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Food bloggers see innovative olive oil production system in Capay Valley

Farmer Chris Steele, owner of Capay Valley Ranches.
More than 400 food writers have converged in Sacramento for the first International Food Bloggers Conference to be held in the California capital. The event began with an excursion for about 45 of the foodies to Capay Valley Ranches, where the focus was on production of premium extra virgin olive oil.

The writers heard about innovations in olive oil production that have allowed California producers to minimize labor costs and maximize yield and quality by establishing super-high-density orchards. Farm manager Joe Armstrong led a farm tour, explaining amendments that had to be added to the soil before planting, the configuration of the trees in hedgerows and an irrigation system that permits application of water to the trees exactly when it is needed.

A graduate of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Armstrong said he choose a career in agriculture precisely because of the new technologies that make the field more efficient and productive.

"That's why I have a passion for farming," Armstrong said.

Ranch owner Chris Steele, who has farmed in Capay Valley his entire life, recognized how such innovations are brought to the farm.

"We couldn't do this without the UC system," he said.

UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists have worked alongside farmers to adapt the new super-high-density orchard systems. The idea was conceived in Spain and introduced into California in the 1990s. Successful use of high-density olive farming requires careful variety selection; finessed pruning, fertilization and irrigation practices; and understanding the cost-and-return for adept decision-making. This month, UCCE scientists released a new cost-and-return study specifically for farmers to use when planning new olive orchards under the super-high-density planting configuration.

Capay Valley Ranch farm manager Joe Armstrong displays almonds for a food blogger to photograph.
 
Super-high-density olives planted in hedgerows for mechanical management.
 
An old-school olive orchard.
Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 7:17 PM

NPI applauds Smart Snacks for schoolchildren

Melon and plums are packaged for schools. New USDA rules call for snacks served at school to meet nutritional standards similar to those required of school meals.

With an eye on reducing childhood obesity and improving overall health for children, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the final rule for snacks at schools. The rule made final on July 21 includes requiring snacks served at school to meet nutritional standards similar to those required of school meals.

Lorrene Ritchie, director of UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute applauds the USDA for their recently final Smart Snacks in School rule, which complements the nutritional improvements made to school lunches and breakfasts through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Offering more healthful foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in schools can benefit overall diet quality.

Creating school environments that offer more healthful foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains can also influence the way children eat at home and away from school.

“No single setting has the potential to influence the nutrition of more children than schools,” said Ritchie.

“Research – conducted by our Nutrition Policy Institute and others – has demonstrated that the healthy school foods and beverages consumed by children have a positive impact on their overall diet quality,” she said.

USDA also now requires any food or beverage that is marketed on school campuses during the school day to meet the Smart Snacks standards. Children are a target market for many foods and beverages that contain low nutritional quality and high calories that contribute to excess weight. To be advertised on a school campus, foods and beverages must meet the same Smart Snack standards for items sold or served by a school, according to the new Local School Wellness Policy rule.

“We are starting to see a leveling of child obesity rates in some places and changes to the school food environment are essential to furthering this progress,” said Ritchie.

Providing a consistent source of nutritious food at school will help the approximately 6.2 million California K-12 students develop healthy eating habits for life.

To read more about the federal changes to school food requirements, read the USDA news release at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2016/07/0172.xml&contentidonly=true.

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 9:52 AM

How to make something sweet even sweeter

There's still time to enter your honey in the Good Foods competition. Beekeepers across the country are invited to do so. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey, they say, is the "soul of a field of flowers."

It's more than that if you're a beekeeper. It's your pride and joy.

Whether beekeeping is your livelihood, your leisure activity, or something you do to help the declining bee population, that byproduct of your bees--honey--can also be an opportunity for bragging rights.

Entries are now being accepted for the nationwide honey competition sponsored by Good Food Awards.

If you're one of the nation's beekeepers, there's still time to enter your honey, says contest coordinator Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.

The deadline to do so is Sunday, July 31. The four subcategories are Liquid and Naturally Crystallized, Creamed, Comb, and Infused Honey.  

The contest is divided into five regions--East, South, North, Central and West--with seven or more states assigned to one region, Harris says.

  • West: California, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska.
  • North: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Minnesota
  • Central: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky
  • East:  Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia
  • South: Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas

"Finalists from each region are selected on a tasting day in September," Harris explains.  "They are vetted according to criteria on this page. Winners are selected during the fall months and announced at the end of the year. The awards will be presented in mid-January."

Harris says there are more than 300 unique types of honey in the United States. The Good Food Awards will showcase honeys most distinctive in clarity and depth of flavor, produced by beekeepers practicing good animal husbandry and social responsibility. The honey can come from hives located in numerous places, from rooftops to fields to backyards.

Last year's top awards went to:

To enter the competition, access this page: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/honey/

The Honey and Pollination Center is affiliated with the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For more information, email Harris at aharris@ucdavis.edu

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 10:15 AM

Tackling childhood obesity: A systems change approach

Murals in schools visually reinforce key healthy lifestyle messages. The above mural is at Sierra House Elementary School in Lake Tahoe.

On paper, the charge was clear: launch a statewide effort to integrate the nutrition education programs of USDA SNAP-Ed funded partners. Address childhood obesity and food insecurity holistically, yet specifically. Do this through policy, systems and environmental approaches that will leverage community participation and resources in order to create sustainability at the local level, and do it as funding is declining in SNAP-Ed programs.

But what would this integrated effort actually look like in practice? How could a single effort weave together the many agencies, actors, and systems that influence a child's earliest years, a family's food selection, and school and community activities? How could the people around a table, some meeting for the first time, coalesce around a shared vision, let alone mutually agreed strategies?

A problem as multifaceted as childhood obesity requires a similarly complex public health approach to meet the challenge. It is with this charge that over the past four years UC CalFresh has been working across California on nutrition education and obesity prevention with the California Department of Social Services, the California Department of Public Health, the California Department of Aging, and Catholic Charities to redefine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed, which is funded by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service). 

The SNAP-Ed mission in California is to inspire and empower underserved Californians to improve their health and the health of their communities by promoting awareness, education, and community change through diverse partnerships, resulting in healthy eating and active living.

SNAP-Ed work is executed through county-led integrated workplans which now embody policy, systems and environmental (PSE) change in the body of work previously seen as a direct education program in schools and communities. Adding PSE activities to SNAP-Ed work acknowledges that a systems change approach that comprehensively addresses nutritional health where people live, learn, work, shop and play most effectively assures that children and their families will benefit from SNAP-Ed educational efforts.

The first years of children's lives can determine the rest of their development.
Technical assistance through education on food and food resource management coupled with assisting community members in making changes to their environment is a viable method of creating sustainable change. These types of comprehensive changes in schools and communities have been cited by a recent Robert Wood Johnson report to help children grow up at a healthy weight.

  • Tackling obstacles such as access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, safe areas to recreate, safe routes to school, and programs/curricula that encourage physical activity are important aspects of initiating long lasting community health and lifestyle changes.

  • Teaming with the Department of Transportation or environmental programs such as Resilient Schools can fuse nutritional work with those working in other areas that contribute to and foster a safe, healthy community.

  • Wellness policies in schools that encourage good nutrition and physical activity institutionalize healthy lifestyle choices.

  • Programs like the Smarter Lunchroom Movement help schools and students make the healthy choice in food and beverages the easy choice.

  • Environmental supports such as murals in the lunchroom or on school/community grounds visually reinforce key messages. On the playground, stencils depicting fruits and vegetables with key messages help motivate student's movement and play while reinforcing lessons learned in the classroom.

  • Garden-based learning facilitates student and community members' exploration of low-cost methods to add fresh fruits and vegetables to their daily meal plan. Research shows that nutrition and gardening experiences, linked to academic standards for a specific age group, can increase vegetable and fruit consumption and physical activity.

Now, let's explore how these changes in the type of work executed through SNAP-Ed is poising California communities to tackle childhood obesity.

There is general agreement through research that the first years of children's lives can determine the rest of their development. Across ideological divides, there is consensus that investing early makes sense — it helps children develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime — creating a high return on the investment of public dollars.

As described, SNAP-Ed funded and non-funded partners in communities are tackling childhood obesity and food insecurity on multiple fronts. It has been initiated with five broad-based levers for change:

  • Offering evidence-based direct nutrition education curricula and technical assistance
  • Developing state and local partnerships
  • Using data to inform strategies
  • Building commitment among stakeholders
  • Tackling policy and practice change

However, in the end, support in counties from SNAP-Ed funded partners requires community leadership and long term ownership to succeed. Each community is armed with essential knowledge about local context to make sense of these levers and to pursue emergent opportunities.

At the state and local level, the development and implementation of integrated workplans with community members input is a blueprint charting each counties course.

At the state level, the past four years of developing SNAP-Ed integrated workplans created several lessons in systems change evolution:

Listen and learn

The more we listen and support community members, bringing their ideas to the forefront of our work, the more sustainable our efforts will be.

Connect the dots and engage

Fragmentation and silos create a diverse but disconnected sector. Communicate and connect as much as possible.

Create mission and values statements that unify - then operate transparently

As you get to know the community members and organizations that you are working with— together create your mission and values statement and make that your solidifying “call to arms” — then work transparently to fulfill your mutual objectives.

Embrace tensions

Different settings, standards, and social norms create tension — successful systems change efforts face, rather than circumvent, these tensions…be respectful and “lean in”.

Foster a long term approach/celebrate short term “wins”

As we review the many factors that lead to childhood obesity and food insecurity, use long term systems change strategies, foster sustained commitment, and celebrate successes, no matter how small.

Be adaptable but purposeful

Reflect on how different organizations work and understand that your perspective may be a result of your vantage point. Try to be in another organization's or person's shoes, recognize their impediments, then work together with this in mind. Good strategies are shaped by reflection and steered with an understanding that there may be a need for course correction.

Keep a unified resolve

A recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report concluded that between 2005 and 2010 California saw “a modest but significant decline” in childhood obesity of 1.1 percent in grades 5, 7 and 9. In addition, a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicated progress in the health of California preschoolers enrolled in federal health and nutrition programs. The report cited that “obesity rates among 2-4 yr olds from low income families dropped 2.9 percent from 17.7 percent in 2008 to 16.8 percent in 2011.” This data speaks to the significance of a comprehensive approach in preventing childhood obesity. Further, it emphasizes the importance of the teamwork provided by a network of state and local agencies, acting with community members, to make a difference in the lives of children.

California data reported by the 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

  • Since 2004, schools have removed soda and other sugar sweetened beverages from premises.
  • Since 2007, schools have limited the calories, fat saturated, fat and sugar in snacks sold on their premises.
  • Since 2012, school districts have been required to make free, fresh drinking water available in school food service areas.
  • Since 2006, $40 million has been committed in annual dedicated state funding for elementary school physical education.

 

Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Keeping produce at its best

UC ANR's popular guide to fresh produce is now on sale.
Farmers markets, produce stands, and likely your own backyard garden are an exploding bounty as California strawberries, stone fruits, and tomatoes show the summer produce season is in full swing.

But have you ever wondered what to look for when selecting fruits and vegetables? Why does your refrigerator have separate bins for fruits and vegetables? Should fresh tomatoes be stored in the refrigerator or on the counter? And how do you keep fresh basil fresh until you're ready to use it?

These and many more questions are answered in the colorful handbook:  From the Farm to Your Table:  A Consumer's Guide to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables available at anrcatalog.ucanr.edu

And now through July 31 the publication is 40 percent off if you order through our online catalog. So you can grab a copy for under $5.

This guide is brimming with tips from the pros at the Postharvest Technology Center at UC Davis. You'll find information on storage and handling for quality and safety as well as handy tables explaining which fruits and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator and which should be stored on the counter. You'll also learn what to look for when selecting popular produce items for best quality.

And if you've ever wondered the steps your produce takes to get from the field to your market, the journey is explained here.

Oh, and the answers to those questions?

Your refrigerator has separate bins so you can keep keep ethylene gas-producing fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears away from vegetables. The naturally occurring gas can hasten spoilage of vegetables.

Un-cut tomatoes should be stored on the counter, not in the refrigerator.

And keep your basil fresh by treating it as you would cut flowers; place the stems in a glass of water on the counter until you're ready to use it.

Posted on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 1:30 PM

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