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President Napolitano launches UC Global Food Initiative

On July 1, the University of California announced our new Global Food Initiative to address one of the critical issues of our time: How to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.

UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is already a critical partner with California's farmers and consumers, providing growers and ranchers with scientifically tested production techniques, educating families about nutrition, improving food safety and addressing environmental concerns. With programs in every California county, our research and extension network in California reaches from Tulelake to El Centro and more than 130 countries working to solve agricultural problems at home and abroad.

The initiative will align the university's research, outreach and operations in a sustained effort to develop, demonstrate and export solutions — throughout California, the U.S. and the world — for food security, health and sustainability.

Check below for some key highlights from UC ANR and our 10 campuses. For more information about the initiative, visit: http://www.ucop.edu/initiatives/global-food-initiative.html

President Napolitano joins UCLA student Ian Davies in student-run garden.

UC ANR 

  • In the past 10 years, 500 million citrus trees have been grown from disease-free budwood provided by Lindcove Research and Extension Center (REC).
  • Desert REC has 1,300 carrot varieties in production for USDA's carrot improvement program.
  • California became one of the leading producers of fresh blueberries after UCCE researchers identified varieties that could thrive in California, so long as the growers acidify the soils and maintain acidic conditions in the irrigation water.
  • 5,400 UC Master Gardener volunteers play a key role in helping Californians grow food in their own backyard, working in 50 California counties to teach research-based gardening techniques that minimize the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Currently, more than 1,200 community, school and demonstration gardens in California are managed by UC Master Gardeners.
  • Through our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program (also known as SNAP-ED), UC Cooperative Extension works with community agencies and schools todeliver nutrition education to low-income families, improving their health and food security and helping preventchildhood obesity. EFNEP and CalFresh programs are currently operated in 33 counties reach 222,000 members of the public each year.

UC Berkeley

  • The Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) is an interdisciplinary institute launched in 2013 dedicated to research, education, policy initiatives and practices to support sustainable food and agriculture systems. BFI is catalyzing and fostering transformative changes in food systems, to promote resilience, justice, diversity and health, from local to global scales.
  • The Atkins Center for Weight and Health (CWH) works with community groups to develop and evaluate programs to support healthy eating and active living, with a focus on children and families in diverse communities.

UC Davis

  • As the largest UC campus, with more than 3,000 acres specifically devoted to agricultural research and teaching, UC Davis is addressing the pressing food and agricultural challenges that face California, the nation and the world.
  • In addition to the World Food Center, UC Davis hosts 26 centers with a significant emphasis on agriculture and food, including the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, Center for Produce Safety, Foods for Health Institute, Seed Biotechnology Center, Postharvest Technology Center, Plant Breeding Center, Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, Center for Food Animal Health, and Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
  • In April, UC Davis unveiled the largest anaerobic biodigester on a college campus, using technology invented by one of its engineering professors to turn organic waste into renewable energy. The system, now in commercial use, is designed to daily convert 50 tons of organic waste to 12,000 kWh of renewable electricity, diverting 20,000 tons of waste from local landfills each year. 

UC Irvine

  • Anthropologist Michael Montoya leads the Community Knowledge Project, an action-research partnership with community organizations in Santa Ana. Past projects have tackled obesity prevention and school lunch/food access. Upcoming project on diabetes prevention in Fullerton. 
  • In AY 2014-15, the Sustainability Initiative, in conjunction with social ecologist John Whiteley and UC Irvine's oceans faculty, will host a regional conference at the National Academies of Sciences' Beckman Center on Ocean Health, Sustainable Fishing, and Food Security.
  • The Sustainability Initiative convenes The Garden Project, which coordinates the four campus community gardens (three of which are student-run) and builds links with the broader community involved in sustainable food production in Orange County, particularly in low-income communities.

UCLA

  • The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UCLA–USC Center for Population and Health Disparities — among other centers — are actively involved in research and community projects to help improve food availability and security.
  • The Student Food Collective holds farmers markets in UCLA's main plaza and manages a food-buying co-op. Multiple produce gardens on campus increase sustainability practices, provide more healthful options and serve as educational tools to facilitate healthy lifestyle choices by the campus and surrounding community.
  • The UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden promotes plant diversity and ecologically sound practices.
  • UCLA faculty, students and staff collaborate with LAUSD food services and medical staff on research and programs to promote healthy eating for the school district's 600,000 students. 

UC Merced

  • Public Health Professor A. Susana Ramirez and her students this summer will interview with customers at a mobile farmer's market that travels to different parts of Merced County to better understand food access issues facing Merced County residents, and the relationship between access to healthy foods and obesity.
  • UC Merced is working to form a Farmers Consortium to promote the campus's interest in doing business with local farmers, in addition to direct communication with local farms.
  • UC Merced's 400-square-foot community garden was developed on campus in spring 2014 by Engineers for a Sustainable World. Fruit and vegetables harvested will be donated to local food banks. The site will eventually be used for education and outreach.
  • The campus's Early Childhood Education Center serves as a delivery point for Rancho Piccolo, a community- supported agriculture. Many faculty and staff are members and are able to get local, fresh fruit and vegetables every week. 

UC Riverside 

  • A chemist has applied chemical tests to juice products sold as pomegranate juice or pomegranate juice blends, in order to authenticate their content. Another researcher is studying the effects of pomegranate juice on prostate cancer progression. 

UC San Diego 

  • Food and Fuel for the 21st Century supports the development of innovative, sustainable and commercially viable solutions for the renewable production of food, energy, green chemistry and bio-products using photosynthetic organisms — including converting solar energy into food and fuel, without the use of fossil fuels.
  • Department of Literature students can enroll in “The Politics of Food” course that utilizes UC San Diego campus gardens for summer research. Students learn how community gardens are governed, planting their own seedlings and identifying campus markets for the produce they grow. In the Division of Biological Sciences, courses such as “Fundamentals of Plant Biology” introduce students to plant genetic engineering, plant disease and stress and sustainable agriculture.
  • The UC San Diego School of Medicine's Child Development and Community Health program initiatives include Network for a Healthy California: Campaigns and programs focus on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity levels and food security among low-income families. Healthy Works: This program initiates new farmers markets, promotes additional school and community gardens and helps residents to stay physically active and eat nutritious foods.

UCSF 

  • In 2009, UCSF launched the Smart Choice Smart U program http://smartchoice.ucsf.edu) in partnership with MyFitnessPal, a leading mobile application and website and Fitbit, an activity tracker, that combines food tracking with physical activity to give real-time feedback about personal wellness goals.

UC Santa Cruz 

  • The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UC Santa Cruz has developed cutting-edge programs in food systems and organic farming research and extension, national and international work in agroecology, and a renowned apprenticeship program.
  • The nearly 1,500 graduates of its Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture have carried hands-on experience into teaching, farming and advocacy positions worldwide for more than 45 years.
  • An on-site affiliate, Life Lab, uses the Farm for K–12 school tours, teacher trainings, summer camps, and the “Food What?” youth empowerment program.
  • The Central Coast School Food Alliance (CCSFA) is a collaborative initiative that serves school children fresh and wholesome food in Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties. Stakeholders include food service directors, non-profit leaders on community food systems development, researchers, educators, as well as elected local, state, and federal officials.
Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Peel back the layers and see what the onion is all about

Red onions. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
For crying out loud, who doesn't love an onion? Whether you enjoy them in burgers, broths, sandwiches or soups, or deep-fry them as onion rings or serve them with liver, they're to die for and to cry for.

The average American eats 21 pounds of onions per year. Indeed, our appetite for the fresh green as well as yellow, red, and white bulb onions is increasing in the United States, up 70 percent from several decades ago. A valued crop generating $1.2 billion a year, the onion currently ranks No. 2 in the vegetable industry, right behind the potato. Yellow onions account for nearly 90 percent of all onion consumption, followed by red and white varieties.

Onions, cultivated for more than 5,000 years, are one of the most versatile vegetables. They are found in every ethnic cuisine from breakfast to lunch to dinner and are rich in vitamin C and fiber. As Julia Child noted, “It's hard to imagine civilization without onions.”

With a thriving onion industry comes a “crying” need for onion seed planting stock; onions have to flower and set seed. California is a major worldwide supplier of onion seed, with growers producing about 3,000 acres of hybrid onion seed worth about $12 million, and generating an additional $40 million annually in subsequent retail sales. The major growing areas in our state are the Imperial Valley and Colusa County.

Seed companies from around the world contract with growers here in California to produce hybrid onion seed. The many different varieties include red, yellow and white bulbs, including types that are adapted to different day lengths from our northern to southern hemispheres. Growers plant onion bulbs or seedling transplants in late summer with distinct male (male fertile) and female (male sterile) onion lines in the same field. Generally, the field ratio is one row of males for every three female rows and they're tough to tell apart from a distance, but males produce pollen.

Honey bees visiting an onion umbel. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
In Northern California, flowering occurs for a short four to five weeks the following May and June, with scapes from each bulb producing a white umbel with multiple florets. Growers rely on honey bees for cross pollination, that is moving the pollen from male to female rows. Each acre usually includes 10 to 12 hives. Native bees are also important for pollinating onion flowers, as are flies. No pollinators? No onion seed production.

Thankfully, there are few pests of onion seed, although the recent introduction of the iris yellow spot virus vectored by the onion thrips has resulted in increased insecticide use to control this potentially devastating pest and disease. Recent research by UC Cooperative Extension specialists in Yolo County and UC Davis, however, documented that more than three insecticide sprays applied pre-bloom per year can reduce honey bee visitation to flowers. Insecticides may also interfere with the ability of female flowers to receive pollen; that is, sprays applied near to bloom time can lead to overall lower pollen germination. As a result, growers are now careful to minimize insecticide use in onion seed production fields to ensure good pollination and yields.

Monitoring honey bee activity in onion seed production
Likewise, growers must carefully manage their irrigation water to ensure that the onion flowers produce good nectar rewards to maximize honey bee visitation. Honey bees are attracted to flowers with ample nectar production. Fields that are too wet or too dry show reduced floral nectar rewards and a decrease in honey bee visitation.

After cross-pollination occurs and seeds are set, growers knock down the male rows to remove them to facilitate harvesting of female lines and ensure purity of the seed. Once the female umbels dry down, they are harvested primarily by hand, placed on tarps to fully dry, and then the tiny black seeds from the florets are mechanically threshed with a combine, and cleaned and packaged for retail sales.

Although a small acreage crop in California, onion seed is an important specialty crop that significantly boosts our agricultural economy, as well as providing needed seed for farmers throughout the world.

But, before you can slice them, chop them or dice them, you have to grow them and our California growers do it best.

Additional information on onion seed production can be found at:

http://ceyolo.ucanr.edu/Custom_Program/Seed_Crop_Production/Onion_Seed_Production/

 

Onion umbel with seeds
Onion umbel with seeds

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 8:27 AM

New UC advisor is already making a positive impact

Virginia Bolshakova
Virginia Bolshakova, a UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development advisor for less than a year, has received praise from a farm bureau director for her contributions to local agriculture, reported Julia Hollister in Capital Press.

“She brings enthusiasm, high energy, intelligence and a passion for agriculture to her job," said Bill Gass, executive director of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau.

No day is average for Bolshakova, who is also the county director for San Mateo-San Francisco counties UCCE and the director of Elkus Ranch, a place for hands-on learning experiences for Bay Area children.

One morning she is working with concerned citizens about beekeeping policies, collaborating with scientists at UC Berkeley about eradicating aphids in gardens, and in the afternoon herding students around Elkus Ranch teaching about rangeland, the story said.

“I think the biggest challenge facing San Mateo County agriculture is urban-rural interface, and that goes in both directions,” she said. “I work with many youth who never thought about plants or planting a seed and watching it grow. I worry that people are becoming disconnected to their food and where it originates.”

Bolshakova was born and raised on a 450-acre pig and crop farm in southwestern Michigan where her parents still work the land. Her childhood experiences nurtured a passion for the environment and a keen awareness of the interdependency between people and nature.

Bolshakova has a bachelor's degree in biology from State University of New York, Buffalo, a master's degree from the University of Toledo, and a Ph.D. in ecology from Utah State University.

Posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Agritourism an option in the San Joaquin Valley

Even though the typical San Joaquin Valley farm is focused exclusively on food production, local growers can profit from increasing interest in agritourism, reported Helen Tracey-Noren in the Fresno Bee. The concept was touted at a recent forum in Fresno where CDFA secretary Karen Ross and the CEO of Visit California, Caroline Beteta, spoke about the agritourism trend.

UC offers a publication on agritourism and nature tourism. To order, follow the link below:
"It's about, 'here's what farmers and ranchers are doing as your neighbors,' their environmental stewardship," said Ross. "It's about the pride of what we produce here, and it's about this wonderful lifestyle and supporting the economy at the same time."

Penny Leff, the agritourism coordinator with the UC small farm program, also participated in the event. She said that from 2007 to 2012, agritourism has picked up in California.

"Most families don't have anyone on the farm anymore to go visit," Leff said. "Farmers are interested in educating the public in what's going on, what goes into making the food. They really want to share with the public and make them understand."

The story gave the example of Debbie and Jim Van Haun, a Sanger couple who opened Sequoia View Bed and Breakfast about 15 years ago, and fixed up an adjoining vineyard in 2003. They said that during the summer season, the area could use more businesses to handle all the tourists.

Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California - Second Edition
By Holly George and Ellie Rilla
151 pages, $25

Offering dinner in a winery barn is a form of agritourism.
Offering dinner in a winery barn is a form of agritourism.

Posted on Monday, July 7, 2014 at 3:49 PM

UCCE wildlife specialist Robert Timm retires after 27 years

Bob Timm, shown next to sheep corrals, studied ways to prevent coyotes from preying on sheep.
Robert Timm, director of UC Hopland Research & Extension Center and UC Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist, retired July 1, wrapping up a 27-year career with the University of California.

Timm's career has focused on managing wildlife damage and providing science-based advice for people to solve conflicts between humans and wildlife, which increasingly arise as both human and wildlife populations expand. One of his research subjects was finding better ways to prevent coyotes from preying on sheep.

He compiled, edited and published the reference book “Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage” in 1983 and co-edited the 2004 revision. Since 1989, he has served in many leadership roles on the Vertebrate Pest Council, including managing editor of the Vertebrate Pest Conference Proceedings since 2002.

In 2007, Timm planned the first Urban Coyote Symposium and published papers from the symposium as a management guide. He also created the website CoyoteBytes.org to provide current, science-based management recommendations to wildlife managers and decisionmakers at the city, county and state levels who were dealing with urban coyote conflicts.

As director of the Hopland Research & Extension Center, he was instrumental in the design and construction of Rod Shippey Hall, an outreach and research facility that was completed in 2012. The late Rod Shippey was a UCCE advisor in Mendocino County.

Timm, as a graduate student in 1977, holds a coyote pup.
"What I've loved about being at Hopland is the opportunity to get to know a variety of people who have conducted field research, including campus-based faculty, students and CE advisors," said Timm. "These colleagues and friends are wonderfully diverse in their backgrounds, fields of study, interests and knowledge. It's an ideal situation for interdisciplinary brainstorming, sharing of techniques, and creating new approaches to answer important questions about the management of our resources. At this center, there are always interesting things happening."

Timm earned a B.S. in biology at the University of Redlands and master's and Ph.D. in ecology at UC Davis. He began his career at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where he served for nine years as Cooperative Extension vertebrate pest specialist and assistant professor. In 1987, he returned to California to become the second administrator in the history of the “Hopland Field Station,” as it was then known. The late Al Murphy served as the center's first administrator from 1951 to 1986.

In retirement, Timm and his wife Janice plan to stay in Ukiah and spend more time gardening, fishing, traveling and attending Giants games. Timm, who has been granted emeritus status, also plans to finish several publications and continue participating in the Vertebrate Pest Council.

Posted on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 12:56 PM

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