Along Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, atop a small hill, sits a residential community for adults with disabilities. When you get past the gate to Glennwood Houseand look beyond the parking lot, you'll immediately notice the quaint oasis of swinging benches enclosed by vegetables growing in large pots and along walkways.
The garden, which is maintained by the residents, was created in spring 2022 by Monica Mehren Thompson and Robbie Prepas, two UC Master Gardener volunteers of Orange County.
The UC Master Gardeners program is a public service and outreach program of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Through the efforts of more than 6,000 Master Gardener volunteers across the state, the program is a unique driving force of change in local communities.
Thompson and Prepas completed their 16-week Master Gardener training in 2021 and quickly turned to Glennwood House for an opportunity to apply their newly acquired skills. Troy, Thompson's son, was a resident at Glennwood for nine years, making her decision to develop a garden on the grounds an obvious choice.
“This place is truly magical,” said Thompson.
Prepas agreed and shared that the residents play an active role from beginning to end. “We take the residents with us when we buy seeds so that they can choose what they want to grow,” she explained.
The garden has only experienced two plantings so far: spring and fall 2022. When it's time to harvest, the residents eagerly gather to taste the fresh vegetables and herbs. During the week, dinners are prepared by a professional chef, who incorporates ingredients pulled from the garden.
This will soon change, however. Since the residents enjoy the hands-on opportunity to cook so much, they'll now be in charge of preparing lunch and dinner every Friday. To kick start this shift, the residents prepared a huge salad and spaghetti with vegetable marinara sauce. The meal was a big hit and the residents were so proud of their creation.
“This is an all-out, very sophisticated effort with the Master Gardeners,” said Faith Manners, Glennwood House CEO.
Glennwood House is unlike other residential communities for persons with special needs in that it is home to 46 residents. “It's one of the largest supported-living communities in the U.S.,” Manners said, adding that Glennwood has an enormous waiting list.
According to Janet Parsons, development and facility director at Glennwood House, Laguna Beach genuinely embraces Glennwood residents. “When we're out and about, you should just see how warm and welcoming the community is towards our residents. Everyone is always engaging and smiling,” she shared.
Recently, the Laguna Beach Garden Club caught wind of the community garden at Glennwood and made a $1,500 donation to help fund materials.
Janet Chance, president of the Garden Club, credited Glennwood as one of the few places that caters to adults living with disabilities, commending their ability to cultivate a sense of belonging and integrate them into the greater Laguna Beach community.
While Chance regrets not having the time to become a Master Gardener herself, she attends some of the classes they teach in the Laguna Beach community. “The work they do is remarkable,” she said, adding that the club's recent donation was “one of the best” they have ever made.
Parsons said that it's important for the residents to feel independent. Therefore, the administration and the staff prioritize intentional programming. For example, instead of simple activities like coloring, Glennwood hosts advanced art sessions so that interested residents are learning techniques that will strengthen their artistic capabilities.
The same idea applies to the “farm-to-table” experience Thompson and Prepas have established.
“Just because the residents are living with a cognitive disability, it doesn't mean they're incapable of learning new things,” Parsons said. “They will tell you when something is boring or when they're not interested. So, we try to select activities or programs based on skills, personal interests and goals.”
While being recognized for the positive effect the gardeners have on the residents, Prepas quickly interjected that the real positive effect is the one that residents have on her. “I've learned so much from them,” she said. “They're incredible and so much fun to be around.”
Thompson, whose son lived at Glennwood until he passed away earlier this year, describes the Glennwood community as her family. Seeing Thompson's delight while gardening or cooking with the residents, it's easy to understand what she means.
“My husband has always supported philanthropy,” said Thompson. “But he says this feels like so much more than that. Because it is!”
To learn more about the UC Master Gardener program visit https://mg.ucanr.edu/.
Before Brent Flory, 22, started bagging fruits and vegetables at his local Stater Bros. Market, he picked them at the University of California South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine.
In partnership with Saddleback Unified School District's Esperanza Education Center, an adult transition program that provides independent living and life skills training for students with disabilities, South Coast REC hosts students on its 200 acres of land and introduces them to careers in agriculture.
Flory recalls picking avocados as one of his favorite moments from the program at South Coast, one of nine RECs across California operated by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I picked a huge avocado and got to bring it home. It was the size of a medium pumpkin,” he shared.
Field work doesn't warrant business attire, but Flory said that working at South Coast REC taught him the importance of dressing appropriately for work. In this case, it meant pants, closed-toe shoes, a shirt with sleeves, and sunscreen or a hat if working in the sun.
While program managers hope that participating students would pursue a career in agriculture, South Coast REC is more concerned about providing opportunities for students to gain real work experience in a unique setting.
“This is the first time I have had the opportunity for my students to work at a job site in the agricultural field. We never really thought of the agricultural industry as an option for our students,” said Esperanza's education specialist, Michael Seyler.
Esperanza's partnership with South Coast REC began in October 2019. Since then, nine participants have been assigned to work at the research center where they help create seedlings, plant and harvest crops, and learn plant management.
Ray Bueche, Adult Transition Program coordinator and Career Start administrator at Esperanza, is proud of the creative energy it took to develop the program and unite partners, crediting Jason Suppes, South Coast REC's community education specialist. “Working with Jason and UC ANR has inspired me to continue to reach for unique partnerships in this field and elsewhere,” Bueche said.
Dylan Shelden, 19, another past participant, said that the program revealed how important it is for him to choose a career that makes him feel happy and independent. “You are responsible for yourself,” he said. “So, don't quit on the first try.”
Shelden currently works at Party City as a store organizer. Even though he prefers working indoors, Shelden described working with plants and being outdoors as refreshing. “Working in agriculture makes me feel good,” he said.
When asked what advice he would give incoming students, Shelden said: “Be kind, mindful, and thoughtful to others.”
“Things are constantly changing at the farm and follow seasonal patterns. Students get to work with different types of produce depending on the season. So many of my students only thought about jobs in retail or food services industries,” said Seyler. “This has opened their eyes to other possibilities.”
The soft skills learned while working at South Coast REC has helped other students secure paid competitive employment during or following the program. It has also inspired program staff like Bueche and Seyler to consider other unique opportunities for their students to connect the skills they have learned on the farm to other types of jobs.
To learn more about the Adult Transition Program at Esperanza Education Center, visit: https://www.svusd.org/schools/alternative-schools/esperanza/about/why-esperanza
UC Master Food Preservers give live canning demonstrations at Orange County Fair
If you visited the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa during the past month, you might have seen the Master Food Preservers of Orange County in their rustic farmhouse-themed kitchen located in the OC Promenade exhibit hall.
If the decor did not catch your eye, the colorful rows of glass jars lined along the walls certainly would have. For an entire month, three volunteers conducted live canning demonstrations from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. five days a week. They are with the UC Master Food Preserver Program, a public service and outreach program under UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The OC Fair is UC Master Food Preserver's largest event in Orange County. Last year, the UC Master Food Preservers engaged 7,000 people at their booth.
Food preservation has a deep history rooted in human survival. Whether freezing, drying, fermenting or pickling, preservation is a practice that has prolonged the life of food and humans. Other benefits include reducing food waste and increasing food security.
The latest form of preservation, called canning, was introduced in the early 1800s according to a Smithsonian article. By placing food in a glass jar and heating it to a certain temperature for a prescribed period of time, oxygen is removed and a vacuum is created. This process prevents the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeasts and molds, thus keeping the food from spoiling.
This is what you would have found the UC Master Food Preservers demonstrating at the OC Fair.
During her shift, Flo Vallejo, UC Master Food Preserver since 2018, carefully chopped carrots and daikon into thin slices and placed them inside small mason jars with spices inspired by Vietnamese cuisine.
Between the produce donated by Melissa's Produce and the diverse spices donated by Tampico Spice, the possibilities of what you will see the UC Master Food Preservers canning are endless.
“This is something my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother did. I never understood it because they didn't let the little kids in the kitchen,” said first-year UC Master Food Preserver Alice Houseworth.
Many of the UC Master Food Preservers have some experience with canning, whether it be a practice passed down from generation to generation, or, in Houseworth's case, something they watched their elders do as a child.
Some might view canning as a hobby, but according to the UC Master Food Preservers, food preservation is an opportunity to prepare for economic and climatic change.
Esa Kiefer, another UC Master Food Preserver since 2018, expressed her concern for the rising prices of food and decline in arable land. “I feel like now is the time to prepare for these changing times,” she said. “Who knows what the future will look like for food?”
Perhaps the future of food will come from glass jars.
“You can even can chicken,” Houseworth said. “When it's cheap at the grocery store, you can buy it and use the pressure canner and then eat it when chicken prices go up.”
Vallejo recalls when pickling and canning were trending on social media during the stay-at-home phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, making it difficult to find mason jars.
“Preservation has been done for a long time. When I saw a lot of people doing it during the pandemic, I thought it was just because people had time on their hands. But I realized that many became concerned about the food supply and accessibility,” she explained.
The resurgence in food preservation interest makes the work of the UC Master Food Preserver program much more essential. Whether you are feeding a large family, living in a food desert or managing a tight budget, food preservation ensures you are fed today, tomorrow and beyond.
To learn more about the Master Food Preserver Program or to locate the nearest program in your area, visit: https://mfp.ucanr.edu/.
- Author: Mike Hsu
Commitment of $690,000 supports UC South Coast Research and Extension Center, 4-H programs
During a “GROW Field Day” when 100 high school students enjoyed harvesting and tasting avocados, the Orange County Farm Bureau announced a $690,000 gift to expand University of California-affiliated programs that introduce young people to agricultural careers.
The students from four schools across Southern California participated in the GROW program on May 13 at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources facility that organizes and hosts these educational programs.
“Part of the mission of Orange County Farm Bureau is to support the development of the next generation of agriculturalists,” said Casey Anderson, executive director of OCFB, in announcing the five-year commitment that will begin in 2023. “Through our partnership with South Coast Research Extension Center and support of Orange County 4-H, we are thrilled to provide opportunities to young people to directly connect with food production and myriad research and career opportunities in agriculture.”
Hundreds of local youth are served every year by Orange County 4-H, a part of a nationwide youth development and education program, administered in California by UC ANR.
“OCFB contributions to our Forever 4-H Endowment will soon provide sustaining funds every year, indefinitely,” said Rita Jakel, Orange County 4-H program coordinator. “And their commitment to our Program Support Fund will help ensure that 4-H will continue to have the capacity to impact the youth of Orange County.”
GROW program introduces youth to agriculture careers
The GROW program, originally conceived by OCFB as a way to make agricultural experiences more accessible to more young people across the region, has engaged over 1,000 students from nine schools – many of them in urban areas where knowledge of agriculture is limited. The program builds on a strong history of collaboration between OCFB and South Coast REC, dating back to the early 2000s.
“UC ANR and South Coast Research and Extension Center are grateful for the trust the Orange County Farm Bureau continues to place in us to not only deliver agricultural education to the people of Orange County, but also to open the eyes of young people to fulfilling careers in agriculture,” said Darren Haver, director of UC South Coast REC.
“To me, it's like a great big outdoor classroom,” said Tammy Majcherek, a South Coast REC community educator specialist who coordinates the GROW program, along with colleague Jason Suppes. “There are so many possibilities of what we can connect to.”
Programs spotlight diversity of agriculture-related fields
Gina Cunningham, a teacher at Westminster High School (part of the Huntington Beach Unified School District), was excited to bring the 20 freshmen in her agricultural biology class to the GROW Day, where they get a glimpse of potential pathways in agriculture that “are not directly farming-related.”
“This gives kids an opportunity to see some things that are available to them that maybe they never have thought of – and there are a lot of things out there that I might not have thought of, either,” said Cunningham, who has degrees in animal science and agricultural education.
Thanks to OCFB's long-term commitment to the program, GROW coordinators Majcherek and Suppes said that in the coming years they would like to bring more students with career aspirations outside of traditional agricultural roles. In particular, they hope to reach out to young people with interests in culinary arts and food service, as well as in technology and engineering, which intersect with food production in the form of drones, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Regardless of their background, however, almost all of the students love harvesting crops from the South Coast REC farm, whether pumpkins, potatoes, or – during the most recent GROW Day – avocados. Majcherek said it's especially rewarding to hear the students talk enthusiastically about older siblings who went to a GROW program and came back with enduring memories – as well as some fresh produce.
“You know it's cool when they're taking selfies with their bounty,” she said.
Community members interested in joining the Orange County Farm Bureau in support of South Coast REC and 4-H programs are encouraged to make a donation on UC ANR's annual Giving Day, which runs from noon to noon on May 19-20./h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Mike Hsu
CDFA grant supports research to optimize water use for iconic California crop
California growers, who account for more than 90% of avocado production in the U.S., will soon be getting some help in weathering the extreme fluctuations of climate change.
Ali Montazar, a University of California Cooperative Extension irrigation and water management advisor, recently received a grant to develop tools and strategies that optimize growers' irrigation practices across Southern California – the state's avocado belt. California avocados are valued at more than $411 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“This region faces uncertain water supplies, mandatory reductions of water use, and the rising cost of water – while efficient use of irrigation water is one of the highest conservation priorities,” Montazar said. “Water is the most critically important input to avocado production.”
At the California Avocado Commission's suggestion, Orange County was added to the study to better capture the range of climates and cropping systems across the region, Montazar said.
He hopes to develop “crop coefficients” that avocado growers can use to determine the optimal irrigation for their crop based on a host of factors: soil type and salinity, canopy features, row orientation, slopes, soil and water management practices, and more.
“Growers are unclear on how much water the crop actually needs under those conditions,” Montazar said.
He will incorporate data from the actual water use in the experimental orchards – including information from the newest soil moisture and canopy temperature sensors – to help ensure growers do not under- or overwater their crops. Overirrigating contributes to a devastating disease, avocado root rot, caused by the plant pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi.
Another component of the grant supports outreach in disseminating these resources and best practices to the broader agricultural community.
“Developing and adopting these tools and information may have a significant impact on water quality and quantity issues and bolster the economic sustainability of avocado production not only in the well-established production region of Southern California, but also in Kern and Tulare counties where new avocado plantings are growing,” Montazar said.
Preliminary findings and recommendations are expected at the end of 2022./h2>