UC Food Blog
Farms that sell only fresh produce are dependent on buyers for markets and pricing. The UC Cooperative Extension small farms team in Fresno and Tulare counties believes farmers can earn more money by taking production a step further, by adding extra value to their products with processing, preserving and packaging the produce.
UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and Fresno State's Office of Community and Economic Development brought a group of small farmers together for a workshop in January to learn about resources available to help them develop value-added businesses.
“Value-added products can improve the bottom line of a small family farm by bringing in additional income and diversifying production,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We wanted to connect beginning farmers and Southeast Asian farmers to programs that could help them develop and market value-added products from their farms.”
The value-added workshop included presentations from a farmer with a successful value-added business, government agencies and non-profit organizations. Alternative lenders such as Fresno Madera Farm Credit, who provided funding for the workshop, also presented on loans available for small-scale farms. UCCE agricultural assistant Michael Yang translated the presentations into Hmong.
Kingsburg organic farmer Paul Buxman opened the workshop with his personal journey into value-added production. Buxman's story begins in 1994 when a spring hail storm swept through his farm.
“The hail marked all my fruit. I had 100,000 pounds of plums, peaches and nectarines I could not sell. What could I do?” Buxman said. “An idea came to my head like a lightbulb. Take the fruit, cut off the scar, cook it and make jam.”
The new venture wasn't an instant success. Buxman found himself delivering unsold jam that first year to a Bay Area homeless mission, pulling up right behind a bread truck.
“Man does not live by bread alone,” he said with a laugh.
But each year he and his wife improved their product, and the market grew.
“This jam is so addictive, it's barely legal,” Buxman said. His “Sweet Home Ranch Homemade Preserves” costs $2 per jar to make, and sells for $5 each.
Buxman suggested the farmers at the UCCE workshop to try making a value-added product. The new products could be spices, food, cleaning products, handicrafts, and even experiences, such a teaching a skill.
“You have so much more to offer people than you realize,” Buxman said.
During the subsequent panel discussion, Kiel Schmidt outlined the support that Food Commons Fresno can provide. An important element is the opportunity to rent the organization's commercial kitchen to create value-added merchandise to health department specifications. Patti Chang of Feed the Hunger Foundation said her organization provides technical assistance and loans to new ventures that can carry out their mission of reducing hunger and helping people out of poverty.
“We worked with two Oaxacan women in Madera who didn't want to be field workers anymore,” Chang said. “They wanted to make a product from their culture: mole. They became a certified business, opened a bank account at Wells Fargo and opened a small restaurant in a grocery story. We helped them negotiate the lease.”
Eduardo Gonzalez of Fresno State's San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center said his facility can help small businesses with marketing, website design and getting value-added products to market.
Dawn Goliik of the U.S. Small Business Administration said the organization can help small farmers start, grow and run businesses with training, mentoring and counseling.
“It's all free to you,” Golik said.
The UCCE small farms team also has a marketing associate, Lorena Ramos, who is available for farmers to contact regarding value-added product development.
Presentations and one-on-one consultations were offered by a variety of organizations that can loan funds, including Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Access + Capital, Northern California Community Loan Fund, California FarmLink, USDA Farm Service Agency and Valley Small Business Development Corporation.
The workshop ended with a presentation on California's Cottage Food Law, which allows residents to process and prepare foods in their own home kitchens to sell to the public. Some of the home-prepared products the law permits are jams, jellies, cookies, cakes and fudge, dried fruit, vegetables and spices. A complete list of approved foods is on the state website.
The Cottage Food Law is for businesses with a gross annual income below $50,000, which have no more than one employee (not including household members).
“There is no charge, just paperwork to fill out,” said Matthew Gore with Fresno County Environmental Health. “This isn't difficult, and we're here to help you with the forms.”
Dahlquist-Willard said an important part of her UC Cooperative Extension program is the connections she and Yang can help farmers make with the myriad services available to them.
“We encourage small farmers to contact us in our Fresno office,” she said.
At Super Bowl parties, dropped passes and missed tackles should be the only things making football fans' stomachs churn. Leaving food out for more than two hours can be hazardous to your health and that of your guests, cautions a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition expert.
You may be thinking, “I've eaten food that sat out longer than two hours and not thrown up.” Consider yourself lucky.
“We keep learning more about foodborne illness,” says Patti Wooten Swanson, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor in San Diego County. “We probably did get sick, but we thought it was something else, like the 24-hour flu.”
She added that kids, diabetics, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.
For Super Bowl Sunday and throughout the year, Wooten Swanson offers these food safety tips:
- Thaw turkey or meat in the refrigerator.
- Don't wash raw meat or poultry in the sink before cooking.
- Use a meat thermometer to determine when meat or poultry is done.
- Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.
- On the fourth day, throw leftovers away.
Thawing foods correctly and storing them at the right temperatures is important, said Wooten Swanson.
“Bacteria grow very rapidly,” she said. “From 40 degrees to 140 degrees is what we call the danger zone. We encourage you to get food out of that temperature range as soon as possible. Don't let food sit on the table after you finish eating and go to watch TV.”
She also recommends not leaving food out the length of the game.
“Chips are fine to leave out,” Wooten Swanson said, “But put the salsa and guacamole in small containers, then put out new bowls at halftime. Take away the original containers to wash or discard. You don't want to refill a bowl that has been out for 2 hours.”
What's green and white and wins a county 4-H chili cookoff?
Chili, 4-H chili.
And it's just in time for Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 4 when the New England Patriots square off in Minneapolis, Minn., with the Philadelphia Eagles.
A sibling team from the Dixon Ridge 4-H Club won the 2018 Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff with a recipe titled “4-H Green and White Chili," featuring pork shoulder and pork sausage and four different varieties of peppers. The five-team competition took place at the Pena Adobe Middle School, Vacaville, during the Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day.
The members of the Dixon championship chili team - Maritzia Partida Cisneros, Miguel Partida Cisneros, Moncerrat “Monce” Torres Cisneros and Rudolfo “Rudy” Radillo Cisneros - used four different green peppers: pasilla, Anaheim, serrano and green bell pepper to flavor and spice the white (pork) chili.
The siblings competed last year as the “Mean Green Machines,” wearing their official green and white 4-H uniforms and hats. This year they chose the same recipe but adjusted its heat. They also donned different 4-H attire along with white chef hats, inscribed with their names.
The Dixon Ridge team competed against Team Delta of the Rio Vista 4-H Club, which prepared “Chili-licious”; Hillbilly Chili Team from Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, “Hillbilly Chili”; Lil' Peppers Team from the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, “Chicken Enchilada Chili” (the team won last year's competition); and Team Minecraft of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, which prepared “Ruby Redstone Chili.”
They answered questions from the evaluators and served them samples. John Vasquez Jr. of Vacaville, member of the Solano County Board of Supervisors, judged the chili contest with Vacaville police officers Jeremy Johnson, Shawn Windham and Steve Moore. Windham is also the president of the Vacaville Unified School District Board of Trustees.
The evaluators all described the chili dishes as delicious, said coordinator Kelli Mummert, a community leader in the Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville.
"The Chili Cook Off is a great hands-on opportunity for youth to build confidence and spark their creativity," said Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H Program representative. " Chili team members build food preparation skills, learn food and kitchen safety, and use math and science concepts, as they develop their chili recipes."
Each member of the winning team received a $15 Cold Stone Creamery gift certificate.
“I would have to say that I was extremely impressed with all of the teams and their entries in the contest,” said Windham. “While there was one clear winner of the contest, every one of the teams made a very good chili and showed that they have a strong ability to work together as a team collaboratively and that they have very strong cooking skills.”
“I think all of the teams showed maturity and had a great presentation for their chili,” Windham said. “They were each very enthusiastic about their creation. I found all of the chilis to be very good and I thought the teams did an excellent job of representing 4-H. I was also very pleased we were able to host the event at one of our Vacaville Unified School District schools.”
Windham added: “I will be honest in that I wasn't sure what to expect because I haven't been involved with the chili contest before. However, I was very pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed each of the teams' creations and the ability to talk with the kids about how they came up with the recipes for their chili. It is a lot of fun and I hope to get an invite again next year!”
Said Vasquez: "I believe this year's winning chili had all the qualities that a winning chili should have: flavor, aroma, texture, color and presentation. I enjoyed having three police officers from the Vacaville PD this year as judges. Their skills in remembering in great detail made the job of judging much easier, as we refer back to our notes on each one of the entries. I've had the honor of attending as a judge and as a presenter of awards on both Project Skills Day and the 4-H Achievement Night for 16 years. Over the years, Shelli (his wife) and I have watched young 4-H'ers grow to become young, impressive adults and that has been rewarding to us.”
Moore said all the team members were "polite, professional and knowledgeable for their age group. While the consensus was one winner, I feel that each team presented a good product. For me, it was my first time attending a 4-H-sponsored event and I was very impressed." He is interested in involving his two sons in 4-H.
The other participants of the cookoff:
- Hillbilly Chili Team, Tremont 4-H Club: Alaina Austin, Isabel Martinez, Trinity Road and Sara Yates
- Lil' Peppers Team, Pleasants Valley: Jessie Means, Maya Farris, Naomi Lipary and Maliyah Desmarais
- Team Minecraft Team, Sherwood Forest: Darren Stephens, Celeste Harrison, Julietta Wnholds and Hanna Stephens
- Team Delta, Rio Vista: Olivia Stone, Anuheua Rivas, Maddie Baughman and Sofia Gutierrez
Here's the winning recipe, heralding the green and the white:
4-H Green and White Chili
Dixon Ridge 4-H Club
2 pounds pork shoulder cut in ½-inch chunks
2 pounds ground pork sausage
Olive oil (as needed to brown meat)
Two 28-ounce cans green enchilada sauce
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 of each pepper diced: pasilla, Anaheim, serrano and green bell pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tomatillos, diced
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
Water, approximately 1 cup
Cornstarch for thickening if needed
Seasonings to taste: chicken bouillon, black pepper, garlic salt and cumin
Directions: In a large stock pot, brown pork in the olive oil. Add the ground sausage and continue cooking over high heat until meat is browned (about 30 minutes). Add the water and seasonings. Cook an additional 30 minutes. Add green enchilada sauce. Turn heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. While mixture is simmering, coarsely chop the onions, mince the garlic, dice the peppers and tomatillos and chop the cilantro. Add these to the pot and continue cooking until the pork is tender (about 30 to 45 minutes). Check flavor and adjust seasonings to taste. If needed, thicken with the cornstarch.
The Dixon Ridge, Tremont, Pleasants Valley, Rio Vista and Sherwood Forest 4-H Clubs are among the 12 clubs in Solano County. The others are Maine Prairie 4-H, Roving Clovers 4-H, both of Dixon; Elmira 4-H, Vaca Valley 4-H, both of the Vacaville area; Westwind 4-H and Suisun Valley 4-H, both of Fairfield-Suisun; and Travis Air Force Base 4-H Club from Travis.
The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program is part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program. The four H's stands for head, heart, health and hands, with the motto “Make the Best Better.” 4-H is open to all youths ages 5 to 19. In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools. For more information, contact Solano County 4-H Program representative Valerie Williams at email@example.com or link to http://solano4h.ucanr.edu/Get_Involved/.
First, stay organized.
From the very beginning, implement a canning system. For example, jars, lids, and rings are used in the canning process, but not all can be re-used. Visibly mark used lids to denote they are out of commission for the next round of canning. This will prevent unnecessary seal failures.
Second, rotate the pantry.
To ensure the nutritive value of the food you have preserved, use products within a year of being canned. A quick way to track this is by making labels with tape and a marker or blank stickers; this is a simple approach you can take to enjoy home-canned products at their best quality. Keep inventory of what products were used, liked and disliked. Use this information to plan for next season's canning escapades.
Pro tip: Store jars with rings removed to allow for easier detection of seal failure. When removing the ring, wash, rinse, and dry to combat mold growth and corrosion.
Finally, avoid spoilage.
Prevention is key because once spoilage has contaminated a product, it cannot be salvaged. Using the proper amount of headspace when canning allows for a good seal in a low oxygen environment. If too much headspace is left, there may be excess oxygen that was not driven from the jar during processing. If the headspace is too little, the product may siphon out of the jar, get deposited on the rim, and prevent a clean seal.
While molds can come in many different colors, not every type of discoloration found in a home-canned food is indicative of spoilage organisms. Sometimes, the undersides of the metal lid discolors. No need to panic if the product was properly processed and sealed. According to the University of Georgia, So Easy to Preserve, “natural compounds in some foods, particularly acids, corrode metal and make a dark deposit on the underside of jar lids.”
If you'd like to learn more about ways to enjoy home-canned goods and avoid spoilage, the UC Master Food Preserver Program has volunteers that are a wealth of information. Find a program near you to attend public classes on home food preservation or go through a training program.
As I inhaled my salad, I couldn't help but think of the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that affected at least 24 people in the U.S. and more than 40 in Canada. Originally it was blamed on Romaine lettuce, but early in January the CDC said in a statement that the likely source of the outbreak in the United States appears to be leafy greens. However, officials have not identified a specific type of leafy green or specifically where it originated.
A 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revealed that 46 percent of all foodborne illnesses that led to hospitalization or death between 1998 and 2008 were attributable to fresh produce. The report brought to the consumers' attention that, while fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstones of a healthy diet, when improperly handled, they can be fatal.
In spite of these sobering statistics I feel confident to continue my consumption of raw produce, in part because of the knowledge of such things as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program administered by CDFA to create and deliver educational materials for growers to assist in conducting agricultural water sampling and environmental assessments. The grant is part of an effort to help growers meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) standards for safe foods.
Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS) and UC Agricultural and Natural Resource (ANR) personnel - including pathologist Bennie Osburn, UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alda Pires, UCCE specialist Erin DiCaprio, and WIFFS staff Heather Johnson and Ronald Bond - are developing a guide for California's mid- and small- farm specialty crop growers to meet the requirements of the PSR. Training materials, including online and face-to-face field exercises, will be developed for extension specialists and farm advisors. To facilitate the learning experience, there will be online information in multiple languages including Spanish, Hmong, Mandarin and English to meet the diverse needs of California specialty crop growers. The final step in the process will be to deliver the course materials in seven outreach workshops in those regions of California where mid- and small-sized growers are located.
With UC Davis and UC ANR working together to support California specialty crop growers as they work to meet the new compliance standards of the FSMA PSR, we can long enjoy the abundant, fresh leafy green produce produced in California's fertile valleys.