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Cottage food law not the answer to small-farm woes

'The new law doesn't help us at all,' said Annie Main, who with her husband Jeff farms in the Capay Valley.
When the California Homemade Food Act went into effect early last year, it was hailed as an exciting new opportunity for small scale farmers to boost profits. The law allows for certain foods prepared in home kitchens to be sold directly to the public at farmers markets and roadside stands.

The UC small farm program held a series of two-day workshops around California to outline the provisions of the new law. Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, was the coordinator and an instructor for the series. The class was popular, but many of the farming participants found that the letter of the law tended to hinder their creativity rather than open new business avenues.

Hardesty said the Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) was designed to, among other things, help farming families take their surplus produce and make dried products, jams, jellies and butters. However, the California Department of Public Health is requiring cottage food operators to do all of their processing in their home kitchen, to comply with the Statutory Provisions Related to Sanitary and Preparation Requirements for Cottage Food Operations (Excerpts from the California Health and Safety (H&S Code, including H&S 113980 Requirements for Food), specifically, the CDPH requires that cottage food operators comply with the following operational requirements:

"All food contact surfaces, equipment, and utensils used for the preparation, packaging, or handling of any cottage food products shall be washed, rinsed, and sanitized before each use. All food preparation and food and equipment storage areas shall be maintained free of rodents and insects."

Cutting fruit and laying it in the sun to dry, for example, is not permitted. For jams and jellies, the law stipulates sugar-to-fruit ratios that require more sugar than fruit. For some cooks, the rules defeat the unique character of their homemade, gourmet products.

“I really try not to put a lot of sugar in my jellies. I want it to taste like fruit,” said farmer Annie Main, who took the UC class.

Main and her husband Jeff run an organic fruit, vegetable, flower and herb operation on 20 acres in the Capay Valley of Yolo County.

“I've been doing value-added for 20 years,” Main said. “In the '90s, I started making jams and jellies in a rented certified kitchen. But it's a trek to get labor, jars, supplies and fruit to the restaurant kitchen after hours and then work till midnight. We thought with the new law, I could do it in my own kitchen, which would be fabulous.”

However, she found that the rules of the law are so restrictive as to be prohibitive.

“Farmers in the class were asked whether the law extended their ability for economic return on their products. Every single one shook their heads,” Main said. “The new law doesn't help us at all.”

Hardesty said there may be other options for these producers to process and sell their foods. She is planning to offer another class this fall, “Cottage Food Plus,” to help growers find workable mechanisms for selling their food.

“They may be able to use a co-packer to do the processing or a commercial kitchen or become registered as a processing food facility,” Hardesty said.

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Growing healthy kids in a Pixley garden

Third-graders at Pixley elementary with their summer garden.
An old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. The teachers at Pixley Elementary School have found that it takes not just a village, but a unique combination of community agencies, good curricular materials and a little bit of dirt. That's right, dirt. In Pixley, they are growing healthy kids in a school garden.

A motivated third-grade teacher, Fidel Garcia, applied for grants from the Tulare County Farm Bureau, California Ag in the Classroom, the Dairy Council of California and LifeLab. He invited UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Grilda Gomez into the classroom to share the UC Cooperative Extension “Nutrition to grow on” lessons. A local nursery, Bonnie Plants, donated seeds and transplants to grow cabbage, zucchini and onions in the school garden.

Garcia asked the other Pixley Elementary third-grade teachers to be involved. David McGrady's class researched and planted herbs. Garcia's class and Ralph Gutierrez' class planted the main garden. All the students regularly visited to weed, irrigate and watch the vegetables grow.

At harvest time, UCCE's Gomez worked with the students to prepare a fresh coleslaw using vegetables representing the six plant parts they learned about in the classroom – stems, seeds, leaves flowers, fruit and roots.

UC nutrition educator Grilda Gomez prepares coleslaw with Pixley Elementary third-graders.
Following is the recipe the third-graders prepared:

Crunchy coleslaw

8 cups finely shredded cabbage (2 ½ pound medium head)

1 cup finely sliced celery

½ cup shredded carrot (1 medium carrot)

½ cup sliced green onion

¼ cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons salad oil

Pinch celery salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup wine vinegar

Directions:

Combine cabbage, celery, carrot, green onion and parsley. Pour on salad oil and toss until slaw is evenly coated. Sprinkle on and toss in seasonings. Finally, add wine vinegar and toss.

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 8:36 AM
  • Author: Julie Cates

President Napolitano launches UC Global Food Initiative

On July 1, the University of California announced our new Global Food Initiative to address one of the critical issues of our time: How to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach eight billion by 2025.

UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is already a critical partner with California's farmers and consumers, providing growers and ranchers with scientifically tested production techniques, educating families about nutrition, improving food safety and addressing environmental concerns. With programs in every California county, our research and extension network in California reaches from Tulelake to El Centro and more than 130 countries working to solve agricultural problems at home and abroad.

The initiative will align the university's research, outreach and operations in a sustained effort to develop, demonstrate and export solutions — throughout California, the U.S. and the world — for food security, health and sustainability.

Check below for some key highlights from UC ANR and our 10 campuses. For more information about the initiative, visit: http://www.ucop.edu/initiatives/global-food-initiative.html

President Napolitano joins UCLA student Ian Davies in student-run garden.

UC ANR 

  • In the past 10 years, 500 million citrus trees have been grown from disease-free budwood provided by Lindcove Research and Extension Center (REC).
  • Desert REC has 1,300 carrot varieties in production for USDA's carrot improvement program.
  • California became one of the leading producers of fresh blueberries after UCCE researchers identified varieties that could thrive in California, so long as the growers acidify the soils and maintain acidic conditions in the irrigation water.
  • 5,400 UC Master Gardener volunteers play a key role in helping Californians grow food in their own backyard, working in 50 California counties to teach research-based gardening techniques that minimize the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Currently, more than 1,200 community, school and demonstration gardens in California are managed by UC Master Gardeners.
  • Through our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program (also known as SNAP-ED), UC Cooperative Extension works with community agencies and schools todeliver nutrition education to low-income families, improving their health and food security and helping preventchildhood obesity. EFNEP and CalFresh programs are currently operated in 33 counties reach 222,000 members of the public each year.

UC Berkeley

  • The Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) is an interdisciplinary institute launched in 2013 dedicated to research, education, policy initiatives and practices to support sustainable food and agriculture systems. BFI is catalyzing and fostering transformative changes in food systems, to promote resilience, justice, diversity and health, from local to global scales.
  • The Atkins Center for Weight and Health (CWH) works with community groups to develop and evaluate programs to support healthy eating and active living, with a focus on children and families in diverse communities.

UC Davis

  • As the largest UC campus, with more than 3,000 acres specifically devoted to agricultural research and teaching, UC Davis is addressing the pressing food and agricultural challenges that face California, the nation and the world.
  • In addition to the World Food Center, UC Davis hosts 26 centers with a significant emphasis on agriculture and food, including the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, Center for Produce Safety, Foods for Health Institute, Seed Biotechnology Center, Postharvest Technology Center, Plant Breeding Center, Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, Center for Food Animal Health, and Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
  • In April, UC Davis unveiled the largest anaerobic biodigester on a college campus, using technology invented by one of its engineering professors to turn organic waste into renewable energy. The system, now in commercial use, is designed to daily convert 50 tons of organic waste to 12,000 kWh of renewable electricity, diverting 20,000 tons of waste from local landfills each year. 

UC Irvine

  • Anthropologist Michael Montoya leads the Community Knowledge Project, an action-research partnership with community organizations in Santa Ana. Past projects have tackled obesity prevention and school lunch/food access. Upcoming project on diabetes prevention in Fullerton. 
  • In AY 2014-15, the Sustainability Initiative, in conjunction with social ecologist John Whiteley and UC Irvine's oceans faculty, will host a regional conference at the National Academies of Sciences' Beckman Center on Ocean Health, Sustainable Fishing, and Food Security.
  • The Sustainability Initiative convenes The Garden Project, which coordinates the four campus community gardens (three of which are student-run) and builds links with the broader community involved in sustainable food production in Orange County, particularly in low-income communities.

UCLA

  • The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UCLA–USC Center for Population and Health Disparities — among other centers — are actively involved in research and community projects to help improve food availability and security.
  • The Student Food Collective holds farmers markets in UCLA's main plaza and manages a food-buying co-op. Multiple produce gardens on campus increase sustainability practices, provide more healthful options and serve as educational tools to facilitate healthy lifestyle choices by the campus and surrounding community.
  • The UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden promotes plant diversity and ecologically sound practices.
  • UCLA faculty, students and staff collaborate with LAUSD food services and medical staff on research and programs to promote healthy eating for the school district's 600,000 students. 

UC Merced

  • Public Health Professor A. Susana Ramirez and her students this summer will interview with customers at a mobile farmer's market that travels to different parts of Merced County to better understand food access issues facing Merced County residents, and the relationship between access to healthy foods and obesity.
  • UC Merced is working to form a Farmers Consortium to promote the campus's interest in doing business with local farmers, in addition to direct communication with local farms.
  • UC Merced's 400-square-foot community garden was developed on campus in spring 2014 by Engineers for a Sustainable World. Fruit and vegetables harvested will be donated to local food banks. The site will eventually be used for education and outreach.
  • The campus's Early Childhood Education Center serves as a delivery point for Rancho Piccolo, a community- supported agriculture. Many faculty and staff are members and are able to get local, fresh fruit and vegetables every week. 

UC Riverside 

  • A chemist has applied chemical tests to juice products sold as pomegranate juice or pomegranate juice blends, in order to authenticate their content. Another researcher is studying the effects of pomegranate juice on prostate cancer progression. 

UC San Diego 

  • Food and Fuel for the 21st Century supports the development of innovative, sustainable and commercially viable solutions for the renewable production of food, energy, green chemistry and bio-products using photosynthetic organisms — including converting solar energy into food and fuel, without the use of fossil fuels.
  • Department of Literature students can enroll in “The Politics of Food” course that utilizes UC San Diego campus gardens for summer research. Students learn how community gardens are governed, planting their own seedlings and identifying campus markets for the produce they grow. In the Division of Biological Sciences, courses such as “Fundamentals of Plant Biology” introduce students to plant genetic engineering, plant disease and stress and sustainable agriculture.
  • The UC San Diego School of Medicine's Child Development and Community Health program initiatives include Network for a Healthy California: Campaigns and programs focus on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity levels and food security among low-income families. Healthy Works: This program initiates new farmers markets, promotes additional school and community gardens and helps residents to stay physically active and eat nutritious foods.

UCSF 

  • In 2009, UCSF launched the Smart Choice Smart U program http://smartchoice.ucsf.edu) in partnership with MyFitnessPal, a leading mobile application and website and Fitbit, an activity tracker, that combines food tracking with physical activity to give real-time feedback about personal wellness goals.

UC Santa Cruz 

  • The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UC Santa Cruz has developed cutting-edge programs in food systems and organic farming research and extension, national and international work in agroecology, and a renowned apprenticeship program.
  • The nearly 1,500 graduates of its Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture have carried hands-on experience into teaching, farming and advocacy positions worldwide for more than 45 years.
  • An on-site affiliate, Life Lab, uses the Farm for K–12 school tours, teacher trainings, summer camps, and the “Food What?” youth empowerment program.
  • The Central Coast School Food Alliance (CCSFA) is a collaborative initiative that serves school children fresh and wholesome food in Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties. Stakeholders include food service directors, non-profit leaders on community food systems development, researchers, educators, as well as elected local, state, and federal officials.
Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Grow, Teach, Donate - Our Garden



Since its inception, Our Garden has donated more than 12,000 lbs of fresh organic fruits and vegetables to Monument Crisis Center in Contra Costa County.
Since the University of California Master Gardener Program first launched in Riverside and Sacramento counties in 1980, volunteers have donated more than 4 million hours educating the public about home horticulture, pest management and sustainable landscaping practices. With more than 1,200 demonstration, school and community gardens across California, Master Gardeners are making a huge impact in the communities they serve.

Through education, Master Gardener volunteers have inspired hundreds of gardeners to begin successfully growing vegetables in their own backyards. One award-winning project by Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County is Our Garden, an ongoing collaborative edible demonstration garden managed by dedicated Master Gardener volunteers.

UC Master Gardeners partnered with the Contra Costa Times and founded Our Garden in 2009. All food produced by Our Garden is donated to the Monument Crisis Center - which offers nutritious food, quality resources and referrals to low-income individuals and families in the community. 

“The mission of the Monument Crisis Center is to serve low income families and individuals in Contra Costa County through dynamic service programs focused on providing nutritious food, education, general assistance and referrals. We believe that healthy families help create overall community wellness. The 6.5 tons of produce that the UC Master Gardeners donated have gone on to help provide 15,000 low income households in Contra Costa County fresh, straight from the earth nutrition.” -Sandra Scherer, Executive Director Monument Crisis Center

A view of Our Garden, an edible demonstration garden managed by UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County.
Short demonstrations and classes are taught every Wednesday, from April through October, and offer the public a free and open venue for up close and personal learning about the process of growing one's own food. The garden provides a vision for a bountiful growing space and classes provide in depth, practical instruction. 

Our Garden has become an important meeting place for like-minded community members to make new friends, share resources and learn together. Since its inception, more than 12,000 pounds of fresh organic fruits and vegetables have been donated to the Monument Crisis Center.

Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County even have home gardeners coming back with a new found confidence, success stories and sometimes produce to share!  

About us

The University of California Master Gardener Program provides the public with UC research-based information about home horticulture, sustainable landscape and pest management practices. It is administered by local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) county offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of the university's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. For more information, visit camastergardeners.ucanr.edu

Posted on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 11:47 AM

UC Davis study identifies risky food safety practices in home kitchens

Most risk of poultry contamination can be avoided by thorough hand-washing, never rinsing the raw chicken and using a calibrated thermometer to verify the cooked chicken's temperature.
While most consumers are very aware of food safety issues, including salmonella, and the risk of foodborne illness, many do not follow recommended food safety practices in preparing their own meals at home, according to new research from UC Davis.

The study, which examined preparation of raw poultry, found that the most common risks stemmed from cross contamination and insufficient cooking.

“The most surprising aspect of these findings to me was the prevalence of undercooking,” said Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer research at UC Davis, who authored the study. “We are now in summer, the peak season for foodborne illness, and these results come at a time when more consumers can benefit from being aware of better food safety practices. Even tips usually considered basic, like washing hands with soap and water before and after handling raw poultry, and never rinsing raw poultry in the sink, still need to be emphasized for a safer experience,” added Bruhn, a specialist in UC Cooperative Extension who studies consumer attitudes and behaviors toward food safety.

Most risks can be avoided by practicing thorough hand-washing, never rinsing raw chicken in the sink and using calibrated thermometers to determine that chicken is fully cooked. Researchers say these results will help narrow areas of focus and define important messages for food safety educators and advocates in their mission to promote safe food preparation.

The study analyzed video footage taken of 120 participants preparing a self-selected chicken dish and salad in their home kitchens. The participants were experienced in chicken preparation, with 85 percent serving chicken dishes in their home weekly, and 84 percent reporting being knowledgeable about food safety; 48 percent indicated they had received formal food safety training.

Cross contamination was of specific concern to researchers:

  • Most participants, 65 percent, did not wash their hands before starting meal preparation and 38 percent did not wash their hands after touching raw chicken.
  • Only 10 percent of participants washed their hands for the recommended duration of 20 seconds and about one-third of the washing occasions used water only, without soap.
  • Nearly 50 percent of participants were observed washing their chicken in the sink prior to preparation, a practice that is not recommended as it leads to spreading bacteria over multiple surfaces in the kitchen. See the U.S. Department of Agriculture website: http://1.usa.gov/1licv0U.

Insufficient cooking was also observed:

  • Forty percent of participants undercooked their chicken, regardless of preparation method and only 29 percent knew the correct USDA recommended temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Researchers observed that cooking thermometers were not widely used, with only 48 percent of participants owning one, and 69 percent of those reporting that they seldom use it to check if chicken is completely cooked. Most participants determined “fully cooked” based on appearance, an unreliable method according to the USDA. No participants reported calibrating their thermometers to ensure accuracy.

Based on the study's findings, a coalition of agriculture and food safety partners, including the California Department of Food and Agriculture, UC Davis, the California Poultry Federation, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Northwest Chicken Council, Partnership for Food Safety Education, and Foster Farms, are launching an educational campaign to increase consumer knowledge about safe food preparation practices in the home. The study was funded by contributions from Foster Farms.

“We all have an important role in ensuring food safety and preventing foodborne illness,” said Shelley Feist, executive director of the nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education. “Dr. Bruhn's research shows that some home food safety practices need to be reinforced with consumers. Proper hand-washing and the consistent use of thermometers are basic preventive actions that need to be part of all home food handling and preparation.”

California agriculture officials and representatives have been vocal in recent weeks about salmonella control at the ranch level.

“The California poultry industry has made great strides in reducing salmonella on raw chicken,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “However, even at this lower level, consumers still need to practice safe handling and cooking of raw poultry.” \

Ross recently recorded a public service announcement calling for more attention to safe handling and cooking for raw poultry and meats.

“The poultry industry takes its responsibility to produce a safe product very seriously, as evidenced by current food safety programs that are drastically reducing the incidence of salmonella,” said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation. “At the same time, the research indicates that the consumer recognizes they also have a role in ensuring safety. This research provides a great opportunity to educate consumers with the most helpful information and tools to minimize risk and gives us a clear picture of what behaviors to focus on.”

The study's complete findings will be published in the September/October issue of Food Protection Trends. Consumers can find free downloadable information on home food safety at http://www.fightbac.org.

Posted on Friday, June 27, 2014 at 2:03 PM
  • Author: Karen Nikos-Rose, (530) 752-6101, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu

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