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UC leads a long tradition of environmental stewardship in California

Stewardship: \ˈstü-ərd-ˌship: the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.

In 1862 the Morrill Act was passed to support and maintain colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts, including a later provision that included the donation of public land. As one of the first land grant Universities, the University of California was well positioned to manage agricultural extension across the state as part of the Smith Lever Act of 1915. Today, many people think of California agriculture as strawberries, broccoli and rice; but it is livestock and forestry that dominated California working landscapes in those early days.  

Farmer seeks assistance from UCCE farm advisor on the running board of a historic UC Cooperative Extension vehicle.
Research and extension efforts to improve forestry practices and range production throughout California have evolved over time. Research questions gradually changed over the last 100 years from a “how can we economically produce more” perspective to how can rangeland management practices improve ecosystem composition and function? How can extension programs be employed to educate stakeholders and help land managers implement change? How can we conserve working landscapes for biodiversity conservation in a period of rapid development? How can we assess and monitor management effectiveness?

This year, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources celebrates 100 years of UC Cooperative Extension serving as a research and outreach partner in communities throughout California. For an interesting read on this rich history and the evolution of UC rangeland management perspectives, see M. George, and W. J. Clawson's The History of UC Rangeland Extension, Research, and Teaching: A Perspective (2014). Additionally, UC ANR California Rangelands Website includes a free Annual Rangeland E-book; current project descriptions, publications, and online learning modules: http://californiarangeland.ucdavis.edu/.

Maintaining and improving environmental quality on public and private land requires an informed strategy that encourages stewardship by land owners and community members. In present times, we face the challenges of managing land in the face of growing population, drought, invasive species, and climate change, just to name a few forces of global change. Out of necessity, our broader perspective on land management has shifted to one of “ecosystem stewardship” which is defined as a strategy to respond to and shape social-ecological systems under conditions of uncertainty and change to sustain the supply and opportunities for use of ecosystem services to support human well-being (Chapin et al. 2010). The stewardship framework focuses on the dynamics of ecological change and assesses management options that may influence the path or rate of that change. 

Tejon Ranch Conservancy California Naturalists help with a pipe capping project to keep small animals and birds from getting trapped (Photo: Scot Pipkin)
Using an ecosystem stewardship framework, the UC ANR's California Naturalist Program is building a statewide network of environmental stewards. The program is designed to introduce the public, teachers, interpreters, docents, green collar workers, natural resource managers, and budding scientists to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage these individuals in the stewardship of California's natural communities.

The California Naturalist Program uses a science curriculum which includes chapters in forest, woodland, and range resources and management, geology, climate, water, wildlife, and plants. Experiential learning and service projects instill a deep appreciation for the natural communities of the state and serve to engage people in natural resource conservation.

UC Berkeley's Sagehen Creek Field Station California Naturalists examine watershed maps (Photo: Jeannette Warnert)
Land management is the focus of many of the partnering organizations that offer the California Naturalist Program. For example, land conservancies and preserves are involved including, Tejon Ranch Conservancy, at 270,000 acres the largest contiguous private ranch in California; Pepperwood Preserve, a private rangeland preserve dedicated to conservation science in the Northern SF Bay Area; UC Berkeley's Sagehen Creek Field Station, a forested research station in the Sierra; UC Hopland Research & Extension Center, a rangeland research and education facility in California's north coast region; and the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, a non-profit land trust in the Western Sierra Nevada including Fresno, Madera, eastern Merced, and Mariposa counties. Land trusts are increasingly responsible for conserving working landscapes and open space across the state and often rely on a trained volunteer corps to steward these valuable landscapes. UC ANR is pleased to advance training opportunities for those actively managing these lands.

California Naturalists trained at these locations and more are involved in ecosystem stewardship, rangeland management, watershed restoration, and helping outdoor education programs that benefit the environment and people of all ages. Naturalists have donated over 13,000 hours of in-state service in the last three years. These types of stewardship opportunities are essential for the active adaptive management that both public and private lands need to ensure resilience and continue to provide ecosystem services that we all rely on. These trained environmental stewards are an important part of this growing community of practice who not only steward land but pass on critical knowledge about California's natural and managed ecosystems. 

Posted on Friday, July 25, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition

During summer break, healthy food and fitness often take a long vacation. For many, the vacation is ending and it's time to do some homework. Study these back-to-school tips for the start to a healthy school year. If you follow a balanced diet and stay physically active, there's no way you can't get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition!

  • Don't skip breakfast! Studies show children who eat breakfast perform better in school.
  • If you pack a homemade lunch for your children, include a good balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat free dairy products, and lean meats and proteins.
  • Provide new options! Pack exotic fruits like kiwi or allow your child to pick a fun new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. They are more likely to eat their lunch if they helped prepare it.
  • Reinforce cleanliness and remind your children to wash their hands before they eat or pack a moist towelette or hand sanitizer in their lunchbox.
  • Physical activity and exercise are important and help improve a child's health. Children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day, and adults need to be active for at least 30 minutes a day. Make exercise a family affair and get the physical activity everyone needs! Go for a weekend hike, walk the dog together, or ride your bikes after dinner.

Try this quick and easy recipe for your child's lunch or mix it up and substitute a variety of their favorite vegetables instead.

Chicken pita pocket with spinach leaves and red bell pepper.
Chicken pita sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 4 ounces cooked skinless, boneless chicken
  • 1/2 cup sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat Italian vinaigrette
  • 1 (6-inch) whole-grain pita, cut in half

Directions:

  1. Combine spinach, chicken, bell pepper, and vinaigrette in a bowl; lightly toss and mix ingredients.
  2. Cut the pita pieces in half.
  3. Using a spoon, fill each pita half with the tossed ingredients.
  4. Once assembled, lay them flat and pack them up for your child to enjoy during lunch.

Recipe source: http://www.health.com/health/recipe/0,,10000001983452,00.html

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 9:16 AM
Tags: nutrition (89), school lunch (1)

Cottage food law not the answer to small-farm woes

'The new law doesn't help us at all,' said Annie Main, who with her husband Jeff farms in the Capay Valley.
When the California Homemade Food Act went into effect early last year, it was hailed as an exciting new opportunity for small scale farmers to boost profits. The law allows for certain foods prepared in home kitchens to be sold directly to the public at farmers markets and roadside stands.

The UC small farm program held a series of two-day workshops around California to outline the provisions of the new law. Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, was the coordinator and an instructor for the series. The class was popular, but many of the farming participants found that the letter of the law tended to hinder their creativity rather than open new business avenues.

Hardesty said the Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) was designed to, among other things, help farming families take their surplus produce and make dried products, jams, jellies and butters. However, the California Department of Public Health is requiring cottage food operators to do all of their processing in their home kitchen, to comply with the Statutory Provisions Related to Sanitary and Preparation Requirements for Cottage Food Operations (Excerpts from the California Health and Safety (H&S Code, including H&S 113980 Requirements for Food), specifically, the CDPH requires that cottage food operators comply with the following operational requirements:

"All food contact surfaces, equipment, and utensils used for the preparation, packaging, or handling of any cottage food products shall be washed, rinsed, and sanitized before each use. All food preparation and food and equipment storage areas shall be maintained free of rodents and insects."

Cutting fruit and laying it in the sun to dry, for example, is not permitted. For jams and jellies, the law stipulates sugar-to-fruit ratios that require more sugar than fruit. For some cooks, the rules defeat the unique character of their homemade, gourmet products.

“I really try not to put a lot of sugar in my jellies. I want it to taste like fruit,” said farmer Annie Main, who took the UC class.

Main and her husband Jeff run an organic fruit, vegetable, flower and herb operation on 20 acres in the Capay Valley of Yolo County.

“I've been doing value-added for 20 years,” Main said. “In the '90s, I started making jams and jellies in a rented certified kitchen. But it's a trek to get labor, jars, supplies and fruit to the restaurant kitchen after hours and then work till midnight. We thought with the new law, I could do it in my own kitchen, which would be fabulous.”

However, she found that the rules of the law are so restrictive as to be prohibitive.

“Farmers in the class were asked whether the law extended their ability for economic return on their products. Every single one shook their heads,” Main said. “The new law doesn't help us at all.”

Hardesty said there may be other options for these producers to process and sell their foods. She is planning to offer another class this fall, “Cottage Food Plus,” to help growers find workable mechanisms for selling their food.

“They may be able to use a co-packer to do the processing or a commercial kitchen or become registered as a processing food facility,” Hardesty said.

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Connecting wildfires to climate change and drought

Longer summers, less moisture and warmer climates are predicted for California's Sierra Nevada mountains. These changing patterns bring frequent droughts and extended wildfire seasons — as seen from the current extreme drought. The question no longer is whether wildfires will be more common or more intense — they already are — but how forest managers want these fires to burn.

Jens Stevens, a postdoctoral researcher in disturbance ecology at the University of California, Davis, has tracked how forests thinned for wildfire react to high-intensity burns. The answers he found touch on growing concerns over how the state can protect its forests.

Under the context of climate change, Stevens studies how understory plants recover from wildfires, measuring the effects fuel treatments — such as the thinning of small trees — have on the way these forests burn.

Postdoctoral researcher Jens Stevens (right) inspects an untreated forest after a wildfire.
Historically Sierra forests had gaps and openings, which prevented the spread of fires. More than a century ago land management agencies began a campaign of extinguishing all wildfires. Today's forest floors are blanketed with litter — fallen branches, leaves and shrubs — and many of the fire-tolerant pines have been replaced by firs, which handle shade well but act as fuel sources.

Stevens' research showed fuel treatments encourage resilience to wildfires, giving forests a greater ability to withstand a burn. Under really hot, dry summer conditions this makes a powerful difference.

“If you get warmer temperatures you're going to dry out the fuels,” says Stevens. “If we want to retain forest-dominated landscapes, we don't have the choice of doing nothing, because eventually these stands are going to burn."

To preserve forests, Stevens looked to native plant diversity under each management strategy. After a high severity fire, the tree canopy is non-existent. This new high-light environment favors other species, such as shrubs and flowering plants, which crowd out young trees.

A treated forest has more resilience to high-intensity wildfires.
In treating a stand before a fire, land managers are already encouraging plant diversity and when the stand burns, diversity increases even more, Stevens discovered.

While the treatments do protect the forest and encourage plant diversity, they are expensive and lead to uncertainty over how sensitive wildlife species are affected. Yet these areas will burn eventually, Stevens argues. The choice is either a more open forest or no forest at all.

He points out research by UC Davis ecologist Malcolm North, which shows the current pace of treatments can't keep up with the extent of Sierra forests that have been fire suppressed. The US Forest Service can treat up to 40 percent of a forest before managers must start over for follow-up treatments. The other 60 percent doesn't get touched.

“So the only real way to address that is to let the fire do the work for you,” says Stevens.

The proposal North and his colleagues arrived at relies on “firesheds.” These fire-prone areas would have boundaries that allow officials to efficiently manage the fires. If a burn begins after a treatment, they don't put it out. Allowing the fire to burn fuels they would otherwise be removing frees up resources to treat other areas.

“So if it's going to burn,” says Stevens, “you need to figure out ways the fire's going to give you your desired outcome.”

Watch Stevens explain more in his seminar.

This post was adapted from a longer piece by the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
 

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Growing healthy kids in a Pixley garden

Third-graders at Pixley elementary with their summer garden.
An old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. The teachers at Pixley Elementary School have found that it takes not just a village, but a unique combination of community agencies, good curricular materials and a little bit of dirt. That's right, dirt. In Pixley, they are growing healthy kids in a school garden.

A motivated third-grade teacher, Fidel Garcia, applied for grants from the Tulare County Farm Bureau, California Ag in the Classroom, the Dairy Council of California and LifeLab. He invited UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Grilda Gomez into the classroom to share the UC Cooperative Extension “Nutrition to grow on” lessons. A local nursery, Bonnie Plants, donated seeds and transplants to grow cabbage, zucchini and onions in the school garden.

Garcia asked the other Pixley Elementary third-grade teachers to be involved. David McGrady's class researched and planted herbs. Garcia's class and Ralph Gutierrez' class planted the main garden. All the students regularly visited to weed, irrigate and watch the vegetables grow.

At harvest time, UCCE's Gomez worked with the students to prepare a fresh coleslaw using vegetables representing the six plant parts they learned about in the classroom – stems, seeds, leaves flowers, fruit and roots.

UC nutrition educator Grilda Gomez prepares coleslaw with Pixley Elementary third-graders.
Following is the recipe the third-graders prepared:

Crunchy coleslaw

8 cups finely shredded cabbage (2 ½ pound medium head)

1 cup finely sliced celery

½ cup shredded carrot (1 medium carrot)

½ cup sliced green onion

¼ cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons salad oil

Pinch celery salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup wine vinegar

Directions:

Combine cabbage, celery, carrot, green onion and parsley. Pour on salad oil and toss until slaw is evenly coated. Sprinkle on and toss in seasonings. Finally, add wine vinegar and toss.

Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 8:36 AM
Tags: Grilda Gomez (2), nutrition (89)

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