Tulelake Farm Advisor
University of California
Tulelake Farm Advisor

UC Food Blog

4-H youths raise turkeys to save for college and learn about farming

Turkey growers Brylee Aubin, left, and Yaxeli Saiz-Tapia pose at a 4-H auction event in 2018.

While most Americans choose their Thanksgiving turkeys from the meat department at the local grocery store, Brylee Aubin and Yaxeli Saiz-Tapia can tell you the life histories of their holiday birds. The Sonoma County teenagers raise heritage turkeys together as part of a 4-H youth development project and sell them for Thanksgiving. For the last two years, Yaxeli's older brother Uli has joined the project and, between the three of them, they raised 47 turkeys this year.

The Heritage Turkey Project in Sonoma County has about 15 members of the UC Cooperative Extension's 4-H youth development program and the National FFA Organization growing more than 200 heritage turkeys this year, according to Catherine Thode, who has been leading the project for 15 years. 

“Our project leaders are active breeders of heritage turkeys and some of our 4-H and FFA youth are now raising breeding pairs and hatching their own birds,” Thode said. “Each project member raises their small flock of birds on their own property and shoulders the responsibility of providing their feed and care.”

Brylee Aubin holds a heritage breed turkey. Each project member is responsible for the feed and care of their turkeys. Photo by Shauna Aubin

The Heritage Turkey Project promotes the preservation of heritage turkey breeds, sustainable farming and responsible animal husbandry. While raising the animals, the youths learn life skills and earn money for their work.

“The money I raise from raising and selling turkeys goes towards my college fund and to more 4-H projects like market goats or sheep,” said 15-year-old Brylee, who sells her turkeys for $9.50 per pound.

Three years ago, Brylee's neighbor, Yaxeli joined her in the heritage turkey project. 

“I have learned how to care for animals, the importance of raising organic and the costs involved,” said Yaxeli, 14. “I have gained a firm understanding of how my birds are raised and processed versus corporate methods. Having the opportunity to participate in this project has strengthened my value for the importance of where my food comes from.”

Yaxeli Saiz-Tapia says raising turkeys has raised her appreciation for where her food comes from. Photo by Shauna Aubin

Consumers benefit by getting turkeys that are farmed organically, fed high-quality grains, and never frozen, said Brylee.

“There are so many benefits to raising these beautiful birds,” said Uli Saiz-Tapia, 17. “First, you learn the cost of running a business, how to reinvest for the next year, the different stages of turkey growth and how to manage issues that arise such as the turkeys fighting, how they react to fluctuating temperatures, how to keep them safe and nourished properly. Learning about the process of getting our turkeys ready to be purchased has really benefitted my understanding of anatomy, the amount of work it takes in preparing them and the importance of not wasting food.”

The group sold out of turkeys in early November.

“Back in March, we really wondered if we should even do the project this year, not knowing what was going to happen with COVID restrictions and the impact on the economy,” Thode said. “We ended up with more project members than we've ever had, and over 200 turkeys to be sold for the Thanksgiving market.”

The 4-H members started the season with more turkeys, but lost some birds to predators. Wildfires seemed to drive more predators to the Sonoma County farms this year, she said.

“Things are fast and furious right now,” Thode said a week before Thanksgiving as the group prepared their turkeys for processing and distribution to people who placed orders. “I'm about to enter the busiest seven days of our year. It will take all weekend to have the birds processed, weighed, labeled. Then, we hunker down to sort and assign turkeys to our customer list.”

In 2019, from left, 4-H Heritage Turkey Project members Nico and Alex Bartolomei, Brylee Aubin, Yaxeli Saiz-Tapia, Uli Saiz-Tapia and Ella Bartolomei met with customers picking up the turkeys they ordered.

While selling turkeys, the group encourages customers to meet the farmers and to visit https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/conservation-priority-list#Turkeys to look up the history and breed characteristics of the turkey they are purchasing. In past years, some customers have taken photos of themselves with the person who raised their bird.

“We not only have a master list of customers and their desired sizes, but we create a spreadsheet for every project member with a list of the turkeys they've grown that year,” Thode said. “Each turkey is identified in the spring or early summer with a small metal wing band that lists the grower and an individual number for that turkey. When the turkey is sold, the buyer knows which project number grew their turkey, and the variety of turkey that they are purchasing. We think it's important that our customers know this. In fact, when they come to pick up their turkey, they write their check to the actual grower of their turkey.”

To learn more about the Heritage Turkey Project, visit https://heritageturkeyproject.webs.com.




Posted on Monday, November 23, 2020 at 10:06 AM
Focus Area Tags: 4-H

Native people take a different view of Thanksgiving

From left, common manzanita berries, black oak acorns, California wild grapes, salt and black walnuts. "These foods represent generations of knowledge, dedication and perseverance. It is so wonderful to think about each one of them, where they came from, the last time I was there and when I'm going back to visit, who taught me about them, what the plants, animals and land have also taught me, and all of our time together," said Peter Nelson. Photo by Peter Nelson
Thanksgiving can be a time of celebration, gratitude and sharing. It is also often a time when people assist the most vulnerable in our communities, through donations to food banks, volunteer service at missions and shelters, and similar acts of compassion coinciding with the start of a difficult cold season for those without adequate resources. That said, it can also be a time of remembrance and mourning in Native American communities. 

The narrative that many people have been taught beginning in elementary school about the First Thanksgiving celebration in the United States is based on historically inaccurate myths that fail to acknowledge the devastation wrought by settler colonialism, including genocide, land theft, forced assimilation and cultural appropriation.

Many Native people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving; some engage in a day of mourning, protesting the genocide wrought on their ancestors and ongoing oppression. Others pay respect to time-honored values and traditions centering on family, the earth and the harvest. As educators, it is important for us to understand the atrocities experienced by Native peoples at the hands of the European settlers, and Native perspectives about thanksgiving—a time of honoring the ancestors including the lands, plants and animals that are understood as relations—when we are communicating about the meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration.

Tohono O’odham women make bread in the Sonoran desert. Photo by Angelo Baca

Celebrations of harvest certainly did not originate with settlers and Native Americans sharing a meal in the 17th century, but rather have been integral to the fabric of Indigenous existence since time immemorial, noted UC Berkeley Professor Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk/Mi'kmaq descent).

“For Haudenosaunee people (in the northeast), the Thanksgiving Address (Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen, the Words that Come Before All Else) is recited before every important event,” Hoover said. “There are thanksgiving feasts held when the thunders start, when the sap flows, when it's time for the seeds to be planted, when the first wild strawberries come out, when the green beans are ready, when the green corn is ready, when the harvest is ready — many times throughout the year.”  

Taking a decolonizing approach to Thanksgiving rejects the myths of Thanksgiving and harmful stereotypes about Native peoples that reinforce oppression, and invites opportunities for deepening our collective understanding of Indigenous history, amplifying Native perspectives that highlight the diversity of Indigenous peoples and foodways, and support Native-led food sovereignty and land stewardship initiatives that affirm contemporary presence and self-determination of Native people in 21st-century America. 

A meal of acorn mush, seaweed and salmon Nelson made in commemoration of his grandfather, who was a member of the Graton Rancheria community. "He served in the Navy during WWII, and he's the reason I'm here doing what I do," Nelson said. Photo by Peter Nelson

UC Berkeley Professor Peter Nelson (Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria) offers this helpful insight: “We have plenty of points at which we give thanks for what our non-human relations give us or honor the changing of the seasons and gathering times. The fall in my language, Coast Miwok (Tamal Machchaw), is 'umpa walli or acorn time. Some of these concepts don't exactly translate from English. ‘Thank you,' or ka molis, means something more like I'm glad/happy. We express a state of being or how it makes us feel. The same is true of the concept of ‘I'm sorry,' which doesn't exist in our language. We have to contrive something to the effect of ‘my heart is sad,' ka wuskin sawa. Again, a state of being and there is a sense that you should just express how to fix things if they are out of sorts. Hearing a settler apology isn't enough. Do something about it.”

Consider centering Thanksgiving messaging around social and environmental justice by sharing resources for learning about the authentic history of Native Americans, contemporary Native American peoples and communities in both urban and rural areas, and supporting the growing Indigenous food sovereignty movement among Native Americans to reclaim and restore their food systems througheco-cultural restoration and self-determination.

Native Americans hold thanksgiving feasts many times throughout the year, says Elizabeth Hoover, shown braiding corn.

The following are resources suggested by Elizabeth Hoover, Peter Nelson and others to learn more about the perspective of Native Americans on the U.S. holiday.

Decolonizing the history and meaning of Thanksgiving:

Map of tribal lands in California

Learn about the Indigenous history of the United States and the Native lands and people where you live:

  • Spend some time researching the environmental and cultural history of the lands where you are standing starting with identifying whose lands you are residing in via this interactive map of Indigenous territories and learning about how you can support them.
  • Learn about how the University of California (all land grant institutions of higher education for that matter) were founded upon the expropriation and sale of Indigenous lands that were “granted” to every state under the Morrill Act in this High Country News article and this UC Land-grab Workshop series. On this interactive map created by UC IGIS at https://arcg.is/1GTiuv, you can identify specific parcels that were “granted” and the Native communities from whom they were taken.
  • Educate yourself about the history of Indigenous peoples and the American genocide in the United States, by reading Benjamin Madley's An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873i, Vine Deloria's 1969 Custer Died for Your Sins, Dunbar Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, or Dee Brown's classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
    Samuel Gensaw (Yurok), co-founder of the Ancestral Guard, is featured in the film Gather.

Learn about, support and amplify Native-led food sovereignty and land-stewardship initiatives in California:

  • Watch the film Gather, featuring Indigenous chefs, scientists and activists around the country working to restore their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, including Samuel Gensaw (Yurok), co-founder of the Ancestral Guard, committed to restoring the foodways of North Coast California.  
  • Read about Indigenous foodways initiatives through Civil Eats reporting.
  • Feature Native chefs in your communications such as Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino of Café Ohlone and Crystal Wahpepah to honor their Indigenous food heritage.
  • Promote Native food purveyors, and other Native-owned businesses not only in November but year-round, as a way of honoring Native culture and ethical practices.
  • Learn about and support Indigenous-led land stewardship efforts to restore cultural burning practices by the Karuk Tribe, the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, and the North Fork Mono Tribe, among others, to enhance healthy relationships with the land and mitigate against catastrophic fires that have devastated California communities and ecosystems.
  • Read the First Nations Development Institute's report on California Indigenous land stewards for more information on both urban and rural Indigenous-led stewardship initiatives and Native perspectives across the state, including the Sogorea Te' Land Trust, an urban Indigenous women-led community organization that facilitates the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to Indigenous stewardship. 
  • Read Elizabeth Hoover's blog about Native American farming and food sovereignty http://gardenwarriorsgoodseeds.com.

Honoring Native people and perspectives on Thanksgiving:

  • In addition to reading, you may consider visiting a local Native American museum or cultural center during some part of the holiday (courtesy of Eve Bratman).
  • Play the song Custer Died for your Sins and other songs of Indigenous resistance as music during your celebration. For starters, check out Rebel Beat Radio and Indigenous Resistance (courtesy of Eve Bratman
  • Take a moment of silence and remembrance for ancestors and the people whose land you are occupying, before your meal. Set intentions to learn more about and take action to support Native people.

Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, and Sabrina Drill, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, collaborate with Native Americans on environmental and food sovereignty research.


Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2020 at 8:19 AM
  • Author: Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley
  • Author: Sabrina Drill, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Los Angeles and Ventura counties
Focus Area Tags: Family

Low food-safety risk at Northern California farmers markets

“Based on this data, I think it’s safe to consume meat and produce from farmers markets,” said lead author Alda Pires. Photo by Karin Higgins UCD

A new study by UC Davis researchers finds a low risk of contamination of foodborne pathogens on produce and meat at Northern California certified farmers markets, but still finds cause for some concern.

The study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, examined the prevalence of Salmonella on meat and produce, as well as the prevalence of generic E. coli on produce. Samples were taken from 44 certified Northern California farmers markets, including in the Sacramento region and Bay Area. Less than 2% (1.8%) of animal products sampled, including beef, pork and poultry, tested positive for Salmonella, while all produce samples tested negative. Slightly more than 30 percent (31.3%) of produce tested positive for generic E. coli. Generic E. coli is an indication of fecal contamination, but not all E. coli is harmful. This study didn't test for pathogenic E. coli.

“Based on this data, I think it's safe to consume meat and produce from farmers markets,” said lead author Alda Pires, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist and research scientist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “That's a low risk of contamination of foodborne pathogens, especially Salmonella.”

While the prevalence of generic E. coli may seem relatively high, the concentrations were low. Pires said that's especially so compared to previous studies of contamination at farmers markets elsewhere in the United States. The prevalence of Salmonella in meat sampled from Northern California farmers markets is also much lower than what previous studies have found in grocery stores.

Among the produce sampled, leafy greens had the highest prevalence of E. coli, followed by root vegetables.

Consumers should still be cautious

Consumers and farmers should still be aware that produce and meat were not free from contamination. Consumers need to make sure the foods they prepare from farmers markets follow the good hygiene practices recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consumers should also keep produce separate from meat to avoid cross-contamination. 

“The study raises awareness that it's not just very large farms that can have contamination,” said co-author Michele Jay-Russell, with the Western Center for Food Safety at UC Davis. “Farmers need to pay attention to everything they're doing, from planting to storage, to avoid contamination.”

While certified farmers markets are inspected for food hygiene, microbiological quality is not explored. Smaller farms, those making less than $25,000 a year, are also exempt from certain food-safety provisions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety and Modernization Act. Foodborne illness costs the U.S. economy more than $15 billion annually.

Other co-authors include James Stover, Esther Kukielka, Viktoria Haghani, Peiman Aminabadi and Thais De Melo Ramos of UC Davis. Research support came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Posted on Monday, November 16, 2020 at 1:22 PM
  • Author: Amy Quinton
Focus Area Tags: Food

Farmer’s inspiration leads to large squash donation to Central California Food Bank

West Side farmer John Diener had flash of inspiration. Why not plant butternut squash?

Diener is a long-time research cooperator with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Mitchell, who has studied innovative, sustainable farming practices for 21 years at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center under four different treatments: no-till plus cover crops, no-till with no cover crops, conventionally tilled with cover crops and conventionally tilled without cover crops.

West Side farmer John Diener, left, and UC West Side Research and Extension Center superintendent of agriculture Rafael (Merf) Solario, pose with the 70,000 pounds of butternut squash grown in a research plot and donated to the Central California Food Bank.

Since it was established, the research plots have been managed in an annual rotation of cotton, processing tomatoes and, more recently, sorghum, garbanzo beans and melons. When trying to decide what crop to bring into the rotation for 2020, Diener thought of butternut squash, a relatively large, thick-skinned squash that has little pest and disease problems and a long-shelf life. He suggested the squash could be donated to the Central California Food Bank and made available to local families in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

CCFB provides food to more than 220 agencies in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare counties, serving more than 280,000 people each month. Last year, CCFB supplied over 40 million pounds of food in all.

Diener arranged for butternut squash seed to be donated by David Bodine of AgSeeds. He generously paid for several days of labor to harvest the crop. Diener contacted family friend Joan Minasian, who serves on the Food Bank board, to make arrangements for delivering 101 bins of squash – more than 70,000 pounds – to the food bank's Fresno distribution center.

The front entrance to the Central California Food Bank in Fresno.

“The Central Valley Food Bank is working on diversifying the food we offer in meal boxes and distributions,” Minasian said. “I'm really proud of the food bank's efforts to increase healthy foods. We're always looking for farmers to partner with.”

Butternut squash, a winter squash, has a 90-day shelf life without refrigeration. It is grown in the summer; the name is derived from the fact that the mature vegetable can be stored for winter eating.

In addition to supporting farmers with research and advice, UC Cooperative Extension offers nutrition education programs to low-income Californians. Deepa Srivastava – UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Kings and Tulare counties – manages two programs that extend information to families on healthy eating, food safety, food resource management, gardening, physical activity and youth engagement.

Srivastava said butternut squash is a nutritious addition to family diets. The vegetable is a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C, and also supplies vitamin B-6, protein, fiber, magnesium, potassium and iron.

The squash's buff exterior protects golden flesh that is nutty and sweet. It can be baked, boiled or grilled whole or chopped. Cooked squash can be pureed for soup or baby food, added to casseroles, pies, salads and stuffing. The cooked flesh adds beautiful fall color to everyday meals or holiday spreads.

Roasted butternut squash.

One easy way to prepare butternut squash is roasting in the oven. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Carefully cut the squash in half and scrape out seeds and strings with a spoon. Place cut side up in an oven-safe pan, then brush the flesh lightly with olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, fresh or dried herbs and spices. Bake for one hour, or until it can be easily pierced with a fork.


Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 8:47 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Food

Storing and preserving fresh nuts

One of the many wonderful things about California's climate is that in many regions of the state you'll find orchards of walnut, almond, pecan, pistachio or chestnut trees. You may be growing or planning to grow one or more of these trees in your yard so you can enjoy consuming the nuts. But do you know how to safely store, and preserve these fresh nuts?

Walnut, ready to harvest

There are just a few simple steps to follow. First, be sure to promptly remove the hull (the fibrous outer covering) that may still be remaining on some of the nuts. (If you have hulled walnuts before you will know they'll stain your hands brown, so you should wear gloves to hull walnuts.)

During this time of COVID-19, you may be tempted to wash your fresh nuts, but don't. Washing the nuts in their shell could increase their moisture and provide the environment for mold or bacteria to grow. Although not required to safely store the nuts, to decrease the likelihood of walnuts, almonds, pecans and pistachios developing mold, you may want to dry them. For walnuts and almonds, spread them out preferably single layer on a flat screen or tray that allows good air circulation. To prevent birds and other critters from making off with them while they are drying, cover them with another screen or plastic netting. Stir and move the nuts around daily.

It will take several days for them to dry. To determine when they are sufficiently dry, remove the shell from several nuts. Break apart the almond kernels, or walnut meat. If they are rubbery, they're not dried sufficiently. If they are crisp or brittle when broken, then they are dried adequately.

For pecans, they should be dried slowly in air temperatures 75–85 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the shells from cracking. A fan blowing on the nuts will speed up the drying process, which can take up to 10 days. The pecans are dry when they're brittle and the membrane between the kernel halves separate easily from the kernels.          

Pistachios can be dried in the sun on a plastic tarp, or they can be dried in the oven at 140–160 degrees Fahrenheit for 10–14 hours. They are dried when the kernels are crisp, but not brittle.   

Harvested pistachios

Before consuming or storing at room temperature, fresh home-grown walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios or chestnuts, or those bought at farm stands, pasteurize them to kill any insects or insect eggs. To pasteurize, simply place them in the freezer for 48 hours. (Make sure your freezer is set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.)

To store your walnuts, almond, pecans or pistachios, place them in clean moisture free, odor tight packaging, such as glass or plastic jars or other containers. The nuts can be stored shelled or unshelled. They can be stored up to a year in your refrigerator set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Almonds can be stored in your freezer (set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) for a year or more, walnuts and pecans for two years plus, and pistachios for three years.        

Chestnuts are different from the other nuts because they're more like potatoes than tree nuts. They usually develop mold within two weeks if stored at room temperature. Unshelled chestnuts can only be stored for two to three months in the refrigerator, but shelled chestnuts can be stored for a year in the refrigerator. Both shelled and unshelled chestnuts can be stored in the freezer for one year or more.         


Enjoy your stored nuts throughout the year!

For more information about the UC Master Food Preserver Program, including the Food Preservation Video Library, visit mfp.ucanr.edu.

Posted on Monday, November 9, 2020 at 9:12 AM
  • Author: Kathy Low, UC Master Food Preserver of Solano and Yolo Counties
Focus Area Tags: Food

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