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Posts Tagged: UC Davis

Connecting with farmers over pineapple postharvest practices

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At the end of a long year, sometimes it helps to reconnect with what motivates your work.

For Karin Albornoz — a Ph.D. student who works in the Diane Beckles Lab at UC Davis on molecular biology related to tomato postharvest chilling injury — that means getting out into the world to work directly with small-scale farmers.

"I spend so much time in the lab," she said. "Sometimes I spend a whole day in the lab extracting RNA or writing a paper. This reminds me why I am doing this work: to make a real-world impact."

Just over a week ago, she returned from a trip to Uganda where she did exactly that. In partnership with a local organization called Ndibwami Integrated Rescue Project (NIRP), Albornoz shared her expertise with farmers through several hands-on workshops about improving harvest practices and postharvest handling of pineapple, passion fruit and tomatoes. Her work was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, an international agricultural research program led by UC Davis with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Though Albornoz has worked with rural farmers before, this was her first time working in Africa. 

"Everywhere I looked, things were growing. There were people working in the field, women cooking, and everyone was working with food," she said. "I know there's a lot of stigma – when you talk about Africa, you see people's faces change and they're thinking about things like drought and famine and starving children. But what I saw doesn't fit that stereotype. The challenges they are facing seem to be about not having access to opportunities."

The workshops she led are part of the NIRP organization's efforts to connect farmers with more lucrative markets that pay higher prices for quality produce.


In this 2-minute video, Karin Albornoz visits a pineapple farm, leads a pineapple training and discusses next steps for this project led by NIRP in Uganda. The video clips and photos were taken by Karin while she was working and edited by Hallie Casey for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.


For months, Albornoz has been in contact with NIRP and making plans for the farmer workshops. She prepared postharvest handling manuals for each crop — pineapple, passion fruit and tomato — and asked questions to better understand local resources and the farmers' existing knowledge.

During her 2 weeks in Uganda, she visited farmers' fields and led three full-day workshops. The first workshop for about 50 farmers focused on pineapple — starting with understanding local quality parameters for this fruit, then best practices for harvesting, sanitation, storage and transportation. The second workshop was focused on tomato, with a similar structure, and the third workshop on passion fruit.

During the pineapple workshop, farmers had a chance to measure the fruit's total soluble solids through a refractometer.

Her favorite moment? The farmers' first chance to use a refractometer, to measure soluble solids and learn about sugar levels in the fruit. The refractometers were part of a small toolkit the organization will continue to use.

"They were excited to handle this device and see, in numbers, how the sugar levels of the fruit changed depending on the stage of maturity," she said. "Everyone in the room had a chance to try it."

Karin Albornoz leads a workshop in postharvest handling of pineapple in Uganda.

The experience reinforced her commitment to working with farmers and solving agricultural problems.

"A major mistake is to think that you are going just to train or teach other people because those people are always going to end up teaching you too," Albornoz said. "I made a promise to myself years ago, a personal commitment to working with people in vulnerable situations. I have to do this. Working in agriculture can be a very powerful tool to have an impact in the world."

As Karin's mentor and an Associate Professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station, Diane Beckles supported Karin's work outside of the lab and views such an experience as important to scholarly development.

"Something magical happens when we teach and engage in outreach," Beckles said. "We often deepen our understanding of what we are teaching, and interacting and engaging with others changes us in that process. It alters how we view and think about science in a way that is positive and rewarding, even though it is not easily quantified."

 More information:

thumbnail: Karin Albornoz leads a workshop in postharvest handling of pineapple in Uganda.
thumbnail: Karin Albornoz leads a workshop in postharvest handling of pineapple in Uganda.

Woman teaching class on pineapple

Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 at 8:47 AM

'Know beans' about a delicious Thanksgiving

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Navy beans, soaked overnight and ready to cook. The name is derived from the fact that they were a staple food of the U.S. Navy in the early 20th century, according to the California Dry Bean Council. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you say "I don't know beans" about beans, you ought to.

Beans are one of civilization's earliest cultivated crops, dating back to the early seventh millennium BCE. Today there are more than 40,000 varieties of beans worldwide.

Beans can also have a place on the Thanksgiving table. The Maple Spice blog for vegans shares a meat-free substitute for turkey that combines mashed white canelli beans, nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten and spices to create a loaf that slices like turkey breast. UC CalFresh, one of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' nutrition education programs, developed a recipe for black bean and mango salad that makes a healthful and colorful accompaniment to a traditional Thanksgiving meal. (The recipe is below.)

"Not only are beans a healthy food choice, but they are also a healthy choice for our world," said UC Cooperative Extension advisor and dry bean expert Rachael Freeman Long. "Beans fix most of their own nitrogen so require fewer inputs for production compared to other sources of protein and they're cheap! Plus some, like garbanzos, are grown during the wintertime, so they're less dependent on irrigation."

The different varieties of beans include garbanzos (chickpeas) as well as black eyes, limas, and common beans like pintos and kidneys.

You probably won't find a bigger fan of beans than Rachael Long. "I eat them at least once a week or more," she said. "I love going on our Cal Beans website and getting new recipes. Summer time, I love beans on my salad, especially garbanzos. At this time of year, I love soups with beans. My favorite is the kale white bean sausage soup. If I want to go vegetarian, I'll leave out the sausage or sometimes fry up some tofu sausage for flavor. And, it just so happens that this is the soup in the current bean blog. I got the original recipe from one of our nutrition staff at our office."

Yolo County Farm advisor Rachael Long in a dry bean research field at the University of California, Davis. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Long says that Cal Beans is an important site for bean growers and industry folks, too. "It's supported by the California Dry Bean Advisory Board, an important funding source for my work. Right now, I have a grant to look at seed moisture and quality at harvest (possibly drying down seed too much at harvest results in internal injury to planting beans (seed stock)."

What do you know about beans? Do you know that California grows the canning quality beans?

"We have the perfect weather conditions for those large, creamy beige-colored beans," Long said. "Other states like Washington grow about 100,000 acres of garbanzos for humus (but a lower quality bean and we can't compete with their free water via rainfall."

California farmers supply virtually all of our country's dry lima beans, Long notes.  In 2012, California farmers grew about 23,000 acres of baby and large limas, valued at $30 million that year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

California farmers supply virtually all of our country's dry lima beans, says Yolo County farm advisor Rachael Long. This photo was taken in 2013 at a research site during the UC Davis Dry Bean Field Day. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Long has authored two UC ANR manuals about beans (Lima Bean Production in California and Common Dry Bean Production Manual) and is just finishing the garbanzo production manual (it's in peer review).

"Lima beans are a major dry bean crop for California, representing a significant portion of the total dry bean acreage in 2013," she wrote in the Lima Bean Production in California. "Lima beans are primarily grown for the dried edible white bean in California, although a limited but stable acreage is also for seed production. As with all dry beans, limas are a nutritional and healthy food choice, being an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Lima beans are also an important rotation crop for farmers because the plants fix nitrogen, add biomass to the soil, and require relatively few pesticides."

Lima beans belong to the species Phaseolus lunatus, distinct from the common bean, P. vulgaris.

"Common dry beans include the market classes kidney, cranberry, pink, black, white, yellow, pinto, and red, all of which are different types of a single species (Phaseolus vulgaris) that was originally domesticated several thousand years ago in the areas that are now Mexico and South America," Long wrote in the Common Dry Bean Production Manual. "Natural selection and breeding programs lead eventually to the current market classes, which are mainly distinguished by seed size, color, and shape, and plant growth habit. Currently, there are no commercially available genetically modified varieties of P. vulgaris."

"Dry beans," Long points out, "are grown in California mainly for human consumption, though a limited but stable acreage is dedicated to seed production. Dry beans are nutritious: they are high in starch, protein, and dietary fiber, they have no cholesterol, and they are an excellent source of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers dry beans to be both a vegetable and a protein source."

Beans are delicious, nutritious and brilliant. This is a cranberry bean in the UC Davis research field. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Rosane Oliveira, director of the UC Davis Integrative Medicine Program and an adjunct assistant professor in the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Health Sciences, recently praised beans as one of the "Fab 4" plant foods in her "21-Day Food Challenge" blog.

Beans are brilliant, Oliveira says, because they:

  • Are an excellent source of fiber, protein, iron, and magnesium
  • May add up to 3-4 years to your life if you eat one cup a day
  • Keep your blood sugar level stable for up to six hours
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes

Indeed, there's even a National Bean Day, observed annually on Jan. 6. Want to know more about beans? You'll find a wealth of information about dry beans from the U.S. Dry Bean Council.

Bottom line: Beans should be an important part of your diet. You can call them "nutritious," you can call them "delicious," or you can call them "brilliant." They're all three.

UC CalFresh mango and black bean salad
UC CalFresh mango and black bean salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups peeled, pitted and diced fresh mango (about 2 small mangos)
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons 100% orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl. Salad may be served right away, but is best if covered and chilled for a least 1 hour for flavors to blend.

Explore tools that UC researchers use with smallholder farmers around the world

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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.

UC Davis and ANR researchers attach clear plastic to a "chimney" frame in Fresno as they work together to build a chimney solar dryer for local growers to try. This low-cost technology was originally designed for Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers to use with farmers in developing countries. From left: Carrie Waterman of UC Davis, Jacob Roberson of UCCE Fresno, UC Davis student Michelle Boutelle, Michael Yang of UCCE Fresno and Angelos Deltsidis of UC Davis. Photo by Archie Jarman/UC Davis

 

Here is a working chimney solar dryer on the UC Davis campus. Grad student Nick Reitz, left, adjusts the plastic cover over trays of sliced mango with help from Archie Jarman, right, of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. Reitz was practicing using the dryer before working with farmers in Ghana.
 

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:

 
A low-cost cold room - equipped with a CoolBot, solar panels and household air conditioner - is on display to show UC Davis visitors one way to cool and store fresh fruits and vegetables off the grid. These visitors were participants in the UC Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops short course this summer. Photo by Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

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.

Read more about how this farmer's invention is reducing postharvest losses around the world.

A delegation of deans from agricultural colleges in Ethiopia listen to a short presentation about building a zero-energy cool chamber (ZECC) with bricks and sand, led by Khush Bakht Aalia, center, and Angelos Deltsidis, right, both of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. Photo by Brenda Dawson/UC Davis

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.

This week the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center hosted a media crew from Tajikistan, shown here talking with Angelos Deltsidis, center, about using solar dryers for drying apricots in Tajikistan. Photo by Khush Bakht Aalia for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.

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.

Next time you're on the UC Davis campus, consider dropping by the Horticulture Innovation Lab demonstration center. You can find it on the campus map, or contact the team for a more focused tour.

Maybe it will spark an innovative idea that you can use in your fields?

More information:

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.

Attached Files
UC Davis and ANR researchers attach clear plastic to a "chimney" frame in Fresno as they work together to build a chimney solar dryer for local growers to try. This low-cost technology was originally designed for Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers to use with farmers in developing countries. From left: Carrie Waterman of UC Davis, Jacob Roberson of UCCE Fresno, UC Davis student Michelle Boutelle, Michael Yang of UCCE Fresno and Angelos Deltsidis of UC Davis. Photo by Archie Jarman/UC Davis
Here is a working chimney solar dryer on the UC Davis campus. Grad student Nick Reitz, left, adjusts the plastic cover over trays of sliced mango with help from Archie Jarman, right, of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. Reitz was practicing using the dryer before working with farmers in Ghana.
A low-cost cold room - equipped with a CoolBot, solar panels and household air conditioner - is on display to show UC Davis visitors one way to cool and store fresh fruits and vegetables off the grid. These visitors were participants in the UC Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops short course this summer. Photo by Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis
A delegation of deans from agricultural colleges in Ethiopia listen to a short presentation about building a zero-energy cool chamber (ZECC) with bricks and sand, led by Khush Bakht Aalia, center, and Angelos Deltsidis, right, both of the Horticulture Innovation Lab. Photo by Brenda Dawson/UC Davis
This week the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center hosted a media crew from Tajikistan, shown here talking with Angelos Deltsidis, center, about using solar dryers for drying apricots in Tajikistan. Photo by Khush Bakht Aalia for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.
Posted on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 7:51 AM

Building trust in food systems – here and in Cambodia

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What is the role of trust in our food system? Here in the United States, our trust in food is often implicit. We can generally trust that the fruits and vegetables we buy at a grocery store or farmers market are safe to eat — and we are often free to shop without even thinking about that trust.

Between farmers and agricultural scientists too, trust often plays an important role. If you're a farmer, you need to be able to trust that investing your time or money in a new technique or in attending a workshop will indeed improve your business.

But it can be easy to forget that trust is a critical first step in many of these agricultural relationships.

Thort Chuong (now a Fulbright scholar and UC Davis grad student) welcomes us into a nethouse in Cambodia, owned by a farmer who tried it after joining a savings group and hearing about this new way he could grow vegetables without spraying pesticides. Karen LeGrand of UC Davis stands inside, among the leafy green seedlings in the nethouse.

Establishing trust between actors in a food system has been critical for a Horticulture Innovation Lab project in Cambodia, focused on increasing the amount of safe vegetables available to Cambodian consumers.  Project leaders from UC Davis and UC ANR — Glenn YoungJim Hill, Cary Trexler, David Miller and Karen LeGrand — are actually traveling right now in Cambodia to launch a new phase of this project. They are partnering with scientists from Cambodia's Royal University of Agriculture and the University of Battambang. The researchers plan to expand upon their past successes, working together with farmers, marketers, and input suppliers to build trust while building safe vegetable value chains.

One key to their past success was that before introducing farmers to new agricultural technologies, the researchers first connected with farmers socially, by starting community savings groups. In these savings groups, farmers could build relationships and trust, while increasing their own savings and accessing small loans.

This social aspect of the project was the focus of a video made by UC Davis graduate students Thort Chuong, Elyssa Lewis, and Katie Hoeberling. This 3-minute video was a finalist in the World Food Day Video Challenge:

Building trust and resilience in a safe vegetable value chain in Cambodia Interviews for the video were conducted as part of a student thesis and supported by the U.S. Borlaug Graduate Research Fellowship program. 


Though he is now studying at UC Davis as a Fulbright Fellow, Chuong was originally hired to work with farmers on the first phase of this project in Kandal province as an agronomist and field facilitator.

“At first I just wanted to focus on the agronomy part,” he said. “But then I saw the advantages of being a [savings group] member and thought, wow, this is a great thing to do.”

In fact the advantages were so great that on the weekends he returned to his hometown, gathering his neighbors and relatives together to start their own savings groups. Members have a safe way to save money, an easier way to secure small loans, and earn a little interest too.

Farmers in these savings groups were able to save considerable amounts of money and provide loans to each other for things like seeds, field preparation, labor costs, school fees, wedding costs, even in one case a new house — with each member contributing $5-25 per week for a year.

With trust and community established, some of the farmers in the savings groups also decided to try out a new agricultural technology in partnership with the scientists, using nethouses for pest management to avoid spraying pesticides. (In many countries where pesticide information is inaccessible to the average farmer, it is not uncommon for farmers to keep a separate garden to feed their family — in order to avoid eating even their own crops that they are selling to the market.)

The new, safe vegetable value chain they were part of grew and strengthened, as the international team connected these farmers to a marketer who needed to source vegetables grown without pesticides. That marketer then sells those vegetables to consumers in the capital city of Phnom Penh, who were able to trust the vegetables they bought from her are indeed safe to eat.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab is led by a team at UC Davis, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, as part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future. Learn more about Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers and their projects in Asia, Africa and Central America.

Savings group members count out Cambodian riel, during an annual ceremony where members are repaid their share of funds (their own savings plus interest), after repaying all of their community loans. After the Horticulture Innovation Lab research was complete in their community, these farmers have continued to expand both their savings groups and their use of new agricultural technologies.

 

As the savings group secretary, Nov Keo tallies up the year's total savings, loans, and interest during the end-of-year ceremony. He was also one of the first farmers to try using a nethouse to grow
As the savings group secretary, Nov Keo tallies up the year's total savings, loans, and interest during the end-of-year ceremony. He was also one of the first farmers to try using a nethouse to grow "safe vegetables" for the Phnom Penh market.

Man pointing to poster-sized balance sheet filled with numbers.

UC Davis researcher Karen LeGrand with Thort Chuong, in front of another farmer's nethouse in Cambodia built after they helped connect scientists, farmers, and marketers with technologies from the Horticulture Innovation Lab.
UC Davis researcher Karen LeGrand with Thort Chuong, in front of another farmer's nethouse in Cambodia built after they helped connect scientists, farmers, and marketers with technologies from the Horticulture Innovation Lab.

Smiling in front of a farm field with net structure

Cheng Sokhim is one of the farmers who started using a nethouse for safer pest control and to earn higher prices for her leafy greens such as kale, Chinese mustard, bok choy and curly leaf lettuce.
Cheng Sokhim is one of the farmers who started using a nethouse for safer pest control and to earn higher prices for her leafy greens such as kale, Chinese mustard, bok choy and curly leaf lettuce.

Woman crouching, smiling among vegetable seedlings in a nethouse structure.

Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 8:50 AM

How to make something sweet even sweeter

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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

Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

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

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