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Teaching healthy life skills to youth is a gift that will last a lifetime. It can be a lot of fun too!
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and educators continue to fight increases in childhood obesity rates. Childhood obesity is linked to many lifelong health problems. If left unchecked these problems have the potential to reverse life expectancy gains.

Our youth deserve a future filled with promise and possibilities. A strong body and good health is the foundation on which a successful future can be built.

UC ANR’s new after-school curriculum is designed to help 9- to 12-year-olds develop good health skills that will last a lifetime. The six-week hands-on program promotes preparing and eating healthy meals as well as encouraging plenty of physical activity. Healthy eating and physical activity work together to help reduce obesity levels.

These free, downloadable lessons include:

  • Let’s Make It Clean: Wash Up!
  • Make It Healthy: Eat Balanced Meals
  • Make It Crunchy: Go for Whole Grains!
  • Make It Colorful: Choose Fruits and Veggies by Color
  • Make it Delicious: Plan and Balance
  • Make It Fun: Eat and Share
Posted on Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 8:34 AM
  • Author: Chris M. Webb

Addressing nutrition and poverty through horticulture

Nutrition, food security and sufficient family incomes are challenges in many parts of the world. Half the world’s people live in rural areas in developing countries. Because hunger and malnutrition are often linked to poverty, providing economic opportunities through horticultural production not only helps family incomes, but also addresses food security and nutrition. Training women to produce and market horticultural crops in the developing world also helps provide a much-needed income stream for families with children.

UC Davis is addressing food security and economic development in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and elsewhere, by coordinating an international horticulture program. The Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Hort CRSP; pronounced "hort crisp") is one of 10 CRSP programs that focus on global food production and solving food and nutrition problems in developing countries. UC Davis leads the Hort CRSP, with funding support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Examples of projects conducted by researchers and educators throughout the world include:

  • Inexpensive cold storage systems in rural, developing areas to prolong food longevity; see page 2
  • Concentrated solar drying of fruits and vegetables in East Africa; see page 3
  • Improving safety and quality of tomatoes in Nigeria; see page 3
  • Smallholder flower production in Honduras for export markets; see page 3

The overarching goals of the Hort CRSP are to reduce poverty and improve nutrition and health of the rural poor, while improving the profitability and sustainability of horticulture in the developing world. Priorities in the Hort CRSP include gender equity, sustainable crop production, postharvest technology, food safety, market access, and financing. The program awards research funding in the U.S. and abroad to:

  • Realize opportunities for horticultural development
  • Improve food security
  • Improve nutrition and human health
  • Provide opportunities for income diversification
  • Advance economic and social conditions of the rural poor, particularly women

Dr. Elizabeth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and director of the Hort CRSP, notes, “By harnessing the research, training, and outreach expertise of the land-grant universities in the U.S. to work with partners in developing countries, we can improve horticultural capabilities in much the same way that the land-grant system helped revolutionize American agriculture.”

In the three years since the program’s inception, several projects have been completed, and many are ongoing. The program’s website offers a plethora of information, along with newsletters that highlight individual projects.

The program also has a YouTube channel, with videos on Hort CRSP projects. Some of the videos are about projects that are especially important in developing countries, including:

  • The TRELLIS project — bringing together graduate students and in-country development organizations; YouTube link
  • Using cell phones to give real-time information to growers in rural areas of India; YouTube link
  • Inexpensive cultivation practices for smallholder farmers; YouTube link
  • Indigenous products increase incomes in Ghana; YouTube link
  • Saving indigenous crop seeds in Southeast Asia for resource-poor farmers; YouTube link

UC Davis, ranked first in the U.S. on research related to agriculture, food science and nutrition, and plant and animal science, is positioned to serve global needs related to food and nutrition. Of the 10 CRSP programs administered by USAID, two of the programs are based at UC Davis — the Hort CRSP program, and the BASIS CRSP, which was highlighted in a recent Food Blog post and addresses financial issues related to agricultural productivity.

Posted on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 9:02 AM

Cultivating California

Only in California could arid land be converted into the nation’s salad bowl.

In the late 1800s, University of California researchers discovered how to remove salts from the soils of the Central Valley, turning it into one of the most productive agricultural regions.

UC researchers continue to play a key role in agriculture today, keeping California the nation’s leading agricultural state, from dairies in Tulare to nut farms in Newberry Springs.

A new brochure highlights the breadth of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ impact. UC guidelines have helped farmers boost broccoli production. UC scientists have developed sweet-tasting citrus and strawberries to meet consumer demands. UC certifies more than 95 percent of wine grapevines grown in the state, providing a reliable supply of high-quality vines for California’s multibillion-dollar wine industry. Whether it’s managing invasive pests, promoting nutrition or sustaining small farmers, ANR serves California’s communities with a focus on advising, educating and searching for solutions.

For more information, read the Cultivating California brochure.

Posted on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 8:14 AM

Were those the days?

Some pine for the simplicity of early American agriculture, but "Those were long days, my friend."
To the tune of Mary Hopkin's iconic 60s hit, Those Were the Days, a team of UC animal scientists ask whether those bygone times people remember nostalgically would be up to the challenge of feeding the world today.

"People have a romantic image of farming in the past," said Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science. "It may be remembered as bucolic, but there wasn't enough food being produced to cope with world population growth."

Van Eenennaam, an expert in animal genomics and biotechnology, rewrote the song and posed the question, Were those the days?, with historical photos of Americans hand-milking cows one by one, preparing a field with a horse-drawn plow and tossing out handfuls of chicken feed from a bucket.

Van Eenennaam's remake declares,

Those were long days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd plow and toil forever and a day

It's not the life we'd choose
We'd work and never snooze
Those were hard days, oh yes, those were hard days.

Interspersed in the video are statistics that reveal how far modern agriculture has come. For example, the U.S. dairy cattle population peaked at 25.6 million animals in 1944. By 1997, improved dairy management and genetics increased milk production per cow by 370 percent, reducing by more than half the number of dairy cows needed to provide milk for U.S. consumers.

The video notes that, in 1923, it took about 112 days to produce a broiler chicken. In 2000, a much larger chicken is produced in 48 days.

"If you're going to expend resources feeding and housing a happy cow," Van Eenennaam said, "it stands to reason that feeding an efficient, high-producing cow decreases the amount of feed required and waste generated per glass of milk or pound of beef."

Van Eenennaam’s video production is competing in a contest sponsored by the American Society of Animal Science. The video that gets the most “likes” on YouTube before June 1 receives a cash prize and will be shown at the American Society of Animal Science meeting in Phoenix. See the video below, but go to YouTube and sign into your Gmail or YouTube account for your “like” to count.

Posted on Monday, April 30, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Genetic engineering for roots — not fruits

Even though U.S. consumers routinely buy and eat genetically engineered corn and soy in processed foods — most are unaware of the fact because the GE ingredients are not labeled.

When consumers are asked in surveys whether they would buy genetically engineered (GE) produce such as fruit, most say they would not buy GE produce unless there were a direct benefit to them, such as greater nutritional value.

Consumer concerns about GE fruit are a factor discouraging commercialization. Plums shown are engineered to resist plum pox virus; they have received regulatory approval, but have not come to market.
Consumer reluctance to buy GE fruits and nuts is a major obstacle to commercialization of these crops in California. To date, no such crop has been brought to market in the golden state, although many have been researched and are being developed.

Yet with continuing invasions and spread of exotic insects and diseases for which there is no known control, the potential importance of trees or vines with some form of genetically engineered resistance is on the rise. In California, such diseases include Pierce's disease in grapes, crown gall disease in walnuts, and the invasive citrus greening (huanglongbing or HLB) in citrus.

"These are potentially devastating diseases to California growers, who produce 70 percent of the fresh fruit and nuts for the entire United States," notes Victor Haroldsen, scientific analyst at Morrison and Foerster, in the current California Agriculture. "They are also a mainstay of the California economy. Fruit and nut tree crops accounted for one-third of the state's total cash farm receipts, or $13.2 billion in 2010."

Now, however, Haroldsen reports that there may be a way to satisfy both consumers and growers — called "transgrafting."

Wild-type (left) and GE (right) walnut microshoots, after inoculation with crown gall-inducing virus. The wild-type shows tumor growth; the GE microshoot on the right does not. Transgrafting allows disease resistance to protect the plant while maintaining non-GE nuts.
Transgrafting combines an old practice with a new technology. For decades, it has been established practice in commercial orchards and vineyards to graft "scions," the fruit-producing budwood, onto "rootstock," the roots and trunk.

"In transgrafting the genetically engineered rootstock can potentially confer the whole plant with resistance to disease. Yet the rootstock does not transfer the modified genes to the fruits or nuts produced," said Haroldsen.

Although over 10 years old, transgrafting technology is just now nearing commercialization, partly due to the long generation times of most trees and vines. Two such transgrafting applications are:  a crown gall-resistant walnut rootstock, and a grape rootstock that confers moderate resistance to Pierce's disease.

"The key advantage of transgrafting is that the plant's vascular system can selectively transport across graft junctions the proteins, hormones, metabolites and vitamins from the roots without changing the heritable genes or DNA sequence in the fruit or nut." says Haroldsen.

In recent research at UC Davis, Haroldsen (a former graduate student) and his colleagues  confirmed that modified DNA and full-length RNA from the rootstock does not cross the "graft union" into the scion, in the walnut and grape applications, or in a tomato model of these two systems.

"These current GE applications address root or xylem pests and diseases, but future applications will likely target traits aimed at consumer needs such as increased nutritional value or improved flavor," said Haroldsen. "If perceived risks to personal health and the environment could be reduced, genetic engineering could benefit not only growers but Californians around the state," he adds.

Posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 4:01 PM
  • Author: Janet L. White

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