- Author: Michael Hsu
Community nutrition and health advisor builds bridges across cultures in Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties
At a young age, Irene Padasas – UC Cooperative Extension community nutrition and health advisor for Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties – saw first-hand how environmental health conditions can impact a family's choices.
When she was in fourth grade, her parents moved their family from bustling Manila, capital of the Philippines, to a small town on a distant island. Her younger brother, who had been hospitalized at age 3 for a year due to complications from meningitis, had to re-learn how to walk and talk.
Padasas' mother hoped that leaving the more polluted urban environment would benefit his long road of rehabilitation. “The decision was made to ensure a better quality of life for my brother,” Padasas said. “So my parents decided to just move to the countryside.”
The family settled in a beach town in largely rural Aklan province, near the center of the Philippine archipelago.
“There are advantages living in a place like that, where you're close to nature; there's not much traffic; the community is very tight,” Padasas said. “You feel like you're part of this small community where everybody is looking after each other.”
Contributing to that sense of community – and cultivating close relationships to ensure the health and well-being of all – are just some of the reasons why Padasas chose her line of work in Cooperative Extension.
Padasas oversees the delivery of two federal nutrition programs in her region – CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. She develops, provides and evaluates Extension programs in partnership with the diverse populations of the Central Valley, including a variety of Latino, Mexican Indigenous and Asian communities.
Despite differences in culture and background, Padasas works to find common ground and build bridges – often through a joke and a laugh.
“Humor is such a big part of Filipino culture; with the challenges that I encountered in life, humor was so important in getting through and bouncing back,” she said. “That part of my culture is an important aspect of me to build relationships and genuine connections and introduce the work that we do; they don't see us as a ‘researcher from University of California,' they see us just like them, just like anybody else in the community.”
Growing up near both the beach and farmland in Aklan, Padasas feels an affinity for the agricultural landscapes and lifestyles in the San Joaquin Valley. She remembers feeding her family's chickens and pigs and playing among the neighbors' cows and water buffalo.
“I feel like whenever I drive to different places here in the Central Valley, it reminds me a lot of my childhood back in the day,” she said.
Nevertheless, Padasas misses the food in the Philippines – especially the seafood that she grew up eating, succulent prawns and enormous fish found nowhere in California.
“We would wait by the shore for whatever the fishermen would sell – it's really fresh fish, literally fresh from the boat,” she recalled.
Mealtimes were central in the childhood of Padasas and her siblings, who both live in the Philippines and help care for their parents; her brother is an engineer and her older sister is a teacher. Food was and remains a focal point for sharing and connecting, within their household and across the culture.
“When I was growing up, my parents made sure we were spending time as a family, eating together during dinner and sharing special meals on weekends,” Padasas said.
Chance encounter leads to an Extension career
Padasas returned to the Manila metro area for college, at the University of the Philippines Dilliman, where she earned a bachelor's degree in special education. After working as a special ed teacher for about seven years, she went to graduate school at Ateneo de Manila University for her master's in developmental psychology.
Originally intending to pursue a career as a child psychologist, Padasas said her path changed when she met Maria de Guzman, a University of Nebraska professor and Ateneo de Manila alumna, who returned to her alma mater to present her research on “yayas” – live-in caregivers for children in the Philippines.
Intrigued by that study, Padasas leaped at the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. with de Guzman at Nebraska, where she would write her doctoral dissertation on social capital – such as personal relationships and networks – as predictors of college success for underrepresented minority students.
It was also de Guzman, herself an Extension specialist, who guided Padasas on that career track.
“I knew at that time I wanted to work in Extension, but it was a vague concept to me because in the Philippines we don't have Extension as part of the university,” Padasas explained. “Dr. de Guzman was the one who really introduced me to Extension.”
During graduate school in Nebraska, Padasas gained valuable experience working with a diverse range of ethnic minorities and refugees, including Latinos, Filipinos, Yazidis and Congolese. She especially enjoyed working with children and teens – a favorite aspect of her work that continues to this day. Padasas said that, when given the opportunity to discuss her academic background, she mentions her educational experience to young people.
“I always make sure to talk about my work as a research scientist – to encourage these kids, especially those from underrepresented minority groups, to see themselves in my shoes, to show them that: ‘You could also become like me, a person of color, a researcher, and that's not an impossible path for you,'” Padasas said.
That academic track – and her entire life's journey – have prepared Padasas well for her current role, within an organization that spans the state of California and all its diverse communities.
“I think that's the beauty of the work that we do at UC ANR,” she said. “We are provided with so many opportunities to connect and to create impact for so many people across different populations.”/h3>/h3>
- Author: Mike Hsu
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>
- Author: Mike Hsu
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>
- Author: Anne Schellman
Are you interested in helping others and giving back to your community? Do you have a passion for gardening and volunteering? The Stanislaus County* UC Master Gardener Program is accepting applications for 2024.
Who are the UC Master Gardeners?
Master Gardeners are volunteers from the community that are trained to help answer questions about gardening and pest management and to promote sustainable landscaping. Watch this short video from the Coordinator, Anne Schellman, about what it takes to be a Master Gardener.
How are UC Master Gardeners Trained?
Classes are taught by University of California experts on water management, soils and fertilizers, ornamental and drought tolerant plants, landscape tree care, vegetable and fruit tree care, pest management, and more. Each session is approximately 5 hours long. The 2024 training program will be held weekly from January through early May (18 weeks).
Program requirements include weekly reading and quizzes, and an open book a final exam. Collaboration on assignments is encouraged, and trainees are provided any needed assistance by Master Gardener mentors.
How Can I Apply to Become a UC Master Gardener Trainee?
Visit Become a UCCE Master Gardener website page to read more and fill out an online application before August 18.
*You must be a Stanislaus County resident to apply. For other county programs, visit http://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs/
- Author: Janet Hartin
A major focus of the UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener program in San Bernardino County is the “Trees for Tomorrow” project in partnership with the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District and over 30 other community-based partners and agencies. Over the past three years, over 1,200 climate-resilient trees have been
Why is this project so important? California has the lowest per capita tree canopy cover in the United States, a mere 108 square feet, disproportionally impacting people of color. Many neighborhoods in both San Bernardino County have tree canopy cover far below the recommended 25% - 40%, directly linked to extreme heat, high ozone concentrations, and high rates of cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. A major reason for this low canopy cover is the result of fewer trees being planted in disadvantaged communities with low tax bases than in others. Another major reason is due to poor tree species selection and long-term maintenance, resulting in fewer than 40% of urban trees, on average, living beyond 20 years.
An important aspect of the project is its strong bilingual educational component that includes written tree planting and care information and in-person presentations describing the attributes of the climate-resilient tree species offered and tree care tips. Both help ensure that trees reach maturity, maximizing their ecosystem and social benefits. Another key
Please contact me if you'd like to be a partner or contribute trees or funding to purchase them. We are a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, and your tax-deductible contribution is deeply appreciated!