look for the best nutritional value for their food dollars.”
Money Talks provides money management techniques in magazine-style teen guides and an interactive website that features educational games and quizzes. The topics include money personality, easy ways to save money, shopping skills, car costs, developing skills for the workplace, buying snacks, savings accounts, checking accounts, e-banking, obtaining credit and credit cards.
Here's a sample quiz question:
The best time to go grocery shopping is when:
A. I'm really hungry.
B. I'm not hungry.
C. Everyone else is going
The answer is B. You're likely to buy more food when shopping on an empty stomach.
There is also a classroom curriculum for teachers, with leader's guides to accompany each of the teen guides. The leader's guides contain learning objectives; background information; discussion questions; activities with handouts, visuals, and links to the web site; a glossary of important terms; and additional resources. All of the materials are available in English and Spanish.
For more information, visit the Money Talks website at http://moneytalks4teens.ucanr.edu.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
“Santa Cruz County farmers provide an array of quality fresh fruits and vegetables that can help residents to be healthier,” said Laura Tourte, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and one of the project's coordinators. “Everybody wins.”
The 40-page booklet – titled Fresh • Starts • Here – was developed by UCCE, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) and the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. It assembles a wide variety of resources into a compact form, with information about the seasons for local fruits and vegetables, nutritional information and directions for choosing, storing and preparing healthy foods using some of Santa Cruz County's top crops. Six farmers are profiled in the booklet along with four medical doctors and a registered dietitian, who provide suggestions about accessing fresh fruits and vegetables and reasons for eating them.
“It's not often you'll find stories about farmers and doctors in the same place, but it's a natural fit,” Tourte said. “Doctors know the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and farmers grow them.”
Dr. Karen Harrington, a family medicine physician, shared a seasonal salad recipe that includes cabbage, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, scallions and parsley.
“Making a salad that uses many different fruits and vegetables and keeps for several days is a great and convenient way to help improve your health,” she said.
Pediatrician Casey Schirmer is pictured in the guide with his cousin Joe Schirmer, owner of an organic farming operation in Santa Cruz.
The development committee, local farmers and physicians donated their time and effort to the project. UCCE funded the printing of the first 2,000 copies of the booklet. The guide was recently the focus of three outreach events at PAMF clinics, where farmers and PAMF staff teamed up to distribute the guide and other health information at no cost to PAMF patients, visitors and staff. A Spanish language version – which was funded with contributions from UCCE, PAMF and Lakeside Organic Gardens – is in press and expected to be available to the community later this month.
Tourte said the committee has received more requests for the guide than they can currently accommodate. They are now seeking funding to print additional copies, and planning to partner with others in the community to share the information.
“This guide, two years in the making, is our group's foundational piece. It is the beginning of many more activities and educational events we have planned for the future,” Tourte said.
An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.
- Author: Patti C. Wooten Swanson
While working on this story, I discovered these ducks are on the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's list of 24 potentially hazardous toys. Why? Laboratory tests revealed high levels of a dangerous toxic chemical in the ducks.
The Trouble in Toyland 2014 report released this month warns shoppers that there are dangerous and toxic toys on store shelves this holiday season. The study found toys that you may want to avoid, that…
- are made of materials containing toxic chemicals such as lead
- have small parts that could choke a child if swallowed
- contain powerful magnets that if swallowed could cause intestinal injuries
- make noises loud enough to damage hearing.
So, how can you choose toys that are safe for your child (or nieces, etc.)? One way is to pick age-appropriate toys.
Many manufacturers label toys for age appropriateness. The guidelines factor in a child's developmental stage and the safety issues relevant for the child's age. That means that if you buy a toy labeled as appropriate for ages 4-5, for your “very advanced” 2 ½ year old daughter, you may be exposing her to safety risks.
In deciding what to buy, consider these guidelines from a fellow Cooperative Extension human development expert at Cornell University:
Children under 3: The biggest threat is toys with small parts that could choke them. Avoid marbles, magnets, and games with balls that are less than 1 3/4 inches in diameter. For example, when buying toys such as stuffed animals check to be sure eyes, noses, and other parts are attached securely. Otherwise a part might come lose and be dangerous if swallowed. (Follow this guideline for an older child who still mouths his toys.)
Children 3 to 5: Toys with straps or cords that fit around the neck, such as a toy guitar, is risky because a child could get the cord wrapped around her throat and be strangled. Avoid such toys until the child is older. Or to be safe, cut off cords, strings or straps until the he is older. Avoid toys that are made of thin plastic that can break into pieces or become jagged. Take the batteries out of loud toys or cover speakers with tape.
Children 6 to 12: Avoid toys with sharp or pointed edges, as well any that might easily break into pieces with sharp edges. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends NOT buying electric toys with heating elements for children under 8 years old. It advises anyone buying bikes, scooters, skateboards or inline skates to also buy protective gear such as a helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, and wrist guards.
Children and Teens:
- Magnets: Although the risk scenarios differ by age group, the danger is the same. When two or more magnets are swallowed, they can attract one another internally, resulting in serious injuries, such as small holes in the stomach and intestines, intestinal blockage, blood poisoning and even death. When a magnet has to be removed surgically, it often requires the repair of the child's damaged stomach and intestines.
- Toy Guns: Whether or not to buy toy guns is an individual matter. The University of Michigan Health System and recent events suggest toy guns should not look like real guns, and they should be brightly colored in order to be instantly recognizable as toys.
For more information, see Tips for Buying Safe Toys.
Patti Wooten Swanson, Ph.D., is a University of California Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer science advisor in San Diego County.