CropMobster TV's Season 2 takes viewers on a journey throug every county of California, meeting food and ag leaders and seeing how they carve out their livelihoods while feeding their communities.
Most consumers' first encounter with their food is in a grocery store or on a plate served in a restaurant, and they give little thought to how the food got there.
To learn what goes on before food becomes a meal, CropMobster's Nick “Nicky Bobby” Papadopoulos is meeting with folks around California who are responsible for growing, processing and delivering fruits, nuts, vegetables, meat and other foods. Using a low-tech approach to video with a mobile phone and selfie stick attached to a gutter washer, Nicky Bobby interviews people about their roles in our food system.
As a sponsor of CropMobster TV Season 2, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is pleased to help introduce some of the Californians who toil behind the scenes to provide consumers the delicious and nutritious food we eat.
Nicky Bobby chats with farmers, people at nonprofit organizations that work to reduce food waste and hunger, scientists, land managers who steward our natural resources and business owners.
“Everybody's into food, but all too often people don't make the connection between food and agriculture,” said Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “When you talk about agriculture, people think of two jobs – farmer and farmworker. There are thousands of jobs in the agricultural ecosystem.
“UC ANR is happy to support CropMobster in telling the stories of the men and women who supply us with safe and abundant food, the challenges that they face and the efforts being made to make the food system even better.”
CropMobster TV is a nonprofit storytelling and video project by CropMobster in collaboration with Food Tank and many other individual and organizational supporters to highlight the crucial work of everyday heroes working to feed their communities.
“Sponsorship and support from UC ANR, which does agricultural research and outreach in every California county, is helping us connect with communities throughout the state,” said Papadopoulos, CropMobster CEO. “We are also grateful for Food Tank and so many other individuals and organizations who are pitching in.”
“This is such a unique, energetic and needed effort to engage our populace on food and agriculture issues,” said Danielle Nierenberg, Food Tank president. “We are thrilled to partner with CropMobster and UC ANR and hope to see the CropMobster vision grow and spread!”
CropMobster TV episodes will be published on:
Episode One: Sangre del Dragón Hot Sauce! (Season 2, Ep 1)
Nicky Bobby attempts to ride Ginger, a horse from Rockney Farms in El Dorado County, then interviews Sacramento high school students at the Alice Waters-inspired Edible Sac High school garden program about their start-up: Sangre del Dragón Hot Sauce company.
To watch and share, https://youtu.be/oyiVQ9AIusM
About CropMobster https://cropmobster.com/
CropMobster partners with bold community leaders to grow high-impact local food networks and community sharing exchanges. The goals are to spark local food economies, engage communities to reduce food waste, support hunger relief and food security efforts and to facilitate sharing of resources.
Farmer Arian Williams is successfully tending 16 acres of avocados in the De Luz area of Temecula, but he and his wife came to the 10th annual UC Pitahaya Festival in August to see whether there is commercial potential in producing pitahaya.
"We're taking cuttings, and trying it now," Williams said.
Vanessa Caballero, Williams wife, was enthusiastic about the prospect. "I love the way pitahayas look, and there are not too many grown commercially now," she said.
The field day at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine included research-based presentations on irrigation strategies, gopher control, integrated pest management, and the impact of root knot nematode on the vining, climbing pitahaya cacti. Native to Central America, the crop has become popular in Asia and the Middle East. Most of the fruit sold in the U.S. is imported.
UC Cooperative Extension advisor Ramiro Lobo has found that the unusually beautiful fruiting cactus thrives in Southern California's mild climate. Pitahaya do well in regions where avocados are produced, but use much less water. They can also make excellent landscape plants, adding interest to the garden while producing healthful fruit.
Pitahaya fruit begin as large, showy, nighttime-blooming flowers, each of which contain male and female parts. In many of the most-desirable varieties, the anthers (the male part with pollen) and the stigma (the female part that needs to be pollinated) are separated by a distance that prevents night-flying pollinators, such as moths, from consistently making the connection.
For a uniform and bountiful crop, Lobo suggests hand pollination. Pollen can be collected by shaking a bloom over a bowl or trimming the anthers into a cup with a pair of scissors. He stores pollen in the freezer until the night or early morning hours when cacti bloom. He dabs up pollen with an inexpensive makeup brush and lightly swishes it onto the flowers' stigma.
“It's easy and takes just a few seconds per flower," Lobo said. "If you don't hand pollinate, you end up with fruits that are very small. And uniformity isn't there."
Hand pollination also allows farmers to accurately project their pitahaya harvest and work in advance with fruit marketing companies to sell the crop. Lobo said he carries a mechanical counter to click as he pollinates flowers. Forty days later, that precise number of fruit will be ready for harvest.
4-H members in Santa Clara County will work with Google employees to develop computer science technical skills, digital fluency, creativity and problem solving skills in a new 10-week program made possible with a donation from the Silicon Valley internet search giant.
Youth participants, teen leaders and adult volunteers are now being recruited to take part in the 4-H Computer Science Career Pathway, a weekly series that begins Sept. 27. The pathway will translate abstract concepts into practical experiences the participants can use to explore the field of computer science. Fill out an online interest form to get more information.
“We are thrilled to begin our partnership with Google and prepare our youth for successful careers in any field they choose through this innovative program,” said Fe Moncloa, the UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development advisor in Santa Clara County.
The outreach will go beyond the 10 weekly sessions. During the first year, an estimated 700 youth in traditional 4-H community clubs, in after-school programs, and in programs offered by partnering community organizations will be touched by 4-H computer science. Booths will be set up at festivals and fairs to reach still more young people.
“There are many different opportunities for our youth to explore computer science,” Moncloa said.
The Santa Clara program is one of dozens funded through the National 4-H Council, which received a $1.5 million grant from Google to build skills youth need for the future. Santa Clara is the only California county involved.
“We don't know what the jobs of tomorrow will look like,” said Charlotte Smith of Google.org when the grant was announced. “Some of them might require computer science skills, but it's much more than that – problem solving, collaboration. We want to give kids as many kinds of tools as we can so they can succeed in any discipline and in any field.”
To reach underserved youth in Santa Clara County, 4-H will partner with two well-established community organizations. Youth Alliance, based in Hollister, provides innovative and culturally relevant services to local youth and families. Youth Alliance offers after-school programs for elementary and junior high school youth to give children a safe place to spend afternoons, get homework help and participate in cultural arts programs.
A second community partner is Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose, which assists families with a wide variety of needs, including after-school programs, housing, food, nutrition education, citizenship classes and English-as-a-second-language training.
Santa Clara County UC Cooperative Extension 4-H has formed a team to launch the 4-H Computer Science Career Pathway.
UCCE 4-H program representative Claudia Damiani will train college students to offer the computer science curriculum to young people in Youth Alliance and Sacred Heart Community Service programs.
Google employee and 4-H volunteer Curtis Ullerich will teach the computer science curriculum to other volunteers in Santa Clara County.
“Some people think computer science is limited to coding,” Moncloa said. “Curtis, the way he teaches, he presents computer science in a different way. Sure, coding is one element, but there is so much more.”
Fiona Reyes and Santiago Piva are 4-H Teen Leaders in this project. They will teach and mentor youth, and collaborate with Ullerich to extend the curricula to 4-H volunteers.
With a little care and planning, anyone can make their little corner of the earth safe and friendly for bees.
UC Master Gardener volunteer Clare Bhakta of San Joaquin County shared bee-friendly strategies during a community workshop in August, extending the reach of research information developed by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"Lure bees in," Bhakta said. "If you make it comfy, they will come."
Bhakta is a newly minted Master Gardener, having graduated in June from the intensive training program presented by UC advisors and specialists. She is part of the San Joaquin County MG speakers bureau; the "Buzz about Bees" was her inaugural engagement.
"We want bees in our gardens," Bhakta said. "Ninety percent of flowering plants and 75 percent of human crops depend on pollinators, including bees. Bee pollination makes about $15 billion in human food in the United States each year."
About 1,600 species of bees are found in California, many of them natives. Most of the bee species live independently, occupying holes in trees trunks or branches, or in the ground. Their sizes range from inch-long metallic black bumble bees to tiny sweat bees 3 millimeters in length. These species rarely sting since they don't have hives to protect.
California's most recognizable bee is the European honeybee, imported from the Old Country by settlers in the 1600s. The insects serve as efficient pollinators and produce more honey than they can use themselves - offering humans an abundance of natural golden sweetener with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Bees work hard to produce honey. It takes 2 million flower visits - about 55,000 flight miles - to make a pound of honey. An individual worker bee lives just six weeks and produces about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
Sharon Butler, president of the Ripon Community Garden, attended the free workshop. The 2.5-acre garden at the corner of Vera and Doak avenues has dozens of raised garden plots. The community just added several bee hives. Butler asked at the workshop about an unexplained phenomenon in their first honey harvest.
"A couple of racks had dark spots with honey that had a cinnamon taste," she said.
Bhatka said the variation was probably the result of nectar from different plants.
"I wish I knew what plant it is, I'd plant a lot more," Butler said.
Creating a bee friendly garden may go against the grain for tidy gardeners. Bees don't prefer the well-trimmed plants and homogeneous color scheme of a formal outdoor space.
"Bees love herbs," Bhakta said. "I let my sage go crazy this year and I couldn't believe how tall they got."
Bees like a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring to late fall planted in clumps to minimize their travel time. Sweetly aromatic blooms, particularly blues and yellows, will attract the most bees.
For best results, don't over garden. Follow these five tips from the UC Master Gardener program:
- Rather than cover all soil with mulch, leave open areas for ground nesting bees.
- Keep a few dead tree stumps or branches. Particularly if it has holes, it makes an ideal nesting site for solitary bees.
- Let plants "go to seed," even when they begin to look overgrown and leggy.
- Provide a shallow water source. Filling it with pebbles or marbles allows the bees access to the water.
- Avoid using pesticides. Visit the UC Integeted Pest Management website for environmentally sound methods of controlling pests and weeds.
Powers of microbes: UC Davis graduate students get creative to teach farmers about soil microbiology
If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s (or were a child at heart during that era), the famous Powers of Ten film likely left an indelible mark in your mind.
The film starts with a couple lounging on a picnic blanket and zooms out to the outer reaches of the universe, then back in to peer into the microscopic world of the human body: from white blood cells to DNA, and finally down to the proton of a carbon atom.
In its short 9-minute run time, Powers of Ten manages to inflame an existential angst about the size of a single human life while at the same time connecting the viewer to the beauty of the universe and the human body.
As a high school student watching the video, it filled me with the same sense of awe that I felt the first time I heard Carl Sagan's famous quote that “we are all made of star stuff.”
Powers of Ten reminds us that looking at the world from different perspectives, from the very tiny to the immensely large, helps create a better understanding of the natural world, our place within it, and how we can impact it for good.
Had Powers of Ten returned from outer space by zooming into a piece of soil rather than a the human body, it would have explored the billions of living creatures in one handful of soil, slowly scaling down from millipedes to earthworms to ants to nematodes to protozoa, and finally down to the soil's bacteria and fungi that make up the base of the soil food web.
The video might then have looked a lot like the recent workshop at the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, which served as a science fair for farmers and researchers to learn about the minuscule but powerful soil microbe.
While farmers often have a baseline knowledge about soil microbiology and its importance on the farm, “the science is evolving so quickly at this point, that it can be hard to keep up,” said attendee Margaret Lloyd, UC Cooperative Extension advisor who works with small-scale farmers in Yolo and Sacramento counties.
The workshop coupled foundational principles of soil microbiology with practical on-farm management situations, making the case for farmers to actively consider soil bacteria, fungi, and other micro organisms in their decision-making process.
Jessica Chiartas, a fourth-year graduate student in soil microbiology and one of the workshop organizers, is somewhat of a soil science evangelist.
Her hope was to help workshop attendees better understand that “soils are not just physical, chemical systems. A majority of the processes that take place underfoot are biologically driven. Soils are living and breathing bodies and much like us, they need to be fed, covered, and protected from disturbance” in order to function in the long term.
The scale of microbial activity in soil makes it challenging to help farmers dig into just what scientists are talking about when they talk about microbes.
“It's important to talk about the scale of microbes,” Chiartas said. “So much of what goes on in soils is mediated by microbes and the scale that they operate on is far different than the scale we measure them at. Our typical method of soil sampling and analysis is analogous to harvesting whole fields of crops, chopping them up, throwing them in a heap and then trying to glean information about the individual plants.”
The presenters at the soil health workshop used vivid analogies to translate the abstract results of scientific research and hard-to-imagine scales into concrete, relatable concepts.
A single gram of soil may contain a billion bacteria, and several miles of fungal hyphae, the web-like growth of fungus. Translated into human scale, the numbers are mind boggling.
If a single microbe were a 6-foot-tall person, then a single millimeter of soil would be as tall as the empire state building. A typical soil bacterium contains as many DNA letters in its chromosome as two copies of “War and Peace.” A stack of copies of “War and Peace” equivalent to bacterial DNA from a single teaspoon of soil would be larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.
A soil information revolution
The metaphors of scale are a fun thought experiment, and they could provide a jumping-off point for a discussion between farmers and scientists essential for improving our current understanding of soil as a living system. Climate change is expected to amplify the effects of soil erosion, compaction, nutrient leaching and other issues common in our current agricultural systems.
“We need improved management that works with the soil ecosystem to increase crop production while enhancing soil health,” said Radomir Schmidt, a postdoctoral researcher and workshop organizer. ”That's going to take a concerted effort and open dialog between farmers, scientists, and citizen scientists to discover, test, and implement these methods in the real world.”
We are now in the era of “soil information revolution," Schmidt said. As our knowledge of the soil microbiome expands, implementing this knowledge in agricultural practice is more and more possible.
This graduate student cohort is well-positioned to make the necessary connections, learning from farmers while helping them zoom in to see the essential lifeforms that impact their farm, then zoom out to help make decisions that are good for the farmer, good for the crop, and good for the microbe.
Farmers in the Davis area will have another opportunity to learn soil health fundamentals at a workshop this fall hosted by the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility. Details about the workshop will be posted here.