UC Food Blog
This is the third in a series featuring a few scientists whose work exemplifies UC ANR's public value for California.
Keeping current on government regulations, agricultural marketing news and crop research advances can be challenging for California farmers, especially for those who speak English as a second language.
Hmong farmers in the San Joaquin Valley can tune in at 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons to listen to farm-related news delivered to their radios in their native language from Michael Yang, UC Cooperative Extension small farms and specialty crops agricultural assistant for Fresno County.
For the past 22 years, Yang has hosted the one-hour Hmong Agriculture Radio Show on KBIF 900 AM in Fresno to promote prosperity in the largely immigrant, small-scale Southeast Asian farming community. Yang provides advice on crop production and marketing.
“Fresno County has a large number of small and diversified farms; we have over 1,300 Southeast Asian farms and over 900 are Hmong farmers, according to a survey we did in 2007,” Yang said. “I used to help 250 to 300 farmers every year, in the past couple of years it's grown to about 400 farmers.”
Yang not only speaks their language, he shares their culture and history. After his father was killed for assisting the U.S. during the Vietnam War, Yang, his mother and three younger brothers spent 4 years of his childhood fleeing on foot through the jungles of Laos, subsisting on vegetation and wildlife, to reach safety in Thailand. The refugee family eventually made it to Fresno, where they took up farming.
The Hmong farmers grow Asian specialty crops including eggplant, lemongrass, long bean, squashes, bittermelon and moringa that they sell at farmers markets or to restaurants. Connecting Southeast Asian farmers to sell their produce at farmers markets has been a vital role for Yang, who serves as a translator and cultural interpreter between the immigrant farmers and farmers market managers. He explains the requirements for participating in the farmers markets and helps the farmers with paperwork and communication. Some growers drive as far as San Diego to get a higher price for their produce; the price can be three times as high at farmers markets in larger cities compared to Fresno.
Sales of Asian specialty crops grown by Hmong and other Southeast Asian farmers in Fresno County are valued at about $17.5 million annually, according to the Agricultural Commissioner of Fresno County.
Although Yang and colleague Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor, offer workshops and field days to share information, the radio show is an important information source because farmers can listen to the show while they work in the field. Because Hmong Agriculture Radio Show is such a critical tool for bilingual outreach, Dahlquist-Willard continually seeks grants to pay the $75 per show to the radio station. Of the 69 Hmong farmers who responded to a 2015 UC Cooperative Extension survey, 80% said they regularly listened to Yang's radio show.
“With the help of our Hmong Agricultural radio outreach, I have Hmong farmers calling our office for assistance from Tulare County up to Stanislaus County,” Yang said.
In 2015, during the drought, Yang and Dahlquist-Willard began helping desperate farmers who were running out of irrigation water.
“Wells were starting to dry up. Some Hmong farmers were reportedly calling suicide hotlines,” Dahlquist-Willard recalled. “For the ones with dry wells, it could cost $20,000 to $50,000 to drill a new well.” That is money that most of the farmers, who typically cultivate less than 50 acres, didn't have.
Eighty-seven percent of the Hmong farmers said their utility bills had risen during the drought. Yang, Dahlquist-Willard and Xai Chang, a young Hmong farmer working with UCCE, helped the farmers get a free PG&E rate analysis, which could help the farmers choose the best electric rate for their irrigation practices to lower the expense. The UCCE team also searched for financing to deepen wells for farmers who had difficulty qualifying for USDA loans and helped them apply for grants from the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program. With additional help from small farms assistant Jacob Roberson, the UCCE small farms team in Fresno has assisted 36 small-scale Hmong, Latino, and African-American farmers to implement SWEEP projects on a total of 846 acres. The small-scale growers have used SWEEP dollars to invest in technologies like energy efficient pumps, drip irrigation systems and flow meters to save water and reduce their energy costs.
“Michael helped me get a grant to buy a new pump for drip irrigation,” said Xiong Pao Her, who grows about 100 crops throughout the year – including ginger, broccoli rabe, fennel, garlic, green onions, napa cabbage and kale – in Sanger. “It saves me water.”
Obtaining land to farm can be difficult for small-scale farmers so the UCCE agricultural assistant connects farmers looking to rent land with landowners, and serves as a bridge for the language and cultural gaps between the two, according to Dahlquist-Willard.
“There was an elderly couple and their daughter wanting to rent land to a Hmong family, and Michael sat down at the table with all the parties and helped them work out a lease agreement, such as requirements for liability insurance,” she said. “Land isn't as available to rent as it used to be, but when it was, Michael would get frequent calls from landowners asking if he knew any farmers who would be interested in renting their land. The number of Southeast Asian farmers who have had a successful lease agreement or a successful farmers market stand because of Michael's help is probably very large.”
Recently Yang and Dahlquist-Willard partnered with California State University Fresno to produce a pesticide-safety video series for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. “We hope the videos help more farmers understand pesticide regulations and avoid fines, as well as improve their safe handling, selection and effectiveness,” said Yang.
It's not the first time Yang, who has been working for UC Cooperative Extension since 1993, has helped farmers navigate government regulations. Between 2005 and 2008, individual Hmong and Hispanic farmers were being fined between $14,000 and $26,000 for noncompliance with state labor regulations. To provide farmers with a clear understanding of the labor laws, Yang and Richard Molinar, then UCCE small farm advisor, partnered with a variety of community organizations to present information to farmers in English, Spanish, Lao and Hmong at community meetings, on the radio and television, and in trade magazines and newspapers.
“Without the support provided by the UCCE, hundreds, if not thousands, of Hmong farmers would have been added to the victim list for not knowing or understanding the laws. The UCCE has gone many extra miles to fill gaps between enforcement agencies and the Hmong farming community,” Toulu Thao, a Hmong activist, said at the time.
To help farmers decide which crops are most profitable to plant, Yang collaborated in the past with UC colleagues to estimate production costs for some Asian vegetables including sinqua, moqua, opo, longbean, bittermelon, oriental eggplant and lemongrass.
Yang currently advises Hmong growers on about 200 crops and continues to learn about new ones as farmers market customers ask the growers to produce fruits and vegetables from other cultures.
“I didn't know I would get so much soil today, now I can grow more cucumbers in my room!” said Miss Anita as she placed fresh soil into her plant pottery on Community Planting Day. The Estabrook Place resident was a first-time participant of a new gardening program for older adults hosted by the University of California Cooperative Extension in Alameda County.
The UC Cooperative Extension senior gardening program integrates healthy eating, active living and gardening education. Miss Anita was one of 200 seniors who participated in the gardening and nutrition education program led by Katherine Uhde, a CalFresh Healthy Living, UC community education specialist, in collaboration with the UC Master Gardener Program of Alameda County.
According to the National Institute of Aging, older adults experience high levels of social isolation and loneliness, which lead to an increased risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, depression and obesity. Educational activities that promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage interaction with peers are recommended to prevent these conditions in aging adults.
“We need to be able to address the needs of our greying generation and focus on prevention rather than treatment,” explained Mary Blackburn, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family, and consumer sciences advisor, about the benefits of group-based wellness activities for seniors.
The senior gardening program was developed by Blackburn and tested at Palo Vista Gardens Community, an Oakland Housing Authority-managed senior property. It is part of a larger quality of life study on the health of aging adults being conducted at seven Eden Housing sites with CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, which serves diverse populations of people who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as CalFresh food. Through nutrition education and physical activity classes, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC empowers seniors and other underserved Californians to improve their health.
This is the first project that CalFresh Healthy Living, UC partnered on with Eden Housing, a nonprofit provider of affordable housing in Alameda County. Through the collaboration, Eden Housing residents are able learn about nutrition, food safety and gardening concurrently at their living facilities. Residents learned how to grow fresh herbs, including marjoram and basil, while learning the benefits of cooking with them.
In past research, Blackburn found unsafe food handling practices used by over half of the fixed-income seniors and food handlers and caregivers serving seniors surveyed in 10 counties. At the Alameda County location, a UC Master Food Preserver volunteer, trained in Solano County, offers safe food handling classes.
Because the residents speak various languages including Cantonese, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Korean, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC has partnered with the Volunteer Health Interpreters Organization to connect certified, student volunteer translators to assist the participants. This partnership allows UCCE educators to communicate with participants in their native language and allows residents to more easily interact with their neighbors and develop friendships.
To paraphrase the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to meet the needs of people with various physical and mental abilities, cultural backgrounds and life experiences.
On Community Planting Day, every senior resident is smiling as they dig their hands into the dirt to make room for a seed or seedling. Residents who were strangers before the event are exchanging ideas of what they would like to grow, and like Miss Anita, are enthused to grow more vegetables.
To assess the benefits of the gardening program for seniors, Blackburn is working with Lisa Soederberg Miller, director of the Adult Development Lab and professor in the Department of Human Ecology at UC Davis. They hope to share what they learn with others who wish to establish a similar program for seniors in their community.
The University of California is providing a free online course, Healthy Beverages in Early Care & Education, in English and Spanish for child care providers in California. The 30-minute on-demand class is a friendly way to learn about the latest recommendations for healthy beverages for children and help child care providers meet the California Healthy Beverages in Child Care Act (AB 2084) requirements.
- Milk - whenever milk is served, serve only lowfat (1%) milk or nonfat milk to children two years of age or older.
- Juice - limit juice to not more than one serving per day of 100% juice.
- Sweetened Beverages - serve no beverages with added sweeteners, either natural or artificial. Beverages with added sweeteners does not include infant formula or complete balanced nutritional products designed for children.
- Drinking Water - make clean and safe drinking water readily available and accessible for consumption throughout the day.
The training includes videos, short quizzes and activities, and covers topics such as milk, types of fruit juice, drinking water and reading a nutrition label. A professional development certificate will be provided upon completion of the class.
To sign up for the class, visit http://bit.ly/NPIccbevE for English and http://bit.ly/NPIccbevS for Spanish and create an account. Providers outside of California may have similar beverage requirements. And all young children, regardless of licensing or Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) requirements, can benefit from consuming healthy beverages. The course is free for California providers and available for child care providers outside of California for a $15 fee.
This class was developed by the UCSF School of Nursing, California Childcare Health Program in partnership with the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute and Cooperative Extension, with support from a grant by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
In a new series starting today, UC ANR features a sampling of our academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.
UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Deepa Srivastava arrived in the San Joaquin Valley in 2017 to conduct a research and education program that makes children and families healthier in Tulare and Kings counties.
Srivastava joined Cooperative Extension with diverse experience in obesity prevention research and program implementation and evaluation. Her job combines extension, research, university and public service to promote healthy living among families and children in low-income communities.
“I could hardly believe how well this job fit my interests, skills and education,” she said. “I have been involved in research and implementation and evaluation of nutrition education programs in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The UCCE position is ideal.”
Born in India, Srivastava immigrated to the United States after completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in her home state of Allahabad. She also earned a master's degree at North Dakota State University before moving to Nebraska, where she earned a Ph.D. in human sciences, with specialization in child, youth and family studies. After completing her doctorate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Srivastava also worked as a project lead for the Ecological Approach to (EAT) Family Style project.
“My educational background and diverse experience prepared me to be a professional in the field of childhood obesity prevention and nutrition education,” Srivastava said.
Srivastava manages two federally funded nutrition programs for low income residents of Tulare and Kings counties. The CalFresh Healthy Living program presents information on food safety, food resource management, gardening, physical activity and youth engagement. Educators reach out to elementary schools to help develop school wellness policies and make lunchroom changes that steer children toward making nutritious food choices.
The second program, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, presents a series of classes to low-income families at community centers, schools and other service centers. The classes help participants stretch their food dollars, select and prepare healthy foods and take part in physical activity.
To shape her research program in Tulare and Kings counties, Srivastava conducted a needs assessment study to understand nutrition practices in early childhood education settings. Tulare and Kings counties are among the counties in the state with high levels of obesity and food insecurity.
Following her needs assessment, Srivastava concluded a successful pilot focused on preschoolers in Kings County. She and her nutrition team in Kings County, in partnership with the Department of Hospitality Management at West Hills Community College-Lemoore and preschools located at the college campus, implemented a collaborative nutrition education program to help preschoolers learn about healthy eating.
Srivastava is conducting further research to assess program sustainability and community engagement efforts, including how nutrition education offered by UCCE in Tulare and Kings counties motivates children and families to improve their knowledge, attitude, skills and behavior. Her research aims to understand the influences on children's eating and physical activity practices.
Srivastava is actively involved in obesity prevention initiatives within UC ANR and at the local, statewide and national level. Working with local community partners, she and her team have already introduced a number of change initiatives in Tulare and Kings counties to promote healthy lifestyles across lifespan, such as establishing new school gardens, youth engagement projects, healthy youth farmer's market and physical activity such as walking clubs and dance exercise classes.
“Our team is supported by experts from the University of California who are on the cutting-edge of the latest research and curriculum design,” Srivastava said.
Srivastava and her team were recognized at the National Extension Association for Family & Consumer Sciences conference in Hershey, Penn., in October 2019, where they won two SNAP-Ed/EFNEP awards: third-place at the national level and first place for the Western region.
“I am proud of my team's passion and hard work,” she said. “Our nutrition education programs have meaningful private and public values that promote healthy people and communities.”
For the first time since the 1980s, University of California, Davis, researchers have released new varieties of wine grapes. The five new varieties, three red and two white, are highly resistant to Pierce's disease, which costs California grape growers more than $100 million a year. The new, traditionally bred varieties also produce high-quality fruit and wine.
“People that have tasted the wine made from these varieties are extremely excited,” said Andrew Walker, geneticist and professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, who developed the new Pierce's disease-resistant varieties. “They are impressed that they're resistant, but also that they make good wine.”
Pierce's disease a growing threat
Pierce's disease is caused by a bacterium spread by a group of insects called sharpshooters. It causes grapevine leaves to yellow or “scorch” and drop from the vine. The grape clusters also dehydrate, and infected vines soon die. While the disease has been around since the beginning of wine grape production in California, concerns have escalated with the arrival of the nonnative glassy-winged sharpshooter, which has the potential to spread the disease more rapidly. Pierce's disease occurs most often near rivers and creeks, and around urban and rural landscaping where sharpshooter populations reside.
Pierce's disease also threatens wine grapes in the southeastern U.S. Rising temperatures from climate change could increase the spread of the disease, which is thought to be limited by cold winters. Growers in the Southeast can usually only grow Pierce's disease resistant varieties that don't have the same wine quality as the European winegrape species, Vitis vinifera, which is typically grown in California.
New varieties more sustainable
To create the new varieties, Walker crossed a grapevine species from the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, Vitis arizonica, which carries a single dominant gene for resistance to Pierce's disease and was used to cross back to Vitis vinifera over four to five generations. It's taken about 20 years to develop the five patent-pending selections that are now being released.
“These varieties will hopefully make viticulture much more sustainable and provide a high-quality wine that the industry will welcome,” said Walker. “So far there has not been tremendous interest in new wine grape varieties, but climate change may encourage growers to reconsider wine grape breeding as we work to address future climates and diseases.”
Winemaker Adam Tolmach, owner of The Ojai Vineyard in Ojai, planted four of the new varieties as part of a 1.2-acre experimental field trial. The trial was on the same plot of land where Pierce's disease wiped out his grapes in 1995. The vineyard then and now is organic, so spraying insecticides to fight the disease spread wasn't an option.
“I wasn't interested in planting in that plot again until I heard about these new Pierce's disease-resistant grape varietals,” said Tolmach. “This year was the first harvest. We've just begun to evaluate the wine but I'm very encouraged.”
Five varieties to suit every taste
The five new varieties of wines were evaluated by sensory tasting panels. Tasters included leading industry winemakers and enologists in prominent wine-growing regions of California and Texas as well as regions in the southeastern U.S.
“What I think is exciting is that they're stand-alone varieties independent of whether they have Pierce's disease resistance,” said Doug Fletcher, former vice president of winemaking for Terlato Family Wine Group.
The three new red varieties are camminare noir, paseante noir and errante noir.
Camminare noir has characteristics of both cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. The selection has ranked highly at numerous tastings of fruit grown in both Napa and Davis. Tasting comments: dark-red purple color, bright red fruit, raspberry, cherry, ripe, tannic, elegant rather than dense. The variety is 50% petite sirah and 25% cabernet sauvignon.
Paseante noir is similar to zinfandel. It has also been ranked highly at tastings. Tasting comments: medium dark red with purple; berry pie, cassis, black olive, herbal, dried hay, coffee, vegetal like cabernet sauvignon, licorice, round, moderate tannins, soft finish. The variety is 50% zinfandel, 25% petite sirah and 12.5% cabernet sauvignon.
Errante noir is a red winegrape most similar to a cabernet sauvignon and has great blending potential. Tasting comments: dark-red purple color; complex fruit with herbs and earth, plum, big wine, dense, rich middle, tannic yet balanced. The variety is 50% sylvaner and 12.5% each of cabernet sauvignon, carignane and chardonnay.
The two new white grape varieties are ambulo blanc and caminante blanc.
Ambulo blanc is similar to sauvignon blanc and has been tested in Temecula, Sonoma and along the Napa River. Tasting comments: light straw to clear color, citrus, lime, tropical, gooseberry, golden delicious apple flavors; bright fruit, slightly bitter, textured. The variety is 62.5% cabernet sauvignon, 12.5% carignane and 12.5% chardonnay.
Caminante blanc has characteristics of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Wines have been made from Davis fruit and ranked well. Field trials are underway at Pierce's disease hot spots in Ojai and Napa. Tasting comments: light straw-gold color, apple-melon, lychee, floral aromas, pineapple, green apple, juicy, harmonious, well-balanced. The variety is 62.5% cabernet sauvignon, 12.5% chardonnay and 12.5% carignane.
These five varieties are ready for patenting and release. There will be limited amounts of plant material available for propagation in 2020 as only a few of the grape nurseries participated in a pre-release multiplication program. Much more will be available in 2021. The Pierce's disease resistance breeding program continues, and more selections are approaching release.