UC Food Blog
Why do you love fruits and vegetables? Is it their bright colors? Their many shapes and varieties, the way they can makeover your plate with the seasons? The opportunity to taste local terroir in a very fresh bite of fruit or forkful of salad?
Is it more about the juiciness, crunchiness or succulence?
Or do you think more about nutrition? About vitamins, micronutrients and fiber, after decades of being encouraged to eat “5 A Day” to be healthy? Is it about that feeling of righteous virtue when you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables — and know you're earning a gold star for eating right?
The importance of eating fruits and vegetables has been making headlines again recently, with studies refocusing on the concept of “nutrition security” in a changing climate and pushing for an emphasis on nutrient consumption. The EAT-Lancet commission — while mostly garnering headlines in the United States related to reduced meat consumption — also recommended a diet that would require almost every global region to increase its consumption of fruits and vegetables to meet healthy diet goals.
But there's another reason to love fruits and vegetables that might not be as obvious. Here's a 30-second video clip of what a young farmer in Uganda had to tell me about vegetables, when I had the chance to meet him last year:
“There's no quicker source of getting money in town,” Boaz Otieno explained, when discussing why he chose to farm instead of going to town to find a job. He also talked about the concept that he could grow vegetables like tomatoes on a smaller plot of land and earn as much for those tomatoes as a larger plot of corn or cassava.
"You might even grow (tomatoes) twice while the cassava is not yet harvested, so there's a lot of money in horticulture," he said.
Otieno is a farmer who was also working as a site coordinator for a research project led by Kate Scow in Uganda, which was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, the USAID-funded research program that I work for at UC Davis. Elizabeth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist, often talks about the “double-duty impacts” of fruits and vegetables, as these crops can be a tool to achieve two major global goals: improving nutrition and reducing poverty.
And it's not just one farmer's opinion that horticultural crops can yield higher incomes. In a white paper about aligning the food system to meet fruit and vegetable dietary needs, the authors pointed out that data from Africa and Asia have shown farmer profits per hectare 3-14 times higher when growing vegetables versus growing rice. The paper also points out that USDA estimates fruits and vegetables account for 23 percent of production value in American agriculture, grown on less than 3 percent of the country's agricultural land. And here in California, fruits and vegetables are a $20 billion industry.
Later this month, the Horticulture Innovation Lab will be hosting a conference in Washington, D.C., focused on making the case for fruits and vegetables with the theme, “Colorful Harvest: From Feeding to Nourishing a Growing World.” The conference will bring together decision makers, international development practitioners, and researchers from universities across the United States, Africa, Asia and Central America to discuss how horticultural innovations can advance global issues of food security, food waste, gender empowerment, youth employment, malnutrition, and poverty reduction.
While the conference speakers and participants will be diverse, we're also working to bring farmers' voices — like Otieno's — into the conference with video clips from our partners in Nepal, Honduras, Rwanda and elsewhere, to explain what exactly it is that makes them love fruits and vegetables.
- Conference info: Colorful Harvest: From Feeding to Nourishing a Growing World
(Check the conference webpage for more videos and presentation info after the event.)
- White paper: Aligning the Food System to Meet Dietary Needs: Fruits and Vegetables
- More about the Horticulture Innovation Lab
Watch a short video clip on what Boaz Otieno likes best about vegetables: https://youtu.be/aEu9BgL9aH4
Eating healthy on a limited budget is possible, but any cuts in SNAP or rise in food costs make it harder
The affordability of healthy food is often cited as a barrier to low-income families eating nutritious meals. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that with menu planning and access to stores selling items in bulk, the average daily cost for serving healthy meals to a family of four was $25 in 2010 dollars. This cost was consistent with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) low-income cost of food meal plan, but higher than the cost of the USDA Thrifty Food Plan. The Thrifty Food Plan is the meal plan used by the USDA to determine food assistance benefits.
“This study determined the likelihood that families living in low-income households could create meals that meet the USDA dietary guidelines presented in MyPlate nutrition education materials,” said lead author Karen M. Jetter, Ph.D., of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, which is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. “In addition to food cost, the other factors considered were access to stores, time for meal preparation, and whether the menus included culturally appropriate foods.”
Jetter also cautioned that any reduction in SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for people with qualifying low incomes, or increase in food costs would make it hard for economically vulnerable families to eat healthy foods.
This project was conducted in collaboration with Northern Valley Indian Health, Inc, and the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria where 88 percent of the population surveyed lived in households with an income of less than or equal to $35,000 a year. The menus were created to feed a household with a father, mother, and children ages 7 and 10 with foods the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community liked to eat, met USDA guidelines for healthy eating, and had realistic portions. Menus did not rely on processed foods to reduce the amount of fat and salt in the family diet, were varied so the family would not become bored eating the same foods, did not always require hot meal preparation, and were affordable.
By working closely with the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community researchers, two-weeks of daily menus were developed using meal plans provided by the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community. Although these plans did not meet the nutritional guidelines every day, all categories achieved the recommended levels on average at the end of a two-week period.
“These menus showed that a healthy diet on a budget was achieved by balancing daily targets over two weeks, not every day. This focuses healthy eating on balance rather than being deprived,” said Jetter.
Once the menus were determined, the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community researchers visited 13 grocery stores in Chico to ascertain menu costs. The stores visited were within a 10-minute car ride of 76 percent of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe members and were classified as bulk supermarket, general supermarket, discount market, or specialty market such as a local co-op.
Both bulk and general supermarkets had the highest availability of the items needed for a two-week shopping list, whereas specialty and discount markets lacked as many as 52 of the items needed. Bulk and discount market baskets had the lowest average daily cost of $25, while the specialty market had the highest average cost of $39 per day.
One limitation of the study was the focus on the actual cost of food without considering transactional costs such as the time needed to plan menus, develop shopping lists, research store advertisements, and travel to the bulk supermarket that offered the lowest cost. All of these factors influence a family's ability to sustain a healthy eating plan.
“This research demonstrates that menus that meet USDA guidelines can be purchased by a family of four when shopping at a bulk supermarket, but any reduction in SNAP benefits or increase in food costs would make it difficult for these economically vulnerable families to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” stressed Jetter.
This project was part of a larger project funded by a National Institutes of Health grant.
U.S. honey industry contributes more than $4.7 billion to economy, according to Ag Issues Center report
The U.S. honey industry is thriving, according to a new study from the University of California Agricultural Issues Center (AIC). The research found that the U.S. honey industry in 2017 was responsible for more than 22,000 jobs and its total economic output was $4.74 billion. Total economic output includes direct effect, such as workers hired to move beehives, indirect effect, like packaging supply companies for honey products, and induced effects, the wages honey industry workers spend at local businesses.
The study was directed by Daniel A. Sumner, an economist and director of the AIC, an institute which has studied the economic impacts of many farm commodities. The U.S. honey industry is made up of beekeepers, importers, packers and processors.
"The U.S. honey industry contributed significantly to jobs and economic activity across many states and regions in the United States," Sumner said. "In addition to its direct economic contributions, as an important ingredient, honey contributes flavor to a wide variety of food products and stimulates demand across the food industry."
The honey industry contributed approximately $2.1 billion in value added to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. For scale, Vermont Maple contributed $34 million to the Vermont economy in 2013.
"While beekeeping is a labor of love and the true essence of a craft industry, the honey industry's size and scope shows that honey production makes a significant impact on our nation's economy," said Margaret Lombard, CEO of the National Honey Board. "From beekeepers in Washington state to packers in Maine, the honey industry's impact is evident across the country—as well as in the overall U.S. GDP."
In 2017, the honey industry employed more than 22,000 individuals across the U.S. in production, importation and packing jobs. The Vermont Maple industry employed 4,021 in 2013.
In addition to a thriving industry, the American appetite for honey is growing. In 2017, Americans consumed 596 million pounds of honey or about 1.82 pounds of honey per person, which represents a 65 percent increase in consumption from 2009 to 2017.
To learn more about the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, visit https://aic.ucdavis.edu. Find the full "Contributions of the U.S. Honey Industry to the U.S. Economy" study here. For more information on the National Honey Board, visit www.honey.com.
About National Honey Board
The National Honey Board (NHB) is an industry-funded agriculture promotion group that works to educate consumers about the benefits and uses for honey and honey products through research, marketing and promotional programs. The board's work, funded by an assessment on domestic and imported honey, is designed to increase the awareness and usage of honey by consumers, the food service industry and food manufacturers. The 10-member board, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, represents producers (beekeepers), packers, importers and a marketing cooperative. For more information, visit www.honey.com.
About University of California Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis
The University of California Agricultural Issues Center (AIC) was established in 1985 to research and analyze crucial trends and policy issues affecting agriculture and interlinked natural and human resources in California and the West. The Center, which consists of a director, several associate directors, a small professional staff and an advisory board, provides independent and objective research-based information on a range of critical, emerging agricultural issues such as food and agricultural commodity markets, the value of agricultural research and development, farm costs and returns, consequences of food and agricultural policy and rural resources and the environment. The audience for AIC research and outreach includes decision makers in industry, non-governmental organizations and governments as well as scholars, journalists, students and the general public.
In a growing number of communities, food policy councils (also called “food system alliances”) have emerged to address gaps in local policies that focus on food. Most communities have transportation, housing or land use policies, but food policies are frequently missing. Food policy councils (FPCs) are an important way to bring community members together with local government to promote the social, economic and environmental health of local and regional food systems.
Food policy councils are made up of representatives from many sectors in the food system, including farmers, distributors, retailers, food service operations, government agencies (like public health, county social services and county agriculture departments), and community organizations that work in the food system. Some FPCs also develop close partnerships with county-based UC Cooperative Extension to help facilitate their work.
FPCs support a variety of food and agriculture-related policies and programs, including healthy food access, land use planning, regional food procurement, food waste, food and economic development, local food processing, and regulations related to urban farming or community gardening, to name a few examples.
A brief history of food policy councils
FPCs emerged in the late 1980s as the sustainable agriculture and food/nutrition movements began to pay more attention to community food systems. Early FPCs were created through resolutions of local government bodies (Clancy et al 2008). At that time, they tended to be embedded within government, much like a planning commission or a social service commission. As the local food movement began to rapidly expand in the 2000s, many local activists and organizations began to create FPCs as a way to bring together a more diverse group of food system stakeholders. These newer generation FPCs were typically organized outside of government as a non-profit organization or community coalition. Studies of FPCs, including our own, find that they take very diverse organizational forms and tackle widely varying issues, which means that generalizations about their goals and outcomes are difficult to make. This may be quite appropriate however, given the enduring FPC goal of tailoring food policies to the specific characteristics of particular places.
A UC ANR research project is looking at how FPCs work
While FPCs are increasingly on the radar of those trying to promote food system change, we still don't have much recent documented evidence about the actual work of FPCs (though see Harper et al. 2009, Fox 2010 and Borron 2003). In response, a team of UC Cooperative Extension researchers (Clare Gupta, Julia Van Soelen Kim, Dave Campbell, Jennifer Sowerwine, Gail Feenstra, Shosha Capps and Kate Munden-Dixon) began a comparative study of 10 California food policy councils in 2016. We wanted to know this: what are the networks and relationships that FPCs are a part of? And how do these networks and relationships influence what a FPC is able to achieve? As UCCE researchers ourselves, we were especially interested in understanding the nature of relationships between FPCs and university researchers, including UC Cooperative Extension.
To answer these questions, we interviewed more than 60 FPC members from food policy councils across California. We asked them about the work they were doing within their councils, their relationships with other players in the local food system, and the way they find information relevant for their council's priorities. We also led focus groups with members exploring the same questions. In addition, we analyzed documents produced by and about FPCs. We also engaged in “participant observation” — researcher lingo for the process of engaging with groups and individuals as a way to learn first-hand about what they do. Lastly, we combined the stories we heard from our interviewees with numerical data from a survey of nearly all of California's known FPCs. We hoped by doing this to develop a better picture of FPCs' strategies for gathering relevant information, networking and creating impact.
Our Research Findings
A full report of our findings can be found on the UC SAREP website, but here we share some key takeaways and strategies for FPC success:
- Respondents see information sharing as the most valuable FPC activity. It encourages collaboration and shifts participant thinking towards a more holistic view of food policy work.
- Members who are “knowledge brokers,,” including Cooperative Extension advisors, are connected to many different knowledge sources and are able to draw on these different sources to provide data and information that match their council's needs.
- Real-life experiences are often as compelling with policy-makers as statistics. FPCs cite the value of integrating information from numbers (i.e. quantitative data) and stories (i.e. qualitative data).
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to FPC membership. Some FPCs view food system change as a process that involves a broad and inclusive consortium of stakeholders. They try to bring stakeholders with diverse values together (i.e., a “big tent” approach). Other FPCs emphasize attracting allies who share core values and a commitment to advocacy on behalf of food systems change (i.e., a “small tent” approach).
- Small sub-groups within FPCs can achieve significant policy change. A targeted sub-group of the FPC (i.e. working group; task force, campaign) can work with key allies to push forward a particular policy priority—the entire council does not necessarily have to be entirely involved.
- Effective FPCs have strong leaders. These leaders have deep experience and connections in the community and a good feel for the nuances involved in effective political organizing.
Overall, we found that the work of FPCs at the local and state level is making a significant difference in our state, providing a meaningful way to pursue food systems policy and change. Our recent article in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development specifically highlights how local government and FPCs collaborate to shape food policies and programs in different local contexts. Stay tuned for more results from our work.
We would love to hear from you about whether our findings resonate in your own food policy council, or if you have ideas for next research steps.
Want to get involved in local food system policy-making? Join a food policy council! See reports by Food First or Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future's Food Policy Networks for additional information.
Clancy, K., Hammer, J., & Lippoldt, D. (2008). Food policy councils-past, present, and future. In Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for Sustainability (pp. 121-143). University of Nebraska Press.
Borron, S.M. 2003. Food Policy Councils: Practice and Possibility. Congressional Hunger Center Hunger-Free Community Report.
Fox, C. 2010. Food Policy Councils: Innovations in Democratic Governance for a Sustainable and Equitable Food System. Los Angeles Food Policy Task Force unpublished report.
Harper, A., Shattuck, A., E. Holt-Gimenez, Alkon, A., and F. Lambrick. 2009. Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned. Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy.
Farmers know they lose crops to pests and plant diseases, but scientists have found that on a global scale they are reducing crop yields for five major food crops by 10 percent to 40 percent, according to a report by a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientist and other members of the International Society for Plant Pathology. Wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato yields are reduced by pathogens and animal pests, including insects, scientists found in a global survey of crop health experts.
At a global scale, pathogens and pests are causing wheat losses of 10 percent to 28 percent, rice losses of 25 percent to 41 percent, maize losses of 20 percent to 41 percent, potato losses of 8 percent to 21 percent, and soybean losses of 11 percent to 32 percent, according to the study, published in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution.
“We are losing a significant amount of food on a global scale to pests and diseases at a time when we must increase food production to feed a growing population,” said co-author Neil McRoberts, co-leader of UC ANR's Sustainable Food Systems Strategic Initiative and Agricultural Experiment Station researcher and professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis.
While plant diseases and pests are widely considered an important cause of crop losses, and sometimes a threat to the food supply, precise figures on these crop losses are difficult to produce.
“One reason is because pathogens and pests have co-evolved with crops over millennia in the human-made agricultural systems,” write the authors on the study's website globalcrophealth.org. “As a result, their effects in agriculture are very hard to disentangle from the complex web of interactions within cropping systems. Also, the sheer number and diversity of plant diseases and pests makes quantification of losses on an individual pathogen or pest basis, for each of the many cultivated crops, a daunting task.”
“We conducted a global survey of crop protection experts on the impacts of pests and plant diseases on the yields of five of the world's most important carbohydrate staple crops and are reporting the results,” McRoberts said. “This is a major achievement and a real step forward in being able to accurately assess the impact of pests and plant diseases on crop production.”
The researchers surveyed several thousand crop health experts on five major food crops – wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato – in 67 countries.
“We chose these five crops since together they provide about 50 percent of the global human calorie intake,” the authors wrote on the website. The 67 countries grow 84 percent of the global production of wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato.
Top pests and diseases
The study identified 137 individual pathogens and pests that attack the crops, with very large variation in the amount of crop loss they caused. For wheat, leaf rust, Fusarium head blight/scab, tritici blotch, stripe rust, spot blotch, tan spot, aphids and powdery mildew caused losses higher than 1 percent globally. In rice, sheath blight, stem borers, blast, brown spot, bacterial blight, leaf folder and brown plant hopper did the most damage. In maize, Fusarium and Gibberella stalk rots, fall armyworm, northern leaf blight, Fusarium and Gibberella ear rots, anthracnose stalk rot and southern rust caused the most loss globally. In potatoes, late blight, brown rot, early blight and cyst nematode did the most harm. In soybeans, cyst nematode, white mold, soybean rust, Cercospora leaf blight, brown spot, charcoal rot and root knot nematodes caused global losses higher than 1 percent.
“Our results highlight differences in impacts among crop pathogens and pests and among food security hotspots,” McRoberts said. “But we also show that the highest losses appear associated with food-deficit regions with fast-growing populations, and frequently with emerging or re-emerging pests and diseases.”
“For chronic pathogens and pests, we need to redouble our efforts to deliver more efficient and sustainable management tools, such as resistant varieties,” McRoberts said. For emerging or re-emerging pathogens and pests, urgent action is needed to contain them and generate longer term solutions.”
The website globalcrophealth.org features maps showing how many people responded to the survey across different regions of the world.
In addition to McRoberts, the research team included lead author Serge Savary, chair of the ISPP Committee on Crop Loss, epidemiologists Paul Esker at Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Pethybridge at Cornell University, Laetitia Willocquet at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Toulouse, France, and Andy Nelson at the University of Twente in The Netherlands.