UC Food Blog
The surge in popularity of home chicken-raising is astounding. From cities to farms, more and more people are keeping small numbers of chickens for egg production, as family pets, and sometimes for meat production. The city of Davis, Calif. even had a “Tour de Cluck” recently – a bicycle tour of 25 home chicken coops in Davis (the tour sold all 500 tickets and served as a local educational fundraiser).
The amount of attention and care that families spend on their chickens shows that chickens are a labor of love, much as any family pet. Every hen I visited on the Tour de Cluck had a name, and each owner assured me that their “girls” all have their own personalities. Some of the chicken coops were woodworking pieces of art.
Chicken stories are showing up in all types of mainstream media. Feature articles have appeared recently in The New Yorker (Susan Orlean’s home chickens), the New York Times (why Americans raise chickens; women in Berkeley who raise chickens); and a book review of raising chickens in the city), and in the CA&ES Outlook alumni magazine where I work at UC Davis – the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (backyard chicken farming, page 10).
Chickens aren’t difficult to manage, but like raising any animal, the prospective chicken owner should know what he or she is taking on, and should be a responsible animal owner. While it may be fun to muse over the fancy breeds, or to salivate over the thought of fresh omelets each day, it’s important to learn about housing, nutrition, health, local ordinances (which may limit the number of hens and/or the ability to keep roosters), and other pertinent topics.
Where to get information?
- Bookstore shelves are awash with chicken-raising books. Check your local bookstore or online book source. There are even chicken-raising books in the “idiot’s” and “dummies” series (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Chickens; Raising Chickens for Dummies; and Building Chicken Coops for Dummies).
- Sunset magazine has a useful list of books on raising chickens
- Sunset magazine also has a free download on how to raise chickens
- Backyard Poultry is a popular bimonthly magazine with special topics each month (breeds, health, nutrition, etc.).
- Your local Cooperative Extension or 4-H office should be able to match you up with chicken-raising resources. Here are two University of California sites with information on raising chickens: UC Davis Poultry Page, and ANR publications.
Whatever your reason for raising chickens — and the reasons are many — do your homework first and make sure you get the proper supplies and the breeds that will give you years of pleasure . . . and fresh eggs.
A traditional crop is getting a modern makeover – and UC Davis is cultivating its growth in California.
The UC Davis Olive Center last month hosted a symposium on super-high-density olive production – a relatively new practice that has fueled the expansion of California’s olive oil industry. The production system, developed in Spain, reached the Golden State in 1999 and has taken off in the past five years. California accounts for almost all domestic olive oil production – now 850,000 gallons a year – and is poised to become a global player.
“California could within the next 10 years rank among the top 10 olive oil producers in the world,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center.
Traditionally, olives have been planted at about 100 trees per acre and harvested by hand. Super-high-density olives are planted at more than 500 trees per acre and harvested by machine. The method lowers harvesting costs and speeds the turnaround from orchard to mill, a key to freshness and flavor. More than 100 growers attended the sold-out symposium to get the inside scoop – “a great deal of useful information,” Flynn said.
The self-funded UC Davis Olive Center, launched in 2008, is the only academic center of its kind in North America. Collaborating with industry, it published an olive production survey in November. The center made headlines with its just-published study that many premium-priced imported olive oil brands labeled as extra virgin – even those of EVOO queen Rachael Ray – aren’t as pure as they claim (California oils fared better). Upcoming projects could include research on super-high-density yields, costs and compatibility.
With olive oil consumption growing nationally, the climate is right in California, which has about 17,000 acres of super-high-density olives after 4,500 acres were planted in 2009. The most popular regions to grow olives for oil are Glenn and San Joaquin counties, putting Davis at the heart of the movement.
UC Davis has a history of helping to propel California agricultural products to worldwide prominence, such as grapes and wine. “It’s possible that something similar could happen with olives,” Flynn said.
Mechanical harvesting at Corto Olive (Photo by Corto Olive)
“Fresh from the Garden” is a “vegetable education” program that was created several years ago by retired LA County Cooperative Extension employee and registered dietitian Susan Giordano. Giordano created lessons to reach home gardeners and their families living with limited resources. The lessons are designed to increase gardeners' knowledge of healthful eating habits, while emphasizing the health benefits associated with a vegetable-rich diet. The lessons also encourage gardeners to grow a greater variety of vegetables, more nutrient-dense vegetables, to cultivate vegetable crops throughout the year, and to prepare their harvest using delicious, nutritious recipes. In recent months, the lessons have been given a makeover and updated to reflect current dietary recommendations.
Bringing nutrition education into the garden
The LA County Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNEP) is partnering with UC Master Gardener volunteers this summer to pilot the revamped lessons in the garden. A group of enthusiastic Master Gardeners with an interest in nutrition education attended a “Fresh from the Garden” training on July 10. They are now equipped to take what they learned and bring it into the low-income community and school gardens where they volunteer. Our FSNEP staff members, armed with supplemental nutrition information, plan to provide additional support and expertise along the way. This is a natural fit for UC Master Gardeners who are already teaching low-income communities how to grow their own food, and UC FSNEP staff, who are providing valuable nutrition education to food stamp-eligible families. The families who benefit from these lessons will gain the knowledge and confidence they need to enjoy delicious and nutritious vegetables fresh from the garden!
“Fresh from the Garden” tips for the gardener
This time of year, gardeners are benefiting from the fruits of their labor, however, some might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of vegetables being produced by their gardens. What to do with it all? Below is a “Fresh from the Garden” recipe for a simple summer veggie pasta sauce. Any vegetable can be substituted, and the pasta sauce can conveniently be frozen for later use.
Summer veggie pasta sauce
3 – 4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4—1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 Tablespoons oil
1 small eggplant, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 medium green pepper, chopped
Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, green pepper and garlic. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the zucchini and eggplant. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and basil. Simmer for about 20 minutes over low heat, uncovered, until slightly thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe can be doubled or tripled and frozen in individual or family size servings. If it is not moist enough, just add water.
Interested in accessing “Fresh from the Garden” Resources? The lessons, handouts and recipes are now available on LA County's Cooperative Extension website.
For more information about “Fresh from the Garden,” please contact Los Angeles County nutrition, family & consumer sciences advisor Brenda Roche at firstname.lastname@example.org, (323) 260-3299.
"Temperatures are important factors in protecting your food. You want to be really careful that you keep hot food hot and cold food cold," stresses Patti Wooten-Swanson, UCCE nutrition, family, and consumer science advisor in San Diego County. Don't leave perishable food sitting out on the counter or the picnic table longer than necessary, she adds.
Food-borne illnesses peak in the summer months, mostly attributed to bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli when raw meats are not handled properly or not cooked to a high enough temperature, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."Food-borne illness, what we commonly call food poisoning, is a very severe problem in the United States," says Wooten-Swanson in a video podcast and news release to Spanish-speaking consumers about the risks associated with cooking and eating outdoors.
A screen shot of the Spanish-language video podcast featuring Patti Wooten-Swanson.
"We don't typically think about that but about 75 million people get food-borne illnesses every year, and some people die," she told ANR News and Information Outreach in Spanish.
The actual number of food poisonings may be much higher since most people mistake food-borne illness with common flu and digestive problems. The symptoms are very similar: upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea. The most likely victims are small children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with an impaired immune system.
"So it's very important that we take very good care with the food that we are preparing and serving," says Wooten-Swanson.
That includes cut fresh fruit and vegetables, which can also develop deadly bacteria when left out for more than two hours without refrigeration and in less than an hour when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. That rule should also be observed with any food leftovers to prevent food contamination.
The CDCs estimate that about 325,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 die in the U.S. due to food-borne illness every year. More than 1.4 million food poisonings and about 580 deaths per year are attributed to salmonella alone. Approximately 217,000 people get sick with E. coli contamination and the number of deaths is close to a hundred.
When barbecuing, Wooten-Swanson recommends keeping raw meats in the refrigerator or in a cooler - with plenty of ice – until the moment they are put on the grill. She suggests outdoors lovers and barbecue aficionados follow the basic recommendations issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this time of the year.She advises cooks not to rely on the exterior appearance of meats as they are cooked on the grill. Chicken, steak or a hamburger patty might look well done or even charred on the outside, but its innermost parts may be undercooked. In most cases, bacteria are killed by heat only when the cooking temperature has reached 165 F degrees. The only way to know for sure is with a meat thermometer, says the UC nutrition advisor.
Safe barbecue (Photo: A. Hauffen)
I collect gardening catalogs. To me, they represent life and productivity and the promise of family, good food and good health. They also provide a link to a simpler, agrarian past that I find comforting and restorative in these unsettling times. In a world where oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, violence seems unchecked, compassion towards the less fortunate seems to have evaporated and economic misery abounds, I find gardening catalogs a refuge of optimism. We need fewer bad things in this world and more good gardens.
I’ve spent more time this year sitting in the chair in my garden in the evening, thinking about what this small cultivated area says about these times, this world and my life. I’ve resisted buying many seeds this year; like others, the economy gives me jitters. Not that I’m without hope about the economy or the potential of gardens in this current presidential administration. Especially the latter, as the residents of the White House look favorably on sustainable and local food systems. Like our family, the first family has a garden on the front lawn. What’s more affirming than a front yard garden in hard times like these?
In hard times, Americans have always turned to gardening.
The Victory Gardens of World War I and World War II - and the garden efforts of the Great Depression - helped Americans weather hard times. These gardens helped the family budget, improved dietary practices; reduced the food mile and saved fuel, enabled America to export more food to our allies, beautified communities, empowered every citizen to contribute to a national effort, and bridged social, ethnic, class and cultural differences during times when cooperation was vital. Gardens were an expression of solidarity, patriotism and shared sacrifice. They were everywhere...schools, homes, workplaces and throughout public spaces all over the nation. No effort was too small. Americans did their bit. And it mattered.
Consider this: In WWI, the Federal Bureau of Education rolled out a national school garden program and funded it with War Department monies. Millions of students gardened at school, at home, and in their communities. A national Liberty Garden (later Victory Garden) program was initiated that called on all Americans to garden for the nation and the world. The success of home gardeners (and careful food preservation) helped the U.S. increase exports to our starving European Allies.
The WWII experience was equally successful. During 1943, some polls reported that three-fifths of Americans were gardening, including Vice President Henry Wallace, who gardened with his son. That same year, according to some estimates, nearly 40 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed stateside were grown in school, home and community gardens. In addition to providing much-needed food, gardening helped Americans unite around a positive activity. Gardens gave all Americans a way to provide service to the nation, enabling citizens on the home front to make significant contributions to the war effort.
Our nation again finds itself in challenging times. School, home and community gardens provide a way to respond positively to this period of uncertainty and change.
Editor's note: Join the author of this post, Rose Hayden-Smith, for a web presentation about the Victory Garden movement at 9 a.m. July 28.
Hayden-Smith will review historical case studies of Victory Gardens and current national policies and models. She will also discuss the future work needed to sustain the Victory Garden model as part of the overall local food movement. To wrap up the hour-long webinar, she will discuss urban agriculture and how the local food-systems movement is addressing a wide range of challenges facing Americans today.
Space is limited. Click here to reserve a webinar spot.