Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences
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Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences

UC Food Blog

Innovating dairy digester research

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and cooperative extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine runs experiments in capturing biogas.

California leads the nation in agricultural production, producing nearly all the nation's leafy green vegetables, most nut and fruit varieties, and is ranked first in egg and dairy production.

What that means is that California also produces a lot of agricultural waste materials, including lots of manure.

Historically these waste materials have been used as a rich source of compost. However, researchers at UC Cooperative Extension are researching innovative uses for this material. 

Dr. Pramod Pandey, a faculty member and Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, focuses on better ways to manage waste material for both large and small farms. Dr. Pandey researches how to convert the organic matter in manure and other waste materials into a renewable energy source that can be used to power our state.

Converting manure to renewable energy

California gets over 27% of its energy from renewable resources like solar wind, and hydroelectric. Our goal is 50% renewable energy by 2030. California is taking steps towards this goal by building a network of dairy digesters which use bacteria to break down dairy manure and convert it into biogas. Clean burning fuels, such as biogas, are a sustainable source for generating energy because when they are burned, harmful by products are not produced.

Big bonus

A bonus is that the solid material left after the digesters have done their job is a fertilizer that can be used to grow the fruits, vegetables and nuts that our state is famous for. This type of fertilizer contains nutrients that are more readily available for plants because the digestion process breaks up organic materials more efficiently than traditional composting. The digestion process also helps reduce the number of harmful bacteria found in manure, making it much safer for use on plants grown for human food.

California leading in discovery and innovation

When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. People like Dr. Pandey are driving forward research and technology to minimize the impact of agriculture production on the environment. When we think about where agriculture has been and where it is going, innovation, efficiency and environmental sustainability are hallmarks of our approach in California. His multidisciplinary approach to solving this complex problem of agricultural waste materials and water/air quality helps improve the economic wellbeing of farmers, and benefits Californians by providing nutrients for safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

While the importance of California's agriculture might be huge, its footprint on the environment doesn't have to be, and it is researchers like Dr. Pramod Pandey who are ensuring our state leads in discovery and innovation for many harvests to come.

Heather Johnson, Instructional Systems Designer, Gregory Wlasiuk, E-Learning Curriculum Designer, and Dr. Sara Garcia, Project Scientist, with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at the University of California, Davis, provided the script for the video which was used in this story. View Heather, Sara and Greg's filming and editing skills in the video below. Greg provides the narration. 

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 2:27 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Innovation

Removing sodas for sale at UCSF helps cut sugar consumption and improve health

A study of the first University of California campus (UC San Francisco) to ban the sale of soda on campus has shown that employees reduced their consumption by nearly 50 percent. UCSF staff who took part in the study also reduced their waist measurements and weight.

“This was not a ban on the consumption of sugared beverages,” emphasized co-lead author Laura Schmidt, PhD, MSW, MPH, UCSF professor in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. “This was a ban on sales on sugary beverages in vending machines, break rooms and cafeterias...People could still bring them from home or buy them off campus.”

The study was published Oct. 28, 2019, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine.

Fruit-infused water is a refreshing substitute for sugary soda.

California Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D–Santa Monica) noted the importance of workplace and governmental restrictions on soda sales while communities are prohibited from establishing local soda taxes for the next 12 years. In June 2018, the beverage industry strong-armed the California Legislature and Governor into enacting a “preemption” law that prohibits communities from passing local soda taxes. 

“Workplace restrictions enable communities to take charge of their own health as we build momentum to pass AB 138, my bill that establishes a statewide soda tax that will fund prevention efforts. The bill will reduce soda consumption and generate positive health outcomes in impacted communities, where most needed, just like the UCSF effort,” Bloom said.

Lorrene Ritchie, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute, which conducts nutrition research to strengthen public policy, commented: “I am so impressed with both UCSF's sales ban and this very well-done study. Sodas are such a huge contributor to our obesity crisis that it is heartening to recognize a solution that any employer can adopt to help people improve their lives.”

Speaking of the UCSF study, lead author Elissa Epel, PhD, UCSF professor of psychiatry and director of the UCSF Aging, Metabolism, and Emotions Center, said: “This shows us that simply ending sales of sugary drinks in the workplace can have a meaningful effect on improving health in less than one year. There is a well-known pathway from soda to disease. High sugar intake leads to abdominal fat and insulin resistance, which are known risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even dementia. Recent studies have also linked sugar intake to early mortality.” 

Posted on Monday, October 28, 2019 at 2:42 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food Health

UC offers almond production short course Nov. 5–7

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources will host the UC Almond Short Course Nov. 5-7, 2019, at the Visalia Convention Center.

UC faculty, UC Cooperative Extension specialists and farm advisors and USDA researchers will provide in-depth, comprehensive presentations of all phases of almond culture and production. An optional field tour will be offered on Nov. 8 in Parlier.

The program is based on the latest information and research and will cover the fundamental principles that form the basis for practical decisions. Each session will include Q&A, quality time with instructors and networking opportunities. The full agenda is at https://ucanr.edu/sites/almondshortcourse/2019_Agenda.

This year's short course offers an in-depth field tour at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center on Friday, Nov. 8. For an additional fee, participants can learn firsthand about topics ranging from orchard establishment and management to integrated pest management. See the tour agenda at https://ucanr.edu/sites/almondshortcourse/2019_Field_Tour.

Registration is $900, discounts are available until Oct. 21. On-site registration will be $1,000.

Registration includes:

  • Three full days of instruction with more than 35 presentations
  • Binders containing presentations
  • Three lunches and two receptions
  • DPR (PCA) & CCA continuing education credits (pending approval)
  • Option to add Field Tour for $65

For more information, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/almondshortcourse. Register at https://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=27971.

Almond orchard
Almond orchard

Posted on Friday, October 11, 2019 at 10:32 AM
Tags: Almonds (3)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Two Cal students selected as UC ANR Global Food Initiative fellows

Elsa Esparza
Two graduate students from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health have been selected by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as Global Food Initiative (GFI) Fellows for 2019-2020. Elsa Esparza and Andrea Jacobo will focus on community-based initiatives and programs related to food access, food insecurity, addressing the needs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and highlighting the work of the local UC Cooperative Extension offices.

Esparza, second-year Masters of Public Health student, will work with UC Nutrition Policy Institute researchers on the CDFA Healthy Stores Refrigeration Grant Program Evaluation to assess the effects of neighborhood stores obtaining refrigeration units on store environments, store owner perceptions, and consumer perceptions. As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Esparza admired the GFI Fellows' work and aspired to be a part of the program for the professional and academic opportunities.

“I hope to grow as a researcher and advocate,” Esparza said. “I hope to branch the two roles – advocacy and research – in my work at NPI. This will be possible through my work in other projects, including creating public-facing materials for policymakers. I want to learn how to frame issues and research appropriately in order to target and educate folks who are in positions of political power.”

Andrea Jacobo
Jacobo, first-year Doctor of Public Health student, will work with the UC ANR strategic communications team to highlight the work of the local Cooperative Extension offices to improve food security in the community. As a former community health extension agent at the University of Tennessee, Jacobo saw the impact Extension programs have on the community's ability to manage their food dollars, cook healthy and nutritious meals, develop good agricultural practices, and develop their children's leadership skills through 4-H. Jacobo, who is fluent in Spanish as well as English, hopes to connect California's diverse community members to nutrition education, gardening and other programs to enhance their access to nutritious food.

“I am deeply invested in making sure every person in the community, from child to senior citizen, has access to healthy and affordable foods and resources that improve their quality of life,” Jacobo said. “I am excited to be a GFI fellow because it will allow me to pursue what I am most passionate about, community and healthy food.”

The UC Global Food Initiative was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014 with the aim of putting UC, California and the world on a pathway to sustainability. The GFI fellows are part of a group of UC graduate and undergraduate students working on food-related projects at all 10 UC campuses, UC Office of the President, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR. Each participant receives a $3,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative's efforts to address the issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.

In addition to their individual projects, GFI fellows are invited to participate in systemwide activities designed to enhance their leadership skills and enrich their understanding of the food system in California.

[This story was updated Oct. 11 to correct the spelling of Elsa Esparza's last name.]

Posted on Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 4:01 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food

California elderberries have rich benefits for farms and diets

Native California elderberries can be found at the intersection of sustainable farming, super nutrition and economic viability. Naturally drought tolerant, flavorful and packed with nutrients, they are capturing the interest of farmers, health-conscious consumers and scientists.

Elderberries were the focus of a field day offered by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) in September at Cloverleaf Farm, an organic berry and tree fruit operation in Dixon.

The last of this season's elderberries were hanging on the plants during the Elderberry Field Day Sept. 17.

Elderberries occur naturally around the world. In California, Native Americans used the tree's stems for making flutes, berries for food and purple dye, and bark, leaves and flowers for their purported anti-inflammatory, diuretic and laxative properties.

“They had a relationship with the plant for food, medicine and music,” said SAREP academic coordinator Sonja Brodt. “We wish to honor the elderberry's history here and thousands of years of management by California native tribes.”

UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachael Long said elderberries are her favorite native plant.

“They're pretty in the spring and summer. The flowers smell like cloves. It's a wonderful fragrance,” she said.

But perhaps the best attribute of elderberries for Long, a proponent of planting hedgerows on the edges of farmland, is the tree's ecological benefits. Elderberries can be among the rows of trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges in hedgerows that attract beneficial insects and pollinators to farms to help with biocontrol of pests and pollination of plants in adjacent crops.

“Flowering native plants like elderberries, toyon, Christmas berry, coffee berry, manzanita and coyote brush provide nectar and pollen for native bees, honey bees and other insects,” Long said. “I see a lot of green lace wings (predators of aphids, spider mites and other pests) in elderberry.”

Long reported that a tomato farm didn't have to spray as much for aphids because of the beneficial insects attracted by the hedgerow. “They saved $300 per acre each year,” she said.

UCCE advisor Rachael Long said elderberries can be used in a hedgerow designed to attract beneficial insects.

Hedgerows require long-term planning and care, including weed control. Establishing a hedgerow costs about $4,000 for a 1,000-foot-long planting with a single row of shrubs and trees bordered by native perennial grasses. At that rate, Long has calculated that a return on investment in pest control takes about 15 years. For pollination, the return on investment is about 7 years.

Installation of hedgerows can be eligible for cost sharing with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Costs can also be offset by harvesting the elderflowers and elderberries in the hedgerow and making value-added products – such as syrups and jams – or selling the flowers or berries to a processor.

Farmer Katie Fyhrie shared how Cloverleaf Farm is managing elderberries in a hedgerow, harvesting flowers in the spring to make and bottle elderflower cordial, and harvesting berries in the fall to produce and bottle deep purple sweet-tart syrup. Sixteen ounce bottles of cordial and syrup sell for $12 each. The cordial and syrup are ideal for serving with seltzer and ice for a fruity and uniquely wild-tasting drink.

Fyhrie is also working with Brodt of SAREP to gather data for research on best production practices, farm and processing labor costs, and yield comparison between native plants and named varieties from the Midwest. The study includes data from three California farms.

Farmer Katie Fyhrie holds up a bottle of Cloverleaf Farm's elderflower cordial.

The project is a collaboration among the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (a program of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis), the UC Agricultural Issues Center, the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology and four farmers to assess the farm management practices, cost, nutritional content, and market potential of California elderberries.

While laboratory research comparing the nutritional characteristics of the California blue elderberry with the North American black and the European black is continuing at UC Davis, food science professor Alyson Mitchell and her graduate student Katie Uhl were able to share what is already known about the nutritional benefits of the fruit.

Processing the mature elderberries with sugar allows small-scale producers to make deep purple elderberry syrup.

They said elderberries are high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, phenolic acids and anthocyanins. Elderberries contain antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. While they have a strong history as a treatment for colds and flu, more studies are needed to understand their medicinal use, Mitchell said.

The field day in Dixon was among the first outcomes of the two-year project. A growers' production guide, cost of production study, an assessment of market demand and nutritional analyses are also planned. The information will be made available, along with other resources on elderberry cultivation and processing, on the ASI website.

 

Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 8:30 AM
Tags: elderberry (1), Rachael Long (4), Sonja Brodt (1)

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