Happy New Year! One of my favorite media phenomena opened 2008 - stories with long legs. In the middle of last summer, the press widely covered UC Davis assistant professor Alyson Mitchell's research comparing organic with conventional tomatoes, as was reported in this blog on July 9. The San Francisco Chronicle tackled the topic on November 28, and their article was picked up today in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.
The Chron story said hardly a week goes by without a headline about research that shows organic tomatoes, corn or other fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients, especially vitamin C and other antioxidants. Mitchell's research comparing organic and conventional tomatoes showed the organic fruit contained 79 percent more of one antioxidant, and 97 percent more of another. Nevertheless, Mitchell cautioned that "organic" doesn't always mean "more nutritious."
"Where the tomatoes were grown, what kind of tomatoes they are, how ripe they were when they were picked, if they were kept cool or not, and how long they've been in the store all affect nutrient levels," the article says.
My prediction for the New Year . . . the media will continue to cover organic agriculture, even though the term appeared on a list of words that have been "banished," according to Lake Superior State University. Based on the comments on the page, the term may not be overused as much as under-understood.
Wire services make it interesting to see where UC Cooperative Extension experts might end up. This one's a little mysterious. If anyone can shed some light, please post a comment.
The Columbia Tribune in Missouri ran a McClatchy story yesterday that quoted UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Glenn Nader. (McClatchy owns the Sacramento Bee, the Fresno Bee and other papers, but I couldn't find this story on any other Web site.)
The article is about efforts to get cattle to put on pounds while eating less. My first thought was the same as the article's writer, who said the premise "sounds like something out of a dieter’s nightmare." Anyhow, looking to spend less on cattle feed, producers are seeking animals with proven "feed efficiency."
The story said that researchers at UC Davis have found that some steers beat average feed efficiency by nearly 30 percent, though others have found improvements closer to 10 percent. Breeding bulls are now being marketed for their efficiency, not just their size and pedigree.
"We started realizing that there’s also the issue of how much feed does it take to get all those pounds, and maybe big isn’t better," Nader is quoted in the article.
Major cattle-feeding operations are installing electronic systems to monitor how much each animal eats and how much weight it gains, the story says. That information feeds into breeding programs aimed at producing more efficient cattle in subsequent generations.
During this joyous season, I would like to personally wish all my loyal blog readers poor "feed efficiency" as you celebrate the upcoming holidays and enter the New Year.
Next week, UC ANR will be closed. I will be back with more updates on the past, present and future of UC ANR news on Jan. 2.
Writer Alison Rood knew where to turn when she wondered about pulling out her lawn and decided to write about it. Her column in the San Francisco Chronicle included expert advice from a UCCE master gardener and a UCCE horticulture advisor.
The picture of her backyard looked quite nice to me, but she lamented that the lawn no longer served a useful purpose. Rood contacted master gardener Sandy Metzger.
Metzger told Rood she replaced most of her own lawn with drought-tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses. "The hummingbirds, bees and other insects go crazy in the garden practically all year long," Metzger is quoted.
Horticulture advisor Katherine Jones also expressed misgivings about the wisdom of too much lawn.
"My opinion is that big lawns are great where water is plentiful, and small lawns are great where it isn't," Jones is quoted. "The kind of thing that I don't like to see in California and other dry locations is great expanses of lawn upon which no one treads except the mower."
Considering the season, it is unsurprising that the media has chosen to cover two UCCE stories in which giving plays a key role.
The Napa Valley Register today covered a 4-H meeting in which the founder of a local community support group spoke. According to the article, Molly Banz created Molly’s Angels 13 years ago to help people in need.
4-H parent Molly Donohoe said she had been thinking about getting involved in the program for several years. When the family became involved in 4-H, she said, the idea took root.
“We love 4-H because the whole family is involved. It encompasses all the children," Donohoe is quoted in the article.
In Oakland, the Tri-Valley Herald covered the joy in the faces of children as they received seeds and a dose of enthusiasm designed to spark interest in gardening.
About half of Alameda County's public schools have instructional gardens, but school districts generally lack interest due to insufficient funding and manpower to maintain the gardens, according to Justin Watkins, coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension's School Garden Program and an Oakland Garden Advisory Council member.
According to the article, Watkins said it costs at least $2,000 to build a workable, basic school garden. After that, additional funds for maintenance, usually from fundraisers, a work force of teachers and volunteers, and donations of equipment and seeds, are necessary to sustain the garden.
For children in urban environments, especially in low-income areas where access to fresh produce is limited or non-existent, the gardens help bridge a disconnect from the origin of their food.
"A lot of the kids we work with don't know where food comes from," according to the executive director of Oakland Based Urban Gardens. "A benefit of school gardens is that they see the life cycle."
Friday is a good day to wrap up the loose ends, so here are a variety of news articles in which UC Cooperative Extension wasn't a major part of the story, but in which UCCE academics made contributions.
If you don't live in Orange County, you may not have heard of the "Great Park," a planned public facility on an old marine base to be double the size of New York's Central Park. Orange County UCCE director John Kabashima was at a recent planning meeting covered by the Orange County Register. The story said Kabashima offered help in planning and using food grown at the park to feed underprivileged people.
Indoor air pollution
An article in The Union reported that poor quality indoor air can cause cancer and respiratory and heart diseases, according to the EPA. The story plugged the Healthy Home program, which is administered in California by Sacramento County UCCE director Gloria Barrett.
Salinas ag tech center
The Monterey County Weekly ran a story about the need for a Salinas Valley ag technology innovation center to support entrepreneurial ventures in growing crops for alternative energy and pharmaceuticals. Monterey County UCCE director Sonya Varea-Hammond commented in this story. “Having an ag tech center would really be the catalyst to do so much more,” she is quoted. “What we are really looking for is technological innovation enterprises that could not only sell to local companies, but they could sell to whoever."
The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about new rules for leafy green vegetables that are aimed at preventing food safety outbreaks like the fresh spinach fiasco of fall 2006. Some of the rules, the article says, are costly, scientifically unproven and environmentally harmful. Toward the end of the very lengthy story, UC Davis researcher Linda Harris is quoted as saying "we will never eliminate food-borne illness entirely." UC Davis WIFFS director Michael Payne commented on the conflicts between farmers, agencies and environmental groups. "I see both sides digging in their heels. What's needed here is common sense and individualized risk assessment for a particular farm. ... Some practices are no-brainers, and others we don't have research on," the article quotes Payne.
SOD "roars back"
UC Cooperative Extension advisor Steven Swain comments in the Marin Independent Journal on the desperate and frustrating experiences of homeowners whose beloved oak trees are susceptible to Sudden Oak Death. He said a recent wave of oak deaths is yet to crest. "We haven't really seen the beginning of the true coast live oak mortality as a result of the rains of 2005 and 2006," Swain is quoted. The reporter also spoke to UC Davis plant pathologist David Rizzo. He said many of the trees now dying were infected in 2005. "My guess is we're going to see just as much next year with trees that took two years to die after the 2006 episode," Rizzo is quoted.