UC Food Blog
New report explores long-term effects of COVID-19 on state's cattle, dairy, produce, strawberry, tomato, nut and wine industries.
COVID-19 continues to affect parts of California agriculture in different ways. A new report from agricultural economists at the University of California examines the current and long-term impacts on California's leading agricultural industries.
Profiles in the report illustrate the different ways the pandemic has impacted dairy, beef and produce – industries that have scrambled to repurpose products from foodservice to retail – and tree nuts, an industry that saw a temporary spike in sales as consumers hoarded storable goods. The report includes expert assessments of what the future holds for California's cattle, dairy, produce, strawberry, tomato, tree nut and wine industries.
The studies are contained in a special coronavirus issue of ARE Update, a bimonthly magazine published by the University of California Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. Contributors include several experts from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
In addition to industry profiles, the report includes three articles addressing the effect of the pandemic on farm labor, food security, and traffic and pollution in California. The authors conclude that farm labor supplies are likely to be reduced due to the pandemic, hastening the trend toward mechanization. Authors of the study on federal nutrition assistance programs expect participants in these programs to face unprecedented economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They suggest specific policy responses to reduce the impact. The study on vehicle traffic (and associated pollution) in California shows that travel dropped dramatically—by 40% to 60%—in California following the stay-at-home order, but then began increasing in mid-April, long before any restrictions on the stay-at-home order were lifted.
“Although the coronavirus pandemic continues to afflict most parts of the world, states and countries are attempting to reopen their economies and assess the damage that has been wrought,” said Richard Sexton, UC Davis distinguished professor and co-editor of ARE Update. “We look at the impacts on California agricultural industries and the implications for the environment and consumers, especially the most vulnerable among us.”
COVID-19 and farmworkers
No state relies upon agricultural labor more than California, where employment peaks seasonally in June. When stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19, farmworkers were deemed essential and expected to continue working.
As California's farm employment climbs toward its June peak, sick farmworkers, closed schools and uncertainties surrounding the H-2A guest worker program could reduce the supply of farmworkers, accelerating trends already underway such as mechanization.
Full article can be found at https://s.giannini.ucop.edu/uploads/giannini_public/c8/0a/c80aa637-6775-4bfa-9a64-bd680cc2dbce/v23n5_2.pdf.
Nutrition assistance programs
Processing plant closures, consumer stockpiling of key staple foods and other supply chain disruptions have raised serious questions about food security in the U.S. Enrollments in CalFresh, for example, are up as much as 80% in California from last year at this time.
The authors address the role policymakers, food banks and food assistance programs like the National School Lunch Program and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) can play in meeting food-security challenges now and in the future.
Full article can be found at https://s.giannini.ucop.edu/uploads/giannini_public/75/3d/753dcb99-8d44-4bd9-a668-b277a45456eb/v23n5_3.pdf.
Traffic, travel and pollution
Near real-time data can give key insights into how the pandemic and economic shutdown have impacted behavior in California. Using Caltrans traffic sensor data and Apple data, economists show that travel in California dropped precipitously when the stay-at-home orders were issued—down 40% to 80%, depending on the data source—but the rate of decline varied considerably by regions within the state.
While the stay-at-home order did reduce travel, the report found that the shutdown had no effect on fine particulate concentrations, a key contributor to air pollution.
Full article can be found at https://s.giannini.ucop.edu/uploads/giannini_public/30/4c/304cd12d-bcae-4ebb-8f5c-288695030eca/v23n5_4.pdf.
To read ARE Update's Special Issue: Implications of the Coronavirus Pandemic on California Food, Agriculture, and the Environment, visit https://bit.ly/ARECOVID19impact or https://s.giannini.ucop.edu/uploads/giannini_public/d4/e0/d4e0d72d-648c-4a0e-9048-cef6d9f2ba77/v23n5.pdf.
Commodity profiles can be found at
Americans' interest in traditional homemaking activities – gardening, cooking, baking bread and canning – has risen dramatically over the last few months, according to Google Trends.
Getting reliable information is particularly important when it comes to home food preservation. But internet search results don't always display research-based information at the top. Using the wrong procedure won't qualify as a hilarious Pinterest Fail; it can be fatal.
To make reliable home food preservation how-to videos easy to find, a team of UC Cooperative Extension professionals and volunteers reviewed and aggregated research-based food preservation videos produced by Cooperative Extension programs across the nation on one website – http://ucanr.edu/MFPvideolibrary.
“As far as we can tell, this site is the only website with a full collection of food safety and food preservation videos from the Cooperative Extension system,” said UCCE Master Food Preserver coordinator Sue Mosbacher. In partnership with states, counties and universities, the USDA's Cooperative Extension system provides higher education to farmers, ranchers, communities, youth and families. In California, UC Cooperative Extension is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The videos are divided into 10 categories: food safety, food preservation methods, jam & jelly, pickle & ferment, dehydrate, refrigerate & freeze, can fruit, can tomatoes, can vegetables and preserve meat & fish.
The UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver Program trains and certifies volunteers to teach the public about food preservation techniques and safety. Certified UC Master Food Preservers typically hold community classes to extend the information. During the COVID-19 crisis, in-person classes have been canceled, so video-based learning is critical to educating families who are interested in the craft.
Dana Ravalen is writing the video descriptions.
Dustin Blakey, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Inyo and Mono counties and coordinator of the local Master Food Preserver volunteers, created one of the videos in the collection. In seven minutes, Blakey outlines the process of preserving dry beans. (View the video below.)
“Right now, with people losing their jobs, if you have a pressure canner, you can buy a five-pound bag of beans for $5 and make 16 cans of beans,” Blakey said. “If you have the equipment and jars, it's a great way to preserve the food and then this summer, you have it ready to go.”
Blakey said he and his team will be producing more home food preservation videos in the future.
At the end of February, before COVID-19 disrupted normal life, members of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, in a remote area of Riverside County, gathered to plant vegetables and herbs in the A'Avutem (elders) garden.
Six raised garden boxes were installed several years ago with funding from the California Rural Indian Health Board, but stood empty. UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Chutima Ganthavorn and vegetable crops advisor Jose Aguiar obtained approval from the Tribal Council to engage the Youth Council in planting a new garden with seniors.
This intergenerational group planted chili peppers, bell peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, corn, mint, basil and lemon grass Feb. 27. Select tribal members, including three youth and six seniors, harvested produce on the morning of May 12. While wearing masks and practicing social distance protocols, they harvested three boxes of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and chili peppers.
"It is really nice to see the fruit of their efforts," Ganthavorn said.
Most people are home a lot more right now. That can mean more time spent on meal preparation for ourselves and our families. Luckily, cooking at home is a great way to save money and eat healthier. If you are feeling pressed for time, ask your kids for help in the kitchen or planning meals and grocery lists. Kids who are involved in cooking meals have been shown to have healthier diets and eat a greater variety of foods.
Is this their first time in the kitchen?
Make it fun and start with safety. Food safety is the first and most important cooking skill you can teach your kids. Show them how to wash their hands for 20 seconds. By now, many people know that singing Happy Birthday twice is about 20 seconds, but if you don't like that song or your kids are older, there are a lot of other 20-second songs or your kids can create their own at Wash Your Lyrics.
Remind children to wash the back of their hands, under their fingernails and above their wrists. Also, wearing an apron if you have one can be fun and food safe. Aprons help keep the germs and dirt from clothes out of your food, especially important if kids are changing their clothes less now that schools are not in session. Be sure to clean and sanitize any cooking surfaces before you begin food preparation.
What if your child is not interested in cooking?
Ask them what they want to eat or cook. Give them boundaries for selecting recipes that meet your needs, for example: they have to use ingredients that you already have at home, or it has to include at least three of the five MyPlate food groups. Giving youth decision-making power is a great way to ensure they are invested and engaged. Start with lunch or snack preparation then move onto dinner once they've got the basics down. Need some ideas? MyPlate snack tips for kids
Kids still not interested?
Some young people might become more interested if cooking involves learning about their family history or cultural foods. Share your food traditions and family recipes with them.
Kids can cook! How to manage your stress so cooking can be fun for everyone
Letting young ones crack an egg or mix batter can be hard to watch and messy, but it can be very empowering for a child. If you're anxious about letting them cook, they will be too and that can take some of the fun out of cooking for both of you. The first step could be acknowledging everything you're feeling about inviting a child into your kitchen. Are you worried that dinner won't be finished in time? Are you nervous about the mess that you will have to clean up? Are you concerned that they will hurt themselves or break something? Find out what is causing you to feel uneasy and acknowledge it. Once you know what you are feeling stressed or anxious about, then you can find a way to manage it.
5 things you can do to create a lower stress environment in the kitchen
- Put a towel down on the counter to make clean-up easier and bowls less prone to sliding around.
- Use a smaller bowl for the child to mix or measure ingredients in before it is poured into the larger recipe bowl.
- Consider creating a cook space outside.
- Take it one step at a time, wait to introduce cooking on the stove until they are older and you are confident in their skills and safety awareness.
- Start simple, with lower-stress meals like snacks or lunch – you can move onto dinner when you are ready.
A little time invested now, will pay off in the future
Getting kids involved in the kitchen and teaching them new skills takes time and effort. Make sure that effort pays off. Ask them to practice and perfect their skills frequently so they can help and become responsible family members. Consider adding cooking to their weekly chores. Important tasks that anyone can do to help in the kitchen include scrubbing vegetables, tearing lettuce into pieces, cleaning counters and dishes, making a grocery list, creating a meal plan, etc.
Culinary skills to start with
- Washing and picking cilantro, parsley, basil or other leafy greens. Show them the difference between the leaf and the stem. Give them a bowl or measuring cup and show them how much you need. Ask them to fill the cup/bowl.
- Stirring and mixing. Kids like to do things themselves and be in charge. Show them how to mix and give them a tool that fits in their hand – a fork makes a great sifter/mixer and there is less of an opportunity for ingredients to be scooped and flung.
- Cutting soft foods with a plastic or butter knife on a cutting board. If possible, make a flat surface on the food so that it doesn't roll around while they are trying to cut. For example, cut several strawberries in half. Lay the flat side down and have them slice the strawberries and remove the green stem. Show them how to hold the knife with the blade moving down and away from the body. Want more instruction? Video on basic knife skills
- Pushing buttons on the oven, microwave or food processor. Can they find the number 2? Can they preheat the oven to 350 degrees?
- Cracking eggs into a small bowl so that it is easy to get the shells out when they don't crack the egg perfectly the first or second or third time. Were you taught how to crack an egg? Teaching others how to cook is a great way to enhance your own skills.
Older kids and youth
- As they get older they will want even more independence and decision-making power. Let them call the shots – with guidelines. For example, let them plan a meal but tell them they need to include at least three food groups from MyPlate. This way you don't end up with fried chicken for dinner and no sides. Offer to be their assistant so you can guide and supervise.
- Show them how to read a recipe and increase their vocabulary with words like dice, chop, simmer, etc.
Need more ideas of age-appropriate cooking activities for kids? See the Cooking with Kids infographic for recipes, and links to more sources. The possibilities are endless.