The people of Suzie's Farm, diversified organic growers in San Diego, have explored many ways to connect their customers to the farm and the good food growing on the farm. They offer regular farm tours, a CSA program, strawberry U-Pick days, farm dinners and other events. About a year ago, farm manager Lauren Gagliano Saline and her staff noticed that some of their customers wanted more chances to get their hands dirty, maybe to harvest their own CSA.
Suzie's staff tried an unguided vegetable U-Pick, letting customers pick vegetables from the fields. That didn't work out so well. Many people didn't know how to walk in the fields without trashing the beds, and didn't know how to harvest the different crops, and the random picking adventures tied up staff time. So Lauren and the team created a guided U-Pick option, and the U-Pick Harvest Club was born.
Now about fifty U-Pick Harvest Club members pick their own CSA every week. They join and prepay for four, eight, sixteen or more "picks". Each "pick" is a varying list of eight items with a set quantity of each item, designed to be approximately equal to a CSA share. Harvest Club members are told the times each week that they can pick their shares, on Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday. The picking times are when farm staff are leading their regular farm tours, so Harvest Club members join any of the tours and are supervised in their picking by the tour leaders. Of course they are not charged for the tour, which usually costs $10 per person.
Another advantage the U-Pick Harvest Club members enjoy is the chance to customize their pick, an option not available to regular CSA members. Rather than picking a set amount of each of the eight items, they are allowed to substitute more of one crop if they prefer. For example, they can pick eight melons one week if melons are one of the listed items, and take none of the other things on the list. And some people, Lauren explained, just prefer to pick that perfect bunch of kale. Harvest Club members are also allowed to bring along up to three people to "help" them pick - which includes the free farm tour.
The first year of Suzie's U-Pick Harvest Club has been a success, seeing steady growth and renewals for the second year. For more information, see Suzie's Farm website.
About four years ago, the Olsons set up a "U-pick/CSA Member Program," and now reserve the u-pick experience for farm CSA members. The price of membership is a case of Gabriel Farm's organic juice. For $36, customers get three gallons of juice and the ability to pick and purchase whatever is in season. Once they had the membership program established, Lucy and Torrey felt comfortable in opening up the U-Pick options to their full range of crops - from apples, pluots, berries, Asian Pears, tomatoes and flowers in August through persimmons and pineapple guavas in November.
Membership in the U-pick CSA program at Gabriel Farm averages about 500 families. A membership is good for a family or for a group of four people. Most customers are families with young children who want their children to learn where their food comes from and to be able to experience the farm. Most drive an hour or two from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Lucy and Torrey are happy with their program. They have found that most people who make the membership commitment are supportive, kind and respectful of the farm.
Most U-Pick CSA members only come out to the farm once a year, as they are very busy people, Lucy explained, although she encourages all members to experience the apple harvest at least once if they start in a different season. Turnover in the program is about 80 percent, but enough new members join each year to maintain the average membership numbers.
The Olsons are not trying to grow their U-Pick program. They tried a hay pyramid one year for the children to play on, but decided that they didn't want to be in the agri-tainment business and did not repeat the experiment. They plan to continue to use the U-Pick membership program to limit the number of customers and to make more of a connection with people who enjoy and respect Gabriel Farm. For more information, see gabrielfarm.com/portal/u-pick
Matcha, finely ground powder made from baby green-tea leaves, is growing in popularity due to health benefits and the natural woodsy flavor it imparts to drinks, pastries and savory dishes, reported Jenice Tupolo and Carla Meyer in the Sacramento Bee.
To find out if the most-prized tea in Japan lives up to its purported health benefits when scrutinized scientifically, the reporters contacted UC Cooperative Extension specialist Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr.
“The health benefits are similar to that of green tea in general,” Zidenberg-Cherr said. Possible benefits of green tea include lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers, and bone-density improvement. Though "the studies are pretty inconclusive," she said, some have been promising.
"Some have shown a benefit of maybe three cups a day in terms of reduced risk of cardiovascular disease especially," she said.
Zidenberg-Cherr cautioned against taking matcha or green tea with dairy milk.
Many people are surprised to learn that students enrolled in the state's premiere higher-education system are vulnerable to food insecurity, said Suzanna Martinez, a researcher with UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, on the KPFA radio program Up Front. (Martinez's segment begins at the 20:23 mark.)
Martinez was interviewed for the program by host Pat Brooks, who was sitting in for Dennis Bernstein. Martinez said that anecdotal evidence of food insecurity on UC campuses was already popping up when UC President Janet Napolitano provided funding to each of the campuses to address the issue. The UC president also provided funding to the UC Nutrition Policy Institute to survey students across the system to document and understand food insecurity on UC campuses.
The report, issued last week, was based on the responses to a survey by about 9,000 students. Nineteen percent indicated they had “very low” food security and an additional 23 percent were characterized as having “low” food security. The greatest impact, Martinez said, was on the Latino and black student populations. Most of the students struggling with food insecurity had never experienced such circumstances before going away to college.
In response to the survey, Napolitano approved $3.3 million in new funding over the next two years to help students regularly access nutritious food on campus and off.
Brooks asked Martinez what is the new report's 'call to action.'
"Our hope is to eliminate food insecurity, and with this report we are hoping that others will be dedicated to this and committed to the work as well,” Martinez said.
The same approach was used in a long-running battle with pink bollworms, which used to be the bane of cotton farmers. The story said USDA is checking fields this year before declaring pink bollworm officially eradicated.
Navel orangeworm isn't a serious pest of citrus, as the name might suggest, but it is devastating in tree nut production, said David Haviland, the UC Cooperative Extension entomology advisor in Kern County. Navel orangeworm moths lay eggs inside nuts, which mature and eat the nut meat. The cost of dealing with the pest is "huge," Haviland said.
Currently, the best strategy for keeping the pest in check is mummy removal - clearing nuts leftover after harvest.
"On every acre of almonds or pistachios in California, growers will spend two, three, sometimes $400 on an acre just doing what's called mummy removal," Haviland said.
Farmers also use pesticides against naval orangeworm. Haviland said they are expensive and require tedious paperwork.
"If the growers can use the sterile technique to actually avoid pesticide use altogether, that would be an ideal situation for both the farmer as well as for the consumer that's concerned about how their food is produced," Haviland said.
The USDA facility expects to send a shipment of sterile moths to California in August to see how well they disperse.
Stoddard has planted 3,500 grafted tomato seedlings on a farm north of Madera.
“Now we got them in the field and so approximately 83 days from now, if all goes according to plan, we will be harvesting out here and we will see if we can see some yield differences,” Stoddard said.
Lloyd grafted heirloom tomato varieties onto disease-resistant roots on a quarter acre at UC Davis.
“We're kind of working at this level of finding non-chemical management tools that will help overcome these challenges so they [farmers] can continue to grow these nice heirloom varieties,” says Lloyd.
Both scientists will collect data from their trails to see whether it makes sense for growers to implement the practice on their farms. Romero reported that both agreed consumers could, in time, have a tastier, larger assortment of tomatoes to purchase at farmers markets and stores.