Central Sierra
University of California
Central Sierra

UCCE News

Urban farms can help feed the hungry

(The Sacramento Bee published an op-ed by Rachel Surls, UC ANR urban agriculture advisor for Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County, in its editorial pages today. The op-ed is reprinted below.)

A potential solution to hunger and food insecurity is growing vegetables in backyards and vacant lots, says Rachel Surls, UC ANR urban agriculture advisor.
Urban agriculture is in the local spotlight as the Sacramento City Council is expected to vote Tuesday night on allowing farming on city lots and making it easier for residents to sell produce they have grown.

In similar discussions around the state on the desire of residents to raise their own food with fewer restrictions, there is a core issue that should be front and center. In California, where we grow half of the country's fruits and vegetables, our own citizens too often go hungry.

Fifteen percent of households – roughly 5.5 million Californians – are “food insecure,” according to a 2013 federal report, meaning they do not have “consistent access throughout the year to adequate food for healthy active living.” Families with children are even more likely to run short on food.

We know that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is key to a healthy diet, but not everyone has ready access to a grocery store, or can afford to buy fresh produce. One potential solution is to make it easier to grow food in backyards and on vacant land.

The University of California's Global Food Initiative aims to help the world sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. One way that UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is working toward that goal is by providing information for urban farmers and decision-makers interested in urban agriculture to improve food security in their communities. While hunger and food security are complex issues, urban farming can be used with other strategies to help ensure access to affordable, nutritious food.

And the idea seems to resonate with Californians. Interest in urban food production can be seen around California. Following strong advocacy efforts at the grassroots level, Assembly Bill 551 was passed in 2013, allowing local governments to designate urban agriculture incentive zones. San Francisco has enacted the state's first one.

Several other cities have developed local policies to promote urban agriculture. San Diego, for example, has made it easier for residents to keep chickens and bees in their backyards, and to establish farmers markets, produce stands, community gardens and small urban farms. Oakland updated its city code in 2014 to allow community gardens in most of the city without a special permit.

But obstacles to urban agriculture remain in many cities, including land use restrictions, difficulty accessing water, soil contamination and a lack of information on local regulations. After conducting a statewide study, my colleagues and I found a number of common challenges and came up with six steps that local officials can take to break down common barriers.

They are: Make zoning and regulatory information accessible; develop a transparent process for using city-owned land; create an urban agriculture incentive zone; update zoning to make it urban-ag-friendly; make water accessible while promoting efficient use; and provide guidance and support for soil testing and remediation.

An easy way to let urban farmers know what is allowed is to post information on a website, as San Francisco has done. Through AB 551, cities can entice property owners to lease their land for gardens and farms in exchange for reduced property taxes. Cities can also partner with urban farmers and local food policy councils to identify concerns and ways to address them.

In addition to health benefits, urban gardens beautify the community and provide common ground for people of different ages and cultures to work together. They can also create jobs, learning opportunities and economic savings on food. Given the numerous potential benefits, local officials can better serve their communities by making it easier to cultivate food locally.

Posted on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 8:57 AM

Strawberry season opens in the San Joaquin Valley

San Joaquin Valley strawberry season is about two weeks early.
Strawberries in the central San Joaquin Valley are ripening about two weeks earlier than normal in 2015, reported Robert Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee. The story was localized and also used in the Merced Sun-Star and Modesto Bee.

Normally strawberry season starts in early April, but in the Fresno area Rodriguez found a dozen roadside stands already selling the springtime favorite.

Rodriguez spoke to Michael Yang, an agricultural assistant with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension in Fresno County. Despite warmer temperatures and a shortage of water for some growers, the overall quality of the crop looks good, Yang said.

“You may see that on some farms where the growers have had trouble getting enough water,” Yang says. “The fruit may not size up, but that sweet taste will still be there.”

Most of the region's growers produce Chandler or Albion strawberries, two cultivars that were developed by University of California researchers.

Merced Sun-Star reporter Ana Ibarra interviewed UC ANR advisor David Doll, who said the strawberry industry in Merced is small but important. According to Doll, the success of this year's strawberry season will be mainly dependent on the heat. Just as the heat accelerated the season, it also can be cut short if the high temperatures continue, he said.

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 1:29 PM

Extension conference to help practitioners reach winegrape farmers

Heard it through the grapevine? Extension training ensures information accuracy.
A support network for California winegrape growers will gather in Lodi March 24-26 at the National Viticulture and Enology Extension Leadership Conference. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources plays a vital role in developing and extending research-based information to the California winegrape industry. UC ANR advisors and specialists work directly with farmers and with industry professionals who also help ensure that the latest knowledge on grapevine pest control, nutrition, pruning, irrigation and other practices make their way into the hands of the people growing grapes in the field.

The conference begins on March 24 with presentations on new research. On March 25, participants take a tour of Lodi-area vineyards and wineries. The “Innovations in Extension Symposium” will be March 26. (Full agenda.)

“At the symposium, we'll be focusing on extension strategy,” said Matthew Hoffman of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the sponsoring organization.

The events involve nearly a dozen UC ANR academics, including three Cooperative Extension viticulture advisors who were hired during the past year: Lindsay Jordan of Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties, George Zhuang of Fresno County and Ashraf El-Kereamy of Kern County.

During the session on innovations in extension, UC ANR's Franz Niederholzer, an orchard systems advisor in Sutter and Yuba counties, will discuss an extension project underway in collaboration with scientists in Washington and Oregon. The project, funded by the USDA, will offer training in spray application technology to the farming community.

“Spray application technology is very important to integrated pest management and to farming in general,” Niederholzer said. “Mischief can happen if you don't spray properly. Growers have so many things to consider, we want to revisit the fundamentals of spraying with them.”

UC ANR specialist Mark Lubell will discuss the use of social networks in agricultural extension. Social networks and social media can help improve access to information, transmit knowledge efficiently and deliver information when and where it is needed. Lubell will share tools that can be used to conduct networked outreach and build extension efforts.

Other UC ANR presenters are Chris Greer, vice provost of Cooperative Extension, Matthew Fidelibus, viticulture specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Ryan Murphy of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute, and Neil McRoberts, plant pathology professor at UC Davis.

For more information about National Viticulture and Enology Extension Leadership Conference, contact Matthew Hoffman at (209) 367-4727, matthew@lodiwine.com.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM

UC ANR and San Joaquin Valley cotton growers join forces to prevent sticky cotton in 2015

Cotton farmers will be carefully monitoring and treating for sweet potato whitefly during the 2015 growing season.
Last fall Kerman cotton farmer Paul Betancourt got a call from the gin manager where his crop was being processed and his heart dropped. The gin found sticky cotton.

“It's like having an embarrassing social disease,” Betancourt said. “We want to do better, and we need your help.”

Betancourt was appealing to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and other experts who were gathered with him at the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association annual meeting in Visalia. UC ANR entomology specialist Larry Godfrey had begun the pest management session with a somber message. The whiteflies that cotton growers had been controlling reasonably well for more than 20 years was suddenly posing a tremendous challenge.

“I don't know what's up,” said Godfrey, who is housed in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis. “It's a different critter.”

Betancourt attested to Godfrey's conclusions. He observed a few whiteflies in the field during the summer of 2013. It was a minor problem. In 2014, he decided to be more aggressive with monitoring and treating for the pest.

“I doubled down last year, but we had a bigger problem with whiteflies,” he said. “I thought, ‘This just can't happen!'”

Whiteflies feed on plant sap and then excrete honeydew. The sweet, sticky honeydew settles on open cotton bolls. If sticky cotton makes its way to spinning mills, it gums up the machinery. It's a scenario that mill managers won't soon forget.

Because of the San Joaquin Valley's long, dry growing season, cotton farmers have earned a reputation for high-quality, high value cotton, said Roger Isom, the CEO of the California Cotton Growers and Ginners Association. Sticky cotton is major concern.

“It happened in Arizona and almost destroyed the state's cotton industry,” Isom said. “Sticky cotton brings mills to a standstill. If they start getting sticky cotton, they'll decide to stop buying from the area where it came from. And once you have the stigma, it's extremely hard to overcome.”

Godfrey said the new biotype of sweet potato whitefly was first found in the San Joaquin Valley in July 1992. Certain areas required careful management, such as those closer to cities where it is warmer and the pest can spend the winter on ornamental plants. Farmers were able to deal with it.

“Then, in 2013 and 2014, populations of whitefly developed in other parts of the San Joaquin Valley, not only adjacent to cities. We don't know why or exactly what is going on,” Godfrey said.

Initially, pest control advisers suspected the whitefly was developing pesticide resistance. UC ANR research trials at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points and the Shafter Research Station in Kern County showed that insecticides used at label rates were still able to knock down the pest.

“What we did notice was we had a lot more whitefly and we started seeing them earlier than normal,” Godfrey said. “It certainly makes it more expensive to grow cotton and, if not controlled, makes sticky cotton.”

What's worse, the reputation of cotton in a whole area is tarnished if one or two farmers mismanage the pest and their cotton gets into commercial channels.

“In my area, we have a problem right now and it's not just my problem,” Betancourt said. “Everybody who has whiteflies has to deal with them. We have a reputation to uphold.”

All the growers who send cotton to the same gin as Betancourt will be invited to meet with UC ANR scientists Godfrey and Pete Goodell, integrated pest management advisor, to strategize about whitefly control for 2015.

Godfrey said they will emphasize the importance of early management and treatment, sharing lessons learned in Arizona.

“The scientists there did a lot of really good work on quantifying an infestation and determining when to treat,” Godfrey said. “We are taking their recommendations and studying where we might need to make changes due to California growing conditions.”

Goodell said it is critically important for growers to take the threat of sticky cotton seriously.

“We can't reiterate enough, once you develop a poor reputation for sticky cotton, it sticks with you,” Goodell said.

An initiative to manage endemic and invasive pests and diseases is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Additional resources:

Goodell webinar on Preventing Sticky Cotton.

Godfrey research report PDF attached below:

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 9:24 AM

Monkey bread: It's more fun than a barrel of....

Banner publicizing the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The skills learned in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources 4-H Youth Development program last a lifetime, but in the case of a really good, quick-and-easy recipe for Monkey Bread, the skills last but the bread doesn't.

Okay, who ate the last piece? Umm, when will you be making more?

Maya Farris, 9, a second-year 4-H'er, may be fairly new to 4-H but she knows how to make a good batch of “Monkey Bread.” A member of the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club in Vacaville, she won a showmanship award at the Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day with her “Monkey Bread” entry and then went on to enter the project—and wow the judges—at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day.

We watched folks line-up for a sample of her monkey bread at Project Skills Day, and then watched her expertly answer questions from judges at the Presentation Day.

Before we give you the recipe, first, a little bit about Maya. She's one busy 4-H'er. Her current projects are baking and bread making, arts and crafts, rabbits, poultry, goats and crocheting. She learned how to make monkey bread from her baking and breadmaking project. She thoroughly enjoyed the recipe, as did her family and friends.

The Farris family is sold on 4-H. “4-H has really helped Maya become focused and experience different activities that she may not have otherwise tried,” mother Rayita said. “4-H is definitely a family affair; her older sister is also involved in 4-H and in many projects.”

The monkey bread recipe is a five-ingredient recipe, perfect for busy days:

Monkey Bread Recipe
Prepared by Maya Farris,
Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville

1 can refrigerated biscuits (16.3 oz)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a large ziplock bag and set aside. Cut each biscuit into quarters and place in zip lock bag, a few at a time. Shake to coat and place pieces in a greased 8" loaf pan. Combine melted butter and brown sugar and pour over the coated biscuit pieces. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 5 minutes, then turn over onto a serving plate. Serve warm. 

Pleasants Valley 4-H Club is one of 12 4-H clubs in Solano County, with a total of 500 members. The program is a non-profit youth educational program administered by the UC Cooperative Extension. More information about the Solano 4-H program is available from Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H program representative, at vawilliams@ucanr.edu or on the web at  http://cesolano.ucdavis.edu.

Meanwhile, what do you know about monkey bread? Actor Robert Duvall couldn't get enough of it. Kids grab it and pull it apart like toys after Christmas. Nancy Reagan served it in the White House. Texan Anne King created a legend.

One of my Texas relatives gifted me with Tom Perini's Texas Cowboy Cooking cookbook which includes Anne King's famous Monkey Bread recipe. Robert Duvall wrote the foreword to the book after enjoying Tom Perini's cooking in between scenes of the Warner Brothers' 1995 movie, “Stars Fell on Henrietta.”

Duvall starred as a destitute wildcat oilman who lands in the town of Henrietta, Texas, during the Depression. Duvall thinks there's oil — aka black gold, Texas tea — on a poor cotton grower's farm. He convinces the farmer to go for broke. Director James Keach filmed the Clint Eastwood-produced movie near Buffalo Gap, Texas, which just happened to be near the Perini Ranch Restaurant.

“After Clint Eastwood and I ate our first meal there, the cast and crew returned for dinner as often as we could,” Duvall writes in the foreword. Guess you could say they took a'likin' to the restaurant. They loved the “good eats,” including Monkey Bread.

Anne King of Albany, Texas, rose to fame (maybe not fortune) with Monkey Bread and shipped it all over the country. It's also called a pull-apart bread or bubble bread because of the layers of dough squares or rolled balls baked together in a tube or bundt pan. 

No one really knows how “monkey” became part of the name. Maybe someone was just monkeying around or figured the bread resembled the monkey puzzle tree. Then again, there's a fruit called “monkey bread” from the baobab tree or monkey bread tree. Nancy Reagan helped popularize the odd-sounding bread in the 1980s when she served it in the White House.

Here's Anne King's famous Monkey Bread recipe from Tom Perini's Texas Cowboy Cooking book.

Monkey Bread
By Anne King

1 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
One 1-ounce cake of yeast or 1-1/2 packets of dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 eggs, beaten
6 cups flour
1/2 cup butter

Mix together the hot milk and shortening. Add the potatoes, salt and sugar. Set aside to cool to lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in the water, and add to the potato mixture. Add the beaten eggs. Add 5 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Turn out the dough onto a floured board. Sprinkle the dough with 1/3 cup flour. Knead the dough thoroughly, adding a little more flour if the dough is sticky. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for 2 hours. 

Melt the butter in a shallow bowl. Roll out the dough on a floured board into a rectangular shape to a thickness of about 1/2-inch. Cut into 2-inch squares. Dip the squares into the melted butter and arrange in the bottom of a tube pan (bundt cake pan). The squares should overlap slightly. Continue to add layers until the dough is used up. Set aside to rise again until double in size, about an hour. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Loosen the sides of the monkey bread rings with a table knife. Turn out the monkey bread and let guests pull apart the squares to serve themselves. You may bake in smaller pans, just be sure to reduce the cooking time slightly, maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Makes 1 large loaf.

Texas Cooking (www.texascooking.com) offers a version of Monkey Bread with cinnamon. It's shaped into balls instead of squares and is made with cinnamon and pecans. This bread can be mixed in the traditional manner, by hand, or in the dough cycle of your bread machine.

Monkey Bread
Texas Cooking

2-1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
4 cups white flour, plus more for kneading if needed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm milk
3/4 cup warm water
3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped (see Note, below)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2/3 cup light brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Lightly grease a 10-inch tube, 9-inch springform or Bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine the yeast, flour, salt and sugar, making a well in the center. In a separate container, stir together the milk, water, 2 tablespoons melted butter and egg. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and stir together to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in a bowl that has been lightly sprayed with vegetable cooking spray. Brush dough with remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter, and cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap.

Let rise in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in size. While bread is rising, mix together the toasted pecans, cinnamon and brown sugar. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for two minutes. Divide dough into 30 equal pieces. Shape pieces into balls. Dip each ball into the melted butter, then roll in the pecan mixture. Place in prepared pan. Do not pack pieces together, but leave some space between the dough pieces. Sprinkle any remaining pecan mixture and melted butter over the dough pieces. Cover with waxed paper or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes. Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Bread should rise well above the top of the pan and be golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Second-year 4-H'er Maya Farris, 9, of Vacaville, answers questions about her monkey bread display at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Second-year 4-H'er Maya Farris, 9, of Vacaville, answers questions about her monkey bread display at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Second-year 4-H'er Maya Farris, 9, of Vacaville, answers questions about her monkey bread display at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, March 20, 2015 at 8:22 AM

Next 5 stories | Last story

Webmaster Email: cecentralsierra@ucdavis.edu