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UC Food Safety

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Summer farm fun

This time of year, most farmers don't get much sleep. Tomatoes, pears and peaches often ripen in the Sacramento Valley faster than the harvest crews can pick them, even working 12-hour days. But this is also the season that some farmers are happy to show off their farms to visitors, inviting guests to enjoy the delightful flavors and beauty of the harvest in a pause from the bustle. UC Cooperative Extension hosts an online agritourism directory and calendar,, to help Californians find farms and ranches to visit. Here are a few upcoming opportunities for summer fun on California farms, pulled from the calendar:

  • The farmers of Five Foot Farm.
    Plumas County Farm Crawl
    - Up the Feather River Canyon, on the eastern side of the Sierras, are the beautiful communities of Quincy and Indian Falls. Small-scale growers, members of Plumas Grown, offer tours and fresh snacks from their fields from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday August 6, 2016. Each farm will offer tours on the half hour (8:30, 9:30, 10;30 and 11:30). Participating farms include a school garden project, Five Foot Farm, Shoofly Farm and Sundberg Growers. Strawberries, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, huge heads of lettuce, hoop houses, and intense cultivation on small plots will be featured. Bring the kiddos, friends and family (no dogs please). All of these operations use sustainable growing practices and are happy to chat with you about why they love to grow good food. Admission by donation, no pre-registration required. Learn more: (707) 217-6415 or
  • Good Humus Peach Party (Yolo County) - Every year on the first Saturday in August, Jeff and Annie Main, owners of 20-acre Good Humus Produce, hold a celebration to give thanks for the year's fruit harvest. They invite you all to come out, see the farm, have a refreshment and enjoy all that Good Humus has to offer. This is a pot luck party; guests are asked to bring a dish to share and their own plates, silverware and cups. No cost, but donations are welcomed. The Mains will provide peach pies, peach ice cream, peach salsa, peach pizzas, and more. You are invited to come early and be part of the experience of making all the peachy fun food. Other activities include a treasure hunt, farm tours, stock tank dipping, music and neighborly chat. Saturday August 6, 1 p.m. - 11 p.m. Learn more
  • Tomato Sauce Party at Eatwell Farm (Solano County) - It's time to join in on the tradition. Let's get canning! Tomato season is in full swing on the farm, and the plants are bursting with ripe and juicy tomatoes ready for picking. Join us as we harvest the bounty of the farm, toss it in a pot, and create delicious tomato sauce to savor the rest of the year. The produce is free, so bring as many jars as you can process over the two day event. The ticket price covers the cost of hosting the event and paying staff. Cost: adults $20, Children $5. August 6 - 7, 2016  Learn more and buy tickets here
  • Grape Days of Summer (Placer County) - Celebrate PlacerGROWN — local wine, local food, local agriculture. Take a self-guided tour of up to 20 wineries, taste foothill wines and enjoy a unique and educational experience at each stop on the Placer County Wine Trail. Saturday & Sunday, August 6 & 7, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. WHERE: Placer County Wine Trail - Auburn, Lincoln, Loomis, Meadow Vista, Newcastle & Rocklin. Activities: Learn About Wine & Wine Making • Live Music at Some Locations • Food at Every Winery • Barrel Tastings • Vineyard Tours • Vertical Tastings • . . . and more! Tickets: Weekend Pass - $45.00,  Sunday Only - $25.00/person, Designated Driver - $10.00/person  website, more info
  • Wine and Produce Passport Weekend (Sacramento River Delta) - Just minutes from Sacramento and Elk Grove, along scenic CA Hwy 160, Delta Farm and Winery Trail members will open their farms and wineries to the public. Farms are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and wineries from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  During Passport Weekend, enjoy farm tours, local wine tastings, farm equipment displays, and contests. Fresh produce - including tomatoes, pears, melons, squash, stone fruits, sweet corn, zucchini, beans, eggs, and organic produce - will be readily available at many of the farms. Saturday and Sunday August 13 and 14. Tickets: adults $25 in advance, $35 week of purchase and are valid for both days. Kids under 21 are free. Tickets are available for purchase online at Each visitor over 21 will receive a wine glass at their first winery stop.
  • Good Land Organics Coffee Tour (Santa Barbara County) - The tour will be lead by Good Land Organics owner and grower, Jay Ruskey. You will be welcomed with fresh coffee, freshly made juice and seasonal fruit.  Jay will give an overview of the coffee research collaboration that has been conducted with the assistance of the University of California Small Farm Program.  He will then lead you on a moderate level hike where Ruskey will explain the dynamics of new crop adaptation and integration of organic tree fruit agriculture. The walk will
    Coffee trees at the Good Land Organics farm.
    take you through the eclectic mix of exotic fruit varieties that grow on the farm. Each person will have an opportunity to taste a fresh picked coffee berry and discover the original flavors of the coffee bean, while discussing coffee cultivation and post harvest processing. On your return hike, there will be time for open discussion and for any further questions.  At noon you have the option to enjoy your picnic lunch at our pond. August 13, 2016, 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Cost: $50 per person. website, reservations

Learn about more farms, ranches and adventurous fun at

Posted on Monday, August 1, 2016 at 2:12 PM

Food bloggers visit the birthplace of integrated pest management

The San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta is considered by local farmers to be the birthplace of integrated pest management, said Cathy Hemly of Green and Hemly farms on Randall Island.

"A group of pear growers, working with ag extension, came up with IPM," Hemly said.

Hemly shared the IPM history during a tour of the delta for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), held over the weekend in Sacramento.

Food bloggers gather for lunch under an ancient sycamore tree at the Elliott Pear Farm.

Hemly said about 50 years ago, pear farmers were faced with growing pest resistance to the pesticide glutathione, which was used routinely to control coddling moth.

"Growers got together with a team of UC scientists. They were the NASA engineers of their day," Hemly said. "We had to figure out a better way to monitor pests. The growers and the university got that started."

An emerging technology, confusing male coddling moth by releasing pheromones into the air, was showing promise. Protocols for using pheromone confusion were developed with the pear industry, Hemly said.

Harvested pears.

The relationship with the pear industry and UC Cooperative Extension continues to this day. The IFBC tour visited the  Randall Island pear farm of Richard Elliott and family. Son Rich Elliott said the family attends UC Cooperative Extension advisor Chuck Ingels' pear research meeting every year. Another son, Ryan Elliott, said fireblight is the biggest disease problem they deal with on the farm.

"Chuck Ingels comes by," Ryan Elliott said. "We learn a lot from him."

IFBC ended yesterday, but the organizers announced the conference will be back in Sacramento, scheduled for Sept. 29 - Oct. 1, 2017.

Farmer Richard Elliott, center, chats with food bloggers.
Ryan Elliott, left, and Richard Elliott, are the newest generation of farmers at the Elliott Pear Farm.


Posted on Monday, August 1, 2016 at 8:12 AM

Endive provided a career-long challenge to Rio Vista farmer/entrepreneur

Farmer Rich Collins is passionate about endive production.
There is just one commercial producer in California of endive, a missile-shaped French-Belgium sprout from a chicory root that boasts culinary versatility, but lacks popularity. Endive (pronounced on-deeve) adds a bitter bite to salads and stir-fries and its white leaves make little boats to hold other ingredients for dainty hors d'oeuvres.

The biggest challenge for an endive producer, said entrepreneur Rich Collins, is marketing a product unfamiliar to most Americans. On average, U.S. consumers eat four leaves of endive a year; in France per consumer consumption is about 8 pounds a year, and in Belgium double that. Collins spent this morning touring about 50 food bloggers who are in Sacramento for the International Food Bloggers Conference around his endive operation so their increased awareness of this specialty vegetable will translate to greater appreciation among their readers.

Collins was introduced to endive in 1978 while working as a dishwasher in a Sacramento restaurant. The owner said he paid $4 a pound for imported endive and challenged Collins to grow it in California. Collins went to Europe as a "horticultural vagabond," he said, to learn the ropes. Back in California, Collins began producing endive in 1982, and never stopped.

"It took 10 years to learn how to grow endive in California," Collins said. "It's not an easy crop to grow."

The primary pest concern is bacterial or fungal problems since the sprouts are forced in a warm, moist environment. Early on, Collins got help from Robert Kasmire, UC Cooperative Extension post harvest specialist at UC Davis. A portrait of Kasmire hangs prominently in the California Endive Farms facility in Rio Vista.

"He helped me out quite a bit," Collins said.

Today, the company he built supplies 50 percent of the U.S. endive market. The California Endive Farms ships its products weekly year-round to Trader Joes and Whole Foods markets.

For Collins, however, it's now time to retire. He sold California Endive Farms to the grandson of one of his production mentors in France, but he won't be leaving agriculture.

This week, Collins sat down with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Mitchell to plan his retirement on a 200-acre farm he and his wife own near UC Davis. Mitchell is chair of the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center, which promotes the use soil care practices to improve carbon sequestration, reduce dust emissions, save water and increase yield in agricultural production systems. The practices can include no-till and minimum tillage farming, cover cropping, enhancing the diversity of above-ground species and underground soil biology, surface residue preservation, and compost applications.

Currently Collins grows 30 acres of asparagus and allows four young farmers to use space on the property to get started in agriculture.

"We now want to get in the realm of soil development," Collins said.

Endive sprout from chicory roots in a dark, warm room.

Endive can be used to make attractive appetizers.
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 7:47 PM

Food bloggers see innovative olive oil production system in Capay Valley

Farmer Chris Steele, owner of Capay Valley Ranches.
More than 400 food writers have converged in Sacramento for the first International Food Bloggers Conference to be held in the California capital. The event began with an excursion for about 45 of the foodies to Capay Valley Ranches, where the focus was on production of premium extra virgin olive oil.

The writers heard about innovations in olive oil production that have allowed California producers to minimize labor costs and maximize yield and quality by establishing super-high-density orchards. Farm manager Joe Armstrong led a farm tour, explaining amendments that had to be added to the soil before planting, the configuration of the trees in hedgerows and an irrigation system that permits application of water to the trees exactly when it is needed.

A graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Armstrong said he choose a career in agriculture precisely because of the new technologies that make the field more efficient and productive.

"That's why I have a passion for farming," Armstrong said.

Ranch owner Chris Steele, who has farmed in Capay Valley his entire life, recognized how such innovations are brought to the farm.

"We couldn't do this without the UC system," he said.

UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists have worked alongside farmers to adapt the new super-high-density orchard systems. The idea was conceived in Spain and introduced into California in the 1990s. Successful use of high-density olive farming requires careful variety selection; finessed pruning, fertilization and irrigation practices; and understanding the cost-and-return for adept decision-making. This month, UCCE scientists released a new cost-and-return study specifically for farmers to use when planning new olive orchards under the super-high-density planting configuration.

Capay Valley Ranch farm manager Joe Armstrong displays almonds for a food blogger to photograph.
Super-high-density olives planted in hedgerows for mechanical management.
An old-school olive orchard.
Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 7:17 PM

NPI applauds Smart Snacks for schoolchildren

Melon and plums are packaged for schools. New USDA rules call for snacks served at school to meet nutritional standards similar to those required of school meals.

With an eye on reducing childhood obesity and improving overall health for children, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the final rule for snacks at schools. The rule made final on July 21 includes requiring snacks served at school to meet nutritional standards similar to those required of school meals.

Lorrene Ritchie, director of UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute applauds the USDA for their recently final Smart Snacks in School rule, which complements the nutritional improvements made to school lunches and breakfasts through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Offering more healthful foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in schools can benefit overall diet quality.

Creating school environments that offer more healthful foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains can also influence the way children eat at home and away from school.

“No single setting has the potential to influence the nutrition of more children than schools,” said Ritchie.

“Research – conducted by our Nutrition Policy Institute and others – has demonstrated that the healthy school foods and beverages consumed by children have a positive impact on their overall diet quality,” she said.

USDA also now requires any food or beverage that is marketed on school campuses during the school day to meet the Smart Snacks standards. Children are a target market for many foods and beverages that contain low nutritional quality and high calories that contribute to excess weight. To be advertised on a school campus, foods and beverages must meet the same Smart Snack standards for items sold or served by a school, according to the new Local School Wellness Policy rule.

“We are starting to see a leveling of child obesity rates in some places and changes to the school food environment are essential to furthering this progress,” said Ritchie.

Providing a consistent source of nutritious food at school will help the approximately 6.2 million California K-12 students develop healthy eating habits for life.

To read more about the federal changes to school food requirements, read the USDA news release at


Posted on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 9:52 AM

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