A traditional crop is getting a modern makeover – and UC Davis is cultivating its growth in California.
The UC Davis Olive Center last month hosted a symposium on super-high-density olive production – a relatively new practice that has fueled the expansion of California’s olive oil industry. The production system, developed in Spain, reached the Golden State in 1999 and has taken off in the past five years. California accounts for almost all domestic olive oil production – now 850,000 gallons a year – and is poised to become a global player.
“California could within the next 10 years rank among the top 10 olive oil producers in the world,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center.
Traditionally, olives have been planted at about 100 trees per acre and harvested by hand. Super-high-density olives are planted at more than 500 trees per acre and harvested by machine. The method lowers harvesting costs and speeds the turnaround from orchard to mill, a key to freshness and flavor. More than 100 growers attended the sold-out symposium to get the inside scoop – “a great deal of useful information,” Flynn said.
The self-funded UC Davis Olive Center, launched in 2008, is the only academic center of its kind in North America. Collaborating with industry, it published an olive production survey in November. The center made headlines with its just-published study that many premium-priced imported olive oil brands labeled as extra virgin – even those of EVOO queen Rachael Ray – aren’t as pure as they claim (California oils fared better). Upcoming projects could include research on super-high-density yields, costs and compatibility.
With olive oil consumption growing nationally, the climate is right in California, which has about 17,000 acres of super-high-density olives after 4,500 acres were planted in 2009. The most popular regions to grow olives for oil are Glenn and San Joaquin counties, putting Davis at the heart of the movement.
UC Davis has a history of helping to propel California agricultural products to worldwide prominence, such as grapes and wine. “It’s possible that something similar could happen with olives,” Flynn said.
“Fresh from the Garden” is a “vegetable education” program that was created several years ago by retired LA County Cooperative Extension employee and registered dietitian Susan Giordano. Giordano created lessons to reach home gardeners and their families living with limited resources. The lessons are designed to increase gardeners' knowledge of healthful eating habits, while emphasizing the health benefits associated with a vegetable-rich diet. The lessons also encourage gardeners to grow a greater variety of vegetables, more nutrient-dense vegetables, to cultivate vegetable crops throughout the year, and to prepare their harvest using delicious, nutritious recipes. In recent months, the lessons have been given a makeover and updated to reflect current dietary recommendations.
Bringing nutrition education into the garden
The LA County Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNEP) is partnering with UC Master Gardener volunteers this summer to pilot the revamped lessons in the garden. A group of enthusiastic Master Gardeners with an interest in nutrition education attended a “Fresh from the Garden” training on July 10. They are now equipped to take what they learned and bring it into the low-income community and school gardens where they volunteer. Our FSNEP staff members, armed with supplemental nutrition information, plan to provide additional support and expertise along the way. This is a natural fit for UC Master Gardeners who are already teaching low-income communities how to grow their own food, and UC FSNEP staff, who are providing valuable nutrition education to food stamp-eligible families. The families who benefit from these lessons will gain the knowledge and confidence they need to enjoy delicious and nutritious vegetables fresh from the garden!
“Fresh from the Garden” tips for the gardener
This time of year, gardeners are benefiting from the fruits of their labor, however, some might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of vegetables being produced by their gardens. What to do with it all? Below is a “Fresh from the Garden” recipe for a simple summer veggie pasta sauce. Any vegetable can be substituted, and the pasta sauce can conveniently be frozen for later use.
Summer veggie pasta sauce
3 – 4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4—1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 Tablespoons oil
1 small eggplant, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 medium green pepper, chopped
Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, green pepper and garlic. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the zucchini and eggplant. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and basil. Simmer for about 20 minutes over low heat, uncovered, until slightly thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe can be doubled or tripled and frozen in individual or family size servings. If it is not moist enough, just add water.
Interested in accessing “Fresh from the Garden” Resources? The lessons, handouts and recipes are now available on LA County's Cooperative Extension website.
For more information about “Fresh from the Garden,” please contact Los Angeles County nutrition, family & consumer sciences advisor Brenda Roche at email@example.com, (323) 260-3299.UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in Mendocino County view the woodpeckers' activities as just another part of the natural system to incorporate into their plans.
The University of California will break ground on the new 5,000-square-foot building this fall. In addition to providing meeting facilities for 200 and display space for a collection of natural and Native American museum pieces, the building itself will be a model of integrated green design, according to center director Bob Timm.
"This won't be a steel box with an air conditioner on the roof," Timm said. "We want a building that fits in the natural landscape, that is in itself teachable. We want a building people will talk about when they come to meetings here."
The architects' inspiration in designing the new conference center was old barns on the research center property that were built when it was still a commercial sheep ranch more than 60 years ago. The barns are riddled with woodpecker holes that the birds use over and over again.
To allow woodpeckers access to the new conference center without compromising the long-term integrity of the building, the facility will be protected with galvanized wire mesh then covered with cedar siding harvested from UC's own Blodgett Forest near Georgetown in the Sierra Nevada.
"This is just one of the ways we will be integrating the building into our rural landscape and making it look like Hopland," Timm said.
Blodgett Forest manager Rob York with cedar siding for the new conference center.
"Temperatures are important factors in protecting your food. You want to be really careful that you keep hot food hot and cold food cold," stresses Patti Wooten-Swanson, UCCE nutrition, family, and consumer science advisor in San Diego County. Don't leave perishable food sitting out on the counter or the picnic table longer than necessary, she adds.
Food-borne illnesses peak in the summer months, mostly attributed to bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli when raw meats are not handled properly or not cooked to a high enough temperature, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."Food-borne illness, what we commonly call food poisoning, is a very severe problem in the United States," says Wooten-Swanson in a video podcast and news release to Spanish-speaking consumers about the risks associated with cooking and eating outdoors.
A screen shot of the Spanish-language video podcast featuring Patti Wooten-Swanson.
"We don't typically think about that but about 75 million people get food-borne illnesses every year, and some people die," she told ANR News and Information Outreach in Spanish.
The actual number of food poisonings may be much higher since most people mistake food-borne illness with common flu and digestive problems. The symptoms are very similar: upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea. The most likely victims are small children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with an impaired immune system.
"So it's very important that we take very good care with the food that we are preparing and serving," says Wooten-Swanson.
That includes cut fresh fruit and vegetables, which can also develop deadly bacteria when left out for more than two hours without refrigeration and in less than an hour when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. That rule should also be observed with any food leftovers to prevent food contamination.
The CDCs estimate that about 325,000 people are hospitalized and 5,000 die in the U.S. due to food-borne illness every year. More than 1.4 million food poisonings and about 580 deaths per year are attributed to salmonella alone. Approximately 217,000 people get sick with E. coli contamination and the number of deaths is close to a hundred.
When barbecuing, Wooten-Swanson recommends keeping raw meats in the refrigerator or in a cooler - with plenty of ice – until the moment they are put on the grill. She suggests outdoors lovers and barbecue aficionados follow the basic recommendations issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this time of the year.She advises cooks not to rely on the exterior appearance of meats as they are cooked on the grill. Chicken, steak or a hamburger patty might look well done or even charred on the outside, but its innermost parts may be undercooked. In most cases, bacteria are killed by heat only when the cooking temperature has reached 165 F degrees. The only way to know for sure is with a meat thermometer, says the UC nutrition advisor.
Safe barbecue (Photo: A. Hauffen)
The Sierra Nevada and Coastal Range foothills are replete with wide open spaces - a home for birds and other wildlife, majestic oaks and grazing cattle. The bucolic countryside vistas that come courtesy of California’s ranchers are among the many public benefits of rangeland grazing.
“The public doesn’t always realize what ranchers are doing and how that benefits everyone,” said Bill Tietje, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources specialist based in San Luis Obispo County. “No one really thinks about it, until it’s gone.”
Many rangeland benefits can be grouped as “ecosystem services.” According to scientists:
- Rangeland plays a role in the state’s water cycling. Eighty percent of California water flows through rangeland.
- The diversity of plants and animals is greater on grazed, managed grassland than on unmanaged grassland.
- Wild raptors overwinter on grasslands managed for beef cattle.
- Half the habitat for the tiger salamander is grazed stockponds, created by ranchers to provide water for their cattle. The stockpond’s edge of clipped grass and the absence of crowding shrubbery mimic the rare species’ natural habitat – vernal pools.
- Rangeland provides habitat for insects that are valuable for pollination.
- Cattle reduce the dry grass that could fuel wildfire.
- Grazing improves the habitat for the Bay checkerspot butterfly, a threatened California insect.
- Rangeland sequesters carbon in the soil.
There are threats to the long term viability of cattle ranches in California that put all these benefits at risk:
The sale of the ranch for development is very attractive for a rancher who isn’t making a sufficient profit on the land. Also, the division of a ranch for inheritance purposes can make it difficult to keep a ranch intact and in the business of raising cattle.
UC Berkeley professor of rangeland management and ecology Lynn Huntsinger said public misunderstanding of and a lack of appreciation for ranching is another way the system is threatened.
“Imposing regulations that aren’t needed and not valuing ranchers as stewards can have a demoralizing effect,” Huntsinger said.
Much of the land grazed by ranchers is public and grazing is supported by public and environmental agencies - the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, parks and preserves - because of the many benefits it provides.