UC Food Blog
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.”
“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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A well-nourished population requires that all members of society have access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food. Unfortunately, food insecurity continues to be a staggering problem throughout the world with negative consequences in terms of health and well-being.
In the United States, millions of households, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans, lack access to enough food. Children growing up in food insecure households face many challenges, such as behavioral problems, lower academic achievement, disrupted social interactions and poor health. The prevailing belief is that children living in a food insecure environment are at greater risk of undernutrition, not obesity. Although this may be true in some cases, food insecurity and childhood obesity also coexist.
Because childhood food insecurity may increase obesity risk later in life, it is important to better understand the relationship between food insecurity and children's obesity, and how it varies by demographic characteristics in the United States.
A recent study published in the September 2019 issue of The Journal of Nutrition assessed the relationship between household food insecurity and child adiposity-related outcomes. This included variables such as body mass index, waist circumference and diet outcomes. The study, conducted by Lauren Au, a researcher at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Nutrition Policy Institute, and colleagues examined associations by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Data collected in 2013-2015 from 5,138 U.S. schoolchildren ages 4-15 years old from 130 communities in the cross-sectional Healthy Communities Study were analyzed.
Household food insecurity was self-reported using a two-item screening instrument and dietary intake was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire. Information on dietary behaviors, physical activity and demographics was collected. To assess adiposity, children's weight, height and waist circumference were measured.
Study results support an association between food-insecure households and measures of adiposity. Children from food-insecure households had high body mass index, waist circumference, greater odds of being classified as overweight or obese, consumed more sugar from sugar-sweetened beverages, and less frequently ate breakfast and dinner with family compared to children from food-secure households. When examined by age groups, significant relationships were observed only for older children, however, results did not differ according to sex or race/ethnicity.
These results suggest that household food insecurity is associated with higher child adiposity-related outcomes and several nutrition behaviors, particularly among older children. Clearly, further research is needed to better understand the complexities of food insecurity, childhood obesity, and future health outcomes.
This research was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Southern California's mild Mediterranean climate makes it ideal for growing fruit trees in backyards, community gardens and school gardens. The trees provide wholesome fruit along with shade, beauty and enrichment for families and communities.
Citrus trees are favorites for Southern California backyards, but Surls and her team aim to get local gardeners thinking beyond lemons, limes, oranges and other citrus fruit. In the past several years, a deadly plant disease has been spreading among Southern California citrus, prompting quarantines and putting citrus orchards across the state at risk.
Surls and her team are working on an initiative with a corps of volunteer UC Master Gardeners in Los Angeles and surrounding counties to promote selection and planting of appropriate fruit trees. New brochures, a website, workshops and one-on-one consultations will guide Southern Californians in making tree decisions that are scientifically sound and community-focused.
The project addresses serious concerns about the rapid spread of huanglongbing (HLB) disease, also known as citrus greening. The insect that spreads HLB – the Asian citrus psyllid – was introduced into California in 2008. The disease made its first California appearance in a Los Angeles County backyard in 2012. HLB, which eventually kills every tree it infects, is now spreading rapidly in urban areas of Los Angeles and Orange counties, where quarantines have been put in place by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
“Citrus trees are so popular in Southern California. They are part of our history and regional identity,” Surls said. “Now we have the unfortunate responsibility of telling residents about this serious problem we are facing. In some cases, residents who live near infected trees should be proactive and remove their lemon, orange, mandarin and lime trees and replace them with different kinds of fruit.”
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources IGIS programmers, in collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension, have created an HLB Monitoring Web App that allows residents to enter an address to determine how close they are to confirmed HLB outbreaks. If they are within 2 miles of a residence where an HLB-infected citrus tree was found, the app recommends replacement of citrus trees with non-citrus fruit trees, such as apples, peaches, avocados or persimmons.
Residents with citrus trees that are 2 to 5 miles from areas with HLB should keep a close eye on their trees, treat for Asian citrus psyllid and begin thinking about planting an alternative to citrus if the disease spreads to their area.
“Huanglongbing poses a serious threat to both backyard and commercial citrus in California if its spread is not halted,” Surls said. “By removing trees in areas where HLB has been found, residents are helping reduce its ability to spread, buying time for scientists to find a cure.”
CDFA is testing trees throughout the state and removing HLB-infected trees. However, the first visible symptoms of HLB – yellow mottled leaves – can appear months to years after infection. Even if they look perfectly healthy, citrus trees can be harboring the disease and allowing it to be spread by the tiny psyllid insect.
Current hotspots shown on the HLB Monitoring Web App include Rosemead, Montebello, Pico Rivera, San Gabriel, Hacienda Heights and Cerritos in Los Angeles County. In Orange County, HLB is spreading in communities around Garden Grove, Westminster and Santa Ana.
“We know removing citrus trees is going to be really hard for people,” Surls said. “But if you live within two miles of an infected tree, your tree is probably already infected, and HLB means your tree is going to die.”
To ease the transition, UC Master Gardeners are informing residents about alternatives that will produce fruit that's nutritious and delicious.
“So many types of fruit trees can be grown in Southern California,” Surls said. “Honestly, we have almost unlimited options. We live in a fruit tree grower's paradise. So we want to encourage local residents to think seriously about selecting non-citrus trees to replace their citrus.”
The information can also inform residents who are planning a new backyard orchard.
“They should consider some of the many wonderful fruit trees we can grow here — plant a pomegranate, plant a peach, plant a persimmon — but resist the temptation to plant more lemons, oranges and other citrus trees,” Surls said.
Making the decision to plant a certain type of tree should not be taken lightly.
“Planting a fruit tree is a big commitment. It will be part of your garden for years. Research the best options for your family and locations,” Surls said. “The UC Master Gardeners are here to help.”
Following are good options to consider for replacing citrus trees in Southern California, although recommendations may vary based on local climate:
Certain apple varieties that do not need to be exposed to cold temperatures grow and produce well in Southern California. Low-chill varieties include Anna, Beverly Hills, Dorset Golden, Fuji and Gala.
Figs grow well in full sun in Southern California. They can reach 10 to 30 feet tall, and are best for spacious areas.
Jujubes are less common in Southern California, but are a valued fruit in Southeast Asian and will grow well under Southern California conditions. They grow about 15 feet tall. Jujubes are a good selection for inland valleys that get hot during the summer. The fruit tastes like small, crispy apples. Dried, they are similar to dates.
A small- to medium-size tree that grows 10 to 20 feet high, loquats are easy to grow and have relatively few pests. Fresh, ripe loquats are sweet and aromatic. They can be used in jams, sauces and garnishes.
Persimmons ripen in autumn after the leaves have fallen, creating a beautiful landscape display. They are easy to grow in full sun and part shade. Persimmons can be eaten fresh or dried for a date-like fruit.
Well-suited to Southern California's Mediterranean climate, pomegranates grow to about 15 feet in height. Pomegranates are pest- and disease-resistant. The fruit's seeds, coated with astringent juicy flesh, are called arils. Use arils to top salads or other dishes, or squeeze for juice or to make jelly.
Other fruit tree options for Southern California include mangos, guavas, pineapple guavas, peaches, nectarines and pears.
For more research-based information about alternative fruit trees, visit the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website “California Backyard Orchard” at http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu.
Contact your local UC Master Gardener Program for additional advice:
Los Angeles County – http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program
Orange County – http://mgorange.ucanr.edu
Riverside County – https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG
San Bernardino County – http://mgsb.ucanr.edu
Ventura County – https://ucanr.edu/sites/VCMG
Funding for the ‘Alternatives to Citrus Fruit in the Fight against Huanglongbing Disease' project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG003. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
Armyworms can be a serious pest in rice. The worms can eat the rice foliate or panicles, and cause yield reductions.
In 2015, a severe outbreak of armyworms caught rice growers by surprise, resulting in yield losses. In a 2018 survey conducted by UC Cooperative Extension, rice growers reported average yield losses in 2015 ranging from 4% to 12%. Since UCCE began a monitoring program in 2016, rice losses to armyworms have been rare, according to Luis Espino, UC Cooperative Extension rice farming systems advisor in Butte and Glenn counties.
To safeguard the rice crop against the pests, UCCE began conducting areawide monitoring of armyworms in 2016 using pheromone traps that attract the moths as they fly around rice fields. The traps are set up in 15 locations of the Sacramento Valley, from Richvale to Knights Landing, and in three sites in the Delta, covering most of the rice production area of California. The traps were set up early in the season and checked weekly until fields are ready to harvest.
“Moth numbers are delivered to more than 1,500 growers and crop consultants weekly via email, so they have a warning system to know when populations are increasing and when to start scouting closely,” Espino said.
“Treatments are not always needed, but armyworm damage can occur quickly and monitoring needs to be increased during the periods of peak moth flight,” he said. During periods of peak flight, the UCCE advisors provide growers with information on how to decide if a treatment is needed.
The information from the armyworm monitoring network, together with efforts by the rice industry to register insecticides that are effective at controlling armyworms, has resulted in better control of armyworms and less yield losses.
“In 2017 and 2018, I'd say yield loss due to armyworms was rare, and probably only happened in a couple of cases,” Espino said. “It's hard to give you hard numbers, but I'd say in 2017 and 2018, yield losses have been reduced to a minimum.”