“The team is using a game platform like Farmville, which they call Global Village,” said Patrick Brown, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, the team’s mentor, in comparing the proposal to the popular social networking game. “The difference is that the settings for Global Village are realistic and representative of developing world farm settings, the game has a strong educational function and the profits from the game and purchases within the game go to fund development activities.”
Team UC Davis is made up of undergraduate and graduate students from International Agricultural Development and the Department of Plant Sciences. Their idea is to create a game application for the Facebook social media network. Players are given information and choices for farming based on real-world information gathered from developing countries, such as from a cacao orchard in Cote d’Ivoire or a maize farm in Zambia. Based on the limited resources of these farmers, they deal with issues like diseases, soil types, crop planting, where to deliver fertilizers and more.
The purchases they make in the game for virtual items like chickens or fertilizer lead to real purchases for the farmers. Partnerships with corporations like Grameen-Intel and Mars will provide the game with the real-time data those companies have gathered on current projects, while global nonprofit organizations like Heifer International will help transform the virtual purchases into real items for the farmers. The hope is to educate game players about these regions and existing farming issues, while raising donations and promoting corporate responsibility.
For the proposal to become reality, Team UC Davis must get enough votes to pass to Round 2. A total of five teams will be selected to present their business plan in Berlin, Germany, in September. Prizes include grants up to $10,000.
Voting takes place online from now to May 10. At the top of the Thought for Food page supporters can click “Like” for their favorite team. These “likes” account for 25 percent of the criteria for who ultimately moves to the next round, with a panel of three judges providing the remainder of the decision-making power.
Also representing UC Davis in the competition is Team Foodisclosure, which proposes low-cost, solar-powered LED lights for raising chickens in regions with less winter sunlight, encouraging the hens to remain productive throughout the year.
To vote, click on the “Like” icon at the top of these pages:
See a video about the Global Village game below:
See the Foodisclosure slideshow here:
Research success would allow farmers who have been growing tobacco for generations to continue the tradition for a different purpose, while taking advantage of an infrastructure established to serve the diminishing cigarette, cigar and snuff markets.
Peggy G. Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and Anastasios Melis and Krishna Niyogi, Agricultural Experiment Station faculty in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, are lead researchers in the project.
“There are several reasons we are modifying tobacco to produce biofuel,” Lemaux said, “It is a high biomass crop. If you want to extract oil, then the more biomass you have, the more oil you get. And, since tobacco is not a food source, tobacco production for biofuel would not have an impact on global food markets or find its way into the food supply. Finally, tobacco farmers are anxious to produce a product that is more acceptable to the public."
However, there are no tobacco varieties that produce oil at high levels. Scientists know that certain algae do turn sunlight energy into oil, and that sparked an idea.
A research consortium that includes Lemaux, Melis and Niyogi and researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Kentucky is taking genes, primarily from algae, that produce oil and inserting them into tobacco plants to make oils in leaves.
To do that, the consortium scientists are using very small pieces of tobacco leaves to introduce the desired algal genes, where they become a heritable trait of the tobacco plant. The small pieces of leaf tissue are then placed in a Petri dish, the tissues that contain the introduced genes identified, and then the tissues grow into a new plant, every cell of which contains the algal genes.
“We hope the new plant will make the same kind of oils that algae do,” Lemaux said. “We can then use organic solvents to extract the oils out of the leaves.”
Much more research is required before tobacco plants that produce biofuel at commercial levels will be available to growers, but Lemaux is encouraged by the preliminary results.
The research is funded with a three-year $4.8 million grant from a U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy program termed PETRO, Plants Engineered to Replace Oil. ARPA-E funds high-risk, high-reward research projects to find potential alternatives to fossil fuels.
See a video about this research below:
In addition, several studies have found that open space and residential properties containing oak trees have higher property values than those areas without oak trees. Ecosystem services provided by oak forests and savannahs include recreational opportunities, shade and shelter, increased property values, aesthetic values, erosion control, air and water filtration, and food and fuel.
However, the threats to oaks are many:
- Construction removes entire trees or damages the root zone resulting in oak tree death
- Subdivision of property and fragmentation in land use reduces open space for oak savannah and forest, threatening seedling recruitment in some oak species
- Inappropriate landscaping practices, designed to support exotic landscape species, threaten oak health
To ease the impacts of these threats, UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra will bring oak education to five counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills – Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, and Tuolumne. Public meetings and multiple-session training seminars will help educate land owners, policy makers and Master Gardeners in ways to protect, enhance and regenerate natural oak woodlands. Training will also provide information that Master Gardeners can disseminate to their clientele to help home owners protect landscape oaks.
The program is funded with a grant from Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA), a USDA-administered program that serves to sustain the nation's forest and rangeland resources for future generations. According to the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture website, “RREA serves a broad array of forest and rangeland stakeholders, including landowners and managers, natural resource professionals, forest products industry, range-based cattle industry, and non-consumptive.” Recognizing that, as the website notes, “the sustainability of the nation's forest and rangeland resources is largely dependent on the actions of millions of private forest owners, farmers, ranchers, and land managers,” this series of educational workshops will focus on providing information to a broad audience.
In Tuolumne County on May 13, the Biological Resources Review Guide Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of Supervisors will meet to discuss various county policy options regarding oak mitigation. Richard Standiford, UCCE specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, will address the committee, presenting his research related to oaks and property values. He will also provide information regarding mitigation policies.
On May 9, the Calaveras County Master Gardeners will receive the first session of an oak ecology, identification and landscaping practices workshop. They will identify oaks in the field, inspect trees damaged by construction and look for evidence of insect and other wildlife interactions. This will be followed by an interactive discussion exercise about how (or why not) to landscape around oaks. Standiford will visit the foothills at a later date to present oak ecology information to Master Gardeners.
There are approximately 33 million acres of forest in California. Forty percent of those acres are owned by families, Native American tribes, or private companies and 27 percent are owned by individuals. According to a report by the National Woodland Owner Survey, 99 percent of family-owned forests are in parcels of 500 acres or less. Less than 1 percent of them had written management plans when surveyed.
Management plans are important — they lead to healthier forests. And healthier forests benefit everyone in California. They protect against devastating wildfires, make for healthier rural communities, better wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and increase carbon sequestration, among other benefits.
The UCCE Forest Stewardship Training Series makes it easy for landowners to create a forest management plan. By creating a written plan, landowners are forced to sit down and think about their goals and objectives, and essentially create a business plan. It’s also an important document when communicating with other professionals, such as bankers, accountants, granting agencies, etc. A management plan lays out the background of the forest, the landowner’s objectives, and the steps the landowner has taken or is taking to achieve those objectives.
Upon completing the online training, landowners are invited to an all-day workshop for a more in-depth understanding of forest land management. Workshops will take place in Ukiah on May 18, Redding on May 29, Berkeley on June 15, and Auburn on June 22. Visit www.ucanr.edu/forest_learning for more information, or contact Rick Standiford, UC Cooperative Extension Forest Management Specialist, at email@example.com./span>/span>
Ask most youth what they think about wildfires in forests and they will usually respond with "they kill trees and animals" or "it’s bad – they burn down homes and put out lots of smoke." They are partially right.
Ask youth about considering a career studying the history of fire from a tree cookie, a slice of tree branch that shows the rings, or lake bed sedimentation. Or ask them what role wind plays in how a fire jumps from treetop to treetop or how wildfire can help open pine cones and produce a huge flower show. Then they might respond with, "No way, is that a real job?"
Two eighth-grade students at Sutter Middle School in Sacramento got a chance to learn about fire ecology careers through a project in their science class requiring researching science careers. Students Maura Ingram and Jordan Johnston decided to explore fire ecology and learned that fire is a hot career choice.
Maura and Jordan interviewed Scott Stephens, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley*, about fire ecology careers. They learned that fire ecology as a discipline focuses on the origins of wildland fire and its relationship to the environment, both living and non-living. Fire ecologists recognize that fire is a natural and important process in the forested ecosystem, one that both animals and plants depend on.
“Some fire ecologists will be fire managers working with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service or private companies and will ignite and manage prescribed fires and manage wildfires,” Stephens said. “Other fire ecologists with jobs like mine will do research and write papers as teachers and university faculty. That will help guide fire managers in their work. More people are getting interested in fire ecology and the field has really grown in the last 15 years."
"Fire effects the forested landscape, by shaping the patterns of vegetation growth and mortality, recycles nutrients and changes the foraging and reproductive habitat for wildlife,” Stephens continued. “Fire is a critical part of most ecosystems in California and not allowing it to operate is causing great harm. We can do some operations with mechanical thinning and other methods to duplicate some aspects of fire, but not all of them.”
Anu Kramer and Kate Wilkin, UC Berkeley graduate students in the Stephens Fire Lab, showed Maura some of the tools they use in fire ecology research, such as lidar, computer fire models and the fire vortex used to demonstrate fire physics and extreme fire behavior.
“Extreme fire can create its own weather patterns including the creation and collapse of a fire column which can be very dangerous,” said Anu. “The fire vortex helps us visualize this on a small scale for our research.”
UC Berkeley students and researchers are working to understand how warming and precipitation changes due to climate change will affect fire frequency and behavior, and how fire disturbances affect plants by conducting scientific research and providing training in the fields of wildland fire science, ecology, and resource management. Students and researchers participate in interdisciplinary efforts when possible and share findings by publishing results in peer reviewed academic journals, posters for academic conferences, and conducting outreach to schools. Berkeley provides high quality scientific training and guidance for graduate students that will prepare them for careers in academia or professional fire science, policy or management.
“When you think about fire-related careers, most kids think that firefighters are the only ones that deal with fire directly,” said Maura. “But the career opportunities are endless. I have learned a lot about how important fire is. Fires can still cause a lot of damage to the forest and homes, but studying fire ecology is helpful because we can then use the data to apply fire in a more beneficial way – ways that help the forest, wildlife and the overall environment."
Stephens is one of the principle investigators of the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP). SNAMP is investigating how fuels thinning projects effects fire behavior and forest health, water quality and quantity, and wildlife.
Kate Wilkins and Maura at the Stephens Fire Lab. (Photo: Kim Ingram)