UC Food Blog
How do we support low-income Latino families with appropriate nutrition education that makes a difference in their lives? This was the question staff with the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties were asking ourselves as we prepared for a monthly presentation at the THRIVE Healthy School Pantry in Santa Maria, California.
While many nutrition education programs work with local food banks to provide food demonstrations and nutrition information at supplemental food distribution sites, often, these classes can feel rushed. People are likely hurrying to pick up their food and so there is little time for more than just one-way communication where the educator provides the information and participants listen. Other times families may feel obligated to stay for the nutrition lesson in order to get their bag of food for their families.
This was the experience of our UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators delivering presentations and recipe demonstrations at the Healthy School Pantry food distribution. The Healthy School Pantry is a monthly food distribution focused on increasing food security and providing a strong social network for families to access a wide variety of community resources in English and Spanish.
When our nutrition education team started working at the Healthy School Pantry, the set-up was similar to a formal classroom environment where there was a teacher and students. The students (in this case, parents and families) would sit in rows, while the nutrition educator stood up front with a projector and microphone providing nutrition messages and a recipe demonstration using food from the pantry. We would include skills for preparing a recipe, and offer food samples and practical tips related to USDA's MyPlate.
After a few of these formal presentations, we began to notice that many parents were not interacting. We would ask for questions or suggestions on how participants could use this information or recipe, and most would respond with silence or politely, “todo está bien, gracias” [“everything is good, thanks”]. We also noticed other families would try to get past our table without making eye contact in order to leave. It became apparent that the families, for various personal or cultural reasons, did not feel comfortable participating and interacting in this formal class setting. Others just did not want to sit and listen for 15 to 30 minutes if they weren't sure that the information was going to be relevant to them.
Taking this into account, we decided to modify our approach. First, we got rid of the microphone and projector and moved our table into a high traffic area more integrated with the other community resources. Next, we changed our presentations to be more participatory and conversational. We set up our table with a colorful display and often a food sample, and then we walked around to the front of the table where we could greet and approach the families without a barrier. At one recent event, we brought an activity wheel and some basic physical activity equipment like jump ropes and stretchy bands. Parents walked right up and started to spin the wheel. When it landed on an exercise they would grab the equipment and start doing the activity and asking for tips. We were so surprised that they wanted to actually do the exercise right then and there and were really interested in talking to us about how they could get more physical activity in their busy lives. At one point we had a long line of parents waiting.
With these small changes, parents are provided more individual attention and an opportunity to have a conversation with the educator rather than feeling like they are students in a classroom. We are able to have more meaningful conversations and the parents are the ones approaching us and asking, “What recipe are you preparing today?” Parents are initiating the conversations and once we engage with them, they have many more questions about the ingredients, where to get them and the dialogue continues in a natural way that is meaningful and relevant to their lives. We are also able to clear up some misconceptions they may have. For example, we have heard many parents say they think that canned or frozen fruits are not healthy. Once we have their trust we are able to clear up the misinformation and let them know that canned and frozen produce can be an economical way to get more fruits and vegetables in their diet and, as long as there isn't added salt or sugar, can be just as healthy as fresh produce.
Within these conversations we take the opportunity to provide nutrition messages and tips, but we also have the opportunity to hear the parents' perspectives and comments. For example, one participant commented on a recipe they were demonstrating saying, “I really like the bean and garbanzo salad because it's nutritious, it has iron, vitamins and it is really easy to make.”
For our larger nutrition education program, this method has brought about additional benefits, including the opportunity to build stronger relationships with parents in the community and to talk to them about what our program is doing with their children during the school day. One mother who had approached our table several times in the past told us, "For me and my family, we have changed a lot about how we eat. We eat healthier and cheaper and we spend less on buying junk food. My children like what they have been taught in their classes by your program. That's why I like it because my children no longer like to eat things that are not healthy.”
Through these conversations, we see that families are leaving our table more informed and are more willing to seek out and approach our table the following month. The level and quality of interaction has increased and we are able to see and hear about the impact of our work and modify or change approaches based on the suggestions from the families.
We will continue with this successful education delivery model because we have seen and heard the satisfaction of the families and have received a lot of great feedback from parents. These small successes that are revealed to us through mutually respectful conversations keep us motivated to continue to provide services and promote a healthier community in a way that respects and values the experiences and knowledge that our families share.
The scenario: Tomorrow is farmers market day, but not just any market on any day. This market happens once a month as part of a collaboration between the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County and Lopez High School. The high school, a continuation school in the south part of San Luis Obispo County, has a program called Hands-On Parenting Education, or HOPE, which helps expecting and parenting teenagers to graduate.
It's the day prior to market day and HOPE students have a guest lecturer today: Dayna Ravalin, UCCE Master Food Preserver coordinator of San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara counties. She's demonstrating how to make and store baby food safely. The timing is impeccable as students can (and do, as a result of the lesson) load up on fresh ingredients the very next day.
Dayna takes the students through the Core Four food safety tips while demonstrating how to convert fresh market produce into baby food blocks.
- Clean - Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.
- Separate - Don't cross contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from foods that won't be cooked.
- Cook - Cook to safe temperature.
- Chill - Chill leftovers and takeout foods within 2 hours. Keep fridge at 40°F or below.
Lastly, students are shown how to easily preserve that baby food to last through the month or longer, until the next Lopez High School/Food Bank Coalition market day. Ravalin demonstrates the use of an ice-cube tray to aide in freezing baby-sized portions before providing each student with their own tray to take home, empowering them with building blocks for healthy eating.
The students leave, eager to take advantage of their resources the next day, and with two basic recipes using seasonal produce to get them started.
Homemade Baby Food Recipes
- 1 pound of carrots
- 1 cup water
Trim and peel carrots, cut into 1-inch segments. Put in a medium saucepan with the water. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for 25 minutes (this will take longer if your carrots are thicker). Let cool in cooking liquid. Purée in a food processor, blender or food mill, cover and freeze in small portions.
Add in ideas: pinch of cumin, coriander, cinnamon or mashed potatoes.
- 2 sweet eating apples or pears
- 4 to 5 tbsp. water or pure apple juice
Peel, halve, core and chop the apples. Put into a medium saucepan with the water or apple juice. Cover and cook over low heat for 6 to 8 minutes until really tender. Let cool in cooking liquid. Puree in a food processor, blender or food mill, cover and freeze in small portions.
Add in ideas: pinch of cinnamon, pureed carrots, ginger
“You can even freeze the different purees in layers so it is triple colored when you empty the trays,” Ravalin said.
Through this 1.5 hour lesson, the expecting and new parents learned how easy it can be to extend the life of food, taking advantage of the school's monthly market to provide for their families. This partnership is one example of how UC Master Food Preserver Program volunteers donate more than 20,000 hours of their time annually educating families throughout California on safe food preservation.
How are you celebrating American agriculture in your life? In advance of National Ag Week, March 19-25, and National Ag Day, March 21, Central Valley third-grade students were “learning with lettuce” how to bring more agriculture into their lives last week. The UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center offers the free lettuce plantings every year at Farm and Nutrition Day in Fresno County and Kings County, typically around the time of National Ag Week.
Students with the help of volunteers learned how to plant tiny lettuce seedlings into a pot of healthy soil to take home for transplanting later. In addition to helping the students connect their food to agriculture, the lettuce planting offered an engaging, hands-on experience growing healthy and nutritious food at home.
National Ag Week is a nationwide effort coordinated by the Agriculture Council of America to tell the vital story of American agriculture and remind citizens that agriculture is a part of all of us. National Ag Day encourages every American to:
• Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
• Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
• Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
• Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.
Each American farmer feeds about 144 people. As the world population soars, there is even greater demand for the food, fiber and renewable resources produced in the United States. Agriculture is this nation's #1 export and incredibly important in sustaining a healthy economy. That's why National Ag Week is a great time to reflect on and be grateful for American agriculture.
California tree nut growers will soon have to comply with new agriculture water testing requirements under the Produce Safety Rule in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). University of California researchers and advisors are holding seminars to share information about the agricultural water requirements and proper water sampling methods in order to be in compliance with the regulations.
While irrigation or spray water is generally not the source of contamination, it is a vehicle for pathogens that are harmful to humans, especially on produce that is consumed raw; therefore, agricultural water was included as a part of the new regulation.
The UC Cooperative Extension office in Yolo County was the site of the first information sessions for nut tree growers/producers. It was an ideal location, as the fertile soils of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys are home to the largest tree nut production industries in the U.S. Some nuts are also grown in the coastal valley regions and Sierra foothills.
Good news for nut consumers
The new regulations and the focus on food safety practices, particularly within the nut tree industry, is of great interest because of the popularity of nutritious and delicious tree nuts. I for one am a big consumer. My day starts with almond butter on toast. That's followed by snacks of raw walnuts and dates. And there's always the handful of roasted pistachios to be grabbed for a salty treat.
It is lucky for someone who is nuts about nuts to live in California. The state is the nation's No. 1 walnut, almond and pistachio producer. California produces 80 percent of the world's almonds. We produce one million tons of almonds each year, followed by walnuts at nearly half a million tons, and pistachios at over a quarter million tons.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports the state's leading agricultural export products by value in 2015 were almonds ($5.14 billion), dairy products ($1.63 billion), walnuts ($1.49 billion), wine ($1.48 billion), and pistachios ($848 million).
Melissa L. Partyka, an ecologist at the UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, (WIFSS) and Ronald F. Bond, a water quality researcher and field coordinator with WIFSS, are engaging local growers on issues of food safety and helping to educate them on not only the regulations but on ways to improve their water quality.
Partyka and Bond are staff in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Atwill Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, director of WIFSS.
They are affiliated with the Western Center for Food Safety, a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, and are helping break down the regulations for the growers, regulations which can be a little overwhelming to the untrained.
Agricultural water, according to FSMA, is that water used to irrigate, treat, harvest, wash commodity or equipment on farm.
Growers are required to test water if it:
- Comes in contact with the harvestable portion of the commodity
- Is used to clean harvest equipment
- Is used to mix pesticides/fungicides applied to commodity
- Is used by harvest crews to wash hands
As of January 2016 growers will have 2 to 4 years (depending on farm size) to comply with most aspects of the Produce Safety Rule. Basically, the larger the production, the higher potential for risk to the consumer. How often a grower samples water depends on the water source. Well water requires an initial four samples, followed by one sample per year. Surface water, requires an initial 20 samples, followed by five samples per year. Water samples should be collected as close to harvest as is practical. During a long harvest season, samples can be spread out; in short harvest seasons, samples should be collected closer together; and in multiple harvest seasons, samples should be taken near each harvest if water is coming from the same source.
A full day workshop to be hosted by UC Cooperative Extension is planned for late June. Look for announcement of date, time, and location on the following websites: www.wcfs.ucdavis.edu, http://ucanr.edu, www.wifss.ucdavis.edu.
Get a jump start on your spring-summer vegetable garden. Start growing seedlings indoors now to have young plants ready to go into the ground when the weather warms and there is no longer a threat of frost. Growing vegetables from seeds is a passion for many avid gardeners, but even a novice gardener can have fun and success with a little planning and effort.
While growing vegetables from seed requires a little bit of extra work, germinating your own seeds gives you access to a wider variety of vegetables than typically available from a local nursery. Many gardeners love experimenting by growing exotic or unusual flavors, colors, size or texture of their favorite edible.
What you will need:
Growing healthy seedlings starts with healthy and high-quality seeds. Make sure to purchase seeds from a reputable supplier, and read the instructions and recommendations on the seed packets for specific planting instructions.
Keep in mind that if you save seeds from your own garden, the plants they produce in the future may not be identical to their parents because they are a result of random open pollination. When saving your own seeds, clean and dry them and then place them in a container that will keep them dry. Store seeds in a cool location.
- Germination mix
To start your seeds off right do not use garden soil or potting mix. Potting or garden soil it is too heavy, not sterile and does not drain well. It is recommended to use a germination mix that is a combination of one-third sterilized sand, one-third vermiculite and one-third peat moss which allows for air to circulate and is able to hold moisture, but still drains well.
There are a variety of container options available for purchase, including flats or trays with dividers, or you can use small individual clay or plastic pots. It is also possible to use recycled items found around the house, like milk cartons, toilet or paper towel rolls, and plastic containers from yogurt to name a few. It is important to wash all containers thoroughly and soak and rinse in a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water, to help prevent diseases from occurring to your delicate seedlings.
- Light source
Edible plant seedlings typically need a bright light source to develop into healthy plants. Oftentimes, indoor seed germination requires more lighting than what is available from a large window. When more light is needed, suspend fluorescent lights 6 to 12 inches above the seeds for approximately 16 hours per day. After the seeds have germinated, move the seedlings to a cool, south facing window with plenty of natural light. Check seed packets for specific germination tips for individual species.
- Heat source
Most seeds have a minimum and maximum optimal temperature at which they germinate, check seed packets or catalog for recommended germination temperatures. Temperature is extremely important in having the highest germination success (see table). Most edible plants germinate faster in warm soil (75°-85°F), to provide a consistent heat source a heating mat can be used. Once seeds have sprouted the seedlings prefer slightly cooler temperatures so a heating mat is no longer needed.
Soil temperature conditions for vegetable seed germination, from the California Master Gardener Handbook (table 5.2):
Germination begins with the seed absorbing water. An adequate, continuous supply of water is needed to ensure successful germination. Once the germination process has begun try and avoid any dry or overly wet periods that may cause the young seedling to die.
After experiencing the wonder of watching a seed turn into a mature seedling it is time to transplant. To transplant, carefully dig out and lift the small plant out of its container. Prepare its new desired location by making a hole the same size and depth as where the seedling was growing, once placed firm the soil and gently water. When possible keep the newly transplanted seedling out of direct sun and heat for a few days.
Learn more with the UC Master Gardener Program
Interested in learning more about how to start seedlings or how to grow an edible garden? The UC Master Gardener Program has University-trained volunteers who are eager to help. Volunteers are available to answer questions about preparing your soil, fertilizing, mulching and more. With local programs based in more than 50 counties across California there is sure to be a workshop or class near you. Visit our website to find your local UC Master Gardener Program, mg.ucanr.edu.