UC Cooperative Extension team in Sutter and Yuba counties showcases UC ANR programs, community partners
When dozens of elementary schoolers gathered to watch a live calf birth at Tollcrest Dairy in Yuba County, their comments ranged from “disgusting but cool” to “I saw something that maybe I'm too young to see.”
Expanding horizons, growing knowledge and gently pushing some limits were at the heart of a four-week day camp, Ag-Venture, organized by the University of California Cooperative Extension office serving Sutter and Yuba counties.
Throughout July, more than 80 campers – ages 5 through 12 – explored agriculture and science topics through field trips across the region, hands-on activities and lively presentations by UCCE advisors, UC Master Gardeners, 4-H specialists, UC Master Food Preservers and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC educators. All these groups fall under the umbrella of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
A grant from The Center at Sierra Health Foundation funded this day camp for underserved youth focused on agriculture and natural resources – the first of its kind in the area. Exploring the themes of “Interesting Insects,” “Foods and Farms,” “Woods and Water” and “Awesome Animals,” the campers learned directly from community experts and UC ANR scientists.
“Some of the kids might think scientists are only wearing lab coats and working with genetics and DNA and human-based science, but here they got to see agricultural scientists and natural scientists,” said Rayna Barden, the 4-H community education specialist who led the camp. “It was a cool way to showcase what ANR does and what we have to offer.”
Youth gain wide range of experiences, knowledge
Visits to local farms and ranches – with many chances to greet the animals – were a highlight for many of the camp participants.
“I liked learning about agriculture and the interactive activities,” said a fourth grader. “I saw a baby cow coming out of its mama, and they [farm staff] had to use a tool. It was cool.”
A sixth grader said: “I learned that feed is made up of everyday items, like almond shells and beer hops!”
“Sheep, cows and goats have one stomach and four chambers,” added another sixth grader.
That digestive tidbit was absorbed by the campers after a visit with UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor Dan Macon at Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, a facility operated by UC ANR in Browns Valley.
“We have 4-H kids and FFA kids in high school who still don't know how the four chambers work!” Barden said. “These kids had it and it was so cool to see that they remembered that from a previous day.”
Time and time again, Barden said she was amazed at how much the campers retained. After a visit to Bullards Bar Reservoir, a seven-year-old was able to explain why the dam is curved. Another young boy could draw his own interpretation of the water cycle. And several campers talked about the rice presentation for weeks.
Whitney Brim-DeForest, UCCE county director for Sutter and Yuba counties and a rice advisor, had the participants touch and feel different rice seeds and varieties. The campers also got to plant a few rice seeds to take home.
“But their favorite part – and what they talked about for the rest of camp – was the tadpole shrimp,” Brim-DeForest said. “We brought some live and preserved specimens, and they loved them!”
Sparking ideas for future careers
One third-grade camper said she enjoyed learning the differences between agricultural pests and beneficial insects.
“And you can do stuff to help the good bugs,” she said, adding that she would like to pursue a career working with animals and nature.
Expanding awareness among young people of new career possibilities was exciting for Ricky Satomi, UCCE forestry and natural resources advisor for Sutter and Yuba counties. Using interactive exercises (such as those developed by California Project Learning Tree, another UC ANR-affiliated program), Satomi shared his knowledge about resource competition, watershed filtration and fire behavior in forest ecosystems.
“It's always a pleasure to introduce students to the natural resources where they live,” Satomi said. “This is particularly critical given the current workforce shortage we face in forestry; I hope their experience at Ag-Venture will spark interest in future forestry careers, where these students can work to better their local forest communities.”
Young people from local colleges and universities also gained invaluable experience during the camp. Four students helped prepare the camp: Yasmeen Castro Guillen (Chico State), Alana Logie (Yuba College), Jayla Pollard (Folsom Lake College) and Adam Yandel (Chico State). Three more helped lead the camp as counselors: Hector Amezcua (Yuba College), Alyssa Nott (Butte College) and Jillian Ruiz (Chico State).
“They did such a fantastic job, mentoring the kids and serving as positive role models, and we have seen tremendous growth in all of them, too – in confidence, skills and knowledge,” said Brim-DeForest.
A true community effort
Barden emphasized that the sweeping scope and in-depth, intertwining lessons of the camp were only possible through broad support from the greater community. Brim-DeForest highlighted the partnership with Yuba City Unified School District, as well as with Sutter County. Camp HQ was in Ettl Hall, a Sutter County building; campers visited the Sutter County Museum; they also met Yuba-Sutter public health officer Dr. Phuong Luu.
Additional collaborators included Melissa Ussery, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC nutrition program supervisor; Rene McCrory, 4-H secretary; Johnny Yang, UC Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver program coordinator; Matt Rodriguez, 4-H youth development advisor; and Nicole Marshall-Wheeler, 4-H youth development advisor.
“Honestly, we could plan all of this, but without the community's support, our program never would have worked smoothly,” said Barden, who grew up in the small town of Sutter. “Having all of our guest speakers, having all the people who were willing to have up to 50 kids on their property – it just shows how much our community is about our youth.”
Brim-DeForest said Sandy Parker, the camp nurse, exemplifies that spirit. A UC Master Gardener and 4-H alumna and volunteer, Parker also invited the campers to her family ranch, where she introduced the children to her farm animals and Great Pyrenees guardian dog.
The campers certainly appreciated the generosity, teamwork and energy that went into Ag-Venture. Barden said that many of the participants originally had only signed up for one or two weeks – but loved the camp so much that they asked to register for more. And she added that the “vast majority” of them said they want Ag-Venture to come back and would attend in the future.
“Our youth are just so resilient and so willing to learn,” Barden said, reflecting on the camp overall. “Whereas adults, we're usually a little more timid at things, these kids just were willing to dive in, head first, and be in that moment and try to take away as much as they could from what they were offered there at camp.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
Valley Oak (Querus lobata):
The acorns were a staple food, which was leached (rinsed with water) to remove the bitterness, and ground into flour with mortar and pestles. The ground acorns were used in stews/soups, pancakes/tortillas, mush, or layered into pits and cooked with other plants and meats. Oak galls were squeezed to make a blue-black ink for tattoos and tannins were used to make dyes and decorate animal skins.
Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens):
A major grass for creating beautiful, sometimes water-tight baskets to cook food, to carry and store food and other items. Stalks were generally harvested in the spring when easy to pick, then wrapped to keep straight and allowed to cure for a year. They were often soaked prior to weaving into basket. About 1600 stalks would be needed to make one basket.
Santa Barbara Sedge (Carex barbarae):
The rhizomes (underground stems which generally grow horizontally) provided the strongest threads for basket making. The people would manage the rhizome growth by cleaning the soil of anything that might obstruct the growth (i.e., rocks) to allow the rhizomes to grow long and straight. An evergreen grass, the summer flowers range from cream, red and purple colors, which attract butterflies.
Toyon, aka California Holly (Heteromeles arbutifolia):
The wood from this sturdy shrub had many uses including tools, games/toys, fuel for smoking fish, and religious ceremonies. The red berries produced in the fall which were eaten after roasting over coals or dried in the sun.
An evergreen shrub, the summer white flowers attract bees and butterflies. Birds love the berries.
Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea):
This tough, easy-to-grow shrub or tree is dormant in the winter. The spring and summer blooming cream or yellow flowers attract bees and butterflies, with their berries being an important food source to many birds.
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita):
Its distinctive red wood which was sometimes used to dry and smoke fish. The fruit was gathered in summer, then dried and ground to make coarse meal which would be mixed with a little water during winter months or made biscuits. They would make tea with the berries and tips of the branches, which apparently was a pleasant drink.
Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus):
The seeds were used as a food source. They were gathered, parched, ground, and added to foods or eaten by the handful. Flowers were used as décor after drying, made into wreaths, and used in religious ceremonies. The roots and leaves were used for medicinal purposes.
This drought-tolerant, evergreen shrub blooms in the spring, summer, and fall. The bright yellow tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Autumn seeds attract small birds.
Whenever I see any of these California native plants, I think of how the indigenous people of California used these plants over thousands of years. By growing them in our gardens, we honor that history, help the survival of these plants which provide food sources for so many birds, bees, and butterflies, reduce water usage, bring variety to our gardens, and joy to our spirits with their beauty.
Learn more at the Library - Take a free class!
This September, our UC Master Gardeners will present on the topic, "CA Native Plants" at 9 Stanislaus County Library locations. Visit our Calendar at https://ucanr.edu/sites/stancountymg/Calendar/ for dates, times, and locations.
On Saturday, October 7, 2023, we are offering our "The New Front Yard" workshop. Topics include drip irrigation, converting your yard to native plants, and how to garden for year-round bloom! Stay tuned for the registration announcement.
- Enough For All: Foods of My Dry Creek Pomo and Bodega Miwuk People by Kathleen Rose Smith
- The Real California Cuisine: A Treatise on California Native-Plant Foods by Judith Larner Lowry
- Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson
- Indian Summer: A True Account of Traditional Life Among the Choinumni Indians of California's San Joaquin Valley
- Great Valley Museum of Natural History at Modesto Junior College's exhibit on Yokuts
- California Native Plant Society: https://www.calscape.org/
Acknowledgment: Lillian Vallee, English professor emeritus, Modesto Junior College, who has shared her passion and knowledge with me over the years of California native plants and their historical uses by the California native people.
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener in Stanislaus County since 2020.
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and UC Master Gardeners partner with nonprofit MORE in El Dorado County
A nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in El Dorado County, MORE has found kindred spirits in helping their clients live fuller and healthier lives – the staff and volunteers of University of California Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC.
Since 2018, these programs – both affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – have helped enrich the lives of about 60 clients at MORE, which offers services ranging from independent-living skills development to job training and placement.
“This is exactly the kind of partnership that we like to make with the community,” said MORE CEO Susie Davies, who has been with the Placerville-based organization for 40 years. “This has just been incredible; our people have learned above and beyond what we could even have imagined in nutrition and gardening.”
The three-party partnership, which Davies calls a “win-win-win,” offers a course that combines gardening and nutrition lessons, as well as a new cooking and food safety-focused class developed by educator Cailin McLaughlin in collaboration with MORE staff.
During one session, MORE clients enjoyed preparing a “plant part salad,” following a botanical lesson on the edible components of plants – fruits, roots, leaves, seeds and stems. “It was fun to cut the celery and broccoli,” said Jared (first names are used to protect privacy). “I like pouring the sauce in.”
“I liked everything about creating the salad,” said Deanne, another participant.
“MORE is the dream site, the best you could ever hope to go to, with the programming and the clients always being lovely and really just being down for anything,” said McLaughlin, a CalFresh Healthy Living nutrition educator at the Central Sierra UC Cooperative Extension office. “It's just a really cool place to be.”
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC is one of the organizations in California that teaches nutrition to people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). UC Davis administers the SNAP-Ed grant and UC Cooperative Extension educators deliver the lessons throughout the state.
‘Part of our MORE family'
Through the gardening and nutrition program, clients learn and apply their skills in the garden and greenhouse at the MORE facility and in the nearby Sherwood Demonstration Garden maintained by UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County.
“The participants get a chance to harvest, plant, pull weeds and learn about integrated pest management, both in the vegetable garden and in the orchard,” said Tracy Celio, the local UC Master Gardeners program manager who worked with former CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE educator Miranda Capriotti to develop the program.
“It's a very good program,” said Tony, a MORE client. “I can learn things.”
While experiencing the pride in bringing fresh produce to their home or to the MORE kitchen for use in the meal service, the clients are also taking away nutritious and healthy recipes. Jordan Postlewait, director of community access programs at MORE, said participants now know how to use ingredients from the garden to create dishes such as tomato salsa and fruit salad.
“They've taken the recipes that Cailin has given them and they go home and serve their whole group home what we had made for a snack,” Postlewait said. “They are paying attention to what they're eating.”
As a result of this awareness and knowledge of nutritious foods, Davies said that MORE clients are healthier, more energized and alert, and ready to learn. She is quick to credit the expertise and enthusiasm of McLaughlin, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE program coordinator Mariana Garcia, and the UC Master Gardeners staff and volunteers.
“They have the same dedication and commitment to excellence in their preparation for every session as our staff,” Davies said. “They just became part of our MORE family.”
“I like seeing Cailin and Tracy and all the staff who are my friends,” said Kenion, a MORE client.
Cooking lessons create possibilities for kitchen time, jobs
In April, two groups, each composed of six people, began participating in a new five-session course combining nutrition, food safety and basic cooking techniques. Each two-hour session included a nutrition lesson, a physical activity and time in MORE's commercial kitchen.
“It was fun getting in the kitchen and learning how to prepare my own meals,” Jared said. “I learned how to safely use a small skillet.”
Another participant, Kyle, said he uses the recipes to cook for his roommates. “I liked learning new cooking skills and recipes,” he said.
McLaughlin adapted a youth-oriented healthy eating curriculum, approved for use by CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, and tailored it for adults at MORE.
“The whole goal is to get them closer to an independent living circumstance, where either they can live in a group facility or have their own apartment – and knowing how to cook and identify healthy recipes is a huge component of that,” McLaughlin explained.
The guided kitchen experiences – and equipment like plastic safety knives – not only benefit the participants but also give their family members reassurance and confidence to include them in meal preparation.
“We've actually been asked by staff at MORE, and also by clients' parents, where we got the knives, because they would like to have their family member in the kitchen with them, if they can do it safely,” McLaughlin said. “They didn't know things like safety knives existed; they didn't know you could adapt a silicone food guard to keep them from burning themselves on a burner.”
In addition to enhancing the clients' family time, the cooking lessons could also set them up for future employment. Davies said she is in talks with a local chef about establishing a culinary training for the clients.
“This cooking program could be a preparation program for them to be involved in the culinary training program,” she said. “That's what we're really excited about.”
McLaughlin added that, for future sessions of the cooking and food-safety series, past participants have expressed interest in serving as kitchen aides and mentors.
Partners nurture clients' relationships with nature, community
Empowering clients with new skills and fostering a sense of ownership of the garden are both cornerstones of the partnership programs. Beginning in 2019, participants from MORE each adopted a tree in the Sherwood Demonstration Garden orchard to monitor and nurture.
“Almost every time they come to the garden, we check those fruit trees,” Celio said. “The trees are doing so many things throughout the year, so they're following the cycle: they watch the leaves drop; they watch the fruit come in; they see what a freeze does to their tree; they see what pests do to their tree.”
The participants experience the challenges of gardening – from managing rabbits and squirrels to coping with the loss of a pear tree due to disease – as well as its many joys.
“I liked seeing the butterflies and different plants; the butterflies drink from the bushes,” said Jen, a MORE client. “My favorite thing is the rose garden.”
At the same time, the clients have built strong relationships with the core group of UC Master Gardener volunteers and the dozen or so “vegetable garden crew” volunteers. Celio stressed that the garden programs, which were recently recognized by the statewide UC Master Gardeners program with a Search for Excellence Award, are truly collaborative.
MORE participants often bring their own ideas; one man, for example, became interested in composting and worked with MORE staff to establish a worm bin at the MORE facility garden.
“Every time I see that client, he will tell me how the worms were doing and he'll tell me how healthy the plants are that are growing next to the worm bin,” Celio said, adding that he also worked at a table during a MORE fair, teaching other clients and their family members about vermiculture.
Advocating for the greater good of the community is central to another CalFresh Healthy Living, UC collaborative project at MORE, in partnership with Stanford University's Our Voice initiative. Using an online tool and app, 12 clients have been taking photos and sharing feedback on their health and wellness experience at MORE, specifically about their walking trail. With that information, they are building a case to make the path safer and more enjoyable.
Responding to their feedback, along with the other partnership programs that are building vital skills and community, demonstrate to MORE's clients that they are appreciated and respected.
“The request from the people that we serve is that they want to be seen, they want to be heard, and they want to be valued by other community members,” Davies said. “And this is really showing them that they are valued and being seen and heard.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
Master Gardener volunteers partner with County of San Diego on new demonstration garden
In a garden with roughly the square footage of a two-car garage, the University of California Master Gardeners and County of San Diego staff have packed a whole lot of learning for the community.
The demonstration garden, which had its grand opening last fall, is now flourishing in its 20-by-20-foot space in a plaza at the heart of the San Diego County Operations Center. Skilled volunteers with San Diego's UC Master Gardeners, a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, maintain its containers of vegetables and herbs, succulents, and native and pollinator plants.
“For such a little garden, there's a lot to look at,” said Karen Morse, a Master Gardener volunteer who helped establish the “demo garden” – a highly visible and accessible teaching tool for the many people who work and conduct business in the surrounding offices.
“We get questions from people just walking by – from the public, from county employees – all the time,” said Leah Taylor, UC Master Gardener program coordinator in San Diego County. “While we're doing what we're doing in the garden, we're a presence for people to just get a quick bite of education.”
The garden also features a “Little Free Library” of gardening books, as well as a compost bin and rain barrel for demonstration purposes. There are also signs (in English and Spanish, as well as additional languages on the garden's website) offering tips on composting/worm composting, pest management, water conservation, climate adaptation, sustainability practices, and health and nutrition. The expertise of a host of county departments and agencies inform the resources.
“The most beautiful thing about that garden is not necessarily the plants – although we love our plants – it's that it showcases almost every county department…all represented in one place and you can find how to connect with those groups, all in one place,” Taylor explained.
During planning for a broader revamp of the Operations Center grounds, the county had approached the Master Gardeners to provide guidance on a public demo garden.
“The County has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension,” said Rebeca Appel, program manager for the county's Land Use and Environment Group, which spearheaded the effort through the “Live Well San Diego” Food System Initiative. “So it was a natural approach to work with the Master Gardeners with their robust community garden program, and educational outreach in home and urban gardening throughout our region.”
The vision for the garden was shaped by county teams working with Joan Martin and Ellen Cadwallader, co-chairs of the Master Gardener committee that oversees the program's demonstration gardens across San Diego County, including those at Balboa Park and The Flower Fields in Carlsbad.
And while those gardens help raise awareness among the many visitors at those sites, Martin said the newest demo garden provides unique opportunities for ongoing community education, such as lunch-and-learns on specific gardening topics.
“This is the garden where there's really a chance for year-round education and sessions,” Martin said. “We're excited to see it get started and watch it grow.”
Morse and fellow Master Gardener Sandy Main collaborated with Appel to bring those early plans and objectives to verdant life.
“I think we ticked all the boxes of everything they wanted, initially – examples of container gardening, natives, vegetables, herbs, pollinators – and wheelchair accessible,” Morse said.
They have since passed the botanical baton to Skye Resendes, a relatively recent graduate of the Master Gardener certification program. She will coordinate a team of a dozen volunteers in the ongoing upkeep of the County Operations Center demo garden.
Resendes, who uses gardening to help her cope with the stresses of her work as a civil litigator, said she hopes the garden will not only inform the community on crucial ecological and conservation topics but also inspire more people to start their own gardens.
“The science is out there – there are huge mental health benefits to gardening,” Resendes said. “It's an absolute meditation.”/h3>
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
UC Master Gardener Francie Murphy was pruning the succulents in her San Diego front yard when an unfortunate accident catalyzed her commitment to communicating the dangers of toxic plants. She trimmed a stem on her drought-tolerant pencil milk bush and milky sap spurted into one eye, causing stinging pain.
“I tried to wipe it out, and in doing so got in both eyes. I was blinded. The pain was unbelievable,” she said.
A nearby friend rushed her to the emergency room where the doctor diagnosed chemical burns to her corneas and washed her eyes with two liters of saline water each. Murphy removed the plant from her garden, but saw it growing throughout her community.
“I knew we had to do something,” she said.
Drought-tolerant plants like cacti, yucca, agaves and aloes have adaptations to protect themselves from wildlife in search of the moisture within their leaves and stems. They have spikes or spines to ward off people and animals. Other plants don't have outward signs of danger. Fire sticks, also known as sticks on fire and pencil cactus and by its scientific name Euphorbia tirucalli, is a very popular succulent in frost-free areas. Its vertical growth habit and showy soft green to reddish-gold stems make it a striking landscape specimen. A native of southern Africa, the smooth, coral-like stems look deceptively harmless. The sap is toxic.
“Fire sticks should be planted far from walkways, in the back of the landscape, where you can see them, but not touch them,” said UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor Chris McDonald. “When trimming the plant, wear long pants, long sleeves and eye protection. If the plant is tall, consider protecting your face.”
After Murphy shared her story about these plants with other Master Gardeners, UCCE San Diego gathered a team and worked with colleagues to secure funding from the County of San Diego to develop a website and handouts to inform the community about readily available yet toxic drought-tolerant plants being planted into California landscapes.
The handout can be downloaded from the Plant Safely website (https://ucanr.edu/sites/PlantSafely/). The materials were quickly distributed to nurseries, garden events and Master Gardener help booths, such as at farmers markets, home shows and fairs, and other educational events. A key feature of the website is a database of nearly 100 plants (which can be found here) with photos and descriptions that explain how they are unsafe and how they can be used safely in the landscape. (https://ucanr.edu/sites/PlantSafely/Common_Names/)
Some common yet toxic landscape plants included in the database are:
“These potentially harmful plants are grown widely in many parts of California,” McDonald said. “It's important to promote drought-tolerant landscapes, and we must also do it in a way that preserves public health.”
View the UC Master Gardener video about safely planting fire sticks (Euphorbia tirucoli):