Urban Agriculture
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Urban Agriculture

UC Food and Agriculture Blogs

It’s a scorcher! Beat the heat with healthy treats!

Summer time in the Central Valley means scorching temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, and sunshine that just won’t quit. When the thermometer heads north, we head to the freezer in search of a refreshing treat.  

Can you remember devouring an ice cream cone in all its melting glory? Gobbling it up in search of refreshment as the sun’s rays seem to pierce right through you? Savoring each bite as the excess fat and sugar runs down the arm to the elbow, before dripping onto the asphalt with a sizzle.

Wait a minute. What was that about excess fat and sugar?

Unfortunately, not all refreshing treats are created equal. Frozen summer time staples like ice cream, though OK in moderation, can increase the amount of fat and sugar you’re consuming with little nutritional benefit.
Lucky for us, connoisseurs of summer time refreshments have tips and recipes to help us stay cool, the healthy way.

If it’s frozen treats you’re after, try:

Frozen grapes
Full of antioxidants and portable, frozen grapes make a great treat without a sticky mess.

Frozen cherries

Packed with vitamin C, cherries are an excellent summertime snack. Simply de-stem and rinse the cherries. Pit the cherries and spread on a tray. Place in the freezer until frozen. Store them in an air-tight container in the freezer until you are ready to pop a few to cool off.

Fruit smoothies

Fruit Smoothies are a favorite!  Blend ½ c. vanilla low-fat soy or regular yogurt, ½ cup of your favorite fresh berries, 2 ice cubes and 2 tsp. vanilla extract until smooth.  Makes one cup.

Healthy ice cream
This recipe has tofu; it is healthy and safe for those who are lactose intolerant.  

12 ounces frozen strawberries or frozen peaches
14 ounces soft silk tofu
1 cup of sugar
2 ounces of a healthy oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Assemble ingredients and blend in a food processor or blender. 
2. Next, place the mixture in a plastic freezer zipper bag (one quart size) and seal. 
3. Place the healthy ice cream bag in a gallon size plastic bag filled with a couple of tablespoons of salt and plenty of ice and shake for five minutes.  You will cool off just shaking the bags!

Remember, when the temperature rises, choose wisely. Healthy alternatives to fatty, sugary, frozen treats are simple and delicious!

Wishing you a cool and healthy summer! For more healthy tips, click here.

Posted on Friday, July 9, 2010 at 6:29 AM
  • Author: Shelby MacNab

Growing peaches involves a relationship with the trees

San Joaquin Valley farmer Mas Masumoto famously described the joys of fruit eating in the opening pages of his book Epitaph for a Peach. The prologue reads like a love letter to the old Sun Crest variety, planted years ago by his Japanese-American father. Sun Crest peaches are juicy and delicious but lack some commercial attributes.

On eating a fruit he calls a “treasure,” Masumoto wrote:

“You lean over the sink to make sure you don’t drip on yourself. Then you sink your teeth into the flesh . . . This is a real bite, a primal act, a magical sensory celebration announcing that summer has arrived.”

Many Californians can share Masumoto’s experience of lovingly caring for a fruit tree, patiently waiting for the bounty to ripen and savoring fruit still warm from the sun. However, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor emeritus Garth E. Veerkamp suggests gardeners not enter a relationship with an orchard before taking time for thoughtful consideration.

“When the decision to create a home orchard is based on little more than desire to plant a few trees and anticipate fruit, then failure is the probable outcome,” Veerkamp said. “When a home orchard is based on an understanding that it is, in fact, a living expression of genetics interacting with soils, weather, tree spacing, pests, and many other factors, then the outcome should be one of success."

Veerkamp wrote questions to guide aspiring orchardists in an inward examination of their lives before planting trees. Ask yourself:

  • Do I really have the desire, time and stamina to establish and maintain the orchard?
  • To what extent will the demands affect my relationships with others around me?
  • Do I understand the cultural demands the orchard places on me and the yields to expect under good management?
  • Can I accommodate, or, if not, balance the demands of tree care and harvest with my desire to not be tied down or to travel?

To help Californians understand orchard demands, the University of California has developed The California Backyard Orchard, a website with detailed information on orchard site considerations, tree selection, propagation, preparation, planting, irrigation, pollination, pruning, training, fertilization, fruit thinning pests and diseases.

With the help of the website, the full scope of orchard responsibilities can be balanced with the alluring promise of abundant and delicious fresh fruit before the shovel digs into the dirt.

Peach trees need loving care.
Peach trees need loving care.

Posted on Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 6:20 AM

Love those greens

Remember when George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, declared he didn’t like broccoli and declined to eat it?

“I do not like broccoli,” said Bush, who served as President from 1989 to 1993. “And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.”

Well, all the broccoli-haters out there need to come up with some different anti-broccoli strategies.

Mom was right all along. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables in the Brassica family (such as kale, cabbage and collard greens) are good for you.

Especially broccoli and Brussels sprouts, which have anticancer effects and other health benefits, researchers say.

Researchers at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute have discovered that a substance in broccoli and Brussels sprouts can block the proliferation of cancer cells.

The substance is indole-3-carbinol (I3C).

In research published June 29 in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, the scientists said they discovered a connection between I3C and a molecule called Cdc25A, essential for cell division and proliferation. The research showed that I3C "causes the destruction of that molecule and thereby blocks the growth of breast cancer cells."

Cdc25A, they said, occurs at abnormally high levels in cancers of the breast, prostate, liver, esophagus, endometrium and colon, and in non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and in other diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“I3C can have striking effects on cancer cells,” said study leader Xianghong Zou, assistant professor of pathology at The Ohio State University Medical Center. A better understanding of this mechanism, he said, "may lead to the use of this dietary supplement as an effective and safe strategy for treating a variety of cancers and other human diseases associated with the overexpression of Cdc25A."  (See online news story.)

Grocery stores and farmers' markets need to stock more broccoli and Brussels sprouts this week.

So, how do you prepare these greens?  Here are the traditional ways, ala the Betty Crocker cookbook:

Broccoli: For a pound and a half: Remove large leaves and ends of tough stalks. If thick, gash stem several times. Boil 10 to 15 minutes. Serve buttered, with salt and pepper. Vary with oregano and lemon juice, Hollandaise sauce, or grated cheese.

Brussel Sprouts: For a pound and a half: Remove discolored leaves and stem ends. Leave whole. Boil 8 to10 minutes. Serve buttered, with salt and pepper. Vary with garlic salt, basil, dill, caraway, savory or cumin.

The cookbook, Country Cooking…California Style, published by the California Farm Bureau Women, includes several recipes for broccoli and one for Brussels sprouts. After all, California grows more of these two vegetables than any other state in the country.

Here are two Country Cooking recipes:

Walnut Broccoli
3 heads broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup butter
4 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 teaspoons powdered chicken stock base
2 cups milk
2/3 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 package seasoned stuffing
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook broccoli just under tender. Drain and put in flat 2-quart casserole. Melt 1/2 cup butter, blend in flour and cook gently over low heat. Add chicken stock base. Gradually add milk, cooking until smooth and thick; pour over broccoli. Heat water and 6 tablespoons butter until melted. Pour over stuffing mix and toss; add nuts. Top broccoli with stuffing. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. The amount of water used with stuffing mix may have to be adjusted to make a moist combination. Serves 12.

Coastal Brussels Sprouts Piquant
3 cups Brussels sprouts
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons horseradish
2 tablespoons grated onion
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Cook sprouts in rapidly boiling water until barely tender. Drain and transfer to shallow casserole. Combine mayonnaise, water, horseradish and onion. Pour over sprouts. Top with bread crumbs. Bake 20 minutes. Serves four.

Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts

Broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain substances that can block the growth of cancer cells, according to newly published research in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, July 2, 2010 at 7:01 AM

Help children avoid the summer slump

School diet and exercise policies may not be ideal, but research shows that they provide a healthier environment than many children have during summer vacation.

The American Journal of Public Health reported in 2007 that weight gain spiked during the summer between kindergarten and first grade. The difference was especially large for black children, Hispanic children and children who were already overweight at the beginning of kindergarten.

"Instead of scheduled meals and snacks, children at home during summer break may have continuous access to unhealthy snacks,” said Carly Marino, the coordinator of the UC Cooperative Extension Children's Power Play! Campaign in Los Angeles County. “In place of recess, children may spend more time watching television and playing video games. It all adds up to more calories consumed and fewer burned."

Marino is working with the Boys & Girls Club of East Los Angeles to prevent local low-income children’s summer slump. They hosted a week-long program that included lessons on how much sugar is in soft drinks and how many fruits and vegetables to eat. The children participated in a fitness obstacle course and water games in the Boys & Girls Club swimming pool.

As a general rule, elementary school children should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, which can be done throughout the day for at least 10 minutes at a time. They should eat two-and-a-half to five cups of fruits and vegetables every day.

"Parents can help their kids stay on track this summer by including more fruits and vegetables in meals and snacks, limiting screen time and being positive role models," Marino said. "One of the best ways for parents
to help kids get active and maintain healthy eating habits is by enrolling them into a summer activity program, which provides scheduled play and snacks, as well as a safe place for children to learn and grow while parents

The program in Los Angeles was part of the California state Champions for Change campaign. Champions for Change suggests families adopt three simple rules:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  2. Be more active.
  3. Speak up for healthy changes.

Children should get 60 minutes a day of exercise.
Children should get 60 minutes a day of exercise.

Posted on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:04 AM

Farmers markets welcome food stamp shoppers

Don't take any wooden nickels? When the new Oak Park Farmers' Market in Sacramento opened last month, organizers made sure to have wooden tokens ready for opening day. Farmers' selling at farmers' markets and flea markets all over California will gladly accept wooden nickels, plastic tokens, or paper "market dollars" this summer in exchange for good food.

The Stockton Farmers Market under the crosstown freeway is wide awake at 7 every Saturday morning all year round, crowded with farmers and shoppers conducting a brisk business in fresh local fruits and vegetables, fish, eggs, tofu, flowers and lots more, often talking four or five different languages but managing just fine to communicate with each other. Every Saturday, thousands of dollars of sales are transacted using bright green plastic tokens. The tokens are part of a program by farmers' markets throughout California to ensure that the markets are accessible to all Californians.

Paper food stamps haven't existed in California since 2004, but many people still use the old name, food stamp program, when they talk about what is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As a result of high unemployment and hard times, one in eight Americans receives SNAP benefits to purchase food. SNAP benefits are now issued electronically, and SNAP recipients shop using electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, which work like debit cards.

Farmers market vendors usually don't have the electricity, phone lines and authorization from the USDA needed to accept EBT cards as payment, so farmers market managers need to set up scrip systems for customers to use the cards. A market staff person swipes the card using a state-issued wireless terminal and sells the customer tokens to shop with. At the end of the market day, market vendors exchange any tokens received that day for cash from the market staff.

This year, help is available to market managers and associations implementing and promoting EBT access at their markets and welcoming SNAP customers:

  • First, markets need to apply to be a SNAP retailer
  • The California Department of Social Services will provide a free wireless terminal to any California market authorized by USDA to operate an EBT/scrip system. Contact Dianne Padilla-Bates, (916) 654-1396, dianne.padilla-bates@dss.ca.gov
  • The Ecology Center Farmers' Market EBT Project, partially funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, will help market managers and associations with free consultation, free tokens, with setting up staffing, accounting, vendor training and with building community partnerships and designing custom posters and flyers to promote the markets to SNAP customers.
  • To encourage more markets to open their stalls to SNAP customers, the USDA has just released its own How-to Handbook for accepting EBT at farmers' markets

Posted on Monday, June 28, 2010 at 1:25 PM

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