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Get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition

During summer break, healthy food and fitness often take a long vacation. For many, the vacation is ending and it's time to do some homework. Study these back-to-school tips for the start to a healthy school year. If you follow a balanced diet and stay physically active, there's no way you can't get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition!

  • Don't skip breakfast! Studies show children who eat breakfast perform better in school.
  • If you pack a homemade lunch for your children, include a good balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat free dairy products, and lean meats and proteins.
  • Provide new options! Pack exotic fruits like kiwi or allow your child to pick a fun new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. They are more likely to eat their lunch if they helped prepare it.
  • Reinforce cleanliness and remind your children to wash their hands before they eat or pack a moist towelette or hand sanitizer in their lunchbox.
  • Physical activity and exercise are important and help improve a child's health. Children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day, and adults need to be active for at least 30 minutes a day. Make exercise a family affair and get the physical activity everyone needs! Go for a weekend hike, walk the dog together, or ride your bikes after dinner.

Try this quick and easy recipe for your child's lunch or mix it up and substitute a variety of their favorite vegetables instead.

Chicken pita pocket with spinach leaves and red bell pepper.
Chicken pita sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 4 ounces cooked skinless, boneless chicken
  • 1/2 cup sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat Italian vinaigrette
  • 1 (6-inch) whole-grain pita, cut in half

Directions:

  1. Combine spinach, chicken, bell pepper, and vinaigrette in a bowl; lightly toss and mix ingredients.
  2. Cut the pita pieces in half.
  3. Using a spoon, fill each pita half with the tossed ingredients.
  4. Once assembled, lay them flat and pack them up for your child to enjoy during lunch.

Recipe source: http://www.health.com/health/recipe/0,,10000001983452,00.html

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 9:16 AM

California almonds are standing their ground

Almond prices are on track to beat an all-time high in 2014.
One way or another, most California almond farmers are managing to keep their orchards irrigated this year, reported Megan Durisin on Bloomberg.com.

In the article, Merced County farmer Bob Weimer said he added a 12th well to draw water from the aquifer for his thirsty trees. Many farmers have opted to leave fallow fields where annual crops like tomatoes, onions and garlic are usually grown in order to save water for almonds.

"The first thing we have to take care of is our permanent crops," said Dan Errotabere, who helps farm 960 acres of almonds in Fresno and Kings counties.

Durisin quoted David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County, as saying that orchards need the most water during the warmest summer months, so they may not be able to hit the USDA's almond production forecast for 2014. Next year's crop will be at significant risk if the drought continues, Doll said. Farmers may not able to continue deepening wells and drilling new ones.

The article touched on the grave warning about groundwater depletion in California, which UC scientists shared this month in a special edition of California Agriculture journal that focuses on water efficiency.

There is some good news this year for almond farmers, however. Almond prices are currently at $3 per pound and the average price for the season may beat the all-time high set in 2006.

Posted on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 10:29 AM

Cottage food law not the answer to small-farm woes

'The new law doesn't help us at all,' said Annie Main, who with her husband Jeff farms in the Capay Valley.
When the California Homemade Food Act went into effect early last year, it was hailed as an exciting new opportunity for small scale farmers to boost profits. The law allows for certain foods prepared in home kitchens to be sold directly to the public at farmers markets and roadside stands.

The UC small farm program held a series of two-day workshops around California to outline the provisions of the new law. Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, was the coordinator and an instructor for the series. The class was popular, but many of the farming participants found that the letter of the law tended to hinder their creativity rather than open new business avenues.

Hardesty said the Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) was designed to, among other things, help farming families take their surplus produce and make dried products, jams, jellies and butters. However, the California Department of Public Health is requiring cottage food operators to do all of their processing in their home kitchen, to comply with the Statutory Provisions Related to Sanitary and Preparation Requirements for Cottage Food Operations (Excerpts from the California Health and Safety (H&S Code, including H&S 113980 Requirements for Food), specifically, the CDPH requires that cottage food operators comply with the following operational requirements:

"All food contact surfaces, equipment, and utensils used for the preparation, packaging, or handling of any cottage food products shall be washed, rinsed, and sanitized before each use. All food preparation and food and equipment storage areas shall be maintained free of rodents and insects."

Cutting fruit and laying it in the sun to dry, for example, is not permitted. For jams and jellies, the law stipulates sugar-to-fruit ratios that require more sugar than fruit. For some cooks, the rules defeat the unique character of their homemade, gourmet products.

“I really try not to put a lot of sugar in my jellies. I want it to taste like fruit,” said farmer Annie Main, who took the UC class.

Main and her husband Jeff run an organic fruit, vegetable, flower and herb operation on 20 acres in the Capay Valley of Yolo County.

“I've been doing value-added for 20 years,” Main said. “In the '90s, I started making jams and jellies in a rented certified kitchen. But it's a trek to get labor, jars, supplies and fruit to the restaurant kitchen after hours and then work till midnight. We thought with the new law, I could do it in my own kitchen, which would be fabulous.”

However, she found that the rules of the law are so restrictive as to be prohibitive.

“Farmers in the class were asked whether the law extended their ability for economic return on their products. Every single one shook their heads,” Main said. “The new law doesn't help us at all.”

Hardesty said there may be other options for these producers to process and sell their foods. She is planning to offer another class this fall, “Cottage Food Plus,” to help growers find workable mechanisms for selling their food.

“They may be able to use a co-packer to do the processing or a commercial kitchen or become registered as a processing food facility,” Hardesty said.

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

California agriculture to suffer $1 billion in drought losses

Dry fields and bare trees at Panoche Road near San Joaquin. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga)
The California drought will cost the state's agriculture industry about $1 billion in lost revenue, reported David Pierson in the Los Angeles Times. Total statewide economic cost of the drought was calculated to be $2.2 billion.

The story was based on a report released Tuesday by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. The 2014 drought, the report says, is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture - about one third less than normal.

A key concern is the loss of agricultural jobs, said lead author Richard Howitt at a press conference about the report. "What really hurts is you are also losing 17,000 jobs," Howitt said. "(These jobs) are from a sector that has the least ability to roll with the punches."

Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.

The report calls the groundwater situation in California "a slow-moving train wreck."

“California's agricultural economy overall is doing remarkably well, thanks mostly to groundwater reserves,” said Jay Lund, a co-author of the study and director of the Center for Watershed Sciences. “But we expect substantial local and regional economic and employment impacts. We need to treat that groundwater well so it will be there for future droughts.”

California is currently the only Western state without a framework for groundwater management.

The UC Davis news team has provided these resources about the new drought report:

The report says the Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.

Drought impacts being felt

The ongoing drought has contributed to declines in Fresno County crop values, reported Bob Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee. Fresno County's overall gross value fell 2.2 percent to $6.4 billion in 2013, and with the reduction lost its bragging rights as the No. 1 ag county in California. Tulare County took the No. 1 spot with a record $7.8 billion in ag value, riding on robust dairy prices.

Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright said the drought -- one of the worst in state history -- has pinched the production of several west side field crops including cotton, corn silage and barley. The field crop category fell by 42 percent.


Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/07/15/4025624/fresno-county-falls-behind-tulare.html?sp=/99/217/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/07/15/4025624/fresno-county-falls-behind-tulare.html?sp=/99/217/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy
Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 11:18 AM

Connecting wildfires to climate change and drought

Longer summers, less moisture and warmer climates are predicted for California's Sierra Nevada mountains. These changing patterns bring frequent droughts and extended wildfire seasons — as seen from the current extreme drought. The question no longer is whether wildfires will be more common or more intense — they already are — but how forest managers want these fires to burn.

Jens Stevens, a postdoctoral researcher in disturbance ecology at the University of California, Davis, has tracked how forests thinned for wildfire react to high-intensity burns. The answers he found touch on growing concerns over how the state can protect its forests.

Under the context of climate change, Stevens studies how understory plants recover from wildfires, measuring the effects fuel treatments — such as the thinning of small trees — have on the way these forests burn.

Postdoctoral researcher Jens Stevens (right) inspects an untreated forest after a wildfire.
Historically Sierra forests had gaps and openings, which prevented the spread of fires. More than a century ago land management agencies began a campaign of extinguishing all wildfires. Today's forest floors are blanketed with litter — fallen branches, leaves and shrubs — and many of the fire-tolerant pines have been replaced by firs, which handle shade well but act as fuel sources.

Stevens' research showed fuel treatments encourage resilience to wildfires, giving forests a greater ability to withstand a burn. Under really hot, dry summer conditions this makes a powerful difference.

“If you get warmer temperatures you're going to dry out the fuels,” says Stevens. “If we want to retain forest-dominated landscapes, we don't have the choice of doing nothing, because eventually these stands are going to burn."

To preserve forests, Stevens looked to native plant diversity under each management strategy. After a high severity fire, the tree canopy is non-existent. This new high-light environment favors other species, such as shrubs and flowering plants, which crowd out young trees.

A treated forest has more resilience to high-intensity wildfires.
In treating a stand before a fire, land managers are already encouraging plant diversity and when the stand burns, diversity increases even more, Stevens discovered.

While the treatments do protect the forest and encourage plant diversity, they are expensive and lead to uncertainty over how sensitive wildlife species are affected. Yet these areas will burn eventually, Stevens argues. The choice is either a more open forest or no forest at all.

He points out research by UC Davis ecologist Malcolm North, which shows the current pace of treatments can't keep up with the extent of Sierra forests that have been fire suppressed. The US Forest Service can treat up to 40 percent of a forest before managers must start over for follow-up treatments. The other 60 percent doesn't get touched.

“So the only real way to address that is to let the fire do the work for you,” says Stevens.

The proposal North and his colleagues arrived at relies on “firesheds.” These fire-prone areas would have boundaries that allow officials to efficiently manage the fires. If a burn begins after a treatment, they don't put it out. Allowing the fire to burn fuels they would otherwise be removing frees up resources to treat other areas.

“So if it's going to burn,” says Stevens, “you need to figure out ways the fire's going to give you your desired outcome.”

Watch Stevens explain more in his seminar.

This post was adapted from a longer piece by the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
 

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 10:17 AM

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