Posts Tagged: public value
This is one of a series of stories featuring a sampling of UC ANR academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has continued to work to safeguard abundant and healthy food for all Californians, promote healthy people and communities, build skills needed in the workforce and help to develop an inclusive and equitable society. For insights into how the pandemic is affecting life in California and UC ANR's programs in these areas, UC's research magazine, California Agriculture, spoke with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Karina Díaz Rios about nutrition. Below is the edited conversation.
California Agriculture: How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting food security for people in California?
California Agriculture: So the pandemic is affecting people's ability to get enough food to eat. Is it also affecting their ability to eat healthy food?
Karina Díaz Rios: Food-insecure people tend to spend more of their food money at convenience stores, where
prices are often higher than the larger grocery stores and the variety and quality are usually lower. This means that the overall quality of the diet of food insecure households is about 5% to 10% lower than households that are food secure. That doesn't sound like much, but the average diet quality of folks in the United States is already suboptimal — around 60 out of 100. If 100 is the highest-quality diet, 60 is not much more than halfway there. So a reduction of 5% to 10% is really consequential. The issue is not that food-insecure people make bad choices. In buying certain kinds of food instead of others, people are making the right choices based on their circumstances. Shopping in convenience stores might be the logical action when time or other resources, like transportation or income, are limited — and when planning meals maybe isn't realistic because of lack of practice or other competing priorities. It's difficult to plan when your income is unstable.
California Agriculture: How does all this affect the work that you do?
Karina Díaz Rios: This is an area where there are challenges, but also opportunities. The Cooperative Extension army of nutrition educators is very well suited to help overcome some of the obstacles that the pandemic has posed for accessing resources, whether in-kind resources like food assistance or educational resources. They know their communities. They can identify the needs in their communities and help address them more easily than people who are not in such good touch with the community. Another extremely good thing about our Cooperative Extension system in California is that people are very creative. We have people who can come up with solutions in a heartbeat and implement them.
California Agriculture: Lots of children around the state won't be returning to school in the fall, at least at first. What effect does remote education, as opposed to in-school education, have on the food security issues that you cover?
Karina Díaz Rios: A large number of low-income students who qualify for food assistance and school meal programs are not going to get those meals if they don't go to school. There are efforts in several school districts to make sure that low-income children are actually receiving these meals. These efforts are particularly key right now, but it takes a great deal of planning and resources to make it happen. But also, these school meals only represent, at best, two-thirds of the daily caloric needs for children who get breakfast and lunch from school. So they can still be on a caloric deficit if they don't have enough food at home, which again, is more likely to be the case because of the pandemic.
California Agriculture: Do you foresee that the coronavirus is going to cause any long-lasting changes in the realm of nutrition? Or, after a vaccine is developed, do you imagine that things will more or less go back to the way they were?
Karina Díaz Rios: I am concerned that the people most affected by higher food insecurity due to the pandemic are going to be children. A lack of nutrients, even for a limited time, can affect children's ability to grow and thrive. So I just hope that these days are not going to have a lasting impact on these children — but it's a possibility.
This is one of a series of stories featuring a sampling of UC ANR academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life for everyone, with information about COVID-19 changing daily. For Californians who aren't fluent in English, obtaining reliable information is particularly difficult. Aparna Gazula, a University of California Cooperative Extension advisor who serves Santa Clara, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, has been providing COVID-19-related information in Chinese and Spanish for immigrant Bay Area farmers.
In March, when restaurants shut down to curb the spread of the virus, many restaurants and wholesale produce markets cancelled produce orders placed with farmers. Language, cultural differences, low computer literacy and limited access to computers created barriers for small-scale, immigrant farmers in the Bay Area to quickly find new buyers for their perishable produce. Gazula introduced them to food banks, hoping they would accept the produce donations, but the food banks were not set up to pick up donations from small farmers.
Most small-scale farmers lack the financial capital to absorb the revenue shock. To help offset losses from unsold specialty crops, the UCCE advisor and Qi Zhou, the small farm program assistant specialist, have been helping Asian and Latino farmers complete English-language disaster aid applications.
“Since March, we have helped farmers apply for Covid-19-related farmer relief funds,” Gazula said. So far, she said, four of the 17 immigrant farmers who applied to the American Farmland Trust Farmer Relief Fund have received a total of $4,000, and 10 farmers of the 30 who applied to the California Family Farmer Emergency Fund received a total of $42,500.
Recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded the list of specialty crops eligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to include bok choy, daikon and other vegetables with a deadline of Sept. 11. Communicating by phone and the app We Chat, Gazula and Zhou, who speaks Mandarin, notified local farmers, and advised them how to apply for the disaster funds. Zhou, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service rangeland management specialist Ling He and another NRCS staff member assisted 64 farmers in completing applications over the past week.
Bob Kuang, president of the Bay Area Chinese Growers Association, shares UCCE information with the association's growers.
“Most of my members don't understand English so they [UC Cooperative Extension] help, like for policy and safety,” Kuang said, providing information the growers can't find elsewhere in Chinese.”
When she was a girl, Gazula saw how hard farmers work to make a living off the land while spending summers and winter breaks at her grandparents' farm in India, where they grew rice, mung beans and chili peppers.
“Farmers are very hardworking people, and small farmers even more so as they manage everything on the farm,” said the small farms and specialty crops advisor. “Their grit, determination to succeed and hardworking spirit truly inspire me.”
“I'd like to help them be successful as much as I can,” she said, “be it research-based information to farm successfully or bilingual support to help them better navigate regulations or apply for grant funds.”
In addition to helping farmers apply for financial relief, Gazula alerted the farmers to shelter in place rules and is delivering COVID-19 safety information about masks, sanitation and social distancing requirements in Chinese and Spanish to them.
“We also helped farmers implement COVID-19-related protocols on their farms,” she said. “We are currently putting together 200 COVID-19 kits that will help farmers comply with worker health and safety-related protocols on their farms. The COVID-19 kits contain reusable masks, hand sanitizer, bilingual Cal OSHA guidelines for employers regarding COVID-19, and a resources sheet listing where to buy the enclosed items.”
When she's not involved in COVID-19 crisis communications, Gazula continues to conduct research on nitrogen uptake in bok choy and bell peppers and irrigation management. She collaborates with Linda Chu, Guo Ping Yuan, Han Qiang Kuang and other Santa Clara County growers who allow the farm advisor to study crops on their farms.
“They do research, like test irrigation systems for right amount of water for the crop and nutrition – fertilizer – for the crop. They do lot of things,” said Bob Kuang, of the Bay Area Chinese Growers Association, who provides land at his farm in Gilroy for UCCE studies.
Gazula also advises farmers on how to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on their farms and fulfill irrigated land nitrogen reporting. Fines for not complying with regulations can threaten the economic sustainability of small family farms.
Although the majority of growers she works with regularly have limited English and need assistance filing reports to the government, others consult her for production information they can't get elsewhere for the specialty crops they grow. Farmers of Korean, Japanese, Indian and Vietnamese ancestry and others attend meetings to learn the latest research on Asian vegetables such as daikon radish, napa cabbage, bok choy, on choy and various Asian leafy mustard crops including gai choy and pea shoots.
Gazula, who joined UC Cooperative Extension in 2016, currently works with about 180 small-scale growers in San Benito and Santa Clara counties and hopes to expand her outreach to farmers in Santa Cruz County.
To help small farmers adapt to climate change, Gazula and Zhou partnered with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Healthy Soils Program staff and Santa Clara County Farm Bureau for technical assistance and held workshops during the winter. Zhou helped the farmers apply for grants from the California Department of Food and Agriculture's State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program and Healthy Soils Program. The 22 farmers who received CDFA grants brought a total of $424,111 into Santa Clara County.
The outreach work UC Cooperative Extension does wouldn't be possible without the help of bilingual staff such as Zhou, the scientist Gazula hired with grant funds in September, and some translation support from partner organizations and growers as well.
“Relying on partners for translation support isn't practical,” Gazula explained. “Outreach is most effective when it is targeted. It's not just literally translating words, but translating the information the words convey. Because we provide outreach materials to comply with regulations, the language in these materials is very technical and it's important that the information is presented accurately. We also depend on relationships with the farmers to extend the information within their communities. Long-term, it's easier to do outreach with support from our own staff.”
Competition is stiff for money to serve non-English-speaking Californians because the state is home to so many immigrants with different needs. The majority of the grants she uses for outreach are for food safety. The local Open Space Authority, which promotes preserving land for open spaces, has also provided funds for small and beginning farmer outreach and education.
Gazula draws on the expertise of fellow UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors across the state. For example, she said, Richard Smith, who specializes in vegetable production, and Michael Cahn, who specializes in irrigation and water resources, are always willing to help, even though they are not assigned to serve Santa Clara County.
“Farmers already have tremendous challenges when it comes to being successful,” Gazula said. “I feel language barriers and lack of access to the same resources as fluent English-speaking growers shouldn't be the reason they can't farm successfully.”
This is one of a series of stories featuring a sampling of UC ANR academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.
As an international development undergraduate at UCLA in the late 2000s, Natalie Price learned of the preventable health conditions prevalent in developing countries and wanted to be part of the solution. The Los Angeles native soon realized, however, that people in her own backyard were also struggling to keep their families healthy and well fed. She decided to join UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles and Orange counties to work towards improving food access and affordability for Southern California's most vulnerable residents.
“There's a lot of inequality in terms of pay and access to resources,” said Price, who was named UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor in 2017. “I think access to healthy, affordable food is a fundamental human right, especially for kids. It is so important they have reliable food for physical development, mental health and school performance.”
Price earned a master's degree in public health at UCLA and worked for four years with the Los Angeles County Office of Education developing a school nutrition education program and school garden training. In her UCCE post, Price supervises Los Angeles and Orange counties' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, in which nutrition educators visit schools to teach parents and youth to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and access resources that make achieving those goals easier.
“In Los Angeles and Orange counties, the cost of living is very high,” Price said. “A lot of families work multiple jobs and still can't comfortably pay their rent and buy the nutritious foods their families need.”
In southeast Los Angeles County, 32.4% of households with incomes under 300% of the Federal Poverty Level are considered food insecure, approximately 79,000 individuals, according to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. Unable to take on such a daunting task on her own, Price co-chaired a food security symposium in 2019 that brought together 98 people representing 85 direct service organizations interested in taking collective action to serve food-insecure residents of southeast Los Angeles.
Of the symposium participants who completed an evaluation, 65% said they increased their awareness of the food resources available to help food-insecure individuals and families in their area and know how to access them, and 86% increased their understanding of current state and federal policies affecting food-insecure individuals and food assistance programs.
"Information about immigration will be shared with the people of the community, for instance, information about Public Charge,” wrote one participant about a segment of the symposium that outlined a federal policy negatively affecting food insecure immigrant populations. Many immigrants fear they could be denied legal status in the United States if they receive publicly funded services, however, the rule is frequently misunderstood and can lead to immigrants unnecessarily rejecting food assistance.
While Los Angeles and Orange counties are closely connected by freeways and economic activity, the two counties differ. During a needs assessment study in Orange County, Price found that the county was primed to work in food waste prevention. Limiting food waste can boost food security and reduce food waste in landfills, where anaerobic conditions may cause rotting food to emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Consumer food waste prevention education is a theme Price plans to tie into her work overseeing the UC Master Food Preserver Program. She was planning a food waste prevention campaign on social media when priorities had to be modified due to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
“Food insecurity went up dramatically with the shutdown of schools and businesses,” Price said.
She worked with her nutrition education staff to adapt their food security and affordability curriculum to offer it to families online.
“We're doing a lot of outreach and recruiting families to take our EFNEP course. Now we have our online classes up and running,” Price said. “Many parents with school-aged children are becoming familiar with online learning and have a device at home to participate in classes. However, for some, technology can still be a big barrier.”
Price is now working with her UCCE Tulare County colleague Deepa Srivastava to offer online video courses created by partner organization Leas' Pantry to teach families how to maintain a healthy diet while stretching their food dollars.
Oli Bachie, “person of the globe,” researches new desert crops to spur economic growth
While herding goats along dusty roads as a boy growing up in Oromia, Ethiopia, Oli Bachie began striving to improve his economic position in life. His path to a better life passed through the Philippines and Canada before reaching the United States. Now, carrying the mantle of Ph.D., the UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor is doing research to help California farmers take advantage of new opportunities for economic growth.
More than 400 different crops and animals are commercially produced in California. The wide array of agricultural products keep California farmers competitive in the global market. UC Cooperative Extension research into new crops provides growers with information that can lower the risk of trying something new.
Rhodes grass, giant king grass, quinoa and teff are among the crops Bachie has been studying since he joined UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2012.
“Giant king grass and Rhodes grass were brought to my attention by companies who wanted me to test their adaptability, biomass yield and nutrition as livestock feed,” Bachie said. “My findings proved that they indeed adapt and produce high biomass and were nutritionally competent or better than many of the low desert grown grass forage crops.”
Two companies provided Bachie with funding to conduct the research. “We do research for industries, companies and growers as long as they provide funding and if we believe that the outcome of the research benefits our clientele and the local economy,” he explained.
Viaspace, a company that grows giant king grass in 11 locations in eight countries on four continents, has relied on Bachie's research for establishing its plantings in the Imperial Valley.
“Oli's research helped us establish basic growing procedures and parameters for Imperial County. It provided the critical information that gave us the confidence to start a larger commercial effort in the desert,” said Haris Basit, vice chairman of Viaspace.
To share information with Imperial Valley growers, Bachie has presented his research results on Rhodes grass varieties at field days and workshops and published in the UCCE Imperial AgBrief newsletter and in the proceedings of the 2019 Western Alfalfa and Forage Crops Symposium. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been giving talks via Zoom on Rhodes grass as a new emerging crop, including a zoom workshop organized by the University of Arizona.
“Rhodes grass productivity is well-recognized and is adapted for production not only in the Imperial Valley, but also as far as San Joaquin County and in the state of Arizona,” he said. “A grower in Imperial has started to export Rhodes grass hay to the Middle East. More and more growers within the Imperial Valley and beyond are interested in growing Rhodes grass. I get lots of calls to answer Rhodes grass-related questions. There is now a Rhodes grass seed distributing company in Imperial Valley.”
Giant king grass – a hybrid of elephantgrass and Napier grass, which both grow well as wild plants in Ethiopia – and Rhodes grass are widely grown in Ethiopia. But Bachie didn't study these grasses until he joined UC Cooperative Extension.
Bachie grew up farming with his parents in the rural western part of Oromia, where most coffee and food crops are produced in Ethiopia. “By the way, the name ‘coffee' is derived from a place in Oromia called Kaffaa,” he noted.
“After school in winter, when most farming takes place, I engaged myself in farming,” Bachie said. That afterschool activity piqued his interest in farming and fueled his pursuit of a bachelor's degree in plant sciences from Haromaya University in Ethiopia.
“At that time, when I joined the university, there was only one university in the country,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be one of the few to get university admissions among thousands of high school students.”
In Ethiopia, he worked on a program sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for six years, mostly as a crop protection expert. He studied insects, weeds, pathogens and other crop pests on field crops, vegetables and horticultural crops.
“The experiences I gathered from Ethiopia help me provide services in Imperial County in multidisciplinary pest management – insects, pathogens, weeds and nematodes – at times when we did not have any pest management advisor in Imperial County,” he said. “It has also given me the opportunity to deal with clientele with easy transfer of scientific knowledge.”
Bachie was selected as an FAO fellow to pursue a master's degree in agronomy at the University of the Philippines.
“My area of particular concern then was to look at allelopathy (a chemical inhibition of plant extracts or exudates) as a potential inhibition of weed growth,” Bachie said. His plans to develop a biological weed management approach were disrupted when he graduated with a master's degree and he refused to return to his dictator-led home country.
“Ethiopia was then and is still ruled under a brutal government where educated personnel have little value,” he explained. After graduation, he sought settlement in another country. “That supportive state, which I thank dearly, was Canada.”
After earning a master's degree in forestry from the University of Toronto, Bachie accepted a job at a university teaching network administration and came to the U.S., where he earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences at UC Riverside, “Americanizing not only myself, but also my credential and now I serve UC with full interest and strength,” said Bachie, who holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship.
In the spring of 2019, Bachie started comparing grass forage crops (bermudagrass, kleingrass, Rhodes grass and teff) with moringa for livestock feed under low desert conditions. Growers will be able to use the research results to decide which crops will be most profitable for their own operations.
Last summer, Bachie completed a variety trial of quinoa, a grain grown primarily for its edible seeds. He tested the adaptability and grain yield of 35 varieties of quinoa in the heat and biotic stress of the Imperial Valley.
“Of the tested varieties, many tolerated the high heat of the desert and gave promising yields,” said Bachie, who showed the varieties to farmers at an agronomy and irrigation crops field day. “The high grain prices of quinoa in the U.S. and the proof of adaptability and yielding capacity under the low desert condition is expected to attract some growers to grow some quinoa varieties in the Imperial Valley.”
Bachie recently completed a survey of weeds in the county and is planning to publish a handbook titled “Weeds of Imperial County and Management Approaches.”
“While my journey is a huge zigzag and I came up through difficulties, I am very glad that I was able to travel and survive and made myself from a goat herder to an American Ph.D.,” said Bachie, who has also taught biology and environmental science courses part time at Victor Valley and Imperial Valley community colleges, respectively.
“My travel all over the world has enhanced my concepts of human diversity and the affinity to associate and work with people of various backgrounds. To be sure, I call myself a person of the globe.”
Livestock and natural resources advisor Dan Macon came to UC Cooperative Extension three years ago with much more than a formal education in integrated resource management and agricultural and managerial economics.
He had years of hands-on experience running a successful foothill sheep operation, toiling long days and often into the night tending animals, irrigating pastures, training livestock guardian dogs and managing forage.
“I came to this position mid-career,” said Macon, who also accumulated skills working for a family auction company and in various capacities for the California Cattlemen's Association, the California Rangeland Trust and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
When Macon bought his ranch, he needed help dealing with invasive Himalayan blackberries. He called Roger Ingram, the UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor in Placer and Nevada counties from 1997 to 2017.
“Roger helped me take care of the problem,” Macon said. “Following his recommendation, I bought goats and they grazed the blackberries into submission. Now the grass can out-compete the invasive plants. We've turned the area into grassland.”
Macon began volunteering for UC Cooperative Extension by teaching fellow ranchers about his experiences raising sheep, managing rangeland and raising and training livestock guardian dogs. Macon was a presenter at Ingram's annual California Multi-Species Browsing Academy.
“I finally recognized that the parts of my earlier jobs that I most enjoyed involved things I'd be doing on a daily basis as a farm advisor – teaching and research,” Macon said. He earned a master's degree from Colorado State University and applied to succeed Ingram after his retirement. Macon also took on the role in Sutter and Yuba counties, succeeding Glenn Nader.
Livestock production in the Sierra Nevada foothills ranks among the top five agricultural commodities. Economic viability is a major issue. Macon's research and extension program is focused on ranch economics and business management, drought resilience, predator-livestock coexistence and irrigated pasture management.
At the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley, Macon is conducting research that will help ranchers make decisions about maintaining a cattle herd when faced with impending drought. Even when the weather forecast is dry and forage isn't growing at a sufficient pace, ranchers can be reluctant to sell off their cattle.
“Science tells us you shouldn't try to feed your way out of a drought,” Macon said. “Ranchers want everything to stay the same. They want to maintain their genetic potential and keep cows that are familiar with the area.”
The research will compare cows weaned on a traditional weaning schedule with others that are weaned early.
“The cattle will be out on the range from March to early September under different parameters,” Macon said. “We're also tying in economics, the value of genetic potential and the value of having cows who know the landscape.”
Macon is securing funding to conduct research on livestock guardian dogs in different production settings. Using low-cost GPS technology developed at New Mexico State University, Macon plans to study the relationship between dogs, predators and livestock in terms of space and time.
“One unknown is whether they displace predators or disrupt predatory behavior,” Macon said.
Macon uses livestock guardian dogs on his ranch and will be able to draw on his own experiences in designing the study. He recently wrote a fact sheet on guardian dog selection with UCCE human-wildlife interaction advisor Carolyn Whitesell.
“We've had great success with our guardian dogs,” he said. “But not everyone has that level of success. Using scientific tools like remote sensing and GPS technology will give us more details about wildlife-guardian dog-livestock interactions.”
During this year's shelter-in-place, Macon has become more creative in reaching out with scientific ranching information. He and large-scale sheep producer Ryan Mahoney of Rio Vista created a weekly podcast, “Sheep Stuff Ewe Should Know.” Early episodes cover such topics as risk management, the effects of COVID-19 on the sheep industry and livestock guardian dogs. The podcast is available on Spotify and other mobile podcast apps.
Macon developed a new bi-weekly webinar series, “Working Rangeland Wednesday,” with UCCE specialist Leslie Roche and UC Davis graduate student Grace Woodmansee. Recordings are posted on YouTube.
Traditional, one-on-one farm calls are also a part of Macon's extension program. He conducts five or six a month. Even so, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Macon to begin remote advising. Soon after Gov. Newsom's shelter-in-place order was issued, Macon got a call from a woman whose ewes had recently given birth.
“She thought the lambs weren't doing well and wondered what she could do,” Macon said. “We both had Facetime, so I asked her to show me what the sheep looked like. I was able to assure her that things were normal and suggested bottle feeding. I talked to her several times over the next couple of days, and she was able to save the lambs.”
Most queries from local ranchers center on pasture or grass management, species composition, fencing, paddock design and animal husbandry. Last year, ranchers called with blue oaks suddenly and inexplicably dying on their land.
“The trees had no visible injuries. Ranchers were wondering if it was a lingering effect of drought or due to habitat fragmentation,” Macon said.
Macon contacted UC Cooperative Extension plant pathology specialist Matteo Garbelotto, a UC Berkeley-based tree disease expert. The scientists collected scorched leaves, wood samples and soil near the trunks of the dead or dying trees. They found evidence of fungi Botryosphaeria corticola and B. dothidea in wood chips collected at breast height. However, blue oak is not an official host for the two pathogens in the USDA fungus-host database.
The researchers believe that recent droughts and climate change may be causing an increased and widespread susceptibility of blue oaks or that an unknown pathogen may be increasing the susceptibility of blue oak to the canker disease. The progress made in solving these mysterious blue oak deaths was published in the most recent California Agriculture journal and will be the subject of continuing investigations in the future by Macon and his colleagues.