Planted in a corner of the UC Davis campus is a display of technologies and vegetable crops that researchers with the Horticulture Innovation Lab have been using with farmers in Africa, Asia and Central America. Led by UC ANR's Elizabeth Mitcham in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, this program harnesses the agricultural expertise of a network of U.S. university researchers to improve how farmers in developing countries grow fruits and vegetables.
More often than not, the learning goes both ways: Adapting solutions for farmers on another continent can spark ideas that might be useful back home too.
So while the Horticulture Innovation Lab's Demonstration Center was built to showcase international work to campus visitors, you wouldn't be the first to wonder, “Would this technology work on a California farm too?”
Recently a team from UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County — led by Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for small farms in Fresno and Tulare counties — worked with the Horticulture Innovation Lab to learn how to build one of these technologies, to try out with local farmers.
The low-cost technology they built, called a “chimney solar dryer,” combines continuous air flow with solar heat to dry fresh produce more efficiently than a traditional solar dryer. It was designed by the innovative duo Michael Reid and Jim Thompson, both emeritus specialists with UC Cooperative Extension who have worked on multiple inventions with the Horticulture Innovation Lab. The chimney solar dryer is usually built with basic materials, such as plywood, dark plastic, clear plastic, and food-grade mesh. Read more about how the chimney solar dryer can help farmers add value to crop surplus (PDF).
Here is a quick look at a couple of other technologies that visitors can see at the demonstration center:
This solar-powered cold room uses a tool designed by an American farmer, called a CoolBot. In a well-insulated room, a CoolBot can trick a household air conditioner into bringing temperatures down low enough for cool storage of fresh produce. Cooling fruits and vegetables soon after harvest from the field can reduce postharvest losses and extend shelf life. So far teams with the Horticulture Innovation Lab have used the CoolBot with farmers in Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and Honduras.
The zero-energy cool chamber (known as ZECC) is a simple structure built from brick and sand that can help cool fresh produce, in conditions where evaporative cooling is effective. By regularly wetting the sand and brick, farmers or even marketers can keep the temperatures low and the humidity high for fresh produce such as leafy greens. Researchers with the Horticulture Innovation Lab have been testing what specific conditions — such as hot, arid climates with easy access to water — make this tool effective for farmers to use to cool their fresh fruits and vegetables.
More information about the ZECC is available from the UC Postharvest Technology Center.
Recent visits to the Horticulture Innovation Lab's demonstration center have come in many shapes and sizes — from people walking by who stopped to read some of the signs, to group activities planned in advance. Recent tours of the center have included a delegation of deans from agricultural colleges in Ethiopia, a television news crew from Tajikistan and high school students from California learning about innovation and human-centered design.
Maybe it will spark an innovative idea that you can use in your fields?
- More recent blog posts about the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center
- Explore the African vegetables on display
- Learn more about the technologies on display
- Get updates from the Horticulture Innovation Lab's email newsletter
Led by UC Davis, the Horticulture Innovation Lab is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative./h2>
Summer brings an abundance of luscious and healthy fruits and vegetables. It's easy to buy more than we can eat, which sometimes results in #foodwaste.
In a guest blog post for the UC Food Observer, UC researcher Wendi Gosliner (part of the team at UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, a cutting-edge unit that's using research to transform public policy) shared this observation:
“Food waste presents a major challenge in the United States. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of the food produced nationally never gets consumed, causing substantial economic and environmental harms. Wasted food utilizes vast quantities of precious land, water and human resources, yet rather than nourishing people, it feeds landfills, producing methane gasses that poison the environment. Much of the food waste (43%) occurs at the household level."
What history can teach us
Here's my take on food waste. It goes back in part to lessons I've learned from studying World War I (WWI), when the American government set food conservation goals (along with goals for local food production via Liberty – later Victory – Gardens). I'm a big proponent of both reducing food waste and producing more food in communities via school, home and community gardens. Big point: the World War I poster included in this post has advice we'd be well served to heed today.
It's an iconic poster from World War 1. Food…don't waste it. The image is regularly shared on Twitter and Facebook.
Period piece or photoshopped image?
The original was produced in 1919 by the United States Food Administration, under the direction of the newly appointed food “czar” – Herbert Hoover.
The poster was reissued during World War II. It's been revised in recent years by individuals and organizations interested in encouraging an ethos incorporating local foods and sustainability.
While I'm the UC Food Observer, I also dabble in the history of wartime poster art. I'm often asked if this is a contemporary mock-up made to look and feel vintage.
It's not a mock-up. It's the real deal, produced 95 years ago, with messages we should embrace today.
The original poster: Yes: ‘buy local foods' is rule 4
The original poster has six rules that we'd be well served to follow today. The fourth rule – buy local foods – is somewhat of a surprise to people today, because the notion of buying local seems somewhat modern. But in WWI, the U.S. government encouraged the local production and consumption of food, in part, to free trains to more effectively ship troops and war matériel.
Tackling food waste through preservation: today's Master Food Preserver Program
Many land grant institutions, including the University of California, host master food preserver programs. These programs teach best practices on food safety and preservation to volunteers. The extensive training program prepares the volunteers to work in their community educating others on the safe practices of food preservation, including pickling, drying, freezing, canning and fruit preserves.
Thinking about gardening? Do we have resources for you!
The University of California sponsors the state's Master Gardener Program, which fields more than 5,000 volunteers in communities across the state. The Master Gardener Program is a national program, housed at the land grant institution in each state, but it's also connected to the USDA. Free gardening resources are available here. Advice to grow by…just ask.
Food waste is both an ethical and environmental issue. It should concern us that we waste nearly 40% of the food we produce and purchase in this food-abundant nation.
For an interesting comparative statistic, consider this: our nation produced about 40% of the fruits and vegetables we consumed on the American home front in World War II in school, home, community and workplace gardens. That was the result of the iconic Victory Garden program (which actually got its start in WW1).
Three messages then: participate in the national effort, commit to wasting less food, and if you can, produce some food of your own.
Notes: There are many additional resources about #foodwaste.
Read: Dana Gunders of the National Resource Defense Council authored a 2012 report called Wasted that sparked much of this work. Dana also authored a book called Waste Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money by Wasting Less Food, both of which are great reads.
Read this piece about the relationships between food, farming and the environment (including food waste).
Eating what's on your plate is one of the best ways to tackle climate change. View this episode of Climate Lab, a six-part series produced by the University of California in partnership with Vox.
When children grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables, they are much more likely to eat healthy food, so for decades California politicians, teachers and nutrition educators have advocated for a garden in every school. However, UC Cooperative Extension experts in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties found that garden care can dwindle over time.
“Students and their parents ‘age out' of their elementary schools,” said Shannon Klisch, UC CalFresh community education supervisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. “The turnover in expertise and level of commitment can vary widely, leaving some schools with either weedy, abandoned vegetable patches, or no garden support at all.”
UCCE offers UC CalFresh, federally funded nutrition education for CalFresh recipients (formerly called Food Stamps). UC CalFresh nutrition educators in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties saw a need to mobilize highly trained community members who could develop, support, sustain and teach from school gardens. UC CalFresh joined with UC's 4-H Youth Development, Master Food Preserver, and Master Gardener programs to launch a pilot project called “UC Garden Nutrition Extenders.”
“We don't have enough staff to work the gardens in every school, so we've started recruiting and training volunteers,” said Lisa Paniagua, school garden sustainability coordinator for the UC Garden Nutrition Extender program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
“By enlisting passionate volunteers, nutrition educators could significantly multiply the number of students who had access to school gardens, nutrition education, and training in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the garden,” said Katherine Soule, Ph.D., youth, families, and communities advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Klisch said UC Garden Nutrition Extenders are local members of their school communities.
“They are often parents, neighbors or staff and they have a personal investment in seeing the youth and the school environment flourish, which makes for a much more sustainable intervention and increases community capacity to sustain a garden program," she said.
Paniagua, Klisch, and Soule created a hybrid training program integrating volunteers and educators from UC CalFresh, UC Master Food Preservers, UC Master Gardeners and 4-H. They selected a 4-H gardening and nutrition curriculum written by researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, which includes engaging, student-centered, experiential learning while dividing time between the garden and the classroom. The curriculum reinforces goals in Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, policies that guide public school teaching.
“Teachers will want to know we are familiar with curriculum standards. Applying them adds value to these classes,” Paniagua said.
In July, the third cohort of future UC Garden Nutrition Extender volunteers gathered at UC Cooperative Extension in San Luis Obispo to learn how they can help schools transform their gardens into fruitful learning activity centers for the students.
One member of the new cohort is Jill Marie, a certified Master Gardener in San Luis Obispo County.
“I live by a school and they have garden beds that are not kept up. I want to get involved and get to know the kids,” she said.
The volunteer teachers learn by conducting the indoor and outdoor curriculum activities and food demonstrations over a four-week period. Their first foray into the UCCE Sunshine School Demonstration Garden began with a mindfulness practice.
“Close your eyes, and just listen,” Paniagua instructed. A moment later she asked, “What did you hear?”
To encourage students to take a closer look at the garden, the class was sent out with egg cartons labeled for a 12-item scavenger hunt, and later asked to select one item to discuss. Reporting on topics are part of Common Core standards for students in third- through fifth-grades and creates discussion learning topics around science, math, engineering, art, and even poetry.
Back in the classroom, the trainees began work in pairs on the next lesson, “Know & Show Sombrero.” With paper, tape and a bag of craft supplies – balloons, ribbons, foam stickers and construction paper – the extenders made hats that represent everything a plant needs. One group used a yellow balloon to symbolize the sun, another had water drops raining down from the brim. A third group sprinkled glitter to represent the nutrients in the soil.
“Why are we putting these on a hat?” Paniaqua asked the class. “The exercise is useful for kinesthetic learners. It reinforces what they learn. At the end, we talk about it and develop conversation skills.”
The half-day session ended with a tasting of purple, yellow and orange carrots.
“In your journals, write words to describe the smell, sight, taste and feel of the three colors of carrots,” Paniagua said.
One of the volunteers Christina Lawson, director of nutrition for Coast Unified School District, laughed.
“We tried to serve purple carrots. Pfft. Zip,” she said. “I'm excited about this. If the kids try them before coming to the cafeteria, it would make my life so much easier.”
This project is funded through local grant awards from the National 4-H Council in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, which is a joint agreement among the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Food and Nutrition Service (USDA/FNS), the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) CalFresh branch, and the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).
Building on the needs assessment, a team of UC ANR researchers created a resource website for California urban farmers. This year, team members and local partners are conducting a series of trainings for urban farmers around the state, designed to help city growers build their knowledge in key areas. The series just wrapped up in the Bay Area, and will roll out in Los Angeles starting on July 21. The Los Angeles series dates and topics are:
- July 21. Legal Basics of Urban Farming. Are you an urban farmer navigating the rules and regulations related to growing and selling food? A school or non-profit organization involved in farming? This workshop will help position you for success.
- July 28. Production Issues and Urban Farms. Are you an urban farmer learning the ins and outs of growing and harvesting crops? This workshop is designed to guide urban farmers through common production challenges related to soil, water use, and pest management.
- August 4. Marketing and Business Management for Urban Farmers. From business planning to labor laws, learn the basics to help you succeed.
- August 11. Food Safety Basics for Urban Farmers. Learn how to ensure a safe harvest, from the field to the fork.
Local partners are key to planning and hosting these events, including the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, the Collaborative for Urban Agroecology Los Angeles, Cal Poly Pomona College of Agriculture, Community Services Unlimited, GrowGood, the Growing Experience, and others.
The series will also be held in Sacramento and San Diego in early 2018. For updates and announcements, follow UC ANR's Urban Agriculture blog, Facebook, and Twitter. And be sure to bookmark our UC Urban Agriculture website which offers resources on production, policies, and more.
More than 300 people gathered in Mountain View for the fourth annual FOOD IT: Fork to Farm on June 27 to discuss the role of information technology in the food system – from managing crops in the field to dealing with consumer food waste.
The event, hosted by The Mixing Bowl, attracted professionals who intersect with every part of the food system, from farmers to scientists, from entrepreneurs to venture capital investors.
Panelists discussed the shift in power caused by the rise of the tech-enabled food consumer, its effects on food production and supply as well as implications for society.
VP Glenda Humiston announced that UC ANR is launching The VINE, or The Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, to cultivate regional innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in rural communities. Led by Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer, The VINE aims to bring together resources such as small business development centers, community colleges, county cooperative extension offices, makers labs, incubators and accelerators.
“We're trying to go in region by region to catalyze a coalition,” Humiston said. “We want to make sure innovators and inventors can go from idea to commercialization with all the support they need.”
The VINE would connect innovators with legal advice, someone to discuss finances, access to people who can help with business plans and opportunities to partner with the university on joint research projects.
“We want to make it possible for anyone in California to access support,” Humiston said. “If you're in an urban area or near a campus, you probably have access to those resources. If you're in agriculture, natural resources or more remote rural communities, you typically have little access.”
On a panel of agriculture college deans from Iowa State, Cal Poly and UC Davis moderated by Humiston, the deans lamented the lagging interest in farming by young people.
"Everybody wants to be a vegetarian, but nobody wants to be a plant scientist,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Humiston said that farming isn't just for young people. "We see people making mid-career changes."
Throughout the day, several people speculated that Amazon's buying of Whole Foods would mix things up. Dean Andy Thulin of Cal Poly's College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences said tech makes food sexy.
Wendy Wintersteen, dean of Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said that consumers are more informed. Millennials want to know what is in their food and are concerned about food safety, allergens and are willing to spend more on food.
On a panel discussing “Changing Food Preferences of the Tech-Enabled Consumer,” Walmart executive Katie Finnegan noted that Apeel, a product that coats produce and keeps it fresh longer, could reduce food waste and change the food supply chain. “A small change can have a big impact,” she said.
For years, life expectancy for Americans has gradually increased. Last year, for the first time, life expectancy decreased due to obesity and poverty, said Justin Siegal of UC Davis Genome Center.
Kevin Sanchez of the Yolo County Food Bank said he has been developing relationships with farms to get fresh food to people, but added, “We have a storage challenge.”
Discussing “Upstream Production Impacts of New Consumer Food Choices,”Driscoll's Nolan Paul said, “People want to know where the berries are from.” They ask about the tools used for breeding. Paul said Driscoll's will never use genetic engineering unless consumers on board with it.
On the Internet of Tomatoes panel, representatives for Analog Devices, Bowles Farming and Campbells talked about using data on weather, water, soil and other things to grow higher quality tomatoes and using optical grading at processing plants for quality control. Bowles Farming has also have begun using Instagram to engage consumers in conversations about farming issues that commodity marketing groups try to avoid, such as unintended consequences of some policies.
UC ANR was a cosponsor of the event, which delighted conference participants with exhibits featuring array of futuristic devices like printing your own pancake or tortilla.