UC Food and Agriculture Blogs
California olive oil may cost a little more than the mass-produced imports commonly found at the supermarket, but UC farm advisor Paul Vossen said it is well worth the money.
“Good olive oil imparts delicious, subtle flavors to foods, its antioxidants can neutralize free radicals in the body and it is ‘greener’ than other vegetable oils because it requires no heat or chemical extraction," says Vossen, who has traveled the world to study olive oil production.
Most of the imported oils found at the store, he says, have been sitting too long, are rancid or fermented. Even the assertion on a bottle of olive oil that it is “extra virgin” means very little. There is no U.S. law that enforces an “extra virgin” standard. Almost all California olive oil, however, is fresher and better-tasting and the number of farmers producing the local oil is increasing.
A recent UC Davis survey determined that 12,127 acres of super-high-density olive trees were planted in California as of the end of 2008, with 78 percent of the acreage planted between 2005 and 2008.
"The super-high-density olive sector has achieved impressive growth in just a decade," said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center. "This survey, the first conducted exclusively of this sector of the state's olive industry, highlights grower practices and suggests areas in which the University of California might be able to provide assistance."
In addition, consumer education is important to raise awareness about the superiority of California olive oil. Vossen believes the key to boosting sales of the local product is to get people to taste it. “They need to know how fantastic it really is,” he said.
In the video below, Vossen conducts an olive oil tasting session:
More about California olive oil is available in the article California olive oil is worth the splurge. Vossen's Web site contains extensive information about olive oil courses, PowerPoint presentations and publications.
A report released by the Centers for Disease Control in September 2009 confirms what most moms already know - high school students don't eat anywhere close to enough fruit and vegetables. According to the report, only a third get two servings of fruit a day, and only 13 percent say they get three servings of vegetables.
Adults don't have much higher marks. The CDC said only 33 percent of adults get two servings of fruit, and 27 percent three servings of vegetables.
Compare that to the recommendation in the federal dietary guidelines presented on the My Pyramid Web site. The guidelines say, for ideal health, Americans should be eating 9 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Many UC Cooperative Extension offices offer the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, which teach low-income families ways they can add fruit and vegetable servings to their diets.
Here's a popular recipe shared by the UC program which takes only 15 minutes of prep and 20 minutes to cook. It makes use of a variety of winter vegetables available fresh in supermarkets this time of year.
Italian Winter Vegetables
2 cups water
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
2 small zucchini, sliced
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 pound package any shape pasta, cooked
1. Put 1 cup of hot water in a saucepan.
2. Add vegetables and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add tomato sauce, remaining cup of water, basil and salt.
4. Simmer until heated thoroughly.
5. Serve with cooked pasta.
6. Refrigerate leftovers.
There is no evidence to support the claim that farm subsidies -- by making fattening foods relatively cheap and abundant -- contribute to obesity in the United States, according to an analysis led by UC Davis researchers.
"U.S. farm subsidies have many critics. A variety of arguments and evidence can be presented to show that the programs are ineffective, wasteful or unfair," said Julian Alston, a professor of agricultural economics at UC Davis. "Eliminating farm subsidies could solve some of these problems -- but would not even make a dent in America's obesity problem."
According to Alston and his colleagues, farm subsidies have had only very modest, mixed effects on the total availability and prices of farm commodities, and cannot have contributed significantly to the obesity epidemic. In fact, the researchers have shown that the subsidies actually increase consumer prices and discourage consumption of one of the biggest suspects: sugar.
Alston and a team of other UC Davis agricultural economists studied the question with researchers in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition and the Iowa State University Department of Economics.
Their conclusions appeared in the December 2007 issue of "Agricultural and Resource Economics Update," published by the University of California's Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics.
(Photo by John Stumbos)
UC researchers studied farm-to-hospital initiatives in the Bay Area, and they found a growing movement to put locally produced food on patient trays and cafeteria menus. They say that buying from local farmers and ranchers is part of a trend toward better quality and flavor in hospital meals, both to satisfy consumer demand and to address concerns about dietary contributions to chronic disease.
"Just replacing food-service cans with locally grown vegetables won't curb high rates of obesity and heart disease, but it may encourage patients and cafe customers to increase their daily intake of vegetables," said study co-author Gail Feenstra. "And if there's one piece of firm advice from nutritionists, it's to eat more fruits and vegetables."
One example of a "farm-to-hospital" initiative is the John Muir Health System facilities in the East Bay, where executive chef Alison Negrin (formerly chef at some of the Bay Area's best known restaurants, including Chez Panisse) has replaced all frozen vegetables with fresh produce, most of which is grown within 150 miles of the hospital.
Now John Muir patient lunch trays feature a local, seasonal fruit of the day. John Muir cafes offer bowls of citrus fruits from Capay Valley orchards and steam trays of fresh broccoli and cauliflower grown in Monterey County, local mixed lettuces in the salad bars and grass-fed beef from area ranches in the hamburgers.
Hospitals have the buying power to make a big difference in local food networks, Feenstra said. "They buy more than $12 billion of food every year."
The report, "Emerging Local Food Purchasing Initiatives in Northern California Hospitals," is available online at http://sarep.ucdavis.edu/cdpp/fti/.
The highlight of my week was visiting Farm Advisor Andre Biscaro at our Antelope Valley office in Lancaster. I went with Andre to visit one of his field trials. He is testing numerous varieties of alfalfa to see what works best in the hot, windy high desert.
Alfalfa has historically been an important crop in Los Angeles County. A 1940 Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce publication referred to alfalfa as "Green Gold", because it was considered very profitable, and listed the Antelope Valley, along with the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys as important production areas.
Alfalfa was traditionally grown to feed cows at the hundreds of dairies that existed in Los Angeles County. Those dairies have closed or left over the years. In fact, Andre's variety trial is on the property of what I believe is LA County's last commercial dairy. Farmer Nick Van Dam provided Andre with the space for his alfalfa variety trial, on land that had previously been used to grow onions, another important crop in the Antelope Valley.
The dairies are gone for the most part, but alfalfa is still an important crop in LA County, although it's no longer grown commercially anywhere in the county other than the Antelope Valley. According to the most recent LA County Crop Report (2007), there were 5,804 acres of alfalfa hay grown, valued at over nine million dollars. This is an interesting contrast to the 1940 LA Chamber Report which stated that 46,000 acres were grown that year, valued at $287,500.