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Partnering with produce providers

What's one way to combat food waste, save money, and expand food knowledge? Ask a UC Master Food Preserver.

Or rather, have a group of dedicated volunteers do a hands-on demo at a CSA pick-up location. Tanaka Farms, located in Orange County, did just that. The farm's Community Supported Agriculture program delivers more than 1,600 produce boxes a month to a subscriber base that is highly motivated to prepare and cook food. Educating their customers is a mission of Tanaka Farms CSA as well as a tenet of the UC Master Food Preserver Program.

A sample Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. (Photo: Tanaka Farms)
Working with Patty Nagatoshi, Tanaka Farms CSA program coordinator, UC Master Food Preserver volunteers have already held two workshops for CSA customers. These classes were tailored to preserving the contents of the CSA box, since CSA members often struggle to find a use for every item they receive. Volunteers handed out a list of suggested recipes as a reference after the workshops. These classes are helping customers to maximize their bounty while also cutting down on wasted food. 
 
UC Master Food Preserver Volunteers demonstrate ways to use CSA produce. (Photo: UC Master Food Preserver Program of Orange County)

Additionally, Master Food Preserver volunteers held demonstrations at the farm's Strawberry and Corn Festivals. There they demonstrated dehydrating strawberry fruit leather, making strawberry freezer jam, canning corn relish and making corn broth.

Crushing strawberries for strawberry jam. (Photo: UC Master Food Preserver Program of Orange County)

These off-site demos are a prime example of bringing safe, reputable information directly to the public. Preserve today, relish tomorrow!

Posted on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at 8:56 AM

Scientists-in-training learn to tell a CLEAR story

On the second Saturday of every month, Tuesday Simmons heads to the downtown Berkeley farmers market. Among the produce stalls and coffee stands, she sits behind a table with a sign that reads “Talk to a scientist!” She and other students spend the day fielding questions from strangers about topics that range from genetically modified foods to climate change and more.

“We never know who we'll talk to at our public events, or what kinds of questions we'll be asked,” said Simmons, a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB). “This makes the farmers markets fun.”

Simmons' monthly visits to the farmers market are organized by the student group CLEAR (Communication, Literacy, and Education for Agricultural Research). The group aims to mentor the next generation of science communicators by engaging in open, transparent, and active conversations with the public about science and research. Funded through the University of California Global Food Initiative, CLEAR offers a series of scientific outreach events including activities at the farmers market, student-led lectures at libraries, and discussions with the public at local pubs.

Students Tim Jeffers and Tuesday Simmons are ready to answer the public’s science questions at the downtown Berkeley farmers market.

The events are aimed at making science accessible.

“For members of the public who think scientists are a group of scary, isolated individuals funded by companies with special interests, these brief exchanges can be enough to make them question that assumption,” said Simmons, who also noted that translating her microbiology research for the public has helped improve her communication skills.

Learning to create compelling and impactful science communications is also a draw for Daniel Westcott, who joined the group in 2015. As a PMB graduate student who studies a specialized field — photosynthetic energy conversion in algae and plants — Westcott noted that discussing his research with non-scientists felt like a challenging hurdle to overcome.

Students like Westcott practice their communications skills through writing for the CLEAR blog. In their monthly blog posts, group members have tackled the economics of the meat industry, and the science behind the Impossible Burger, and the difficulty in labeling foods as “natural,” as well as highlighting CLEAR's ongoing outreach efforts.

Westcott understands that sharing his research with the public through the blog and other CLEAR activities is essential.

“Nearly two million scientific articles are published each year,” Westcott said. “Today's successful scientists must be media savvy in order to rise above the noise.”

Launched in 2015, CLEAR began as a project across three UC campuses — Berkeley, Davis, and San Diego. At Berkeley, co-founders Peggy Lemaux and Dawn Chiniquy, a PMB postdoctoral fellow, saw the funding as an opportunity to focus on outreach activities and mentorship opportunities, such as helping graduate students write for and talk to non-scientific audiences.

Lemaux is a UC Cooperative Extension specialist and PMB faculty member who studies food crop performance and quality. She said CLEAR is a student-driven organization. All members of CLEAR are volunteers, and a mix of undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers participate in the group's activities. Many of members are PMB students, but students from other scientific fields also participate in CLEAR's events and monthly meetings. Student scientists from across campus are welcome.  

As the faculty organizer of CLEAR, Lemaux mentors students by providing feedback and guidance on their public presentations and blog posts. Recent student-led lecture topics include pesticide use and genetically modified foods, and as new members join the group, they'll continue to add new presentations to their calendar of events.

CLEAR student Sonia Chapiro speaks about GMOs as part of the "Popping the Science Bubble" scientific seminar series at the Berkeley Public Library on June 19, 2017.

CLEAR also hosts workshops and trainings to foster students' science communication and writing skills. Last spring, the group invited NPR science writer Joe Palca to present a talk, “Real News or Fake Science.” More recently Brian Dunning of Skeptoid gave a presentation tittled “Science Communication in a Minefield of Fiction.” This fall, Sara ElShafie, a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology and founder of Science Through Story, will give a science communication workshop for CLEAR students.

In recent years, Lemaux has seen a shift in students' interest in outreach and science communication.

“Today's generation of scientists understand that they must be scientists in the lab and translate the message of their research — and research in general — for the public,” she said.

Some CLEAR students have pursued careers in public communication after leaving Berkeley. Mikel Shybut, PhD ‘15 Plant Biology, is now a fellow at the California Council on Science and Technology where he provides scientific analyses to state legislators. After arranging a day of informational meetings in Sacramento for a group of CLEAR students, Shybut commented, “It's heartening to see what CLEAR has accomplished in the last two years. The group's outreach efforts demonstrate that scientists can be effective messengers.”

Visit CLEAR's calendar to learn more about upcoming events. In September join CLEAR at the following events:

  • Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market: Come chat with CLEAR members and check out their science demos at the farmers market. They feature a different science theme each month and are always looking forward to listening to community members' science questions and concerns.

  • Science Café with PMB professor John Taylor: Join CLEAR members for a beer, fun fungus exhibits, and Dr. John Taylor's tentatively titled "Felons, Fungi and Rats: California's Valley Fever Epidemic.”

Posted on Monday, September 11, 2017 at 9:55 AM

Monthly news roundup: August 2017

Grants to fund development of disease resistance in strawberries
Mark Anderson, Sacramento Business Journal, Aug. 25, 2017
A team of researchers from UC ANR, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and University of Florida received a $6.3 million from the federal government and the California Strawberry Commission to fund research to improve disease resistance in strawberries. Disease resistance is a looming concern for growers as the fumigant methyl bromide is banned for use this year.

How Driscolls reinvented the strawberry
Dana Goodyear, The New Yorker, Aug. 21, 2017
Driscoll's most forbidding competition has come from UC Davis, where for a nominal royalty fee, any grower wishing to use its plants. UC also shares crucial information about horticulture derived from its research. Every farm the university supplies was another acre not given over to Driscoll's.

Merced County farmers organized 100 years ago
Sarah Lim, Merced Sun-Star, Aug. 19, 2017
Merced County UC Cooperative Extension marked its 100th anniversary Aug. 20. As part of the centennial celebration, UCCE and the Merced County Farm Bureau created an exhibit for the Courthouse Museum to show how farming has changed over the past 100 years. The two organizations also hosted a celebration in Courthouse Park, with food, activities and information booths.

Riverside residents asked to help save state's citrus industry from deadly disease
Mark Muckenfuss, Riverside Press-Enterprise, Aug. 27, 2017
Riverside residents are being enlisted in the battle against huanlongbing disease of citrus. The best defense is controlling the Asian citrus psyllid, which spreads the disease. UCCE subtropical horticulture specialist Peggy Mauk said nonchemical treatments aren't effective enough. “One individual that's (infected) can infect many trees,” Mauk said. In killing the psyllid, “You need to get as close to 100 percent as possible.”

Verify: Are half of California farmworkers undocumented?
Barbara Harvey, KXTV ABC Channel 10, Aug. 16, 2017
“Nine of 10 California farmworkers are immigrants. At least five in 10 are undocumented,” said Dianne Feinstein when discussing a bill that would give farmworkers a path to citizenship. However, Egan Reich, a Department of Labor spokesman, said the NAWS statistics do not track “farm workers." While it may be a matter of semantics, it's an important distinction. Philip Martin, a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics at UC Davis, highlighted the difference, pointing out that livestock workers could also fall under the broad definition of “farm worker.”

Agriculture's careful use of chlorpyrifos pivotal in EPA decision
Cecelia Parsons, Western Farm Press, Aug. 16, 2017
Pest control advisors and UC IPM specialists often advocate the use of softer materials and new strategies including mating disruption for crop protection, but note there are specific instances where this restricted use material cannot be matched in effectiveness against invasive pests and endemic pest outbreaks and as a resistance management tool. Entomologist Lori Berger of the UC Statewide IPM Program said a UC critical use study helped the EPA understand how and why chlorpyrifos is used in agriculture.

How safe is chicken imported from China? 5 questions answered
Maurice Pitesky, The Conversation, Aug. 13, 2017
Under a new trade deal, cooked poultry meat can be imported to the U.S. from China. UC Cooperative Extension poultry advisor Maurice Pitesky wrote that this is no food safety risk from viruses or bacteria if the meat is cooked properly. However, poultry meat can also contain contaminants, such as heavy metals, and antibiotic residues if birds are treated with antibiotics in an inappropriate fashion. “These risks are probably greater for poultry raised and processed in China than for poultry raised and processed in the United States,” he wrote.

4-H and Google team up to bring tech to America's youth
Christopher Walljasper, AgWeb.com, Aug. 11, 2017
California is one of 22 states in the nation where a new Google career education program was launched. The Internet search giant has donated $1.5 million to the National 4‑H Council to build skills youth will need for the future, like computer science, computational thinking, communication and collaboration,

How will President Trump's immigration plan affect California farm labor?
Lemor Abrams, CBS News Sacramento, Aug. 3, 2017
There is concern among Republicans and Democrats that President Donald Trump's immigration plan will cut into California's shrinking supply of low skilled farm labor. But UC ANR researcher Phillip Martin, who specializes in immigration, says it won't. Contrary to what critics believe, promoting high skilled workers won't hurt low skilled immigrants.

San Jose teen prepares for Santa Clara County Fair
Gillian Brassil, San Jose Mercury-News, Aug. 2, 2017
Santa Clara 4-H member April Alger, 17, raises market goats at the Emma Prusch Farm Park in San Jose. She's been raising animals since she received a chicken for her 10th birthday. This year she'll be selling two goats at the Santa Clara County fair, which she said is a little sad for her. “They're not pets, but they're a little like pets,” she said.

Posted on Friday, September 1, 2017 at 9:32 AM

The beautiful and healthful pitahaya thrives in Southern California

Farmer Arian Williams is successfully tending 16 acres of avocados in the De Luz area of Temecula, but he and his wife came to the 10th annual UC Pitahaya Festival in August to see whether there is commercial potential in producing pitahaya.

"We're taking cuttings, and trying it now," Williams said.

Vanessa Caballero, Williams wife, was enthusiastic about the prospect. "I love the way pitahayas look, and there are not too many grown commercially now," she said.

 
Different varieties of pitahaya produce fruit that is white, pink and deep red.

The field day at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine included research-based presentations on irrigation strategies, gopher control, integrated pest management, and the impact of root knot nematode on the vining, climbing pitahaya cacti. Native to Central America, the crop has become popular in Asia and the Middle East. Most of the fruit sold in the U.S. is imported.

UC Cooperative Extension advisor Ramiro Lobo has found that the unusually beautiful fruiting cactus thrives in Southern California's mild climate. Pitahaya do well in regions where avocados are produced, but use much less water. They can also make excellent landscape plants, adding interest to the garden while producing healthful fruit.

Staff research associate Gary Tanizaki reviews a a pitahaya irrigation trial that includes six different irrigation regimes designed to understand the optimum practices for popular varieties.

Pitahaya fruit begin as large, showy, nighttime-blooming flowers, each of which contain male and female parts. In many of the most-desirable varieties, the anthers (the male part with pollen) and the stigma (the female part that needs to be pollinated) are separated by a distance that prevents night-flying pollinators, such as moths, from consistently making the connection.

Pitahaya flowers have both male and female parts, however the space between them limits the amount of natural pollination. UCCE advisor Ramiro Lobo recommends growers hand pollinate early in the morning to ensure fruit set.

For a uniform and bountiful crop, Lobo suggests hand pollination. Pollen can be collected by shaking a bloom over a bowl or trimming the anthers into a cup with a pair of scissors. He stores pollen in the freezer until the night or early morning hours when cacti bloom. He dabs up pollen with an inexpensive makeup brush and lightly swishes it onto the flowers' stigma. 

“It's easy and takes just a few seconds per flower," Lobo said. "If you don't hand pollinate, you end up with fruits that are very small. And uniformity isn't there."

UCCE small farms advisor Ramiro Lobo, the pitahaya research leader, with a sample fruit.

Hand pollination also allows farmers to accurately project their pitahaya harvest and work in advance with fruit marketing companies to sell the crop. Lobo said he carries a mechanical counter to click as he pollinates flowers. Forty days later, that precise number of fruit will be ready for harvest.

A tractor pulled pitahaya festival participants to research plots at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center.
 
UCCE urban-wildlife interaction advisor Niamh Quinn demonstrates gopher control techniques.
 
Farmer Arian Williams (left) and his wife Vanessa Caballero are considering adding pitahaya to their 16-acre avocado plantation in Temucula.
 
In the U.S., pitahaya are sometimes marketed as 'dragon fruit' because of their spiny exterior and fiery flesh.
 
The pitahaya plantation at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine.
 
'The Green Cowboy' Chad Morris grows vegetables and manages a farm stand in San Diego. He is experimenting with a few rows of pitahaya.
Posted on Thursday, August 31, 2017 at 9:25 AM

UC Master Gardeners' 5 tips to boost beneficial bees

With a little care and planning, anyone can make their little corner of the earth safe and friendly for bees.

UC Master Gardener volunteer Clare Bhakta of San Joaquin County shared bee-friendly strategies during a community workshop in August, extending the reach of research information developed by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"Lure bees in," Bhakta said. "If you make it comfy, they will come."

UC Master Gardener Clare Bhakta leads the "Buzz about Bees" workshop in San Joaquin County.

Bhakta is a newly minted Master Gardener, having graduated in June from the intensive training program presented by UC advisors and specialists. She is part of the San Joaquin County MG speakers bureau; the "Buzz about Bees" was her inaugural engagement.

"We want bees in our gardens," Bhakta said. "Ninety percent of flowering plants and 75 percent of human crops depend on pollinators, including bees. Bee pollination makes about $15 billion in human food in the United States each year."

What's good for bees also attracts other pollinators. Here a yellow butterfly lands on lantana in the San Joaquin County demonstration garden, 2101 E. Earhart Ave., Stockton.

About 1,600 species of bees are found in California, many of them natives. Most of the bee species live independently, occupying holes in trees trunks or branches, or in the ground. Their sizes range from inch-long metallic black bumble bees to tiny sweat bees 3 millimeters in length. These species rarely sting since they don't have hives to protect. 

California's most recognizable bee is the European honeybee, imported from the Old Country by settlers in the 1600s. The insects serve as efficient pollinators and produce more honey than they can use themselves - offering humans an abundance of natural golden sweetener with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Bees work hard to produce honey. It takes 2 million flower visits - about 55,000 flight miles - to make a pound of honey. An individual worker bee lives just six weeks and produces about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

Sharon Butler is the president of the Ripon Community Garden. She attended the UC Master Gardener workshop to get research-based information on bee-friendly gardening.
 

Sharon Butler, president of the Ripon Community Garden, attended the free workshop. The 2.5-acre garden at the corner of Vera and Doak avenues has dozens of raised garden plots. The community just added several bee hives. Butler asked at the workshop about an unexplained phenomenon in their first honey harvest. 

"A couple of racks had dark spots with honey that had a cinnamon taste," she said.

Bhatka said the variation was probably the result of nectar from different plants.

"I wish I knew what plant it is, I'd plant a lot more," Butler said.

The Ripon Community Garden allows local families to grow food, and allocates four beds to grow fresh vegetables to distribute to local senior citizens.

Creating a bee friendly garden may go against the grain for tidy gardeners. Bees don't prefer the well-trimmed plants and homogeneous color scheme of a formal outdoor space.

"Bees love herbs," Bhakta said. "I let my sage go crazy this year and I couldn't believe how tall they got."

Marbles give bees a place to land and sip water.
Bees like a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring to late fall planted in clumps to minimize their travel time. Sweetly aromatic blooms, particularly blues and yellows, will attract the most bees. 

For best results, don't over garden. Follow these five tips from the UC Master Gardener program:

  1. Rather than cover all soil with mulch, leave open areas for ground nesting bees.

  2. Keep a few dead tree stumps or branches. Particularly if it has holes, it makes an ideal nesting site for solitary bees.

  3. Let plants "go to seed," even when they begin to look overgrown and leggy.

  4. Provide a shallow water source. Filling it with pebbles or marbles allows the bees access to the water.

  5. Avoid using pesticides. Visit the UC Integeted Pest Management website for environmentally sound methods of controlling pests and weeds.

 

Posted on Monday, August 28, 2017 at 8:37 AM

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