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Community and home gardens improve San Jose residents’ food security

The La Mesa Verde program in San Jose helps low-income families to establish their own vegetable gardens
Growing food in community and home gardens can provide people with more access to fresh vegetables for a healthier food supply, according to a new study. University of California and Santa Clara University researchers surveyed people in San Jose who maintained a garden in their yard or a community garden and found that gardeners consumed more vegetables when they were eating food grown in their gardens.

Participants in the pilot study, published in California Agriculture journal, reported doubling their vegetable intake to a level that met the number of daily servings recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Meals rich in fresh fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and higher in fiber and part of a healthy diet.

About 13.5 percent of California households face food insecurity – reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet and, in some cases, reduced food intake – according to a 2014 USDA Economic Research Service study.

Although Silicon Valley is one of the wealthiest areas of the state, some parts of Santa Clara County have “food deserts,” low-income neighborhoods without grocery stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices. Even in neighborhoods with grocery stores, residents may have less to spend on food after paying rising housing costs.

“Gardening made a substantial contribution to vegetable intake regardless of socioeconomic background or previous gardening experience,” said co-author Lucy Diekmann, a postdoctoral researcher in the Food and Agribusiness Institute at Santa Clara University.

Cooking classes help gardeners learn how to prepare and cook a meal using their fresh produce.
Growing food saves money

UC Cooperative Extension surveyed 85 community gardeners and 50 home gardeners in San Jose. The gardeners surveyed were generally low-income and came from a variety of ethnic and educational backgrounds. The survey was available in English, Spanish and Chinese.

By growing their own food, home gardeners saved on average $92 per month and community gardeners saved $84 per month.

A number of programs in California, including Sacred Heart Community Services' La Mesa Verde, help low-income families establish their own vegetable gardens. As of 2013, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can also be used to purchase seeds and plants so that low-income households can grow their own produce.

One gardener in the La Mesa Verde program told the researchers that without the savings and access to homegrown vegetables, she would have struggled the previous year. Her garden significantly supplemented her diet.

Wider variety of fresh produce

Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, green beans and cucumbers were the most common crops grown by community gardeners. La Mesa Verde families were given seeds and plants to grow tomatoes, peppers, beans, basil, zucchini, radishes, cucumbers and eggplants.

Culturally favorite foods were also grown by San Jose's ethnically diverse residents in both community and home gardens. They grew crops including chayote, bitter melon, goji berries, green tomatoes, fava beans, okra, collards and various Asian vegetables, such as bok choy and mustards.

Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, green beans and cucumbers are common crops grown in community gardens.
“By growing and eating these foods, gardeners may maintain connections to family or cultural traditions,” the authors wrote. “They may also gain access to desired foods that are either not available or are perceived to be too expensive or of poor quality at local retail outlets.”

Gardeners in both groups gave excess produce to their friends and family members. 

Growing demand for gardens

For the study, the authors collaborated with the San Jose Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department, which runs the city's Community Garden Program. The city operates 18 community gardens that serve more than 900 gardeners and occupy 35 acres in San Jose, yet there is growing demand for more gardening space.

“One of the challenges to starting a garden, particularly for low-income gardeners, is a lack of adequate space,” said Diekmann. “La Mesa Verde gardeners are advocating for San Jose to adopt Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones so that more San Jose residents can have space to garden.”

The study was conducted by UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus Susan Algert, Leslie Gray of Santa Clara University, Marian Renvall of UC San Diego Department of Medicine and Diekmann, whose participation in this study was funded by a USDA NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative postdoctoral fellowship.

To read the full report in California Agriculture, visit http://ow.ly/wfWX300Dbzj.

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 11:36 AM

Inspiring youth leaders to cultivate health

What do you want to experience today?

What are sixth-graders interested in these days? “Cooking!” “Growing food!” “Learning how to be healthier.” “Exercising.” “Meeting new friends!” These enthusiastic answers came from sixth-grade student leaders in Santa Maria, Calif., when asked by educators from the UC Cooperative Extension Youth, Families and Communities program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Through an integrated youth-focused healthy living project, called Food Smart Families, funded by National 4-H, the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program, and the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program, 32 fourth- through sixth-grade student leaders were brought together from three schools in Santa Maria, Calif., for a full-day educational retreat that focused on engaging youth to explore their healthy lifestyle interests and see themselves as leaders.

Throughout the day, student leaders experienced physical activity games, learned cooking skills, participated in garden-based learning, and developed their presentation skills. They focused on skill development, as well as transference so that the student leaders could take these activities into their own schools to encourage and teach their peers. For example, the fun physical activity breaks that were incorporated throughout the day modeled games where no one is “out” or excluded, while moving enough to get heart rates up.

Students practice culinary skills.
After the retreat, the student leaders brought these activities to their own schools, leading their peers in the games during lunch and recess breaks. During the retreat, the student leaders also got to practice knife safety skills while chopping produce to prepare their own veggie pita pockets and fruit salads. With these skills, the student leaders offered food demonstrations and nutrition lessons to their peers during the following weeks.

In the garden, student leaders learned the basics of growing food and how to lead a garden lesson. Students discussed garden tools and how to use them safely, then planted their own seeds to take home. The garden session ended with a gleaning of the school citrus orchard where students laughed and enjoyed the fresh air and fresh fruits growing around them. In their own school gardens, the student leaders have offered lessons and tastings to their peers.

Student Nutrition Advisory Council logo.
The retreat culminated with youth presentations. The student leaders worked in teams with students from different schools to generate ideas and artwork for the Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC) logo and t-shirt design. They presented their concepts to the larger group, practicing their presentation skills. The student leaders voted on the designs and a winner was selected to be featured on a t-shirt for SNAC leaders at each of the three schools. The students leaders proudly wear their shirts as they lead healthy living education, advocacy and engagement activities.

By the end of the retreat, the student leaders were excited to take the information and skills back to their schools and start leading. Students shared their plans to help other students be more active during recess, be healthy, and help other kids be healthier too.

“This was the best day I have ever had,” said one of the students.

Recess activation in progress.
Since the retreat, the student-led initiatives have been numerous and continually evolving. The sixth-graders have encouraged and trained younger students to become their successors as they move onto junior high. Several students co-authored and starred in a video production called “Get to Know Your Salad Bar.”  With educator encouragement, the student leaders developed a script to motivate their peers to try out the salad bar by mixing fruit into their salad to make it sweet or putting lettuce and tomato on your hamburger to make it juicy and crunchy. Beyond leading in their own schools, the student leaders have been working to help their entire community. Many of the student leaders helped organize and conduct game-style nutrition activities at a local food pantry distribution to teach families about shopping for healthy foods on a limited budget. Other student leaders provided education and training to students at neighboring schools, encouraging them to become leaders as well.

Through the efforts of the Food Smart Families program, the Youth, Families, & Communities program in San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara counties merged the strengths of the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program and the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development program to provide new opportunities and experiences for students in this community. With interested and caring adults, these student leaders learned to share their passions for cooking, gardening, and healthy lifestyle with their peers at school and others in their community. The rewards for the school, community and adult allies continue to expand as these inspired student leaders, with strong mentorship and support, take on some of the biggest challenges facing our society and world.

Harvesting from the orchard.
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 9:46 AM

Heirloom tomatoes are a delicious treat and provide a market niche for small growers

Heirloom tomatoes are a farm-to-fork favorite.
In recent years, heirloom tomatoes have become a farm-to-table favorite.

Some consumers are willing to pay a hefty price at trendy restaurants, farmers markets, roadside stands, and even local grocery stores for tomatoes with irregular shapes, vivid colors and rich tomato flavor.

The consumer demand presents an opportunity for small-scale farmers, and a challenge.

“It's not easy to grow heirloom varieties,” said Margaret Lloyd, the UC Cooperative Extension small-scale farm advisor for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties. “They often have less disease resistance, are lower yielding and cannot tolerate as much stress as improved modern varieties.”

When Lloyd joined UCCE last summer, she began visiting small-scale producers in the counties she serves.

“I realized very quickly how important fresh market tomatoes are to these growers,” Lloyd said.

Because she holds a doctorate degree in plant pathology from UC Davis, Lloyd is well-positioned to begin her research program with a small tomato grafting project on UC Davis farmland. Her idea is grafting the particularly delicious heirloom varieties onto tomato roots that are resistant to soil-borne diseases.

“Grafting is an old technology,” Lloyd said.  “It works in the same way we graft fruit trees and grapevines onto favorable rootstocks. Vegetable grafting has also been done for years.”

Lloyd said the process is simple and an individual can easily learn to graft tomatoes. But to do so cost effectively with the quality and success rate necessary for economically viable production, it may make most sense to work with a commercial nursery.

Lloyd is conducting a quarter-acre field trial with the three most common heirloom varieties – Brandywine, Cherokee purple and Marvel stripe – plus the yellow-hued Sun Gold cherry tomato and a non-heirloom salad tomato, Charger.  Several growers in the area have also planted them in their commercial operations.

In addition to collecting data from the trial that will help small farmers decide whether grafted tomatoes make sense for their operations, Lloyd and her research associates will harvest many bushels of fresh tomatoes from the plots. Some will be sold at the UC Davis farm store to help support the research, and as for the rest, “We're definitely going to eat them,” Lloyd said.

“I enjoy them raw with olive oil, salt, vinegar and a little basil,” she said.

Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 10:33 AM

Three step salsa

Tomatoes, garlic, and peppers are three key ingredients in most salsa recipes. (Photo: UnSplash)
May is typically a month filled with family gatherings and festive celebrations. With Cinco de Mayo at your heels, maybe your appetite for salsa has been whetted and you're craving more. Or perhaps you're planning ahead for Memorial Day and want the perfect snack for that social gathering. No matter what holiday is on your mind, isn't it nice to crack open a jar of home-preserved salsa for any snacking occasion?

Here are three simple steps to having homemade salsa any time of the year.

Step 1 (optional): Grow the ingredients

Take the process from tomato trellises to taste buds by planting a salsa garden this time of year. Get started with a salsa staple like tomatoes. There are great published references for growing tomatoes, but if you have further questions, ask a UC Master Gardener volunteer in your county.

Step 2: Can the salsa 

There are many research tested recipes, allowing you to choose one that suits your taste best. Tomatoes: Safe Methods to Store, Preserver, and Enjoy contains two to start, including the recipe provided. Dig around on the UC Master Food Preserver Resources page to find more. 

Tomato/Tomato Paste Salsa
Makes 7 pint jars

Ingredients

3 quarts tomatoes (about 12 medium tomatoes), washed, peeled, cored, and chopped
3 cups onions (about 3 medium onions), chopped
1 ½ cups long green sweet peppers (about 4 Anaheim peppers), washed, seeded and chopped. Note: Sweet bell peppers may be substituted for long green peppers
6 tablespoons small hot red peppers (about 6 Jalapeno peppers), washed, seeded, and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 12-oz cans tomato paste
2 cups commercially bottled lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
2 tablespoons oregano leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation

  1. Wash hands and work surfaces, and then prepare ingredients.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.
  3. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving a 1/2–inch headspace.
  6. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel and apply two-piece metal canning lids.
  7. Process 15 minutes in a water bath canner at altitudes up to 1000 feet. Above 1000 feet, increase processing time by 1 minute for every additional 1000-foot increase in altitude.
  8. Let jars cool undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours, then check seals.

If you haven't canned before (or even if you have), turn to a local UC Master Food Preserver Program near you as a friendly resource.

Step 3: Eat the contents

Well, you are probably already very familiar with carrying out this step! Do it with confidence knowing that you followed a safe, home preservation process.

Whether you grow or buy, it is always fun to make and share your own jar. Are you craving salsa yet?

Posted on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at 8:24 AM

Teens put their food smarts to the test

Grocery shopping can be the most anticipated or the most dreaded necessity of daily life. A trip to the market can end with a smile over the thrill of victory from finding great bargains or end with a frown from the agony of defeat over budget anxieties. For most of us, budget is the primary factor in our food experiences. Low budget or no budget is often the culprit that leads to unhealthy food choices.

A healthy snack.
Armed with nutrition knowledge acquired through the University of California 4-H Food Smart Families program with the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, teens from Parlier High School in Fresno County are teaching Parlier youth ages 8-12 how to get around budget roadblocks on the path to healthy eating. The program uses a “Teens as Teachers” approach, with teens educating younger youth through a series of hands-on, interactive nutrition lessons after school.

Food connections to local agriculture are highlighted through the partnership with the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. The center will host agriculture tours and family nutrition education activities at a Wellness Fair later this month to wrap up the program.

According to recent United States Department of Agriculture studies, nearly 16 million children live in households where they do not have consistent access to food throughout the year.

UC 4-H Food Smart Families empowers families through food knowledge and education to build sustainable solutions that confront food insecurity and improve health. Youth are engaged at a critical age for growing skills and establishing behaviors today that become sustainable, healthy habits for their families and communities tomorrow. Youth learn they can prepare food themselves and parents learn about working together as a family to plan healthy meals.

Grocery store shopping is part of training.
Teen teachers put their new skills to the test on a recent field trip to the local grocery store. After a store tour and 4-H training on perimeter shopping, unit pricing and the downfalls of impulse buying, they were given a shopping challenge. The goal was to purchase, within the assigned budget, three items from each of the vegetable, fruit, grain, dairy and protein food groups to create healthy meals at home. As the teens had been learning while teaching their younger counterparts, eating healthy on a budget is achievable with a little nutrition education and careful planning.

Thoughtful discussions, and sometimes passionate debates, ranging from whole grain pasta versus whole wheat pasta to the tasty virtues of hummus, mixed with youthful laughter. The teens were pleasantly surprised to discover they had additional budget to spare. Return trips were made to the produce department for more fruit, vegetables and even hummus.

Comments from the teens told the story of their success. “Now I know what my mom has to go through when she's shopping for food,” and “Look at my cart. Food Smart Families is really influencing me!” Who knew grocery shopping could be so much fun?

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion offers these 10 tips for affordable vegetables and fruits:

• Use fresh vegetables and fruits that are in season.
• Check your local newspaper, online and at the store for sales, coupons and specials.
• Plan out your meals ahead of time and make a grocery list.
• Compare the price and number of servings from fresh, canned and frozen forms of the same vegetable or fruit.
• Buy small amounts more often to ensure you can eat the foods without throwing any away.
• For fresh vegetables or fruits you use often, a large size bag is the better buy.
• Opt for store brands when possible.
• Buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form.
• Start a garden for fresh, inexpensive, flavorful additions to meals.
• Prepare and freeze vegetable soups, stews or other dishes in advance.

Posted on Monday, May 9, 2016 at 8:58 AM

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