- (Focus Area) Food
A new research brief developed by the Nutrition Policy Institute outlines the results and implications of the 2020-21 study, “The impact of SNAP-Ed interventions on California students' diet and physical activity during COVID-19.” For many school-aged children in the United States, school closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the loss of consistent and reliable access to nutritious meals and opportunities for physical activity. Local health departments implementing the CalFresh Healthy Living program adapted their program delivery to continue to reach children with interventions that promote healthy eating and active living. In their study, NPI evaluators found that CalFresh Healthy Living interventions had a positive impact on students' fruit and vegetable intake. The study and research brief were authored by NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, including Amanda Linares, Kaela Plank, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Gail Woodward-Lopez, Miranda Westfall, Reka Vasicsek and Summer Cortez.
City of Berkeley, Calif. Mayor Jesse Arreguin will proclaim Tuesday, October 12, 2023 as Children's Environmental Health Day in Berkeley. Nutrition Policy Institute's senior policy advisor Christina Hecht worked with the mayor's office to issue the proclamation. Berkeley joins communities and over 100 partner organizations across the nation in recognizing the importance of supporting and improving environmental health, particularly for children. Observed on the second Thursday of every October, CEH Day is meant to raise awareness and ignite actions that support and advance safe and healthy environments for all children. “The Children's Environmental Health Network applauds the work of our CEH Day partners and the important resources that they are for the families and communities,” says Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, executive director of the Children's Environmental Health Network. Check the CEH Day Events & Activities Map to see CEH Day events and activities taking place throughout the country. Healthy places to live, learn, and play—with clean air and water, safe and nutritious food, and stable climates—are critical for children's health and development and are central to NPI's mission. NPI also coordinates the National Drinking Water Alliance which includes a strong focus on children's drinking water safety and access.
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month
In the small town of Buga, located in Valle del Cauca in southwestern Colombia, Jairo Diaz-Ramirez prioritized salsa dancing over his studies. His parents, noticing that he was having too much fun on weekends, reminded Diaz that schoolwork comes first. “I used to dance a lot and spend time with friends when I was a teenager, and I didn't pay full attention to schoolwork,” he said.
Diaz, director of the UC Desert Research and Extension Center – one of nine centers under University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources – located in Holtville, was born and raised in Colombia, where the life of a farmworker was all too familiar.
Before Diaz's father joined the army, he worked in the fields. Describing his father as an “autodidactic person,” Diaz said that his father acquired many skills throughout his life and could “fix pretty much everything.” Others knew this about Diaz's father, often referring to him as “el cientifico” or the scientist.
“My hometown is surrounded by agriculture, and I saw farmworkers all the time. What they do is difficult work, it's hard,” he said. Even though Diaz has a career in agriculture today, he did his best to avoid it when he was in school.
In high school, Diaz focused on math and science, believing it would lead him down a different career path. When he graduated in 1990, Diaz didn't have many options for a college education in his area. “There was barely internet in my hometown,” he recalled, adding that it was a challenge to find professional mentors, too.
“I didn't know what I wanted to study,” said Diaz. “But when I passed the entry test for college, I just decided on electrical engineering.” As a freshman in college, Diaz found himself in a different environment with rules and expectations he was not used to. “I lost focus,” he said.
In fact, his poor academic performance led Diaz to drop out of college. He described this decision as, “the inflection point that changed the course of his life.” Realizing that he took a great opportunity for granted, Diaz wanted to return to school. After passing the college entry exam a second time, his test results matched him to the following career options: agricultural, sanitary or chemical engineering.
Because it required fewer chemistry courses, Diaz decided to pursue agricultural engineering. The more he learned, the more interested he became in irrigation, watershed management, soil and water conservation. In 1997, he obtained a bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering from National University of Colombia and University of Valle.
Realizing there's more to agriculture
There was a shift in perspective that occurred for Diaz, one that made him see other pathways into agriculture other than farm labor.
“I always saw the workers in the field from four in the morning to six at night, even on Saturdays,” Diaz said. “But I never saw what was behind agriculture. Labor is one thing, but there's also the science, education, management, engineering… I didn't see that when I was younger.”
In 2001, after two years of working as a part-time instructor at community colleges in his hometown, Diaz moved to Puerto Rico, where he earned a master's degree in water resources engineering from University of Puerto Rico. Although he would have liked to attend graduate school in his home country, career opportunities were limited.
“I considered schools in Spain and Chile, somewhere the people speak Spanish,” said Diaz, sharing that the ability to learn in Spanish was his preference.
Meeting students halfway
Eventually, Diaz moved to Mississippi, earning a doctorate in water resources engineering at Mississippi State University before he began teaching at Alcorn State University – the oldest public historically Black land-grant institution in the nation – where his role as a mentor easily became his favorite part of that journey.
As an assistant professor, Diaz said that many students he worked with at Alcorn State struggled with higher level courses of agriculture. “Some of my students started with me when they were freshmen and I got to see them progress over the years,” said Diaz.
Now, many of them work for the federal government and non-governmental organizations, and some have even moved to other states, away from everything and everyone they know.
“It reminds me of my own people,” Diaz said. “How challenging education can be, and how limited you feel, and being afraid to move away from home…that's what many of us BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of color] experience.”
Once a mentor, always a mentor
In Imperial County, where Diaz currently lives, more than 80% of the population is Hispanic. According to Diaz, many of the students in Imperial can relate to those he taught in Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mississippi, struggling to navigate education. “A lot of the students also think like me when I was their age. They don't find agriculture appealing because it's too hard.”
That's where Diaz steps in and shows them a different side of agriculture, one that he wishes someone would have shown him when he was younger. When he visits local schools, or hosts student groups at Desert REC, he teaches students that agriculture offers a broad spectrum of opportunities.
“Agriculture is not just about people in the fields, it's people in the labs, at the computers and in the classroom. It's people managing others, figuring out economics and building systems,” he said.
Given his background in hydrology, irrigation systems and water resources, Diaz relies on water as the element to engage students in conversations about agricultural careers. “To produce food, we need water. Plants need water to live and so do we. Water is key,” he tells students.
“I know how much of a difference it makes to have someone guide you professionally. So, I want to be that person for my community, especially the younger generation.”
As a director, Diaz has an open-door policy to encourage frequent interactions with his colleagues. “It's important to me that the people I work with know that I want to support them,” said Diaz, who prefers colleagues call him by his first name.
“Sometimes you hear that someone is a ‘doctor,' and it creates a divide right away,” he said.
While reflecting on his role and impact, Diaz said that he wants to be known as a genuinely good person. “I want to be a good collaborator, create meaningful programs, and grow a healthy industry.”
These days, Diaz doesn't spend much time on the dance floor, but he won't shy away from an opportunity to relive his adolescence. “I have created my own career path with the support of my family, mentors and friends,” he said. “I still have fun, but I also focus when I need to.”
To watch a past feature on Diaz in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksNc7qDCOVo.
- Author: Brent Hales
Happy Monday all,
I have had the pleasure of visiting numerous Research Extension Centers (South Coast, Hopland, Sierra Foothills, Intermountain, West Side, Lindcove, and Kearney). I have also visited UC Irvine, UC Davis, and UC Berkeley. I soon will visit UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. I have engaged with hundreds of ANR employees, campus-based faculty, specialists, and administration, and many stakeholders. My main takeaway throughout these visits is that UC ANR is truly an amazing organization!
As I have had the pleasure of getting to know everyone, I have consistently been amazed with the people, the organizations, and the programs that are all things UC ANR. I have had the pleasure of meeting many of you and I look forward to meeting you and learning from you.
My goal has been and continues to be to improve what we do and how we do it. That only comes as we work together to improve our organization and the communities that we serve. If there is an opportunity to engage with you in your programming or if there is an event that you think it would be good for me to attend, please invite me. I won't likely be able to get to everything this year but my engagement with everyone does not have an expiration date. I genuinely want to hear from you and learn from you.
I promise to take more pictures and use less text in the future. I just had to say this. I am eager to meet you and meet with you. I hope that you know that I am so grateful for what you do to improve the lives of Californians throughout our amazing state. I wish you truly the best!
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
And if you're part of the UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), it takes a lot of worker bees from all facets to succeed.
We congratulate CAMBP for its well-deserved recognition at the recent UC Davis Staff Assembly's Citation of Excellence ceremony.
CAMBP director and founder Elina Lastro Niño, associate professor of Cooperative Extension and a member of UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, and co-program manager Wendy Mather won a Faculty-Staff Partnership Award.
Niño, UC Extension apiculturist since 2014, founded CAMBP in 2016. Mather joined the program in March of 2018. Also integral to the program is Kian Nikzad, but as a newer employee, was ineligible to be nominated.
The awards ceremony, held Sept. 12 in the International Center on campus, singled out “some of our most exceptional UC Davis individuals and teams,” Chancellor May said in his presentation.
Nominators of "The Bee Team" (Kathy Keatley Garvey, Nora Orozco and Tabatha Yang of Department of Entomology and Nematology) lauded Niño and Mather for providing a “program of learning, teaching, research, and public service, goes above and beyond in delivering comprehensive, science-based information about honey bees and honey bee health. They continually and consistently develop, improve, and refine their statewide curriculum that educates stewards in a train-the-trainer program to disseminate accurate, timely, and crucial information. Honey bees pollinate more than 30 California crops, including almonds, a $5 billion industry (no bees, no pollination, no almonds). Indeed, California produces more than a third of our country's vegetables and three-quarters of our fruits and nuts. However, colony losses are alarming due to pesticides, pests, predators and pathogens.”
As of Sept. 15, 2023, CAMBP has donated 34,000 hours of volunteer time and served 209,000 individuals in education, outreach and beekeeping mentorship. If a volunteer hour were to be calculated at $26.87, CAMBP has given $913,580 back to California in service of science-based beekeeping and honey bee health.
Its website, accessible to the public, offers a list of classes and knowledge-based information, including backyard beekeeping, bees in the neighborhood, bees and beekeeping regulations, defensive bees, live honey bee removals, and protecting pollinators.
“Bottom line,” the nominators concluded, “our ‘B' Team is really an ‘A' Team, an outstanding example of UC Davis teaching, research and service; a team providing exemplary service and contributions; and a team that creates and maintains high morale and embodies the Principles of Community.”
Joint Statement. In a joint statement following the awards ceremony, Mather and Nikzad said: “We share this award with our passionate and caring member volunteers. Our members are deeply committed to honey bee health, science-based beekeeping practices, and, most importantly, to each other. Their enthusiasm and dedication drive our mission forward. We wish to acknowledge Elina Niño for her visionary leadership; she has brought together various stakeholders, including growers, bee breeders, commercial, sideline, and hobbyist beekeepers, as well as the general public, through CAMBP, UC Davis, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE). We missed having her at the ceremony.”
Well deserved! A tip of the bee veil to CAMBP! You're smokin'
(See full-length news story and more images on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)