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Building blocks of health

The scenario: Tomorrow is farmers market day, but not just any market on any day. This market happens once a month as part of a collaboration between the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County and Lopez High School. The high school, a continuation school in the south part of San Luis Obispo County, has a program called Hands-On Parenting Education, or HOPE, which helps expecting and parenting teenagers to graduate.

It's the day prior to market day and HOPE students have a guest lecturer today: Dayna Ravalin, UCCE Master Food Preserver coordinator of San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara counties. She's demonstrating how to make and store baby food safely. The timing is impeccable as students can (and do, as a result of the lesson) load up on fresh ingredients the very next day.

Dayna takes the students through the Core Four food safety tips while demonstrating how to convert fresh market produce into baby food blocks.

Image: Fightbac.org
  1. Clean - Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.
  2. Separate - Don't cross contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from foods that won't be cooked.
  3. Cook - Cook to safe temperature.
  4. Chill - Chill leftovers and takeout foods within 2 hours. Keep fridge at 40°F or below.

Lastly, students are shown how to easily preserve that baby food to last through the month or longer, until the next Lopez High School/Food Bank Coalition market day. Ravalin demonstrates the use of an ice-cube tray to aide in freezing baby-sized portions before providing each student with their own tray to take home, empowering them with building blocks for healthy eating.

The students leave, eager to take advantage of their resources the next day, and with two basic recipes using seasonal produce to get them started.

Homemade Baby Food Recipes

Carrots/potatoes

-      1 pound of carrots
-      1 cup water

Trim and peel carrots, cut into 1-inch segments. Put in a medium saucepan with the water. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for 25 minutes (this will take longer if your carrots are thicker). Let cool in cooking liquid. Purée in a food processor, blender or food mill, cover and freeze in small portions.
Add in ideas: pinch of cumin, coriander, cinnamon or mashed potatoes.

Apples/pears

-      2 sweet eating apples or pears
-      4 to 5 tbsp. water or pure apple juice

Peel, halve, core and chop the apples. Put into a medium saucepan with the water or apple juice. Cover and cook over low heat for 6 to 8 minutes until really tender. Let cool in cooking liquid. Puree in a food processor, blender or food mill, cover and freeze in small portions.
Add in ideas: pinch of cinnamon, pureed carrots, ginger

Cubes of baby food made from applesauce, potato puree, spinach puree, carrot puree, and pear puree. (Photo: Dayna Ravalin)

“You can even freeze the different purees in layers so it is triple colored when you empty the trays,” Ravalin said.

Through this 1.5 hour lesson, the expecting and new parents learned how easy it can be to extend the life of food, taking advantage of the school's monthly market to provide for their families. This partnership is one example of how UC Master Food Preserver Program volunteers donate more than 20,000 hours of their time annually educating families throughout California on safe food preservation.

Posted on Monday, March 27, 2017 at 7:23 AM

'Agriculture: Food for Life' is the theme of National Ag Week

How are you celebrating American agriculture in your life? In advance of National Ag Week, March 19-25, and National Ag Day, March 21, Central Valley third-grade students were “learning with lettuce” how to bring more agriculture into their lives last week. The UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center offers the free lettuce plantings every year at Farm and Nutrition Day in Fresno County and Kings County, typically around the time of National Ag Week.

National Ag Week and National Ag Day celebrate American food, fiber and fuel producers and their important contributions to our lives.

Volunteers enjoyed working with each student to get their seedling off to a great beginning.

Students with the help of volunteers learned how to plant tiny lettuce seedlings into a pot of healthy soil to take home for transplanting later. In addition to helping the students connect their food to agriculture, the lettuce planting offered an engaging, hands-on experience growing healthy and nutritious food at home.

Third grade students from Fremont Elementary School joined classmates on their way to Kearney's lettuce planting at last year's Farm and Nutrition Day.

 

Julie Sievert and Laura Van Der Staay prepared a lesson that teaches students about the parts of a plant and what a plant needs to grow our food, fiber and fuel crops.

National Ag Week is a nationwide effort coordinated by the Agriculture Council of America to tell the vital story of American agriculture and remind citizens that agriculture is a part of all of us. National Ag Day encourages every American to:

• Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
• Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
• Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
• Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

 
Kearney director Jeff Dahlberg was interviewed about Kearney's education and outreach programs.

Each American farmer feeds about 144 people. As the world population soars, there is even greater demand for the food, fiber and renewable resources produced in the United States. Agriculture is this nation's #1 export and incredibly important in sustaining a healthy economy. That's why National Ag Week is a great time to reflect on and be grateful for American agriculture.

With lettuce seedlings in hand, happy junior gardeners were ready to continue the learning experience at home.

 

Central Valley students eagerly lined up to get started on their lettuce planting fun.
Posted on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 8:45 AM

National Poison Prevention Week — March 19-25, 2017

Never eat while wearing personal protective equipment or without washing up. This increases your risk of pesticide poisoning!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), poisoning is the No. 1 cause of injury-related death in the United States, and 1,073 people in California were poisoned by pesticides in 2014 alone. Each year since 1962, National Poison Prevention Week has taken place during the third week of March to raise awareness about avoiding these tragedies. No one wants their workers or family members to experience illness or death from pesticide exposure, so the UC IPM Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP) would like to bring special attention to preventing pesticide poisoning this week. The program also published a new edition of The Safe and Effective Use of Pesticides in 2016, which contains a wealth of pesticide safety and hazard prevention information for people who work with pesticides.

Both agricultural and household pesticides can poison people if they are not properly handled. In agriculture, poisoning most often results from pesticide mixing and loading, and the most harm occurs due to spills, splashes and equipment failure. In the home, many pesticide poisoning incidents involve children swallowing pesticides, including garden products, disinfectant cleaners, or other chemicals used to control pests.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent pesticide poisoning is to follow the instructions on the pesticide label. Labels address critical information about how to use a pesticide safely, including the kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) you should wear to prevent overexposure, how much of the product to apply, the minimum time you must wait to enter the area after applying the pesticide (the restricted entry interval), and the minimum time that must pass between application and harvest (preharvest interval).

Labels also include important signal words such as “Danger,” “Warning,” or “Caution” that indicate how acutely toxic the chemical is to humans, as well as directions to avoid pesticide contamination of sensitive areas such as schools and hospitals. These instructions are meant to protect anyone who is at risk of being exposed to hazardous pesticide residues. It is essential to thoroughly read and understand the pesticide label before working with the pesticide, and to carefully comply with label instructions throughout the process. The UC IPM guide to Understanding Pesticide Labels for Making Proper Applications can help you do this, and is available in both English and Spanish.

Never store pesticides in food or drink containers. It is illegal!

If you apply pesticides in or around your home, be sure to store them properly and keep them out of the reach of children. Keep in mind that even mothballs may look like candy to very young children. It is illegal and unsafe to store pesticides in food or drink containers, which can easily fool people into consuming them and being poisoned. According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, these mistakes caused 62 incidents of child poisoning from pesticide ingestion in California in 2014, and 47 of those cases involved children under six years of age.

To learn more about poisoning and how to prevent it, consider visiting the following resources:

Read the label every time you handle a pesticide. Don't rely on your memory.

 

Posted on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 1:35 PM

Enjoy your tree nuts: UC scientists help with regulatory compliance

California tree nut growers will soon have to comply with new agriculture water testing requirements under the Produce Safety Rule in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). University of California researchers and advisors are holding seminars to share information about the agricultural water requirements and proper water sampling methods in order to be in compliance with the regulations.

While irrigation or spray water is generally not the source of contamination, it is a vehicle for pathogens that are harmful to humans, especially on produce that is consumed raw; therefore, agricultural water was included as a part of the new regulation.

The UC Cooperative Extension office in Yolo County was the site of the first information sessions for nut tree growers/producers. It was an ideal location, as the fertile soils of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys are home to the largest tree nut production industries in the U.S. Some nuts are also grown in the coastal valley regions and Sierra foothills.

Almond kernel emerging from dried hull. (Photo: Melissa L. Partyka)

Good news for nut consumers

The new regulations and the focus on food safety practices, particularly within the nut tree industry, is of great interest because of the popularity of nutritious and delicious tree nuts. I for one am a big consumer. My day starts with almond butter on toast. That's followed by snacks of raw walnuts and dates. And there's always the handful of roasted pistachios to be grabbed for a salty treat.

It is lucky for someone who is nuts about nuts to live in California. The state is the nation's No. 1 walnut, almond and pistachio producer. California produces 80 percent of the world's almonds. We produce one million tons of almonds each year, followed by walnuts at nearly half a million tons, and pistachios at over a quarter million tons.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports the state's leading agricultural export products by value in 2015 were almonds ($5.14 billion), dairy products ($1.63 billion), walnuts ($1.49 billion), wine ($1.48 billion), and pistachios ($848 million).

Almond harvesting in California's Central Valley. (Photo: Melissa L. Partyka)

Melissa L. Partyka, an ecologist at the UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, (WIFSS) and Ronald F. Bond, a water quality researcher and field coordinator with WIFSS, are engaging local growers on issues of food safety and helping to educate them on not only the regulations but on ways to improve their water quality.

Partyka and Bond are staff in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Atwill Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, director of WIFSS.

They are affiliated with the Western Center for Food Safety, a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, and are helping break down the regulations for the growers, regulations which can be a little overwhelming to the untrained.

Agricultural water, according to FSMA, is that water used to irrigate, treat, harvest, wash commodity or equipment on farm.

Growers are required to test water if it:

  • Comes in contact with the harvestable portion of the commodity
  • Is used to clean harvest equipment
  • Is used to mix pesticides/fungicides applied to commodity
  • Is used by harvest crews to wash hands

As of January 2016 growers will have 2 to 4 years (depending on farm size) to comply with most aspects of the Produce Safety Rule. Basically, the larger the production, the higher potential for risk to the consumer. How often a grower samples water depends on the water source. Well water requires an initial four samples, followed by one sample per year. Surface water, requires an initial 20 samples, followed by five samples per year. Water samples should be collected as close to harvest as is practical. During a long harvest season, samples can be spread out; in short harvest seasons, samples should be collected closer together; and in multiple harvest seasons, samples should be taken near each harvest if water is coming from the same source.

A full day workshop to be hosted by UC Cooperative Extension is planned for late June. Look for announcement of date, time, and location on the following websites: www.wcfs.ucdavis.edu, http://ucanr.edu, www.wifss.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 8:10 PM

UC water institute announces 2017 grant recipients

The UC California Institute for Water Resources (CIWR) has announced the recipients of six grants to address the most critical water issues in the state. For this program, the Institute leverages funds it receives from the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 through the Department of Interior.

CIWR, which is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, facilitates collaborative research and outreach on water issues across California's academic institutions and with international, federal, state, regional, nonprofit, and campus communities.

Small grants to support initial work will be dispersed to the following projects (click the headline for more information):

Farmer Jim Morris on an alfalfa field being flooded for groundwater recharge.

Suitability of alfalfa for winter groundwater recharge
Helen Dahlke, professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis
One proposed solution for recharging overdrawn aquifers is flooding farmland during the rainy season. Optimizing agricultural groundwater banking for specific crops can be challenging. The goal of this project is to better understand how alfalfa, which is grown year-round, responds to winter flooding.

Fish habitat response to streamflow augmentation
Ted Grantham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management, UC Berkeley
Declining water levels can degrade or eliminate fish habitat during California's summer season. Storing water off-channel during the rainy season can improve flow during the summer. The study is designed to gain a better understanding of the relationship between stream flow and habitat.

Remote sensing of turfgrass response to irrigation
Amir Haghverdi, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, UC Riverside
Turfgrass is common in urban landscapes and provides valuable recreation areas and ecosystem services. This project will help determine the best irrigation strategies for common turfgrass species.

UC Santa Cruz professor Eric Palkovacs in the field.

Habitat restoration impacts on water management
Eric Palkovacs, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz
The natural conditions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been changed by habitat alteration and non-native predacious fish introduction. This project will examine the interplay between altered habitat and predatory fish, and how they impact native salmon populations.

Evaluating water conservation policy in California
Leah Stokes, professor in the Department of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara
During the recent drought, California required that on-average urban water districts conserve 25 percent of their water. While some districts were successful, others failed to meet their target. This project will examine how variation in policy – pricing, messaging and penalties – and drought severity affected water conservation.

Sacramento State geology professor Amelia Vankeuren and graduate students collect samples at the American River.

Groundwater dynamics after California drought
Amelia Vankeuren, professor in the Department of Geology, Sacramento State University
As part of California's groundwater management act, some basins were designated as high management priorities. This project will characterize groundwater using age, location and temperature. This information will be valuable for stakeholders creating a groundwater sustainability plan.

Posted on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 9:27 AM

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