Email Print Site Map
UC Food Safety
University of California
UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

Growing organic farmers

Well bef

ore Safeway launched a line of organic products or Craigslist posted openings for school garden coordinators, UC Santa Cruz was training students for careers in organic farming.

The UC Santa Cruz Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture started in 1967 when the concept of organic was in its infancy. Forty-three years later, organic has gone mainstream and the apprenticeship program is more popular than ever.

A recently published study looking at the apprenticeship’s last 20 years found that a large percentage of its alumni are still involved in growing and marketing organic food and teaching others how to do so.

“It’s like an incubator,” said lead study author Jan Perez, research specialist with the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. “It’s a place for people to really experiment and live their values and be in a supportive community.”

The six-month residential apprenticeship program, which the center runs in conjunction with UC Santa Cruz Extension, features hands-on training in gardens, greenhouses, orchards and fields. The program combines theoretical and practical instruction, with students not only studying in the classroom but also taking fields trips and marketing organic produce on campus.

Of 299 alumni surveyed, more than 80 percent have done some type of farming or gardening work since graduating, with 65 percent still doing this work. Forty-two percent said they created jobs that did not previously exist and 35 percent are working in an educational area, according to the study in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

For example, two apprentice alumni started Pie Ranch, a working Peninsula farm that educates high school students from San Francisco to Santa Cruz about sustainable agriculture. The farm, which grows ingredients for pies on its pie-shaped ranch, even has its own apprenticeship program.  

“They’re really spreading what they’ve learned,” Perez said.

Meanwhile, interest continues to spread in the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. Last year, applications rose to 187 for more than 30 slots. This year’s application period closed Thursday (Sept. 30).

The apprenticeship program takes place at UC Santa Cruz's farm and Chadwick Garden
The apprenticeship program takes place at UC Santa Cruz's farm and Chadwick Garden

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 3:06 PM

Elementary school students learn food science

Sixth-grade students from Hamasaki Elementary School in Los Angeles were surprised to learn that they could actually see iron in their breakfast cereal through a simple experiment involving ground up cereal, water and magnets. These same students also found out that learning about science could be fun.

The students were taking part in a celebration of 4-H National Youth Science Day at UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County Sept. 24. LA County advisors and program coordinators teamed up to give the students the opportunity to learn about nutrition, physical activity and the environment through fun, interactive science-based activities. The students learned about the body’s need for iron in the diet, what types of foods are rich in iron and how to identify these foods by reading the nutrition facts label.

For the experiment, the students were given plastic bags filled with ground up, iron-fortified breakfast cereal and water. They learned that the small bag represents their stomachs after consuming a big bowl of iron-fortified cereal. The kids were instructed to move a magnet slowly across the outside of the bag. Lo and behold, they observed tiny black particles trailing behind the magnet – they could actually see the iron in the cereal mixture. The students learned that once the cereal makes its way into the stomach, the iron is separated and dissolved by stomach acid and absorbed into the body.

Everyone was eager to take a turn with the magnet, including the teachers and chaperones.

Ellen Sandor and Cynthia Avila, youth Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program and and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program program coordinators, and Brenda Roche, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, worked with the students to uncover the seemingly invisible mineral that is commonly fortified in many breakfast cereals.

Variations of this experiment are described on a number of different websites, including:

Other information presented to the students at the event included:

  • Climate change by Keith Nathaniel, the 4-H Youth Development advisor
  • Environmental and watershed conservation by Sabrina Drill, natural resources advisor
  • Physical activity and the science of physiology by Carly Marino, coordinator of the Power Play Campaign

For more information about the event, contact Roche at bkroche@ucdavis.edu, (323) 260-3299.

Students find iron in their breakfast cereal.
Students find iron in their breakfast cereal.

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 7:13 AM
  • Author: Brenda Roche

Obesity is linked with low earnings

Minimum-wage employees are more likely to be obese than those who earn higher wages, according to a new study by UC Davis public health researchers. The study is the latest in a growing body of evidence that shows being poor is a risk factor for unhealthy weight.

"Estimating the Effects of Wages on Obesity" was published in May 2010 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The authors, DaeHwan Kim and John Paul Leigh, identified several possible reasons why lower wages could support the tendency to be obese:

  • Poorer people tend to live in less-safe neighborhoods with reduced access to parks and other means of physical activity

  • Healthy, lower-calorie foods tend to be more expensive

  • Low-income families have less access to healthier foods and often have to travel greater distances than others to find healthier food options and lower cost


"The outcome leads us to believe that raising minimum wages could be part of the solution to the obesity epidemic," Leigh said.

In a news release, Leigh noted that a novel statistic technique used for the study gave the scientists a chance to evaluate an independent factor that is definitely not caused by obesity - minimum wages.

UC Davis Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr said experts are aware of the higher incidence of obesity among the poor, and believe that the causal relationship may go both ways.

"We know there have been cases of discrimination against the obese seeking employment for various types of positions," Zidenberg-Cherr said. "It is also true that, for minimum-wage earners, it is easier and cheaper to buy foods that are high in fat and sugar. They may not have the access or the education to make healthy food choices."

Leigh noted that the scientists' sample for the study were 85 percent men and 90 percent Caucasian.

"Future research should address wage and obesity correlations among samples that include more African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women," Leigh said. "Obesity is a complex problem that likely has multiple causes. The more we can pinpoint those causes for specific populations, the greater chances there are for reducing its impact."

Low wage earners are more likely to be obese.
Low wage earners are more likely to be obese.

Posted on Monday, September 27, 2010 at 7:27 AM

A new approach in teaching healthy eating

UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators have discovered that, when it comes to teaching consumers how to eat right, a picture is worth of thousand words.

“We’ve been teaching people for years about MyPyramid and the dietary guidelines, serving sizes and the number of servings they should eat, but many were having a hard time translating that to what exactly to put on their plates,” said Cathi Lamp, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Tulare County UCCE.

In an effort to simplify nutrition education, UCCE started with a graphic of a plate, with half designated for fruits and vegetables and a quarter each for protein and grains. However, the concept was still too abstract for concrete thinkers.

“Then we hit upon the idea of photographing familiar foods in the right proportions and showing actual serving sizes arranged on a plate,” Lamp said.

Lamp, and the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisors for Fresno County, Connie Schneider, and Kern County, Margaret Johns, set out to review 24-hour recall surveys that had been conducted by participants in UCCE nutrition education classes. The 24-hour recall surveys, a mainstay in nutrition research, ask participants to write down everything they have eaten in the previous 24 hours. Each of the advisors focused on recalls from target population groups – Latinos, African-Americans and the general population.

Once they knew what foods people eat, Lamp, Schneider and Johns began the labor-intensive process of preparing and photographing test pictures showing healthy food combinations. Meals included chicken, pizza, spaghetti, sandwiches, tacos, pork chops, fish, stir fry, hamburger, soup and eggs.

Eighteen plates of food were photographed for initial, informal testing. Lamp took the photos to an education session at the local WIC office, where pregnant women and new mothers receive federal nutrition support.

“We handed out a little form and asked the moms if they could identify the foods, whether these were foods they would eat and, if not, what changes they would make,” Lamp said. “The WIC educators loved the images. They could see the value of images of healthy food right off the bat.”

The next step will be cognitive testing of the photos with target clientele, adjustment of the photos based on the results of the testing, retesting the photos in a nutrition education setting and analyzing the results.

Posted on Friday, September 24, 2010 at 6:26 AM

Imagine there’s no hunger ... It’s easy if you try

At 925 million, the number of hungry people in the world is unacceptably high.

To combat world hunger, many scientists are working on developing crops that can resist disease and withstand the elements, from drought to floods. One such scientist is Sean Cutler at UC Riverside, whose breakthrough discovery last year of pyrabactin has brought drought-tolerant crops closer to becoming reality and spawned new research in several labs around the world.

Pyrabactin is a synthetic chemical that mimics abscisic acid (ABA), a naturally produced stress hormone in plants that helps them cope with drought conditions by inhibiting growth. ABA has already been commercialized for agricultural use. But it has at least two disadvantages: it is light-sensitive and it is costly to make.

Enter pyrabactin. This chemical is relatively inexpensive, easy to make, and not sensitive to light. But is it free from drawbacks? Unfortunately, no. Unlike ABA, pyrabactin does not turn on all the “receptors” in the plant that need to be activated for drought-tolerance to fully take hold.

What does that mean? A brief lesson on receptors may be in order.

A receptor is a protein molecule in a cell to which mobile signaling molecules – such as ABA or pyrabactin, each of which turns on stress-signaling pathways in plants – may attach. Usually at the top of a signaling pathway, the receptor functions like a boss relaying orders to the team below that then proceeds to execute particular decisions in the cell.



It turns out that each receptor is equipped with a pocket, akin to a padlock, in which a chemical, like pyrabactin, can dock into, operating like a key. Even though the receptor pockets appear to be fairly similar in structure, subtle differences distinguish a pocket from its peers. The result is that while ABA, a product of evolution, can fit neatly in any of these pockets, pyrabactin is less successful. Still, pyrabactin, by being partially effective (it works better on seeds than on plant parts), serves as a leading molecule for devising new chemicals for controlling stress tolerance in plants.

Each receptor is equipped also with a lid that operates like a gate. For the receptor to be activated, the lid must remain closed. Pyrabactin is effective at closing the gate on some receptors, turning them on, but cannot close the gate on others.

Cutler and colleagues have now cracked the molecular basis of this behavior. In a receptor where the gate closes, they have found that pyrabactin fits in snugly to allow the gate to close. In a receptor not activated by pyrabactin, however, the chemical binds in a way that prevents the gate from closing and activating the receptor.

“These insights suggest new strategies for modifying pyrabactin and related compounds so that they fit properly into the pockets of other receptors,” Cutler says. “If a derivative of pyrabactin could be found that is capable of turning on all the receptors for drought tolerance, the implications for agriculture are enormous.”

So he and his colleagues continue their research on pyrabactin derivatives, having set their eyes on the prize: An ABA-mimicking, inexpensive and light-insensitive chemical that can be sprayed easily on corn, soy bean and other crops to help them survive drought – one effective approach to combating and preventing hunger worldwide.
Imagine that!

Posted on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 6:44 AM

First storyPrevious 5 stories  |  Next 5 stories | Last story

Site Creation date 6/1/2009
Webmaster for site:  Zann Gates

Webmaster Email: zgates@ucdavis.edu