Safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving
Americans' interest in traditional homemaking activities – gardening, cooking, baking bread and canning – has risen dramatically over the last few months, according to Google Trends.
Getting reliable information is particularly important when it comes to home food preservation. But internet search results don't always display research-based information at the top. Using the wrong procedure won't qualify as a hilarious Pinterest Fail; it can be fatal.
To make reliable home food preservation how-to videos easy to find, a team of UC Cooperative Extension professionals and volunteers reviewed and aggregated research-based food preservation videos produced by Cooperative Extension programs across the nation on one website – http://ucanr.edu/MFPvideolibrary.
“As far as we can tell, this site is the only website with a full collection of food safety and food preservation videos from the Cooperative Extension system,” said UCCE Master Food Preserver coordinator Sue Mosbacher. In partnership with states, counties and universities, the USDA's Cooperative Extension system provides higher education to farmers, ranchers, communities, youth and families. In California, UC Cooperative Extension is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The videos are divided into 10 categories: food safety, food preservation methods, jam & jelly, pickle & ferment, dehydrate, refrigerate & freeze, can fruit, can tomatoes, can vegetables and preserve meat & fish.
The UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver Program trains and certifies volunteers to teach the public about food preservation techniques and safety. Certified UC Master Food Preservers typically hold community classes to extend the information. During the COVID-19 crisis, in-person classes have been canceled, so video-based learning is critical to educating families who are interested in the craft.
Dustin Blakey, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Inyo and Mono counties and coordinator of the local Master Food Preserver volunteers, created one of the videos in the collection. In seven minutes, Blakey outlines the process of preserving dry beans. (View the video below.)
“Right now, with people losing their jobs, if you have a pressure canner, you can buy a five-pound bag of beans for $5 and make 16 cans of beans,” Blakey said. “If you have the equipment and jars, it's a great way to preserve the food and then this summer, you have it ready to go.”
Blakey said he and his team will be producing more home food preservation videos in the future.
Livestock grazing could be beneficial for organic farming systems. To see if the practice poses any food safety risks, university, government and nonprofit partners will receive a nearly $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Multistate Program grant to study the impacts of livestock grazing of cover crops on bacterial population dynamics, soil building and environmental health.
“Fresh produce growers and their advisors will benefit from learning about the impacts of integrating livestock grazing with winter cover crop management on soil health including soil organic matter, nutrient cycling and reduced nitrate leaching, and potential food safety risks discovered in this project to make decisions on adoption, management, and environmental benefits of winter cover crop management in annual vegetable systems,” said Alda Pires, University of California Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principle investigator in the study.
The $999,985 project, titled “Evaluating the food safety impacts of cover-crop grazing in fresh produce systems to improve cover crop adoption, crop-livestock integration, and soil health,” is being led by the University of California in partnership with The Organic Center, USDA's Agricultural Research Service, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the University of Minnesota and California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Livestock grazing of cover crops could be beneficial for organic systems because it maximizes the strengths of cover cropping, including enhanced soil fertility, structure, water infiltration and storage, and reduced nitrate leaching, while addressing challenges that have limited the expansion of cover crop use. These challenges include concerns over cover-crop water use and nutrient immobilization, which could result in nutrient deficiencies and increase input costs for the crops that follow.
Many growers consider livestock grazing of cover-cropped fields in fresh produce operations as a way to enhance soil health and environmental benefits by increasing carbon inputs and nutrient cycling.
“This study will allow farmers to complement the benefits of both cover cropping and livestock integration into cropping systems,” said Jessica Shade, The Organic Center's director of science programs. “Like cover cropping, integrating animals into cropping systems can be beneficial to farm environmental impacts and profitability by improving nutrient cycling, reducing dependence on external inputs, improving soil health and diversifying profit streams.”
Despite the well-known benefits of animal-crop integration, concerns over microbial food safety are limiting the expansion of animal integration into cropping systems. Recent research has shown that integrated crop-animal systems perform well in keeping pathogens out of meat, but additional research is needed to examine the synergistic impacts of the use of livestock for cover crop grazing on ecosystem health and food safety.
This project will fill this research need by examining food pathogen persistence and survival in soil and transfer to vegetable crops, and the relationship between soil health properties, environmental factors and pathogen survival in grazed cover crop-vegetable production in three states.
The researchers will graze sheep in cover-cropped fields before planting spinach and cucumber. They will measure changes in soil health indicators over two years of grazed cover crop-vegetable production and assess benefits and potential tradeoffs of vegetable cash crop productivity. The results will be compared to vegetable fields planted in tilled cover crops and a fallow field.
Pires' research team is multi-institutional, multiregional and interdisciplinary, including
- Michele Jay-Russell, Western Center for Food Safety, UC Davis
- Nicole Tautges, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, UC Davis
- Amelie Gaudin, UC Davis
- Patricia Millner, USDA-ARS
- Fawzy Hashem, University of Maryland-Eastern Shore
- Paulo Pagliari, University of Minnesota
- Jessica Shade, The Organic Center
The Organic Center will lead outreach efforts focusing on the benefits of grazing and food safety impacts such as online tools, outreach events, conference presentations, and publications targeted to growers, policymakers and consumers.
At the end of February, before COVID-19 disrupted normal life, members of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, in a remote area of Riverside County, gathered to plant vegetables and herbs in the A'Avutem (elders) garden.
Six raised garden boxes were installed several years ago with funding from the California Rural Indian Health Board, but stood empty. UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Chutima Ganthavorn and vegetable crops advisor Jose Aguiar obtained approval from the Tribal Council to engage the Youth Council in planting a new garden with seniors.
This intergenerational group planted chili peppers, bell peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, corn, mint, basil and lemon grass Feb. 27. Select tribal members, including three youth and six seniors, harvested produce on the morning of May 12. While wearing masks and practicing social distance protocols, they harvested three boxes of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and chili peppers.
"It is really nice to see the fruit of their efforts," Ganthavorn said.
Many climate change projections point to impacts that will be felt 50 or 100 years from now. But there are indications the earth is already experiencing rising sea levels, intensifying storms, increasing wildfires and droughts, and warmer oceans and atmosphere, reported Mary Caperton Morton in Science News.
For information about wildfire in California, Morton spoke to Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist in the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara.
“Warming temperatures are melting snow sooner and drying out vegetation so that we're already seeing longer fire seasons and more available fuel," Moritz said.
In 2017 and 2018, California wildfires killed 147 people, burned 3.5 million acres and destroyed over 34,000 structures in two of the worst fire seasons on record. Wildfires are expected to become more severe across the West.
Governor Newsom is responding to the threat by including in his proposed 2020-2021 state budget $86 million for CALFIRE to boost its firefighting response and $127 million for the Department of Emergency Services to address such disasters, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The proposed budget will also fund the creation of a new 106-person wildfire safety division to oversee Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and other utilities.
CALFIRE recommends establishing defensible space around homes and building to code with fire-safe materials. For older homes, CALFIRE suggests low-cost retrofitting strategies, including sealing gaps with caulk, weather stripping or fine metal mesh screens; removing dead or dry vegetation from around the house and regularly cleaning leaves and other flammable material from gutters and under decks.
Moritz pointed out that the houses themselves are fuel for wildfire. Community-level fire safety approaches will be needed, he said.
"You've probably seen aftermath photos where a fire has swept through a town and all the homes have burned, but there are still trees standing and green vegetation,” Moritz said. “That's what happens when the homes themselves are the fuel. It's not a land management problem where you should have cleared more shrubland. You can't thin the fuels because the homes were the fuel.”
In a report published in April by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Moritz and colleagues also recommend burying power lines, creating water storage facilities for fighting fires, hardening emergency facilities and creating community refuges where people can take shelter.
"A whole suite of risk-reduction measures can be applied at the community scale,” he said. “We need to pay attention to how we lay out communities, with buffer zones between houses and between the community and the surrounding landscape.”
“Building to Coexist with Fire: Risk Reduction Measures for New Development” can be downloaded free at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8680.
When we think about golf courses, we tend to picture miles of well-watered, uniformly clipped, and perfectly manicured grass, not drought-tolerant native grass, wildlife habitat and ecological restoration. However, for Maggie Reiter, a UC Cooperative Extension turfgrass and environmental horticulture advisor based in Fresno County, this is par for the course.
“I've always worked in the turfgrass and golf course management domain,” said Reiter. “Since I began 12 years ago, the proportion of naturalized areas on golf courses has increased. Now native grass stands and wildlife habitat are projected to make up 26% of golf course facilities. From a research and extension perspective, there is little information on management of these natural areas. So, there is a need for expertise on managing golf course naturalized areas for multiple functions, including ecological restoration goals.”
Reiter works with golf course superintendents, who she says are professional stewards of the land. Superintendents seek new methods of maintenance that require less water, fertilizer and labor and promote landscapes that support biological diversity and conservation, in addition to providing a high-quality arena for golf. Golf courses have the potential to provide ecosystem services and community-wide ecological benefits, such as capturing stormwater runoff, providing wildlife habitat, sequestering carbon and relieving urban heat island effects.
One approach Reiter takes to meet these goals is to reduce the amount of maintained turf by converting the less frequently played areas of golf courses to native grasslands. Determining the ideal varieties of grasses to plant can be challenging since there are more than 250 grasses native to California. Native grass seeds are more expensive and less readily available than traditional turfgrasses, which limits the options for use in restoring native grasslands in landscapes. Reiter and her team were able to test only 13 native grasses in their field trials. In addition, the establishment period for native perennial grasses can be two to five years, in contrast to traditional turf varieties that take a few months.
“That is a surprising challenge I didn't anticipate,” Reiter explained. “Golf course superintendents have expectations for naturalized area establishment that do not align with reality because these California native grasses are so different from conventional turfgrasses. I've spent a tremendous amount of time communicating with golf course superintendents, managers, golfers, and other stakeholders to establish realistic expectations.”
Once the experimental grasses are established, Reiter, a golfer herself, has to determine the playability of each variety. Playability of a grass has to do with a player's ability to find the golf ball and advance the ball through the grass and is an important factor in designing naturalized areas. Poor playability on a course can slow down the pace of play, which detracts from the golfer's experience. Measuring stand height, plant density and aboveground biomass indicate visual obstruction, but does this determine playability?
“Measuring playability is an enigma that I think about often, and have no good answer for at this point. There is no consensus in the turfgrass research world on how to measure these complex habitats,” Reiter said. “Engaging in the golf course landscape by playing helps me feel things from the golfer's perspective.”
When Reiter is not on the golf course or working on field trials, she advises schools, parks and recreational sports fields and provides education on general turfgrass management for her local Master Gardener programs as part of her extension work. It turns out that parks and schools are facing major challenges similar to those on golf courses – they need to conserve water and absorb rising labor costs. Reiter says that golf courses may have more resources to respond to these problems, but the tradeoff is that they have higher expectations for aesthetics and performance from native grasses.
Reiter is relatively early in her career, but no doubt she will continue to work with her partners on golf courses and beyond to solve grand problems and incorporate native grasslands within traditional turf areas. It is clear that she is passionate about improving land management practices to protect California's natural resources and promote community health and wellness.
“It is important to me to increase the ecological sustainability of golf courses, and more widely, urban landscapes,” Reiter said.
This article was first published with more photos in The Confluence, the California Institute for Water Resources blog.