UC Food Blog
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.
Buyer beware, is the message of a new study from the UC Davis Olive Center, which found that many of the imported olive oils sold in California retail stores are not “extra virgin” oil as their labels claim they are.
Extra virgin olive oil is the top grade and priciest of olive oils. To meet international standards, extra virgin must be removed from the olive without using heat or solvents. It also has to meet specific criteria for chemical makeup, flavor and aroma.
However in the new study, researchers at UC Davis and in Australia discovered that 69 percent of the imported oils sampled, compared to just 10 percent of the California-produced oils sampled, failed to meet internationally accepted standards for extra virgin olive oil.
The imported oils tested were purchased from supermarkets and “big box” stores in three California regions: Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County. The California brands, however, were found only in the Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Area.
Defects in those oils that failed to pass muster included oxidation from excessive temperature, light or aging and addition of cheaper refined olive oils. Other flaws may have been linked to improper processing or storage and use of damaged or overripe olives.
The complete report from the study, which is the first of its kind from an American college or university, is available online from the UC Davis Olive Center at: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/.
The study was funded by Corto Olive, California Olive Ranch and the California Olive Oil Council.
Anecdotal reports of low-quality olive oils lurking behind extra-virgin labels have been floating about for some time but this is the first “empirical proof” to support those suspicions, according to Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center..
“The intent of the study was to provide consumers and retailers with an accurate picture of the quality of olive oils now being marketed through grocery stores and other retail outlets in California,” said Flynn, noting that the United States is the third-largest consumer of olive oil in the world.
“Our hope is that these findings will lead to improved methods for evaluating extra virgin olive oil, and increased consumer confidence that “extra virgin” on the label means extra virgin in the bottle,” he said.