UC Food Blog
Slugs, snails, ants, aphids, spider mites and inclement weather conspire against strawberry growers harvesting perfect red berries to sell.
“Farming is hard work,” said Fam Lee, as she pulled a weed from a row of strawberry plants. Lee and her husband Nathan Punh are among about 60 Mien farmers in the Sacramento area who call on Margaret Lloyd, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor, for farming advice.
“Although we are not organic farmers, we always want to go with organic,” said Lee. “For example, we have slugs and ants, I asked Margaret if it's okay to put organic slug bait around the plant as long as it doesn't touch the berry. She said that's the best way to do. We work closely with our extension staff.”
In the Sacramento area, many of the Mien-owned farms are husband and wife teams. The typical couple farms an acre or two themselves, picking berries to sell the same day at a roadside stand, which provides the family's primary source of income.
“Many of them grew up on farms in Thailand or Laos growing vegetables or growing rice or soybeans,” said Lloyd, who serves small-scale farmers in Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. “A lot of them come from farming backgrounds so when they came to this country, they also sought out an agrarian lifestyle.”
Some Mien growers had never seen a strawberry before arriving in California, but chose the high-value crop to maximize returns on their small plots of land.
To help Mien growers develop successful strawberry farms, Lloyd updates them on regulations and shares growing tips at an annual extension meeting, visits them at their farms, and records videos demonstrating how to do things such as using compost to fertilize the crop.
“Because of language barriers, coming out to the farm regularly is a big part of the job,” said Lloyd, who partners with staff from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) to assist Mien farmers.
“Once we're on the farm, we can communicate in-person more easily,” she said. “Often times it involves pest identification, so I'll show them how to use a hand lens and how to identify spider mites, aphids and lygus bugs, for example.”
“A lot of them have children who speak English fluently so if they don't speak English fluently, sometimes the children come out and help.”
For the past five years, Lee and Punh have been growing and selling strawberries at a farm stand on Bond Road, between Bader and Bradshaw, in Sacramento. They grow Albion, Chandler, Santa Rosa and Seascape – sweet, delicate varieties, some of which aren't found in supermarkets because the berries don't store and ship as well. They typically begin harvesting berries at the end of March and pick through July or August, depending on the weather. This year, the first berries were ruined by spring rain and frost.
Savvy consumers will ask for certain varieties by name, Lloyd said. “Chandler is well-loved by consumers for its delicate flesh and sweet flavor. Albion produces larger berries that are also very tasty.”
Because berries sold at the roadside stands are picked fresh daily, the farmers wait until berries are perfectly ripe before picking them.
Monday through Saturday, Lee begins harvesting her strawberries by hand at the break of dawn.
“We start at 5:45, the minute we can see, and we pick until 8 o'clock. That's our goal,” Lee said. “By 8:30, we want to open our stand and we sell until all the berries run out.”
Lee's parents often drive up from Alameda to help pick berries.
To extend the farm stand season, some Mien farmers supplement the strawberries with other berries, strawberry jam and vegetables. They grow blueberries and blackberries, tomatoes, peppers and green beans and sometimes specialty vegetables such as bittermelon.
“Growing strawberries isn't easy, but it's enjoyable work,” Lee said.
Lloyd has updated a map showing locations of about 60 strawberry stands in the Sacramento area at http://bit.ly/strawberrystands.
When school's out, many children who live in poverty no longer eat nutritious meals like they do during school as part of the free and reduced-cost school lunch program.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Sacramento County has joined a coalition to promote the summer meals program, which is aiming to serve one million meals during summer 2018.
The coalition was formed by State Sen. Richard Pan, who invited Sacramento students to the State Capitol for a picnic May 22 launching the “Million Meals Summer.”
“In Sacramento County, on average 1.9 million free or reduced-price lunches are served each month while school is in session,” said Sen. Pan. “For so many of these children, school meals are their primary source of nutrition.”
In the summertime, the number of lunches served drops to less than 10 percent of the school-year number.
“Over the last couple of years, my office has worked with a growing number of organizations to help close the gap of child nutrition,” Sen. Pan said.
At the picnic, Sen. Pan, a pediatrician, reminded the children that eating healthy through the summer will get them ready to learn when school starts again.
Sen. Pan said Kim Frinzel, associate director of the California Department of Education nutrition services division, is leading the effort to set up sufficient meal sites and encourage children to attend.
“You get a great meal,” Frinzel told the students. “You get to hang out with your friends. And you get to participate in fun activities. Clap if you will help us serve a million meals.”
Vanessa Kenyon, EFNEP program supervisor for Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, said EFNEP will provide nutrition education training for Samuel Merritt University nurses-in-training.
“Summer meals are provided at 140 sites in Sacramento County. If the children stick around after eating, they can take part in enrichment programs. The student nurses will fulfill a portion of their service hours by sharing nutrition education resources and activities at the meal sites,” Kenyon said.
The UC EFNEP program, which serves 24 counties in California, assists limited-resource families gain the knowledge and skills to choose nutritionally sound diets and improve well-being.
The United Way California Capital Region heads the coalition of community, business and state partners supporting the Million Meals Summer in Sacramento County.
Spring is here, and oftentimes the busiest season of the year for gardeners to plant edibles with dreams of ripe tomatoes and rows of juicy strawberries. But what about the “non” gardeners, you know the people who struggle to keep a cactus alive? Is there hope for a plentiful harvest for those self-identified terrible gardeners? Absolutely.
Food gardening takes some work, but if you have the determination and are willing to get your hands dirty, UC Master Gardener Program volunteers are eager to help you find success. Across almost every county in California there are passionate UC Master Gardener volunteers eager to turn your dreams of a bountiful summer harvest into a reality.
Sonoma County finds success with “Food Gardening Specialists”
The UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County has spent almost a decade perfecting the art of teaching best practices for food gardening. They have found a winning formula for food gardening workshops that focus on hands-on learning and interactive demonstrations in the garden. A group of UC Master Gardener volunteers with a passion for growing edible plants joined forces and started a project aptly named “Food Gardening Specialist.”
Food Gardening Specialists receive initial training in food gardening with curriculum developed by UC Agriculture & Natural Resources experts. After initial training, volunteers continue to grow their food gardening skills with monthly speakers, discussions groups and field trips. These highly skilled and trained volunteers teach food gardening at community or demonstrations gardens across Sonoma County, where anyone is welcome to attend.
Understanding the need to expand reach in Sonoma County, the project identified four key gardens to engage more diverse communities. Garden “captains” build relationships within these gardens, advising home gardeners and developing gardening workshops that are relevant to their community's needs. One of the core gardens provides year-round fresh produce to a number local food banks and programs that feed the hungry.
Stephanie Wrightson: Sonoma County Volunteer of the Year
A shining example of a dedicated Food Gardening Specialist is Stephanie Wrightson, who recently was awarded Sonoma County's Board of Supervisors “Volunteer of the Year” award. Wrightson has been a UC Master Gardener volunteer since 2010 and a member of the Food Gardening Specialist project since 2011.
Wrightson has donated more than 3,200 hours to the UC Master Gardener Program, most revolve around food gardening outreach.
“We put on public food gardening workshops, with Spanish translators, and demonstrate sustainable best practices in the garden ... invaluable. We interact, consult, advise. We learn from each other,” Wrightson said. “Food Gardening Specialists share science-based and sustainable food gardening information with garden visitors and workshop attendees. The gardens have quickly become a social hub in the neighborhood, bringing the community closer together.”
It is clear that Wrightson's role doesn't stop at the garden's gate. Wrightson was essential in shaping the vision of the Food Gardening Specialist project while serving on its steering committee and as a project leader. She manages efforts to keep all of the food gardening content updated, posted online or shared on its social media channels. Wrightson also works closely with the translation team to identify the most popular food gardening topics to make them available in Spanish.
“Stephanie brings such an attention to detail and focus on everything she engages in; we are so grateful to have such a talented UC Master Gardener as part of our organization,” said Mimi Enright, program manager for the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County.
Where is food grown in your community?
Do you grow your own food or get homegrown food from a neighbor who gardens? Is there a community garden nearby, or a farmers market with locally grown fruits and vegetables?
“It's becoming more important to understand where our food comes from and to make sure everyone knows how to enjoy its benefits,” said Missy Gable, statewide director for the UC Master Gardener Program.
The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with research-based information about food gardening, home horticulture, sustainable landscapes, and pest management practices. It is administered locally by UC Cooperative Extension offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. If you are interested in learning more about food gardening or would like to connect with your local UC Master Gardener Program visit, mg.ucanr.edu.
Trusted UC Food Gardening Resources:
- Vegetable Gardening Basics (UC ANR Publications 8059)
- Food Safety in your Home Vegetable Garden (UC ANR Publication 8366)
- Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden ( UC ANR Publications 8159)
- California Garden Web (UC Master Gardener Program)
- The California Backyard Orchard (UC Master Gardener Program)
- Food Gardening (UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County)
- Food Gardening with Less Water Resources (UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County)
When growers are considering a new crop to plant, and penciling out their expenses and income, cost estimates from the University of California may help. A new cost and return study for commercially producing raspberries released by UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension includes an expanded section on labor.
Sample costs to establish, produce and harvest raspberries for fresh market in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties are presented in “Sample Costs to Produce and Harvest Fresh Market Raspberries in the Central Coast Region – 2017.”
“The study focuses on the many complexities and costs of primocane raspberry production over a three-year period, including crop establishment, fertility practices, overhead tunnel management, harvest and rising labor costs," said Mark Bolda, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and co-author of the study.
The analysis is based upon a hypothetical well-managed farming operation using practices common to the region. The costs, materials, and practices shown in this study will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.
“This raspberry cost and return study is the result of significant effort on the part of UC Cooperative Extension, the Agricultural Issues Center and several grower and industry collaborators, who shared their expertise and contributed mightily to the end product,” said Laura Tourte, UC Cooperative Extension farm management advisor and co-author of the study.
This study assumes a farm size of 45 contiguous acres of rented land. Raspberries are planted on 42 acres. The crop is hand-harvested and packed into 4.5-pound trays. There is a fall harvest during production year 1, a spring and fall harvest during production year 2, and a spring harvest during production year 3. Each harvest is three months long.
The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for production material prices and yields. Tables show the phase-in schedules for California's minimum wage and overtime laws through the year 2022. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.
Free copies of “Sample Costs to Produce and Harvest Fresh Market Raspberries in the Central Coast Region - 2017” can be downloaded from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost of production studies for many other commodities are also available at the website.
The cost and returns studies program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both of which are part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact the UC Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or UC Cooperative Extension advisors Mark Bolda at (831) 763-8025 or Laura Tourte at (831) 763-8005 in Santa Cruz County.
Sustainability. Food justice. Research to action. These were the themes discussed April 13–14, 2018, as emerging food leaders throughout the UC system gathered in San Diego for a tour titled “The Rooted University: Bridging food system changemaking on and off campus.”
The trip brought together nearly two dozen 2018 Global Food Initiative Fellows, all of whom are working on projects that advance the mission of the UC-wide Global Food Initiative. This strategic initiative was started in 2014 by UC President Janet Napolitano to align the university's research to develop and export solutions — throughout California, the United States and the world — for food security, health and sustainability. The initiative funds student-generated research, related projects or internships that focus on food issues. All 10 UC campuses, plus UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, participate in the program.
“We need to start thinking of the interconnectedness of our research, and begin to implement place-based solutions that take into account the environment, food-security, and sustainability,” said UC San Diego professor Keith Pezzoli as he welcomed the GFI fellows. Pezzoli, who leads the UC San Diego Bioregional Center for Sustainability Science, Planning and Design, hosted the GFI fellows for the weekend. Pezzoli and his team led the fellows to multiple campus and community-based projects that are implementing collaborative, innovative solutions that advance food security, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. GFI fellows were tasked to think of their projects critically and use the trip to gather ideas and inspiration for their own projects and in their work as future food leaders.
This year's GFI Fellows are working on projects that range from addressing food security and basic needs on UC campuses, to capturing the culture of eating through film, and from efforts to connect water salinity to crop yield, to creating energy-generating agricultural covers.
The trip started with tours of UCSD-based projects that implement research and student and civic engagement to create closed-loop food systems and create opportunities for innovation. Ellie's Garden, located in between UCSD campus dormitories, exemplifies sustainable gardening practices. The garden, which composts food waste from on-campus restaurants, was established to utilize the space in between dormitories in a more efficient way.
“By using food waste from campus restaurants to create compost that then helps develop fresh food for students, this garden is taking the food system into the entire campus. With this example, we're really walking the talk on campus,” Pezzoli said.
Triton Food Pantry
The GFI fellows then visited the Triton Food Pantry, which was established in 2015 following the launch of the Global Food Initiative. The pantry provides UCSD students with greater access to healthy foods, including grains, proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables. The pantry also helps to enroll students into CalFresh, a federally funded program (formerly known as "food stamps") that provides cash aid to low-income individuals who need food assistance. On average, Triton Food Pantry serves 600 students per week. In the 2016-2017 academic year, 10,000 student visits were logged overall.
Roger's Community Garden
Fellows then headed to Roger's Community Garden, a student-run garden that offers land to students, staff, faculty and alumni to grow herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables and conduct student-led research. With projects ranging from hydroponics, aeroponics, and anaerobic digestion, the UCSD students who work in the garden come from different majors and different backgrounds, but are united in their love for food and gardening.
“The garden allows us to take scientific innovation and reduce it down to something that is scalable and easy,” said a UCSD student involved in Roger's Garden.
Dinner with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources - advising California for 150 years
The first day of the trip ended with a presentation by and dinner with advisors from UC's Agricultural and Natural Resources. Ramiro E. Lobo, small farm and agricultural economics advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego County, gave the GFI fellows basic information about the farming landscape in San Diego County and introduced the five UC ANR Strategic Initiatives. Lobo, who specializes in agricultural economics and marketing, talked about the challenges of farming in San Diego and the future of agricultural economics.
“San Diego,” Lobo said, “has the one of the highest prices of agricultural water in the world. The majority of our farms are small, specialty crop farms. So now, many growers and shutting off the water and letting their land dry up.”
In order to combat these issues and drive sales, Ramiro helps farmers market their products and share their stories.
“We're moving towards a ‘value-based' model of marketing,” said Lobo. “I help farmers figure out what their personal farming stories are and help share those stories with the public, a model that's really helping to drive sales.”
Fellows then enjoyed dinner with ANR advisors from throughout Southern California and discussed student-led topics related to food security, water quality, federal food programs and research ethics. With areas of work ranging from water quality to crop science, and from federal food programs to agricultural tourism, conversations were rich and varied as ANR advisors answered students' questions and shared their expertise.
“It was so interesting to hear the ANR advisors' perspectives on their particular issues. Also, I was really inspired by the wide range of expertise and backgrounds present among the advisors. Each one brings their own unique perspective to the work, and I enjoyed learning how each of their focus areas connected,” said GFI Fellow Mackenzie Feldman, an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley.
Ocean View Growing Grounds
The second day of the trip kicked off with a tour of the Ocean View Growing Grounds (OVGG), a project of the Global Action Research Center that operates on a 20,000-square-foot property in southeastern San Diego. In partnership with UC San Diego and the Global Food Initiative, the OVGG has established a community garden, two food forests and a Learning/Action Research Center developed with local neighborhood residents. The OVGG also hosts the Neighborhood Food Network, a group of residents interested in growing and distributing food. Through this network, San Diego residents build dynamic neighborhood hubs that revolve around increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Jacobs Center and Kitchens for Good
Fellows then enjoyed lunch with Kitchens for Good, a nonprofit catering service that aims to break the cycles of food waste, poverty and hunger through innovative programs in workforce training, healthy food production and social enterprise. Kitchens for Good is located within the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, a “creative catalyst and incubator” that partners with residents, local leaders and organizations, as well as regional and national investors, to revitalize southeastern San Diego, a culturally diverse yet under-served area that is prime for investment and transformation.
“We don't just want to teach residents how to fish, we want to teach residents how to buy the lake that the fish swim in,” said Bennett Peji, Jacobs Center's senior director of marketing and community affairs.
Since its inception, the organization has revitalized a nearby creek, built a metro station with the second-highest amount of traffic in the county, constructed a low-income apartment complex and built a shopping mall that includes the first full-service grocery store in the community. In a community where the high school has a 50 percent dropout rate, the Jacobs Center has had a transformational impact.
“After this trip, I am full of new ideas, energy and confidence that can I make a difference. I now know I need to find the right partners and keep believing that solutions to food justice and environmental sustainability are possible,” said Holly Mayton, GFI Fellow and PhD student at UC Riverside. “My thoughts and ideas are really falling into place, and I am creating a new framework for action and results.”