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UC ANR hosts workshops for California's urban farmers

A UC Cooperative Extension workshop series in Los Angeles will help city growers build their knowledge on legal, production, marketing and food safety issues.
In communities around California, urban farms provide fresh produce, community green space, and even job training. However, a 2014 UC ANR needs assessment indicated that urban farmers face challenges, as well as opportunities. They are often beginning farmers, and encounter barriers related to growing in the city, such as zoning restrictions. 

Building on the needs assessment, a team of UC ANR researchers created a resource website for California urban farmers. This year, team members and local partners are conducting a series of trainings for urban farmers around the state, designed to help city growers build their knowledge in key areas. The series just wrapped up in the Bay Area, and will roll out in Los Angeles starting on July 21. The Los Angeles series dates and topics are:

  1.  July 21. Legal Basics of Urban Farming.  Are you an urban farmer navigating the rules and regulations related to growing and selling food? A school or non-profit organization involved in farming? This workshop will help position you for success.
  2. July 28. Production Issues and Urban Farms.  Are you an urban farmer learning the ins and outs of growing and harvesting crops? This workshop is designed to guide urban farmers through common production challenges related to soil, water use, and pest management. 
  3. August 4. Marketing and Business Management for Urban Farmers. From business planning to labor laws, learn the basics to help you succeed.
  4. August 11. Food Safety Basics for Urban Farmers. Learn how to ensure a safe harvest, from the field to the fork. 

Local partners are key to planning and hosting these events, including the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, the Collaborative for Urban Agroecology Los Angeles, Cal Poly Pomona College of Agriculture, Community Services Unlimited, GrowGood, the Growing Experience, and others.

The series will also be held in Sacramento and San Diego in early 2018. For updates and announcements, follow UC ANR's Urban Agriculture blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  And be sure to bookmark our UC Urban Agriculture website which offers resources on production, policies, and more.

Urban Ag Workshop Series-SoCal 5-23-17A (3)
Urban Ag Workshop Series-SoCal 5-23-17A (3)

Posted on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 8:56 AM

Changes in breast milk sugars impact babies’ health and growth

When it comes to nursing moms and their babies, an elegant web of cause and effect connects climate, breast milk, gut microbes and infant health.

That web was clearly illustrated by a recently published study involving 33 women and their babies in the West African nation of The Gambia. The research team, including scientists from UC Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, found that complex breast milk sugars called oligosaccharides helped protect nursing babies from illness and also influenced the mixture of microbes in the infants' guts.

The researchers also showed that changes in food availability from season to season could affect the composition of the women's breast milk and the protective quality of the babies' gut microbiota. And those changes, in turn, impacted the health and growth of the breastfed infants.

UC research in The Gambia has revealed microbial changes in breast milk characteristics during the country's two distinct seasons - when food supplies differ significantly. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Composition of breast-milk sugars and infant health

Oligosaccharides occur abundantly as more than 200 different chemical structures in human breast milk. It's been known for some time that these complex sugars contribute to infant health by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the baby's gut. And these gut bacteria have been shown to play a key role in fending off infectious illnesses.

But little has been known about how changes in the composition of the breast milk sugars might affect the health and growth of infants, especially those living in areas where infection rates are high.

To explore that relationship, the researchers monitored the composition of the oligosaccharides in the mothers' milk and examined the infants' gut microbiota at 4 weeks, 16 weeks and 20 weeks after the babies were born. Then they analyzed the data, looking for possible relationships to the health and growth of the babies and the status of their gut microbes.

They found that two of the oligosaccharides, lacto-N-fucopentaose and 3′-sialyllactose, had a direct relationship to the babies' health and growth. High levels of the former were associated with a decrease in infant illness and with improved growth, measured as height for age, while the latter proved to be a good indicator of infant growth, measured by weight per age.

“Our findings provide evidence that specific human milk oligosaccharides can alter the composition of breast milk, making it more protective against infection and allowing the infant to invest energy in growth rather than fending off disease,” said the study's corresponding author Angela Zivkovic, an assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis.

Influence of wet and dry seasons

The researchers also were curious how seasonal shifts in food availability, which significantly impact the mothers' diets, might be reflected in breast milk composition and infant health.

The Gambia has two distinct seasons, the wet season from July to October and the dry season from November to June.

The wet season is also known as the “hungry” season because it is the time of year when food supplies tend to be depleted, infection rates rise and the farming workload is highest. In contrast, the dry, or “harvest,” season is characterized by plentiful food supplies as well as significantly higher energy stores and less illness among the local people.

The researchers found that mothers who were nursing during the wet or “hungry” season produced significantly less oligosaccharide in their milk than did those nursing during the dry season.

In examining the makeup of the babies' gut microbiota, the researchers noted that most of the bacteria belonged to the Bifidobacteria genus. They also discovered that higher levels of Dialister and Prevotella bacteria were accompanied by lower levels of infection.

In addition, higher levels of Bacteroides bacteria were present in the infants' guts that had abnormal “calprotectin” – a biomarker associated with intestinal infections.

“We are very interested in which specific dietary factors influence the oligosaccharide composition of mother's milk,” Zivkovic said. “If we can find the mechanisms that change the composition of breast milk sugars, we may have a new approach for modifying the infant microbiota and ultimately influencing the health and vigor of the nursing baby.”

The study by Zivkovic and colleagues appears online in the journal Scientific Reports. The research is part of a long-running, cross-disciplinary project at UC Davis examining milk and its role in nutrition.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, UK Medical Research Council, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Peter J. Shields Endowed Chair in Dairy Food Science at UC Davis.

Posted on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 8:33 AM
  • Author: Pat Bailey

Inspiring youth leaders to cultivate health

What do you want to experience today?

What are sixth-graders interested in these days? “Cooking!” “Growing food!” “Learning how to be healthier.” “Exercising.” “Meeting new friends!” These enthusiastic answers came from sixth-grade student leaders in Santa Maria, Calif., when asked by educators from the UC Cooperative Extension Youth, Families and Communities program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Through an integrated youth-focused healthy living project, called Food Smart Families, funded by National 4-H, the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program, and the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program, 32 fourth- through sixth-grade student leaders were brought together from three schools in Santa Maria, Calif., for a full-day educational retreat that focused on engaging youth to explore their healthy lifestyle interests and see themselves as leaders.

Throughout the day, student leaders experienced physical activity games, learned cooking skills, participated in garden-based learning, and developed their presentation skills. They focused on skill development, as well as transference so that the student leaders could take these activities into their own schools to encourage and teach their peers. For example, the fun physical activity breaks that were incorporated throughout the day modeled games where no one is “out” or excluded, while moving enough to get heart rates up.

Students practice culinary skills.
After the retreat, the student leaders brought these activities to their own schools, leading their peers in the games during lunch and recess breaks. During the retreat, the student leaders also got to practice knife safety skills while chopping produce to prepare their own veggie pita pockets and fruit salads. With these skills, the student leaders offered food demonstrations and nutrition lessons to their peers during the following weeks.

In the garden, student leaders learned the basics of growing food and how to lead a garden lesson. Students discussed garden tools and how to use them safely, then planted their own seeds to take home. The garden session ended with a gleaning of the school citrus orchard where students laughed and enjoyed the fresh air and fresh fruits growing around them. In their own school gardens, the student leaders have offered lessons and tastings to their peers.

Student Nutrition Advisory Council logo.
The retreat culminated with youth presentations. The student leaders worked in teams with students from different schools to generate ideas and artwork for the Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC) logo and t-shirt design. They presented their concepts to the larger group, practicing their presentation skills. The student leaders voted on the designs and a winner was selected to be featured on a t-shirt for SNAC leaders at each of the three schools. The students leaders proudly wear their shirts as they lead healthy living education, advocacy and engagement activities.

By the end of the retreat, the student leaders were excited to take the information and skills back to their schools and start leading. Students shared their plans to help other students be more active during recess, be healthy, and help other kids be healthier too.

“This was the best day I have ever had,” said one of the students.

Recess activation in progress.
Since the retreat, the student-led initiatives have been numerous and continually evolving. The sixth-graders have encouraged and trained younger students to become their successors as they move onto junior high. Several students co-authored and starred in a video production called “Get to Know Your Salad Bar.”  With educator encouragement, the student leaders developed a script to motivate their peers to try out the salad bar by mixing fruit into their salad to make it sweet or putting lettuce and tomato on your hamburger to make it juicy and crunchy. Beyond leading in their own schools, the student leaders have been working to help their entire community. Many of the student leaders helped organize and conduct game-style nutrition activities at a local food pantry distribution to teach families about shopping for healthy foods on a limited budget. Other student leaders provided education and training to students at neighboring schools, encouraging them to become leaders as well.

Through the efforts of the Food Smart Families program, the Youth, Families, & Communities program in San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara counties merged the strengths of the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program and the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development program to provide new opportunities and experiences for students in this community. With interested and caring adults, these student leaders learned to share their passions for cooking, gardening, and healthy lifestyle with their peers at school and others in their community. The rewards for the school, community and adult allies continue to expand as these inspired student leaders, with strong mentorship and support, take on some of the biggest challenges facing our society and world.

Harvesting from the orchard.
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 9:46 AM

Planting the seeds for garden-based education

Students explore pumpkins with UC CalFresh staff.
The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Santa Barbara County (UC CalFresh) is planting new ideas and possibilities to increase teacher use of school gardens.

Each school day, teachers must carefully plan and account for their instructional minutes. For each grade level has specific time recommendations for math and English language arts, so teachers often feel they do not have the time to include extra activities in their already packed schedules. When UC CalFresh gave a brief survey to teachers a Santa Maria school last year, teachers identified the following barriers to using their school garden for instruction:

  1. Lack of instructional time or preparation time
  2. Lack of curriculum and learning activities
  3. Too many students to manage in the outdoor setting

These concerns reflected comments that UC CalFresh nutrition educators frequently heard from teachers who were invited to bring their students to the school garden.

Taking these concerns into consideration, UC CalFresh developed innovative strategies to meet the needs of school teachers, showing how instructional minutes in the garden don't have to be “extra” and can include hands-on learning for English language arts and math, with a focus on nutrition. The strategies include:

  1. Clearly aligning garden-based nutrition education with common core lessons
  2. Providing garden-based curriculum and materials for learning activities in the garden
  3. Hosting Garden Open House Days, during which teachers can bring their students to the garden when UC CalFresh Educators are present to increase educator-to-student ratios.

Students explore pumpkins in the garden with their teacher.
To meet the needs of partnering teachers, UC CalFresh educators developed “No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits,” enabling teachers to teach common core-aligned nutrition education lessons without having to use prep time to make copies or create materials of their own. This year, based on the survey data, UC CalFresh expanded the No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits to include lessons that could be taught in the garden.

The first No-Prep Garden-Based Nutrition Education Kit was piloted in October and featured pumpkins. The No-Prep Kit became fondly known as the Pumpkin Kit. The Pumpkin Kit encouraged teachers to take the lesson out to the garden, increasing students' physical activity time while providing opportunities for students to practice common core skills. The kit focuses on nutrition and cooking while reinforcing math, science and language arts. The kit includes books, worksheets, an oven, and several different pumpkins for measuring, cooking, estimating, and tasting. This kit requires no teacher prep time, is adaptable to any primary grade level, and is an easy introduction to garden-based lesson delivery.

During a Garden Open House Day hosted by UC CalFresh in October, kindergarten students and their fifth-grade buddies came out to the garden. The fifth-grade buddies worked with the kindergarten students to use observation skills (five senses), learn adjectives, and draw the pumpkin life cycle. The older buddies gained teaching and language arts skills while working with their little buddies in the garden. Students got to dissect the pumpkins in teams and used the seeds for counting. Each kindergartener took 20 seeds home to practice counting with their parents, which also served as a budding connection for students' families and the school garden.

"If we had something like this every month, we would be able to go out into the garden more and maybe we could get more teachers to come. This is what we need, curriculum that can be used in the garden," said kindergarten teacher Mrs. Joaquin.

Seed counting and sorting.
Moving forward, UC CalFresh is piloting bimonthly No-Prep Kits for garden-based lessons, featuring the USDA's DigIn! curriculum, as well as other UC curricula. Teachers can teach with the kits on their own in the garden or come during UC CalFresh hosted Garden Open House Days for extra educator support. By easing teachers' paths into the garden, students get to spend time outdoors, engage in physical activity, and participate in learning that reinforces their science, English language arts and math skill development.

“The program has been awesome," said one fourth-grade teacher. "[UC CalFresh] incorporated math, science, social studies into lessons. Students were excited and engaged. Many tried new vegetables they'd never had before and liked them! Kids learned responsibility and pride in designing, choosing plants, maintaining and harvesting in school garden.”

For more on UC CalFresh of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties see the Facebook page at facebook.com/uccalfreshslosb 

 

UC CalFresh nutrition education is offered in schools jointly by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and USDA. 

Posted on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 8:33 AM

Encouraging students to eat their vegetables

Which end of an asparagus do you eat?  I am not going to eat that, it's too spicy! Pink milk cartons (non-fat) are only for girls.

A student leader and student assistant help hand out the bell peppers.
These and many other questions and comments came from students and staff at schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) during recent efforts to expose students to a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. A collaboration between SMBSD staff and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources's UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties (UC CalFresh) was initiated in the 2014/2015 school year to work on increasing the likelihood that students will select and consume vegetables offered through the school meal program.

The collaboration included three components: monthly, school-wide seasonal produce tastings facilitated by UC CalFresh and supported by the school district; Smarter Lunchroom Movement strategies implemented by district food service staff with support from UC CalFresh; and classroom nutrition education with curricula provided by UC CalFresh and implemented by participating classroom teachers.

The monthly produce tastings were a coordinated effort between the UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators, student leaders from the Student Nutrition Advisory Council, and Cafeteria staff. The first goal was to familiarize the students in the five elementary schools with local, seasonal vegetables – and eventually get them on the school menu and on students' plates. During the months of March, April and May of 2015 more than 4,000 students at five participating schools

Example of how students voted.
got the opportunity to try new vegetables like Brussels sprouts, asparagus and sweet bell pepper. After tasting new vegetables, students then placed a ticket in either a “yes” or “no” box to indicate whether they would like to see those vegetables again on their school menu.

Student leaders participated in all aspects of the monthly tastings, from advising on what produce items to sample, to making signs advertising the featured produce, to handing out the samples to their peers. The voting results were overwhelmingly positive with a majority of students in favor of putting Brussels sprouts, asparagus and yellow bell peppers on the school menu. As a result of these findings, and the students' enthusiasm for trying new things, food service staff are working on incorporating a Brussels sprouts salad into their regular menu.

The second component included Smarter Lunchroom Movement (SLM) strategies from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics. These strategies were introduced at a cafeteria manager training facilitated by UC CalFresh. At the training, district staff were introduced to SLM concepts and encouraged to identify two changes they wanted to implement in their

Smarter Lunchroom Movement sign advertising what's for lunch
school cafeterias before the end of the year. Changes identified included improving signage on the salad bar and in the entryway, creating a cafeteria brand (i.e. Bulldog Café) to encourage students to take pride in their lunchroom, and creating a more welcoming atmosphere so students could sit and enjoy their school meal. In addition, UC CalFresh staff made a regular habit of eating lunch in the school cafeteria with students when they were on campus for other nutrition education events.

Students, at first surprised seeing adults eating school meals, welcomed the nutrition educators to their tables. Staff took the opportunity to talk to the students about their food, model healthy food habits and dispel myths about their food. Myths included things like pink milk cartons (non-fat) were only for girls and school lunches are unhealthy. By the end of the school year, all participating schools had improved their scores on the Smarter Lunchroom Self-Assessment Scorecard and plans are currently being developed to provide districtwide cafeteria branding.

The third component was the in-class curricula. Classroom curricula has been the primary focus of the UC CalFresh program for many years. UC CalFresh provides “No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits” and in class food demonstrations to enrolled teachers (Educator Extenders). These Educator Extenders teach evidence-based nutrition education lessons based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This year, as the collaboration with the school cafeteria developed, UC CalFresh staff rolled out the concept of Harvest of the Month mini kits and farm stands to coincide with the produce item being featured in the monthly cafeteria tastings. Educator Extenders had the

Asparagus Farm Stand showcasing student artwork
option of connecting classroom curricula with cafeteria efforts through the Harvest of the Month mini-lesson, then posting their students' work on the farm stand bulletin boards in their school cafeteria. The lessons and the student artwork helped to bring the three components together for students in all age groups.

This collaborative effort has brought about many opportunities to educate, expose and inform students and staff about local produce and how delicious it can be in their school lunches. Students who once thought that sweet yellow, green and red bell peppers were too spicy had the opportunity to sample them and see for themselves. Students who did not know which end to eat an asparagus from got to sample it and then vote on whether or not they wanted to try it again. Food service staff also got to see how excited their students were to sample new items, including Brussels sprouts, and have a voice in their school menu.

For more pictures, visit the UC CalFresh Facebook page.

 

 

 

Brussels sprouts tasting set-up
Asparagus poster made by the student leaders
 
 

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 10:09 AM
  • Author: Shannon Klisch
  • Contributor: Lisa Paniagua
  • Contributor: Melissa LaFreniere

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