UC Food Blog
Fifty-five years ago, Thomas J. Lipton Inc. funded a tea study at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, which is piquing the interest of scientists today. For 18 years, researchers pampered and coaxed 41 tea clones to determine whether tea plantations could be a lucrative alternative for San Joaquin Valley farmers.
Scientists of the time predicted a potential $25,000 economic value of future California tea plantings. Today, tea is a $3.8 billion business in the U.S. and UC Davis recently launched a Global Tea Initiative. Kearney submitted its yellowed research reports, correspondence and newspaper clippings about the long-ago tea research to the initiative's collection of research, teaching and outreach spanning agriculture, social sciences, health, culture and economics of all things tea.
That got the attention of UC Davis chemistry professor Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague, who is studying microbes in the soil where tea is grown and their potential impact on the health attributes of tea.
“I believe there is a microbial exchange that ends up in the cup,” she said.
When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a prescient researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney, where they stand today as fall-blooming non-descript shrubs.
Hague, who with her students frequently travels overseas to sample soil on tea plantations, learned of the plants at Kearney and recognized the opportunity to conduct studies in California.
“It's really remarkable,” she said.
Kearney director Jeff Dahlberg believes the renewed interest in the center's tea, growing awareness about the healthful properties of tea, and increasing enthusiasm for artisanal tea and locally grown food could turn tea into a lucrative specialty crop for small-scale San Joaquin Valley farmers.
“This may be something like blueberries,” he said. “Twenty years ago, people thought they couldn't be grown in California. But with research conducted here at Kearney, there is now a thriving blueberry industry in the San Joaquin Valley and on the coast.”
It was the same intention that prompted Dahlberg's predecessors to support the tea studies in the 1960s and 70s.
At that time, 41 clones were propagated in a lathe house at Kearney, and later planted in a half-acre field plot. In 1967, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy researcher Karl H. Ingebretsen told a newspaper reporter that the plants came from clones that survived a similar USDA trial in the 1880s.
“Most of the imported plants were taken from some growing in South Carolina, where the Lipton company found them 10 years ago growing wild,” Ingebretsen said in 1967.
The Kearney superintendent at that time, Frank Coddington, said the scientists hoped successful experimentation would lead to varieties of tea suitable for mechanical harvest and the production of instant tea, a product that in those days was becoming more and more popular.
The tea clones at Kearney grew well and appeared healthy, the reports said. Tea plants tolerated California's dry climate and stood the heat when irrigated properly. Five of the 41 clones were reported to show “real promise,” but when the tea project was terminated in 1981, only a few plants representing two of the clones were saved as landscape shrubs. Nine plants now grow on the west side of a corrugated tin warehouse, and four in the shade of knobby flowering pear trees just south of the original building at the site.
Gervay-Hague plans to build on the results from early Kearney research with 21st Century agricultural production tools.
“I won't repeat the work done in the 60s, but they didn't know about the microbiome or genetics back then,” she said. “UC Davis has 3D imaging capability, which I want to use to watch the plants change. I would like to do DNA testing.”
The UC Davis chemist is applying for grants to build a repository of plants that may become the foundation of commercial tea gardens in California.
This story en español.
Change takes time. There are frequently obstacles. But when it occurs, it can be satisfying.
This year, over 1,000 participant quotes from adults in the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program chart a course for change. In the food eaten, beverages consumed, or daily exercises undertaken, participants describe a desire to take a new approach, or be more conscious of the little daily decisions that can make all the difference in health.
In 2015, UC CalFresh programs were delivered in 891 sites. The majority of sites were education-oriented, with 78 percent being either public schools, preschools, adult education, or Head Start programs.
“This class changed eating habits for my family and friends." - Eating Smart Being Active class, Fresno County
“This class was very informative and it gave me tips and ideas on how to stay healthy, how to be active with our children and also great recipes! I enjoyed the class and will use their tips and ideas when thinking about my diet.” - Eating Smart Being Active class, Fresno County
Many quotes express thanks for a program that offers evidence-based curricula to help improve food resource management – budgeting for healthy food while on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - formerly food stamps) or offer recipes that are tasty on a limited budget. Some quotes reflect on what was learned, and how to continue making decisions that “stay the course” in healthy food selection and preparation. And then, there are those that thank dedicated educators, such as this one:
“My first time here at the nutrition class was April 21. All of the information taught by Julie was important and I learned about eating better, making simple quick healthy meals. My granddaughter walked into the class for the last 10 minutes. She tasted some of the meal and she said, 'Yum -- very good. Grandma can we take some home.' I told her we had the recipe and she asked to go buy the ingredients and make some at home because it was very good and she wanted to eat more. She helped me buy ingredients and helped me prepare the meal. She ate 2 bowls …She wants to try other healthy meals. Thank you for providing this nutrition program to share with us!” - Plan Shop Save and Cook class, Kings County
Occasionally, there are inspirational stories that touch our hearts and make us re-dedicate ourselves each day to our work:
“My son is a kindergartener. He is also autistic with many sensory issues! He only eats certain things (like chips, pop tarts, canned soup and raviolis). The UC CalFresh educator, Mrs. Carter, came in to do a nutrition taste test with the students today and, to my surprise, my son ate edamame willingly. He said it was awesome! For me, this is a big milestone! It could be the start of trying new foods! I love this program… It's great for all kids!” - Healthy Happy Me class, Placer County
Moving from individual education to policy, systems and environmental change agents
In the past few years, UC CalFresh has increasingly worked on developing programs that have policy, systems and environmental change approaches. However, the stories told by participants illustrate the importance of building our programs from a foundation of direct education.
In this effort, UC CalFresh uses a “school as the hub” model in communities. Schools are seen as pivotal arenas for nutrition education that can also influence broader policy, systems, and environmental change. Through classroom nutrition education with students, and after-school programs for their families, schools generate the potential to reach different age groups in the community effectively.
A school is a powerful environment for learning, growth and community engagement - from school gardens to work with food service directors creating nutritious meals and enhancing the cafeteria environment, to playground activities with stenciling and murals reflecting healthy choices. Opportunities abound to generate change in perspectives on food choices, physical activity, and healthy living.
Assisting communities to build capacity for sustainable change
As we work with communities to build capacity in the areas described above, over time, a transition has the opportunity to take effect whereby local leaders - principals, teachers, parents, grandparents and students - motivated by the desire to embrace long-lasting healthy changes in their family and community - act as role models and change agents. This fundamental shift moves institutional initiative and strategies into “community-based systems change.” And the seeds of this change began with a lesson, a child, a parent, an educator … a simple quote.
This story en español.
John Chater remembers the day vividly. He was about two years old. His grandfather gave him a dark, purplish pomegranate. Happily, he opened it and starting eating.
He quickly realized his mistake. He was wearing his new light brown suede shoes. The pomegranate juice quickly found the shoes, leaving a permanent scar.
“That was my first experience, that I remember, with pomegranates, and it involved getting in trouble,” Chater said. “Because it was so delicious, I didn't realize it would stain.”
More than 30 years later, Chater is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, with a focus on pomegranate research and a 2016 University of California Global Food Initiative student fellow. He is building on the work of his grandfather, S. John Chater, who was a maintenance worker at hospital but developed a cult following among rare fruit growers in California for developing new varieties of pomegranates.
The younger Chater, working with varieties selected from the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Winters, including several developed by his grandfather (who died in 2002), is working to better understand the commercial potential of these varieties.
Currently, 90 to 95 percent of pomegranates are one variety: Wonderful, Chater said. (In addition, California grows more than 95 percent of pomegranates in the United States, he said.)
Working under Don Merhaut, UC Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental and floriculture crops at UC Riverside, Chater has set up pomegranate variety trials in Riverside and Camarillo.
They have planted 12 pomegranate varieties, 15 trees per variety, to evaluate their establishment, precocity (flowering and fruiting), usefulness to growers and desirability to consumers.
Of the 12 varieties, 10 are edible (Parfianka, Desertnyi, Wonderful, Ambrosia, Eversweet, Haku Botan, Green Globe, Golden Globe, Phoenicia and Lofani) and two are ornamental (Ki Zakuro and Nochi Shibori). The ornamental varieties, whose flowers look like carnations, could be of interest to the floriculture industry, Chater said.
The researchers want consumers to be able to go to supermarket, and, like apples and citrus, be able to buy different varieties of pomegranates that vary in sweetness, seed hardness and color. (The varieties Chater is studying range in color from green to yellow to pink to orange to red to nearly purple.)
Chater set up the trials in Riverside and Camarillo to evaluate the difference between the cooler coastal climate and the warmer inland climate.
The prevailing thought is that more acidic varieties do better in inland conditions because the high summer temperatures reduce the acidity before the fruit is picked in the fall.
For example, a variety such as Wonderful, which is high in acidity, is grown commercially in the Central Valley. But, Eversweet, which has a lower acidity, does well on the coast.
Related to color, some researchers believe that pomegranates color up because of cool night time temperatures. Therefore, trees planted on the coast tend to color up faster.
All that said, it is believed no one has done a comprehensive study, such as the experimentally-designed one Chater has set up, in the United States. It will allow him to study the interplay of variables including size, color, sweetness, acidity, antioxidant activities and seed hardness in different climate conditions.
This story en español.
View a video featuring John Chater and his pomegranate research below:
School is back in session and students across the nation are busy in the classroom and cafeteria learning and eating. But what happens to students in the summer months when school is out? Research suggests a summer learning achievement gap occurs between children from low income communities and their higher income peers when school is out. Even more, summer has been called “the hungriest time of the year” for low-income children who rely on school meals to get enough food during the school year.
In response to the summer hunger problem, the USDA created the Summer Food Service Program to give schools, agencies, non-profits, etc., the funding to be able to offer free meals to children 18 years and younger at approved low-income sites. Still, as of summer 2015, the summer meal program remained underutilized when compared to the number of low-income children accessing school meals during the regular school year.
To offer excellent programming and increase participation in the summer food program, partnering agencies in Santa Maria worked to provide physical activity, nutrition education and other summer enrichment programming at local city parks in conjunction with the Summer Food Service Program. The Safe and Strong All Summer Long program was coordinated through the Santa Maria City Recreation and Parks to provide free, drop-in recreation opportunities from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. in parks throughout the city all summer. Meals were brought to the parks and served for one hour by the local food bank and Community Action Commission staff and volunteers.
SNAP-Ed funded agencies have been encouraged to partner with Summer Food Service Programs, though the logistics of working with different agencies and providing education programs in non-traditional settings isn't always easy or clear. During summer 2016, UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators in Santa Barbara County partnered with the Safe and Strong All Summer Long food program to provide staff training and support for family enrichment and physical activities. UC CalFresh staff kicked off the partnership by leading a one-day CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Physical Activity training for over 20 Recreation & Parks staff. CATCH focuses on inclusive physical education that keeps youth engaged and active. After the training and throughout the summer, UC staff participated weekly at two park summer meal sites encouraging youth and their families to get physically active, drink water and eat healthy. UC staff continued to provide guidance and training on-site to Recreation & Parks staff on how to engage a variety of youth of all ages in fun physical activities.
Several other partner agencies also provided engaging programming to parents while the youth were eating their lunches. The local hospital and County Public Health Department conducted food demonstrations and distributed healthy recipe food samples to parents at sites throughout the city.
In a focus group conducted in June 2016 with parents from the local school district, parents commented that they would like more information and ideas about how and where to do physical activities as a family. Participants commented that they appreciated that their children were learning how to be physically active at school, but it would be helpful to have information on how to involve the whole family: parents, siblings and all of the family so they could get exercise and enjoy their time together.
By providing free drop-in programming at local parks, in conjunction with free meals for youth, the Safe and Strong All Summer Long partnership was able to provide access to safe spaces for families to come together during the summer to be physically active and reduce food insecurity.
UC CalFresh Nutrition Educator Miguel Dia, commented that the best part of the summer partnership was “engaging the youth in a variety of different games and seeing all the different age groups participating. By the end of the summer, the older youth were actually teaching the younger youth how to do the CATCH activities.”
In addition to those grown for use as jack-o-lanterns, varieties such as Sugar Pie and Fairytale work well in the kitchen.
Seeds become crunchy snacks when dried and roasted. For both techniques, thoroughly remove the stringy bits of flesh that cling to the outer layer of the seed. Dry at 115⁰-120⁰F for 1 to 2 hours in a home dehydrator or in a warm oven for 3 to 4 hours; alternatively, seeds can be dried in the sun. Rotate seeds regularly to promote even drying and avoid scorching. Dried seeds can then be roasted in a 250⁰F oven with a light spritz of oil and salt for 10 to 15 minutes.
Wash the exterior of the pumpkin and remove the seeds and accompanying fibrous strands. The flesh can be skinned and cubed into 1-inch pieces as a starting point. Some home preservation options include:
- Pressure canning – in CUBES only. Do not mash or puree. Put that food processor away; keep botulism at bay.
Note that contents can be mashed when removing the jar from the pantry for use in such foods as pumpkin butter, ice cream, and pie all year round.
- Drying –
- in 1/8-inch thick pieces for a chewy snack.
- make a leather: cook and puree flesh with honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This is an appropriate and safe use of that food processor.
- Freeze – cook, mash, cool and freeze for future use.
Want to learn more about the details of these processes? Take a UC Master Food Preserver class or ask a UC Master Food Preserver volunteer. Many programs are accepting applicants for upcoming trainings. The UC Master Food Preserver Program is open to individuals looking to increase community knowledge in home food preservation methods. Applicants for the UC Master Food Preserver Program must be willing to share knowledge and skills learned from the certification training through local community outreach. Prior food preservation knowledge is not a requirement; willingness to teach others is.
Come full circle by saving seeds for next year's garden. Keep seeds and preserved pumpkin products in a cool, dry place until ready to use. Plant seeds in June for an October harvest and go easy on the water – pumpkins make the list of water wise vegetables, according to the UC Master Gardener Program of Marin County. The Pumpkin Production in California publication notes, “Excessive irrigation aggravates root and stem rot problems and increases humidity in the lower canopy, which contributes to foliage and fruit disease.”
If time cannot be carved out for pumpkin preserving this year, the UC Davis Arboretum offers a Carve ‘n Compost workshop later this month. With all these options, be sure to enjoy this October's harvest in one of its many forms.
This story en español.