A selection of hot chile peppers, a California-grown vegetable that adds spice to life.
Ethiopian, Mexican and Thai cuisine all taste distinctly different, but they have something in common: chile peppers. Demand for chile peppers is growing steadily and California is a leading producer of the vegetable that adds spice to life. Cash receipts for California chile peppers increased from $59 million in 2010 to nearly $100 million in 2012, according to USDA statistics. In Santa Clara County, 70 varieties of peppers are grown. Peppers are challenging to grow because they are susceptible to diseases, many of them spread by insects.
“Tomato spotted wilt virus spread by western flower thrips is a big problem for peppers,” said Shimat Joseph, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Tomato spotted wilt can cause a plant to produce discolored fruit that is unmarketable and it can kill the plant. Joseph advises pepper growers on integrated pest management methods to control insects.
“We believe it is critical to manage thrips early in the season because when the plants are small, they are more vulnerable,” Joseph said, “and the disease may not show until later in the season.”
He is currently studying the effects of applying insecticides a month after transplanting to discourage thrips from feeding. He also recommends removing weeds, which can host the virus.
A lack of information and misinterpretation of the dates on food labels leads to a tremendous amount of unnecessary food waste, said Chutima Ganthavorn, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor in Riverside County.
After the "use by" date, the product may not be at its very best, but it is typically still safe to eat.
There are no federal guidelines for dating food products; 20 states have laws on the books about food dating, but they are inconsistent.
“Dates on manufactured food products usually indicate how long the food can be kept on store shelves for best quality, but it is unrelated to its safety,” Ganthavorn said.
Canned goods past the expiration date are still safe to eat if the can is not dented, rusted or swollen. On the other hand, perishable foods that have not reached the expiration date may not be safe to eat if they were not refrigerated properly.
Improved understanding of the dates on food products can help consumers avoid waste. “Sell by” is simply a guide for grocery stores. “Best if used by” indicates when the product is in optimum condition. “Use by” is a recommendation to consumers to eat the food with top quality and flavor. After these dates, Ganthavorn said, the product may not be at its very best, but it is typically still safe to eat if it has been stored and prepared appropriately. The key is to follow safe food handling and storage guidelines.
The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.
'It is so amazing to see their eyes light up and hear the excitement in their voices when they see the work of their hands.' - Ventura County teacher
This is a real testimonial about the value of a school garden. I received an email recently from a teacher at a school where our University of California Cooperative Extension team installed garden beds this last school year. I have made minimal edits to the email to protect the privacy of the students. The program is the Middle School Opportunity Program at Foothill Technology High School
in Ventura Unified School District. (This is an innovative and targeted program at one of the nation's highest achieving public high schools. Foothill was just ranked by Newsweek magazine in its top 100 public high schools, as #77 among all high schools, and #54 nationwide at effectiveness in serving low-income students).
At the end of a challenging day, I found this in my inbox:
“Our garden continues to thrive! My students love it. They run over to it first thing each morning to check the progress of their plants. Right now we have the last of our tomatoes, the last of the strawberries, bell peppers, snacking peppers, cucumber vines that are flowering, pumpkin vines (we planted those late), radishes, cilantro, chives, corn, and broccoli (something is eating the leaves. Ideas?). I am teaching plant science and it has been so wonderful to use our garden plants for examples. It makes the lessons so much richer.
The kids have asked me if we can install two more planter boxes. I told them I would check with you to see if you have more. If not, we will make them ourselves.
Again, thanks so much for getting us started last year. The addition of our garden has made our program more enjoyable for the students and for me. It is so amazing to see their eyes light up and hear the excitement in their voices when they see the work of their hands actually thriving!”
Over one hundred years ago, Ventura Unified teacher Zilda Rogers also gardened with her students, and also wrote to a University of California staff member about the positive experiences her students were having in their school garden. This important story about the history of school gardens appears in a book I recently published, called “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I.”
History often repeats itself. And sometimes, in good ways. P.S. to one of my favorite teachers, at one of my favorite schools, in one of my favorite school districts: We'll be over ASAP to fulfill your request for two more garden boxes to expand this “growing” enterprise!
“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”
Urban farmer Pilar Rebar gives a UC ANR team a tour of her organic seedling operation in Richmond, Calif.
Urban farms are popping up around the state, and a UC ANR team
recently took a close-up look at urban agriculture in California. In particular, we wanted to learn about farms in cities and on the edges of cities that are selling or distributing their products. We visited urban farms and interviewed farmers to find out about their operations, their challenges, and especially, what UC ANR could offer that would be most helpful. We used what we learned to create the UC ANR Urban Agriculture website
, a portal where California's urban farmers can find information they need on a wide array of topics. Here are a few of the insights we gained on our visits.
California's urban farms are usually small, but not always.
Among the 27 farms we visited, the median size was one acre (in other words, half of the farms were larger than an acre, and half were smaller). And the range in size was wide. The smallest was 3,000 square feet, while the largest was 1,000 acres! Excluding the 1,000-acre farm, the average size was 2.8 acres. Compared to the average size of a farm in California, which is 328 acres, according to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, urban farms are very small.
Some experienced farmers, many beginners
Two farms were multi-generation family farms started in the 1950s by the current farmers' parents or grandparents and these farmers are highly experienced. Although their farms now operate in urban environments, they didn't start out as urban farms. “The city came to us,” as one farmer put it. The other farmers we interviewed have been learning farming from the ground up.
Not-for-profit models are prevalent
Among the urban farms we visited, most are part of a non-profit organization or government agency with a larger mission. Urban farming is used as a vehicle for reaching the organization's goals, for example, teaching business skills to youth, or improving healthy food access in under-served communities.
Many challenges starting up
When asked about challenges in starting up their urban farms, the most common issues farmers mentioned were business and financial planning, marketing, and accessing land. From a business perspective, most urban farmers were still learning how to make their enterprises profitable. They also struggled with production issues such as crop planning, pests, and irrigation. And many had encountered confusing zoning issues and regulations.
Urban farmers dive into policy
Of the 27 urban farmers we interviewed, 19 were also involved in advocating for local policy change to facilitate urban agriculture. As one interviewee said: “In order to start the urban farm, we have had to jump into policy work to get it off the ground.”
How can UC ANR help?
One theme that emerged through our visits and discussions with urban farmers is the need for a ready and reliable source of information on everything from starting a farm to production to local regulations. With experts around the state, UC ANR has access to research and information on a wide variety of farming and related topics. The UC ANR Urban Agriculture website has been created as a resource for urban farmers in California, where we'll continue to add helpful material, urban farm stories from around the state, and updates on policies in our metropolitan areas. We encourage urban farmers and urban agriculture advocates in California to connect. Suggest ideas for our blog, share information and photos about your urban farm, and ask questions, via our Facebook page and Twitter. We look forward to hearing from you!
Before Halloween comes the harvest festival and the pumpkin patch.
Although most of us don't live on farms or have relatives who farm, the shortening days and the crispness in the air still remind us somehow that it's harvest time. All over California, farmers are opening their gates and sharing their harvest celebrations with the rest of us. What better time to make sure the kids know where pumpkins, corn, and everything else they eat comes from?
Here are some family-friendly harvest celebrations coming up soon:
- Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend, Butte County - Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 11, 12
Passport holders can set their own pace, take self-guided tours of the scenic agricultural trails, meet local farmers and winemakers and sample the amazing bounty of locally-owned wineries and specialty farms located throughout Butte County.
- Shone Farm Fall Festival, Santa Rosa - Saturday, Oct. 11
The festival, which marks the Farm's 42nd year, will include activities such as apple pressing, a rotten tomato slingshot game, pumpkin and vegetable picking, hayrides and tours of the 365-acre farm and forest. Santa Rosa Junior College Agriculture & Natural Resources Department students will demonstrate wood milling, compost making, lead tours and introduce visitors to the farm's horses, sheep and chickens, and talk about their upkeep. In addition, children can have their faces painted and make stick horses and other crafts. This free festival runs from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11. The farm is located at 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville. For more information, visit shonefarm.com.
Stehly Farms Organic Pumpkin Patch, San Diego - Sunday, Oct. 12
Kids are back in school, the nights are (hopefully) getting cooler, and fall is here! What better way to celebrate than some pumpkin picking? Pumpkin Picking. Tractor Rides. Farm Stand. Devil Dogs BBQ. Market Juices. All Ages Welcome! $6, Kids 4 and Under Free
- Farm & Barn Tour, Placer County - Sunday, Oct. 12
The whole family will enjoy the PlacerGROWN Farm & Barn Tour, a FREE self-guided expedition of farms, ranches, and vineyards in the beautiful countryside of Placer County. Each farm venue will feature different activities, tours, and demonstrations. Locally grown produce, meats, wine, and more will be available for purchase. Learn more
- PlacerGROWN Harvest Festival, Rocklin - Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 18, 19
Don't miss the PlacerGROWN Harvest Festival, a FREE event of family fun including a pumpkin patch, pumpkin lighting display at dusk, movie in the park, scarecrow building contest, farmers' market and more.
- Work Day & Barn Dance, Pescadero - Saturday, Oct. 18
Celebrate the spirit of community with Pie Ranch at this monthly ritual of touring or working together on the ranch, sharing locally grown food, and then spinning, laughing and dosey-doing together into the night.
- Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) Day at the Pumpkin Patch, Nicasio - Sunday, Oct. 19
Pick an organic pumpkin, make your own cheese, taste local Marin wine and beer, pick up locally sourced sandwiches, salads and burgers from The Farmer's Wife and Stemple Creek Ranch, and let the kids go crazy with crafts at MALT Day. This event is free and open to the public.
- Live Earth Farm Harvest Festival, Watsonville - Saturday, Oct. 25
Celebrate the Bounty of the Pajaro Valley and the Monterey Bay Area! Join us for fun on the farm for the whole family. Honor the changing of the seasons and celebrate the Harvest with us on the farm.
These and many more farm and ranch events can be found on the UC Agritourism Directory, www.calagtour.org, managed as a public service by the UC Small Farm Program.