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Inspiring youth leaders to cultivate health

What do you want to experience today?

What are sixth-graders interested in these days? “Cooking!” “Growing food!” “Learning how to be healthier.” “Exercising.” “Meeting new friends!” These enthusiastic answers came from sixth-grade student leaders in Santa Maria, Calif., when asked by educators from the UC Cooperative Extension Youth, Families and Communities program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Through an integrated youth-focused healthy living project, called Food Smart Families, funded by National 4-H, the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program, and the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program, 32 fourth- through sixth-grade student leaders were brought together from three schools in Santa Maria, Calif., for a full-day educational retreat that focused on engaging youth to explore their healthy lifestyle interests and see themselves as leaders.

Throughout the day, student leaders experienced physical activity games, learned cooking skills, participated in garden-based learning, and developed their presentation skills. They focused on skill development, as well as transference so that the student leaders could take these activities into their own schools to encourage and teach their peers. For example, the fun physical activity breaks that were incorporated throughout the day modeled games where no one is “out” or excluded, while moving enough to get heart rates up.

Students practice culinary skills.
After the retreat, the student leaders brought these activities to their own schools, leading their peers in the games during lunch and recess breaks. During the retreat, the student leaders also got to practice knife safety skills while chopping produce to prepare their own veggie pita pockets and fruit salads. With these skills, the student leaders offered food demonstrations and nutrition lessons to their peers during the following weeks.

In the garden, student leaders learned the basics of growing food and how to lead a garden lesson. Students discussed garden tools and how to use them safely, then planted their own seeds to take home. The garden session ended with a gleaning of the school citrus orchard where students laughed and enjoyed the fresh air and fresh fruits growing around them. In their own school gardens, the student leaders have offered lessons and tastings to their peers.

Student Nutrition Advisory Council logo.
The retreat culminated with youth presentations. The student leaders worked in teams with students from different schools to generate ideas and artwork for the Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC) logo and t-shirt design. They presented their concepts to the larger group, practicing their presentation skills. The student leaders voted on the designs and a winner was selected to be featured on a t-shirt for SNAC leaders at each of the three schools. The students leaders proudly wear their shirts as they lead healthy living education, advocacy and engagement activities.

By the end of the retreat, the student leaders were excited to take the information and skills back to their schools and start leading. Students shared their plans to help other students be more active during recess, be healthy, and help other kids be healthier too.

“This was the best day I have ever had,” said one of the students.

Recess activation in progress.
Since the retreat, the student-led initiatives have been numerous and continually evolving. The sixth-graders have encouraged and trained younger students to become their successors as they move onto junior high. Several students co-authored and starred in a video production called “Get to Know Your Salad Bar.”  With educator encouragement, the student leaders developed a script to motivate their peers to try out the salad bar by mixing fruit into their salad to make it sweet or putting lettuce and tomato on your hamburger to make it juicy and crunchy. Beyond leading in their own schools, the student leaders have been working to help their entire community. Many of the student leaders helped organize and conduct game-style nutrition activities at a local food pantry distribution to teach families about shopping for healthy foods on a limited budget. Other student leaders provided education and training to students at neighboring schools, encouraging them to become leaders as well.

Through the efforts of the Food Smart Families program, the Youth, Families, & Communities program in San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara counties merged the strengths of the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program and the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development program to provide new opportunities and experiences for students in this community. With interested and caring adults, these student leaders learned to share their passions for cooking, gardening, and healthy lifestyle with their peers at school and others in their community. The rewards for the school, community and adult allies continue to expand as these inspired student leaders, with strong mentorship and support, take on some of the biggest challenges facing our society and world.

Harvesting from the orchard.
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 9:46 AM

UC Davis tomatoes provide year-round healthful eating for college students

Chef Bob Walden, right, and Arnulfo Herrera, a cook, show off roasted tomatoes at UC Davis. (photo: Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)
Today's dorm food is far superior to the tasteless, over-processed foods of decades past. No more mystery meat or mushy vegetables. Campus dining services across the country are providing a diversity of fresher and healthier foods, much to the delight of food-savvy students who want variety, flavor, and nutritious choices. Well... being students, they don't always make the healthiest choices, but educational programs at campus dorms are turning the tide toward more-healthful eating.

At the same time, chefs and food buyers at universities, particularly the University of California, are selecting for high-quality fruits and vegetables, produced locally and sustainably. Universities with strong food sustainability programs are rightfully proud of what they're doing to educate students about food production, health, and nutrition. UC Davis Dining Services prioritizes the purchase of locally grown food (ideally within a 50-mile radius of campus). Most University of California campuses have similar programs.

At UC Davis, fresh roma tomatoes are picked each August from the 300-acre Russell Ranch, part of the campus's Agricultural Sustainability Institute, then processed within hours by campus Dining Services to provide year-round tomato sauce for pizza, pasta, and ratatouille. All told, 10,000 pounds of tomatoes are processed during a two-week period in August. About 29 percent of the total food served in the campus's residential dining halls is from local, organic or sustainable sources.

(courtesy photo: UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute)
The tomatoes grown at Russell Ranch are part of a long-term academic research project that examines factors such as farming methods, irrigation needs, crop rotations, yield, and nutritional content. At the end of the growing season, some of the many tons of tomatoes are purchased by Dining Services at market value.

Emma Torbert, an academic coordinator at the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, noted, “Connecting the food system to the research is really interesting. A lot of times there is confusion about where our food is coming from. The more people are educated, the more educated decisions they can make.”

Many UC Davis faculty and staff are so impressed with the food choices at the dorms that they purchase individual meal tickets and enjoy lunches made with the campus-grown tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables, all of which are part of the daily food array. Public dinners are also offered periodically at the dorms so that community members can sit amongst students to taste and learn about the sustainability programs in the dorms.

Additional Information:

  • Video: Farm to Table, UC Davis Tomatoes; 2010
  • Slide show of this year's UC Davis tomato harvesting and processing system; 2014
  • Sustainable Foodservice Progress Report 2014, UC Davis Dining Services
  • Two videos of UC Davis students who work at the Student Farm to produce food, including one on tomato sauce production
  • “Tomatoes: Safe methods to store, preserve, and enjoy.” UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, free publication
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Sustainable agriculture and food systems: An innovative new major at UC Davis

Two terms related to food production — “sustainability” and “food systems” — have been blended into a new major at the University of California, Davis. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, the new undergraduate major, in some ways embodies a re-blossomed, student-driven interest in food production, akin to the organic farming movement of the 1970s.

Food systems is a broad term that addresses nutrition and health, sustainable agriculture, and community development. A food system encompasses the entire production chain, not only from farm to fork, but includes broader topics such as short- and long-term impacts on the environment, labor, management of food inputs (e.g., water, pesticides) and outputs (e.g., waste), and the socioeconomic impacts on communities engaged in the food system. In other words, food systems encompasses agricultural production within the broad context of environmental, economic, social, and political concerns.

Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, noted during the celebration ceremony for the new major, “Agriculture is incredibly knowledge intensive. It is as knowledge intensive as launching rockets.” He cited a terrarium as a model for how we must maintain a sustainable food production system with limited resources to feed a rapidly growing global population. “The planet is a closed system,” Van Alfen said. “We have to get it right.”

Professor Tom Tomich, master adviser for the major and director of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, said, “The major is about leadership, as much as it is about education. It’s about creating a new generation of leaders who will go on to guide the sustainability transformation for this country and for this planet.” Unlike student programs that are limited to classroom learning, Tomich said that the curriculum for the new major combines the best of three worlds — classroom and labs, the Student Farm, and the real world.

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, attended the opening, along with other high-level state leaders in agriculture, including Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, and Don Bransford, president of the UC President’s Advisory Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi, who spoke about UC Davis’s national leadership in sustainability, noted, “This leadership from the state shows the importance of the program and what impact it may have on the state, on us as an institution, and on our students.”

“Agriculture and food have shaped human civilization and are central to well-being and health,” said Ralph Hexter, provost of UC Davis. “We recognize the need to understand both the natural world and our human activities holistically.” Addressing the global significance of the major, Hexter added, “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems is a major that is truly designed for the 21st century. It responds to today’s needs and incorporates experiential learning and state-of-the-art research.”

A recent UC Davis graduate who helped lay the groundwork for the curriculum, Maggie Lickter, spoke passionately to the 200 people celebrating the major. She said that the major is driven largely by students who have cutting-edge ideas and want to be engaged in creating a useful education. Lickter said that many students felt that components were missing from the traditional agricultural curriculum, such as farming practices grounded in an understanding of ecological systems, and the application of critical thinking skills to modern-day food systems.

In a moving tribute to the success of establishing the major, Lickter said, “This work can’t stop. If you stop stoking romance, love dissolves. If you stop tending a garden, plants wither. So we must stay committed to the evolution of this major.”

Dean Van Alfen, a strong proponent of UC Davis partnerships with the California agriculture industry, views this major as an additional way to create graduates with industry-ready work skills. Addressing UC Davis’s national and global leadership in agriculture, he said, “Agricultural sustainability has been a theme of this campus for a very long time. This new interdisciplinary major is the future in so many ways. It reflects our campus spirit and our culture. It will meet the needs of our stakeholders and the future of our planet.”

For more information:

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and Dean Neal Van Alfen, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Carol Hillhouse (UC Davis Children's Garden director), Ann Evans (former Davis mayor), and Craig McNamara (president, State Board of Food and Agriculture)

UC Davis Aggie Ambassadors: Jacob Gomez, Chase DeCoite, Alison King, and Phoebe Copp

Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 8:42 AM

New college degree: “Sustainable agriculture and food systems”

Students preparing food baskets at the UC Davis Student Farm (Photo: Ann Filmer)
The University of California, Davis, is launching a new undergraduate major — “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.” The program integrates several subjects to give students an understanding of the many issues facing contemporary farming and food systems, including production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management.

As noted in the Los Angeles Times, “With rising public interest in where our food comes from — as well as in "green" living — it makes sense that higher education would be eager to attract students who want to tap into the intersection between these two fields.”

Students will focus on the social, economic, and environmental aspects of agriculture and food — from farm to table and beyond. The program is designed to help students obtain a diversity of knowledge and skills, both in the classroom and through personal experiences on and off campus.

Students will take courses in a broad range of disciplines, but will focus in one of three tracks:  Agriculture and Ecology, Food and Society, or Economics and Policy.

“This interdisciplinary curriculum will prepare students to become leaders in agriculture and food systems,” said professor Thomas Tomich, the major adviser for the program and director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.

The major is new, but UC Davis has been covering the subject in field- and classroom-based interdisciplinary learning opportunities at the Student Farm at UC Davis for more than 35 years, said Mark Van Horn, the Student Farm director who will teach a core course in the major.

“Learning through doing and reflection adds a valuable dimension to students’ education because it helps them see the connections between theory and practice in the real world,” Van Horn said.

“This is an exciting addition to the college that reflects a change in how we think about food and agriculture,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Students will gain a broad perspective of what it takes to put dinner on the table in an era of greater demand and fewer resources.”

For more information:

Posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:43 AM

UC aims to educate a corps of California Naturalists

The University of California’s newly launched California Naturalist program is a way for the institution to spread research-based knowledge about environmental stewardship and nature preservation. Rather than simply educating students, the program engages citizens of all ages through discovery and action in the science of conservation.

After completing the program, California Naturalists will become a committed corps of citizen scientists trained and ready for involvement in natural resources education and restoration.

“To ensure the sustainability of natural resources in California, we need citizens who participate in natural resource conservation, understand the importance of land use decisions and climate change resilience,” said Julie Fetherston, a UC Cooperative Extension program representative for Mendocino and Lake counties. “The California Naturalists will understand the need for biodiversity, be informed about limitations of our water and energy resources, and be aware of the role that science and UC play in sustaining our natural ecosystems.”

Participants in the program take a 40-hour course that combines classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. The course materials are offered to sponsoring organizations across the state that have a need for volunteers with an appreciation for natural systems and a desire to be involved in their protection. The curriculum covers ecology, geology, plant communities, interpretation and wildlife. Regional modules are also being added.

“We have developed a flexible curriculum that can be adapted by many different organizations,” Fetherston said.

Organizations that might offer the California Naturalist training are the California Native Plant Society, Audubon societies, land conservation organizations, nature conservancies and state and national parks.

Fetherston and UC Berkeley natural resources specialist Adina Merenlender pilot-tested the program in Sonoma County, where the coursework was offered in collaboration with the Pepperwood Preserve, a coast mountain range nature preserve, and the local community college. The result was a committed and informed group of card-carrying California Naturalists ready to extend their knowledge as volunteers for the Pepperwood Preserve.

For more information or to inquire about offering the program, see the California Naturalist website.

Posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 10:35 AM
Tags: conservation (1), education (5), nature (1), volunteer (1)
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