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Resources for beginning vegetable gardeners develop from LA initiative

Home vegetable gardening has always been popular in Los Angeles County. At the UC Cooperative Extension office in Los Angeles, we have a long history of teaching people how to garden through our Common Ground Garden Program. We began to get even more inquiries than usual from beginning gardeners starting three or four years ago. As it turned out, this was part of a larger trend. A national survey showed a 19 percent increase in edible gardening in U.S. households in just one year, between 2008 and 2009. We were excited about this new enthusiasm for home food production. However, based on experience at the community level, we were aware that new gardeners often floundered and might not continue gardening without support and a taste of success. 

Grow LA participants at the Natural History Museum.
To address this growing audience of beginning vegetable gardeners, we developed a four-session workshop series, led by seasoned Master Gardener volunteers, to help new gardeners gain the fundamental skills needed to become successful. We call this the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative. Training groups are kept small, 10 to 15 people, and are largely hands-on. New gardeners learn to prepare soil, plant seeds and transplant seedlings, water effectively and control pests. After training, the new gardeners continue to meet with their group leader informally, encouraging one another and sharing gardening tips. 

This initiative has been popular and successful. Since we kicked off “Grow LA” in spring, 2010, we have trained 1,130 beginning gardeners at more than 40 sites around the county, including community gardens, parks, churches, libraries, schools and museums. 

One outcome of this project has been the development of a manual for participants, the Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners. Our staff, led by Yvonne Savio and Valerie Borel, compiled the basics of vegetable gardening into a 44-page manual. With support from the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation, we were able to print the manual for participants, and translate it into Spanish. Thanks to the efforts of UC ANR News and Information Outreach in Spanish, the Spanish-language version has just become available. Both versions are available free on-line, and we hope others will find them helpful as well.   

Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-English
Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-English

Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-Spanish
Vegetable Gardening Handbook for Beginners-Spanish

Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Turn off your computer, put down your hoe

Feel that chill in the morning air? Autumn's here, school's starting, and soon we'll be bustling about, wearing sweaters, cleaning rain gutters and raking leaves. But first, according to many traditions, it's time to take a break and celebrate the harvest with local farmers.

Many cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere have long traditions of harvest festivals held around the time of the main harvest in autumn. Most harvest festivals feature feasting, music, romance, dancing and freedom from work, sometimes lasting for days.

In Asia, the Moon Festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated in September or early October by Chinese and Vietnamese people. The Jewish holiday Sukkot, celebrated for seven days in late September to late October, commemorates the agricultural "Feast of Ingathering."

In Britain, harvest festivals have been held since ancient times at the time of the "Harvest Moon", which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about Sept. 22). In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. The early English settlers' first American Thanksgiving feast celebrated their first harvest in 1621, sometime between September 21 and November 9, most likely in early October.

A century ago, more than half of all Americans were engaged in agriculture. These days, with less than 2 percent of the population involved in farming or ranching, most of us are pretty removed from celebrating the harvest. However, California farmers offer us a lot of chances this Harvest Moon to join the celebrations and learn about their farms. The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) hosts a directory and event calendar of California agritourism, that is, farms and ranches open to the public for enjoyment and education to help urban and suburban people find these opportunities.

Many families keep the autumn harvest tradition alive by visiting a pumpkin patch to select a pumpkin from the field and trying to navigate a corn maze. Others enjoy apple orchards with picnics, pies and craft fairs. My family has a favorite harvest tradition of our own. My wife and I volunteer every year at the Hoes Down Harvest Festival held the first weekend each October at Full Belly Farm, an organic farm in Guinda, in the Capay Valley of Yolo County. We join hundreds of volunteers who help make Full Belly a temporary home for several thousand festival attendees each year. People of all ages, mostly city and suburban families from the Bay Area and Sacramento area, come out to enjoy rural life on an organic family farm.

This year will be the 25th annual Hoes Down Festival. It is organized by the Ecological Farming Association, a group of organic farmers who have been leaders in developing California organic farming over the last 30 years, and who also put on the EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove every January. The festival proceeds benefit local organizations including Future Farmers of America (FFA), the local volunteer fire department, and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), and also help support the EcoFarm Festival. Full Belly Farm, where the festival is held, is a magical 300 or so acres of some of the best examples of diversified organic farming around, integrating vegetables, fruit and nut crops with poultry, sheep, goats and even a few cows. If you do go to the Hoes Down Festival, be sure to make time for one of the walking tours of the farm led by one of the four farm owners, and learn a bit about hedgerows, crop rotation and how sheep can be part of growing healthy fruits and vegetables.

This two-day celebration (Sunday is a big farm breakfast and longer workshops) has music and other entertainment all day Saturday on several stages (one for children), hay rides around the farm, good food, workshops, nature walks, games, baby animals to pet, a farmers' market, craft fair, dancing, and lots to see and learn. You can watch sheep get sheered, join in a Contra Dance, learn to make herbal tinctures, take a dip in the river and make a dried flower wreath, or just sit back, drink a beer and listen to the music. Children can grind wheat, make a corn-husk doll, learn to spin wool, climb on an exciting hay-bale mountain full of secret passages, listen to stories inside a tipi and much more. You can camp overnight in the walnut orchard after dancing under the stars. The weekend is an immersion in another world - the world of harvest festival.

When: Saturday, October 6 & Sunday, October 7, 2012
Full Belly Farm, County Road 43 Guinda, CA 95637
Admission prices:
Adults: $20 each when purchased online; $25 when purchased at the gate, Children (2-12): $5 each anytime! Under 2: Free.
Saturday night camping: $25 per car
More info: http://www.hoesdown.org/

UC ANR's online agritourism directory, www.calagtour.org, lists many chances to celebrate the harvest season with farmers. Here are a few:

  • North Yuba Harvest Festival in Oregon House
    The North Yuba Harvest Festival will feature tasting of gold-medal local wines and olive oils, food vendors, live entertainment, arts, crafts, fresh produce, children´s activities and much more. This year it will be a full TWO DAYS of festival fun, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
    When: Saturday Sept. 29 & Sunday Sept. 30
    Where: 9185 Marysville Road, Oregon House, CA 95962
    Free entry, with $5 suggested parking donation.
    Wine tasing and souvenir glass $10
    Information: 530-692-2476 or www.alcouffecenter.org or www.northyubagrown.org

  • Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend
    From 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, travel the scenic agricultural trails of Butte County, sampling local fare including artisan olive oil, grass-fed meats, specialty nuts, award-winning wines and more. This annual agri-tourism adventure showcases 28 participating wineries and specialty farms throughout Butte County and provides trail goers with a once-a-year chance to savor the amazing farm-fresh bounty produced locally.
    When: Saturday October 6 and Sunday October 7, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
    Where: Butte County (Oroville, Chico, Paradise regions)
    Cost & registration: Passports cost $25 per person and include a 2012 map and free commemorative wine glass. Based on availability, Passports will cost $30 per person the day of the event.Click  here to order your 2012 Passports online now.
    For more information, please visit Sierraoro.org, email info@sierraoro.org or call 530-891-5556
  • Fall Harvest Festival at the UC Santa Cruz Farm
    Join the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems on the UC Santa Cruz Farm for a full slate of music, food, tours, kids’ activities, cooking demos, gardening workshops, an apple pie baking contest, apple tasting, and much more!
    When: September 30, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    Where: UC Santa Cruz Farm
    Cost:The festival is free for UCSC students, Friends of the Farm and Garden members, and kids 12 and under; $5 general admission.
    For more information:
    contact casfs@ucsc.edu, 831.459-3240, or see http://casfs.ucsc.edu. Directions are available on the website.
Posted on Friday, September 14, 2012 at 8:39 AM

Grad students head abroad to work with farmers

You’ve probably heard it millions of times in your lifetime, but it bears repeating: Not everyone has enough, good food to eat.

To that end, the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program at UC Davis builds global partnerships for fruit and vegetable research to improve livelihoods in developing countries.

An Eco Finder volunteer discusses weeds with Michael Wolff, UC Davis graduate student, in Kenya during the first round of Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund projects.
Starting in September, those partnerships will include 14 graduate students from UC Davis, Cornell University, North Carolina State University and University of Hawaii at Manoa who will travel to work with smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Through Horticulture CRSP’s Trellis Fund, these students have been matched with organizations in Nepal, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Honduras and Nicaragua to provide their agricultural expertise in assisting the organizations' projects with smallholder farmers.

Besides supporting local farmers in developing countries, the projects will also potentially infect students with an interest in international agricultural issues.

“With the Trellis Fund, our goal is to engage young people in an international experience — a chance to partner with a small organization working with real people with real needs and apply what they know about science,” said Beth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Plant Sciences Department at UC Davis and director of Horticulture CRSP. “For a small investment, we’re creating lasting relationships and perhaps changing the career path of a young person.”

Read our full press release for more details, or find out who is going where on our Trellis Fund page.

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 8:36 AM

UC healthcare supports healthier menus and zero waste

Smart Choice is a wellness awareness program at the developed by UCSF Medical Center Department of Nutrition & Food Services.

Can I introduce the unappetizing topic of hospital food? Hospitals are notorious for not practicing what they preach in their own food service operations. Their food vendors provided fruits and vegetables that were overcooked, over-sugared, over-salted and ready-to-eat. By “leaving the cooking to them,” vendors made cafeterias more profitable by eliminating labor-intensive, freshly prepared meals. Kitchens replaced skilled cooks with untrained staff who rarely needed paring knives except for opening, reheating and disposing of packaging. Fortunately, sustainability goals are helping hospitals (like school cafeterias) undergo menu reform to make more local, fresh options available for their staff, visitors and patients. 

Kaiser Permanente, a leader in the reform movement since 2003, has established 50 farmers’ markets at their facilities. A recent survey published in Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (subscription required) found that 74 percent of patrons surveyed at Kaiser Permanente markets consume more fruits and vegetables as a result of shopping there, and 71 percent indicated that they were eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.  

Gail Lee, UCSF’s Sustainability Manager, credits UC Office of the President for inspiring each campus and medical center food service operation to achieve their goal of procuring 20 percent sustainable food products by the year 2020. UCSF started weekly farmers’ markets at the Mission Bay campus from April to November and at the Parnassus campus year round. UCSF is working towards achieving zero food waste by 2020, having implemented post customer compost/recycling programs at 100 percent of their food service locations last year.

Composting will help UC campuses achieve their goals for zero waste.
Procurement practices — yogurts served to patient and visitors are now local and organic — play a major role in transforming menus. As project manager for an EPA-funded project award, Gail is partnering with UC Berkeley to identify systematic methods that will encourage certifiable, green procurement. She launched their green office and green lab certification and produced an entertaining sustainability video that created a buzz at all four SF campuses. 

I am proud to be joining Gail’s team to help implement the UC goals. UC Davis was recently declared a “cool school,” but UCSF is well on the way to becoming a nationally recognized “cool hospital” and research campus.

This is good news for those of us who prefer fresh fruit salad to canned fruit cocktail, in spite of the fact that fruit cocktail was a UC Berkeley invention. Professor William Cruess was looking for a way to use the small, wasted bits left over after canning fruit. In his defense, I have to remind myself that the alternative for many parts of the nation in that decade was no fruit at all. He saw fruit spoil in the orchards because what was true then is still true today — California produces much more fruit than locals can possibly eat. Let’s not forget to eat our share of the local bounty.

UCSF Farmers' Market
Posted on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 8:45 AM

It's just a waste, II

A year ago, a co-worker wrote a post on this blog entitled “It’s just a waste.”  The sad facts of food waste are something we pay attention to since we work for the UC Postharvest Technology Center. A key component of our Center’s mission is to “reduce postharvest losses.” This topic also hits close to home on a personal level since I have always struggled with using up produce before it spoils. I go shopping about once a week, and tend to purchase just a bit more produce than what we will actually eat – in the hopes that one of us will suddenly adopt healthier eating habits by increasing our intake of fresh produce. I place the produce in my fruit ripening bowl, on the counter, or in the fridge, according to the recommendations on my handy produce storage chart. But nearly every week something goes awry, usually with my schedule, and I end up not serving the delicious produce-based meals I had planned, or I forget to pack my lunch, and oops, the negative effects of delayed consumption hit my produce.

Chart from “FAO Global Food Losses and Food Waste”
The numbers show I’m not alone in this struggle, since research reports that nearly 30 percent of all produce losses in the United States happen at the consumer level. I was surprised to learn that today the average American consumer wastes nearly 50 percent more food than we did in the 1970s. (Link to the August 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council Report.) In the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nation's chart you can see that consumers from every other region around the world do significantly better than we in using their produce.

I want to do better, too! I hereby resolve to try harder to stick with my menu plan, pay closer attention to produce on the counter and the fridge (sometimes known affectionately in the produce industry as the “black hole”), and I will try very hard to be more creative in my use or preservation of quickly ripening produce.

My single biggest challenge is bananas. I try to buy a smaller hand of 5 to 6 bananas with some green tint left. They go on my banana hook in a cooler corner of my kitchen. At least half the weeks of the year those bananas have black spots within 3 to 4 days, and by day 5 there are usually 2 to 3 bananas left that are no longer appealing to my family. So almost half the bananas I buy usually don’t get eaten. I know, I know, “buy a smaller hand of bananas,” you say. That’s easier said than done, at least at the markets in which I shop.

Thankfully there are many cooks out there willing to share their recipes for creative ways to use up an over-supply of bananas. Below is a starting list of ideas that I’ll be drawing from as I make an effort to reduce produce waste, and especially banana waste, in our home.

  • Slice into 1-inch chunks, freeze in a single layer on a wax paper covered cookie sheet. Transfer into a zip-bag and return to the freezer to use as needed for fruit smoothies or other cooking projects
  • Banana bread or banana muffins
  • Homemade banana ice cream
  • Banana layer cake with cream cheese frosting
  • Slice lengthwise, sauté in butter and ¼ tsp. rum flavoring until golden brown, and serve on ice cream
  • Banana crunch cookies
  • Make banana pancakes, add chocolate chips if desired (here’s a link to a pancake recipe called “Chunky Monkey” my son-in-law likes to make)
  • Peel, insert a lollipop or popsicle stick and freeze. Eat as is, or dip in melted chocolate.
  • Banana drop cookies
  • Slice, dip in fresh lemon juice, and dry in a dehydrator
  • Make a warm spiced banana topping that’s great on ice cream or gingerbread
  • Banana oatmeal bar cookies
  • Banana pudding
  • Fruit Skewers
  • Bananas Foster
  • Banana Daiquiri
  • Tropical banana bar cookies with raisins, pecans and coconut
  • Banana cream pie
  • Peanut butter, banana and rum bar cookies
  • Trifle
  • Burrito Bananas Foster
  • Fruit Salad
  • Banana crepes
  • Dessert Pizza
  • Banana Bundt cake with caramel frosting
  • Fruit salsa, served with cinnamon tortilla chips
  • Banana split
  • Strawberry-banana parfait with yogurt and granola
Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 7:57 AM
  • Author: Mary E. Reed

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