Tulelake Farm Advisor
University of California
Tulelake Farm Advisor

Posts Tagged: fruits and vegetables

Making the case for fruits and vegetables

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?

Basket of fresh fruits and vegetables, ready to wash and slice in Guinea, including mangoes, avocados and okra. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Archie Jarman/UC Davis)

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.

A "colorful harvest" at a market in Cambodia, including eggplant, ginger, bittermelon, leafy greens, herbs, mushrooms, peppers and more. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Brenda Dawson/UC Davis)

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.

More information:

Watch a short video clip on what Boaz Otieno likes best about vegetables: https://youtu.be/aEu9BgL9aH4
Watch a short video clip on what Boaz Otieno likes best about vegetables: https://youtu.be/aEu9BgL9aH4

Still from video with Boaz Otieno speaking outside at a farm. He is a farmer and site coordinator in Kabos, Uganda

Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2019 at 8:18 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

Keeping produce at its best

UC ANR's popular guide to fresh produce is now on sale.
Farmers markets, produce stands, and likely your own backyard garden are an exploding bounty as California strawberries, stone fruits, and tomatoes show the summer produce season is in full swing.

But have you ever wondered what to look for when selecting fruits and vegetables? Why does your refrigerator have separate bins for fruits and vegetables? Should fresh tomatoes be stored in the refrigerator or on the counter? And how do you keep fresh basil fresh until you're ready to use it?

These and many more questions are answered in the colorful handbook:  From the Farm to Your Table:  A Consumer's Guide to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables available at anrcatalog.ucanr.edu

And now through July 31 the publication is 40 percent off if you order through our online catalog. So you can grab a copy for under $5.

This guide is brimming with tips from the pros at the Postharvest Technology Center at UC Davis. You'll find information on storage and handling for quality and safety as well as handy tables explaining which fruits and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator and which should be stored on the counter. You'll also learn what to look for when selecting popular produce items for best quality.

And if you've ever wondered the steps your produce takes to get from the field to your market, the journey is explained here.

Oh, and the answers to those questions?

Your refrigerator has separate bins so you can keep keep ethylene gas-producing fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears away from vegetables. The naturally occurring gas can hasten spoilage of vegetables.

Un-cut tomatoes should be stored on the counter, not in the refrigerator.

And keep your basil fresh by treating it as you would cut flowers; place the stems in a glass of water on the counter until you're ready to use it.

Posted on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 1:30 PM

Hot days, cool rooms, tasty vegetables

I'll admit that one of my favorite things to do on a hot day is to walk into an air-conditioned room. That burst of cool air in those first moments can be so refreshing.

It turns out I'm not alone — fruits and vegetables like to be cool on hot days too.

Shade provides some simple cooling at a fruit and vegetable market in Tanzania. (Horticulture CRSP photo by Keshavulu Kunusoth)
“Temperature management, or cold chain, is the single most important factor in maintaining postharvest quality in fruits and vegetables,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Controlling temperature helps regulate the aging process of a fruit, along with its water loss and microorganism growth. Storing fruits and vegetables at their lowest safe temperatures means they taste better and last longer.

To help us know the best ways to store fresh produce at home, the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center offers a free PDF poster Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste, which includes tips for different fruits and vegetables, from avocado to watermelon.

Knowing the right temperature is only part of the battle for farmers, who are responsible for the first links in the cold chain. Getting produce out of the sun and cool for storage can be a big challenge — and an expensive one.

But a farmer in New York, Ron Khosla, answered this challenge with a tool that can help make cooling produce less expensive for small-scale farmers. He created the CoolBot, a micro-controller that turns a well-insulated room with a regular air conditioner into a commercial cool room for storing fruits and vegetables.

Just as small-scale American farmers struggle with affordable cooling, so do smallholder farmers elsewhere in the world. Researchers with the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Horticulture CRSP) decided to test the CoolBot device, first at the UC Davis Student Farm and then with farmers in India, Honduras and Uganda.

Neeru Dubey, of Amity University, shows a CoolBot installed in India during a Horticulture CRSP project.
“The CoolBot creates, in my mind, the perfect compromise between effective cooling and reasonable cost,” said Mitcham, postharvest specialist and director of Horticulture CRSP.

Indeed, the CoolBot-equipped rooms worked, and the program is building more in Bangladesh right now. But there is a catch: Farmers must have access to reliable grid electricity for a cool room like this to work. To address this problem, the CoolBot in Uganda was powered with solar photovoltaic cells, but that led to another set of challenges — expensive equipment and fear of theft.

So how do you effectively cool vegetables, hot from a field, without grid electricity? A solution that is low-cost, effective and off-grid has not been found yet. In an effort to uncover such a solution, Horticulture CRSP will soon be launching a technology design competition that asks that very question. Can you answer this challenge?

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 7:43 AM

Why growing fruits and vegetables matters

From broccoli to watermelon, California farmers grow more than 400 agricultural commodities. In 2011, California was the primary producer of almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwi, olives, cling peaches, pistachios, dried plums, pomegranates and walnuts— accounting for nearly 100 percent of each of these crops grown in the United States.

When Americans think of “agriculture,” California may not be the first state to come to mind. But the Golden State — just this one state — produced nearly half of all fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S. in 2011 (source).

In this land of abundance, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is asking researchers and the general public to discuss, “How do we sustainably feed 8 billion people by 2025?” at the Global Food Systems Forum, April 9. National and international panelists will share insights along the local-global continuum of “California Roots, Global Reach.”

What can Californians add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said? What are we uniquely positioned to address or to share? May I suggest: fruits and vegetables.

Of course, I’m not the first one to suggest this.

According to the Global Horticulture Assessment*, published by UC Davis with input from stakeholders around the world:

“Horticultural crops play a valuable role in food systems by diversifying diets and fostering increased dietary consumption of micronutrients and other plant products known to benefit human health (fiber, antioxidants, etc.).

"Changes in production systems over the past 40 years favor an increase in cereal-based diets. The emphasis on staples has resulted in reduced dietary diversity and the displacement of traditional crops that were important sources of micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A, B-12 and zinc.”

A lack of dietary diversity can signify a serious issue in developing countries where daily eating patterns are centered on starchy staple foods — with very few fruits, vegetables or animal-based products. Reduced dietary diversity can point to micronutrient deficiencies, which could be addressed through fruit and vegetable consumption.

Growing fruits and vegetables — to be eaten and sold — has the potential to improve diets while also boosting incomes. 

What do you think? Why do fruits and vegetables matter? What can Californians contribute to the questions of global food security? Join the conversation now by following #Food2025 on Twitter.

*The "Global Horticulture Assessment" called for the creation of the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program, and serves as a guiding document for the program. With funding from USAID, Horticulture CRSP is led by UC Davis and builds international partnerships for fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries.

Posted on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Some hae meat, and canna eat . . .

"Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it . . ."

The words are old and a little hard to understand, but they tell a story that's as true today as when the poet Robert Burns spoke them back in the 1790s. They were old words even then. Always, it seems, there are those of us who are fortunate enough to eat well and those of us who go hungry, even in a country as rich as ours.

One morning last May, I got to meet some folks who help ease that hunger in the community where I live. That morning I drove with my wife to an industrial area on the northeast side of Woodland, California, where the Food Bank of Yolo County does its business. Outside the warehouse door delivery trucks from local markets, chain stores, farms, and other food sources came and went, mingling with buyers' pickups and trailers from churches and other charitable groups.

The big trucks were there to deliver what many retailers would consider marginal goods: bread, dairy products, meats, and canned and dry goods that were moving too slowly off the shelves or getting too close to their sell-by dates; a cardboard harvest bin of loose carrots in the walk-in, donated by a grower who was getting ready to put in a new crop; 50-pound sacks of potatoes or onions that were either too much for the food service market or were set aside by generous handlers or a government agency for exactly the purpose they were about to serve: to feed the hungry.

These days about 35 percent of the stock you can see in this Food Bank warehouse has been donated outright. The rest comes from government agencies or direct purchases from the California Association of Food Banks. A few years ago the directors of the Food Bank of Yolo County shifted their focus toward providing clients with fresher, more nutritious food, and since then they have brought their fresh produce sales from about 50,000 pounds a year up to a high of 1 million pounds in 2010. 

That morning in May my wife and I joined other groups of buyers inside the warehouse, each of us picking through the low-priced goods for just the right mix of products to refill the shelves of a soup kitchen or—as in our case—a local food closet. Loaves of bread, a case of canned tomatoes, a box of apples, macaroni and cheese mix, a shrink-wrapped bundle of bags of flour. We loaded our wheeled dolly three times: first came the bread, which a food bank volunteer weighed before we loaded it into the truck; then the produce, likewise weighed on the dolly and loaded; and finally the canned and dry goods, which are priced by the case. Five flats of eggs we put in the pickup's back seat for a smooth ride. For a little less than $100 we got enough food to fill the truck.

A short trip then took us back to the food closet at our church, where 8 or 10 women and men, most of them well into their retirement years, bustled around the edges of the sorting table that filled the middle of the small room, stacking cans on shelves, putting bread, tortillas, and eggs into the refrigerators, doling potatoes, onions, rice, and beans from 50-pound sacks into smaller, consumer-sized bags, and pointing out to me firmly and kindly each time I put a box or bag down in the wrong place. Which was pretty often. Before an hour was up, the closet was stocked and locked up and ready for food distribution the next day. Two distributions a week from our closet alone can serve up to 50 families in need.

There's plenty that you can do, too, to help relieve hunger in your own community. Find your nearest food bank on the California Association of Food Banks website, or ask around to find out about local food closets or soup kitchens.

Then all you need to do is pitch in. If you've got the time, they've got the need.

Posted on Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 12:00 AM
  • Author: Jim Coats
Tags: carrots (3), food (36), food bank (1), fruit (29), fruits and vegetables (6), hunger (9), low income (2), nutrition (123), produce (9), vegetables (39)

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