UC Food Blog
Connecting 9,000 rural households in Guatemala with improved water management and climate-smart agriculture strategies is the goal of a new project led by a team at UC Davis, to ultimately increase food security and reduce poverty in Guatemala's Western Highlands.
“The opportunity to impact so many farmers' lives on this scale is exciting,” said Beth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “We're taking lessons learned from our previous research — in Guatemala, Honduras and Cambodia — and building a team to help more small-scale farmers apply our findings and successfully use these innovative practices.”
The new project is part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. The project represents an additional $3.4 million investment in the UC Davis-led Horticulture Innovation Lab by the U.S. Agency for International Development's mission in Guatemala.
The project's international team also includes representatives from Kansas State University; North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; the Centro de Paz Bárbara Ford in Guatemala; Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala; and the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano, in Honduras.
“The learning shared between these three U.S. universities and the universities in Honduras and Guatemala will be enriching for all of the institutions involved,” said Manuel Reyes, research professor at Kansas State University who is part of the team. “I find it satisfying that these academic institutions will be investing intellectually in marginalized groups in Guatemala's Western Highlands — and in turn, learning from them too.”
Helping youth envision a future in agriculture
By partnering with local youth groups and agricultural schools, the team will better prepare students for jobs in commercial agriculture and agricultural extension with knowledge of climate-resilient conservation and water management practices.
“Our local team is training youth as entrepreneurs, to see agriculture as an economic opportunity instead of just back-breaking work,” said Meagan Terry, UC Davis junior specialist who is managing the project in Guatemala for the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “They can envision a future in agriculture, with innovative ways to create value-added products or grow high-value crops for niche markets.”
As rainfall patterns vary with climate change, farmers in this region are expected to face increased competition for water. Practices such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and conservation agriculture will become more necessary for small-scale farmers.
Climate-smart lessons from conservation agriculture, drip irrigation
In previous research, the Horticulture Innovation Lab has found that combining drip irrigation with conservation agriculture practices can successfully grow vegetables on small plots of land, without significant yield reductions. These practices improve soil structure, moisture retention and soil health.
Additionally, women farmers who participated in the Horticulture Innovation Lab studies in Cambodia, Honduras and Guatemala favored using these practices for another important reason: reduced labor in relation to controlling weeds, vegetable bed preparation and manual watering.
“I dream for many women, youth and their families, that their lives will be better off because of 'MasRiego' and the science behind this work,” Reyes said. “As for the research, we are learning how to improve this suite of practices so they can be tailor fitted globally. I am convinced that if this picks up, steep sloping lands can be farmed with the soil quality not being degraded — but even being enriched.”
These lessons, as well as findings from the program's “Advancing Horticulture” report about horticultural sector growth in Central America, lay the foundation for this new project.
Curious about partnering with the Horticulture Innovation Lab? The Horticulture Innovation Lab builds partnerships between agricultural researchers in the United States and researchers in developing countries, to conduct fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries. The program currently has three research grant opportunities for U.S. researchers: one focused on tomatoes, another on apricots, and a third on integrated crop-livestock systems.
The day for collectively taking action against global hunger is still two months away. But September and October are already shaping up as “world food months,” with a number of events connecting Californians to their food systems and the world's food challenges.
World Food Day officially falls on October 16, honoring the establishment of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the meantime, here are a few worldly UC events to look out for, both online and in person:
UC Student Video Challenge calls for student stories
The World Food Center at UC Davis is kick-starting the World Food Day spirit of building awareness around solutions for ending hunger. In partnership with the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute and the UC Global Food Initiative, the Center launched a video contest for students across the 10 UC campuses—including extension offices and health systems—to capture stories on UC research related to food or nutrition security, as defined in the second of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Students can win up to $1,000 and a paid trip to the World Food Prize International Symposium. The deadline is September 7.
World Bank and International Year of Pulses
Combining World Food Day with the FAO's celebration of pulses for being a sustainable protein source, the agriculture and SecureNutrition groups at the World Bank are teaming up with the World Food Center to host a talk on the role of legumes in nutrition, climate-smart agriculture and serving low-income countries. Douglas Cook, director of the Chickpea Innovation Lab at UC Davis, will deliver the presentation, which will be streamed online as well, on October 6.
Talk from recent head of UN World Food Programme
Speaking on the need for ensuring the world's neediest receive not only enough food, but the right food, World Prize laureate Catherine Bertini will deliver a public lecture in honor of World Food Day. The World Food Center is hosting Bertini at UC Davis on October 10, also with livestreaming available. The winning submissions for the World Food Day Video Challenge will be showcased ahead of the lecture.
UC research at World Food Prize
Known as the “Borlaug Dialogue,” the World Food Prize International Symposium is the most prestigious gathering in food and agriculture. Beth Mitcham, head of the Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC Davis will speak at the symposium, while the World Food Center is again organizing a panel discussion, this time focused on measures of progress for nutrition security and featuring leaders from the FAO, the US Agency for International Development and the International Food Policy Research Institute.
In past years, World Food Prize laureates have included researchers from UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley and UC Davis. The symposium is held in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 12-14, and will be livestreamed as well.
From “Tank” to “Fork” and everything in between
While not directly connected to World Food Day, Sacramento's annual Farm-to-Fork celebrations have locals tipping their glasses to the close connection Californians share with the nation's top ag economy. Tastings, farm tours, food drives and street festivals span the month of September. The Farm Tank conference, meanwhile, is partnering with UC Davis and the Farm-to-Fork organizers to expand the foodie dialogue with a list of speakers ranging from corporate chefs to food reporters and UC ANR's chief information officer, Gabe Youtsey. The event also takes place in Sacramento, on September 22.
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, www.calagtour.org, 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:
- 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! 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 www.deltapassport2016.eventbrite.com. Each visitor over 21 will receive a wine glass at their first winery stop. sacriverdeltagrown.org/
- 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 website, reservations
Learn about more farms, ranches and adventurous fun at www.calagtour.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.