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What’s the difference between yams and sweetpotatoes?

Do you know the difference between a yam and a sweetpotato?

“A true yam is not grown in the U.S., it's found in South America,” says Jason Tucker, vice president of the California Sweetpotato Council. Real yams have dry, dark flesh and are not the same plant species as sweetpotatoes, he explained.

“A yam is a sweetpotato, at least for those grown in the U.S.”, says Scott Stoddard, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County. “The rest of country has predominately just one type of sweetpotato, with tan skin and orange flesh, but in California, we have four marketing classes.”

The four kinds of California sweetpotatoes are

  • Jewell, with tan skin and orange flesh
  • Jersey, with light yellow skin and white flesh
  • Oriental, with purple skin and white flesh
  • Garnet, with red skin and deep orange flesh

The red-skinned sweetpotatoes are what many people in the United States call yams.

The California Sweetpotato Council spells sweetpotato as one word because it isn't a potato, it is a different plant species.

Sweetpotato classes, from left, are Jewell, Oriental, Jersey and Garnet. Photo courtesy of the California Sweetpotato Council.
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 at 8:26 AM

The food vs. fuel debate: Growing biofuel in the U.S.

Studies suggest biofuel can be grown on 'marginal land,' but no standard definition of 'marginal land' exists.
In order to slow global climate change and achieve greater energy independence, Americans are showing an increasing interest in switching over to clean, renewable fuels made from home-grown crops. In fact, Congress has mandated that at least 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol be added to the U.S. fuel supply by 2022.

However, estimates suggest that growing crops to produce that much biofuel would require 40 to 50 million acres of land, an area roughly equivalent in size to the entire state of Nebraska.

“If we convert cropland that now produces food into fuel production, what will that do to our food supply?” asks Maggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and the director of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide IGIS Program. “If we begin growing fuel crops on land that isn't currently in agriculture, will that come at the expense of wildlife habitat and open space, clean water and scenic views?”

Kelly and UC Berkeley graduate student Sarah Lewis are conducting research to better understand land-use options for growing biofuel feed stock. They used a literature search, in which the results of multiple projects conducted around the world are reviewed, aggregated and compared. 

“When food vs. fuel land questions are raised in the literature, authors often suggest fuel crops be planted on ‘marginal land,'” Kelly said. “But what does that actually mean? Delving into the literature, we found there was no standard definition of ‘marginal land.'”

Kelly and Lewis' literature review focused on projects that used geospatial technology to explicitly map marginal, abandoned or degraded lands specifically for the purpose of planting bioenergy crops. They narrowed their search to 21 papers from 2008 to 2013, and among them they found no common working definition of marginal land.

“We have to be careful when we talk about what is marginal. We have to be explicit about our definitions, mapping and modeling,” Kelly said. “In our lab, we are trying to understand the landscape under multiple lenses and prioritize different uses and determine how management regimes impact the land.”

The research report, titled Mapping the Potential for Biofuel Production on Marginal Lands: Differences in Definitions, Data and Models across Scales, was published in the International Journal for Geo-Information.

Click here for this story in Spanish.

An initiative to improve energy security and green technologies is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Naturalist Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

 

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 at 7:45 AM

Legacy of the drought may be fewer permanent crops

Louise Ferguson.
The California drought is expected to change planting patterns for the state's agricultural industry, reported Clint Jasper on Australian Rural Radio. Jasper interviewed Louise Ferguson, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and director of the UC Fruit and Nut Research and Information Center.

"Whether it's good or bad, in California we've become accustomed to a steady water supply though our catchments, dams and aqueducts that deliver water to the (Central) Valley," Ferguson said. "In the past 3 or 4 years of drought, we've become more dependent on wells, what you're always dependent upon here in Australia."

She predicted that, in the next three to five years, California will see a significant decrease in tree crops as a result.

"In California, up till now, we did not have groundwater use regulations," she said. "The increase in wells very shortly will lead to regulations, both quantity and quality. Meaning how much you can draw out and how much nitrogen you can use in your fertilization program."

Jasper also interviewed Almond Board of California president and chief executive officer Richard Waycott.

"As an industry we've been doing deficit irrigation research, and applying water efficiency research across our industry for many years," Waycott said. "The drought is caused by Mother Nature. All agriculture needs water, and our growers are responsible with the water they use."

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 1:27 PM

Parents can make healthful eating fun for kids

Guide for parents helps teach kids healthy practices early in life.
New parents sometimes joke that they wish babies, like consumer products, would come with an instruction manual. Because, ultimately, parents want to do what's best to keep their children healthy, but what's best to do isn't always intuitive. To help to make it easier for parents, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers a short guide, called “Healthy, Happy Families” to help parents teach their kids about nutrition.

Studies have shown that we develop our eating habits early in life, according to lead author Lenna Ontai, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Human and Community Development at UC Davis.

“We know that it is not enough to just teach parents what to do. We have to support them in how they can take that knowledge home and use it effectively,” said Ontai.

Healthy, Happy Families provides parents with practical information about how children develop and tips for raising a healthy and happy child. It includes fun and easy activities for parents to do with their preschool-aged children to promote healthful eating.

Children who spend more time with their parents tend to be happier and learn better, the authors write. They recommend eating together as a family to help children learn to make healthy food choices. Letting children help plan and prepare meals helps them develop new skills. Children also learn social skills during family meals such as talking and listening.

Now available in Spanish!
Each of the eight lessons is designed to take 15-20 minutes. The book includes suggestions for encouraging positive behavior and activities such as cooking together. To entice children to try new, nutritious foods, let them explore textures, tastes, colors and sounds of food. Fuzzy kiwifruit, sour apples, red peppers and crunchy celery may pique their interest.

For cooking with kids, they recommend

  • Explaining why it's important to wash our hands.
  • Setting up an area for the child that is away from the stove and oven.
  • Using a low table or safe step stool.
  • Letting the child taste.
  • Using child-sized utensils.
  • And most of all, making it fun!

In a fun way, parents can create a healthy learning environment and teach their children healthful habits that will last a lifetime.

“Helping parents tune into their children's development and supporting positive interactions around food makes a big difference as children grow,” Ontai said. 

The Healthy, Happy Families workbook is available in packages of 10 for $15 in English and is now available in Spanish as Familia sana, familia feliz in Spanish. There is also a companion publication for teachers called the Healthy, Happy Families for Teachers curriculum. All three publications can be ordered at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 8:04 AM

UC helps urban farmers cultivate crops

The City of Los Angeles has about 8,000 vacant lots, which potentially could be used for urban agriculture.
There is plenty of vacant land that could potentially be farmed in urban Los Angeles County, but there are hoops to jump before a hoe can rake through the earth, reported Rick Paulas in a Q&A article with UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachel Surls, published on the KCET Food Rant blog.

"Sometimes, I think there's local elected officials who feel the highest use of that land is to build businesses that will create jobs," Surls said. "And although urban agriculture can sometimes create jobs, it has other community benefits that perhaps aren't entirely valued, like offering healthy food, beautifying the neighborhood. Oftentimes, neighborhoods get a Burger King on a piece of vacant land rather than a community garden."

Surls said beginning urban farmers at first need basic horticultural information - what to grow, when to plant, how to irrigate and how to manage pests. As they gain experience, they often encounter challenges there weren't aware of at first, such as regulatory or zoning issues.

"And if they stick around long enough," Surls said, "they get to a phase where they need more sophisticated production information, more marketing and business-oriented information, and advice on things like labor. How can I legally use volunteers? What are California labor laws? Just a lot of information that commercial farmers have been dealing with for a long time."

To help farmers at each of these stages, Surls developed a website for urban farmers that aggregates information and resources needed to start a new farm, work with city and county officials, and market their produce.

Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 1:05 PM

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