UC Food Blog
As the sustainability of agriculture continues to be threatened by changes in climate, pests and loss of biodiversity, the ancient practice of planting hedgerows with edible and medicinal species such as elderberry can help growers generate additional revenue while fostering beneficial insects and improving soil health.
Most modern-day farmland is occupied by simple “monocrop” systems that often require frequent, energy-intensive inputs like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to sustain their yields. These practices can be harmful to water quality, biodiversity and soil health.
But farmers who incorporate perennials into their farm landscapes can better harness living things—crop plants, pollinators, beneficial microbes and natural enemies of pests—to provide services rather than adding synthetic products, to the ultimate benefit of the farm and the environment.
Restoring field edges by planting hedgerows is a common way to add perennials to farm fields without taking land out of production. These managed rows of trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers were an ancient feature of agricultural landscapes throughout the world.
As farmland industrialized in Europe and North America in the 1900s, many old hedgerows were removed. But hedgerows have seen a resurgence in recent years as their significant environmental benefits—including natural pest control and pollination services, improved soil health and carbon sequestration—are increasingly recognized.
With hedgerows, “the whole farm can be a site of both conservation and profitability,” says Sonja Brodt, deputy director of the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (UC SAREP).
Hedgerows can be costly to establish, and this is often the reason farmers choose not to use them. But incorporating a harvestable crop into a hedgerow can be profitable.
Brodt is leading a collaborative effort with California farmers and UC researchers to develop native western elderberry as a hedgerow cash crop. Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) is a native subspecies of elderberry that is well-adapted to Mediterranean climates and grows prolifically across California. It is thought to be more heat- and drought-tolerant than the more commercialized North American and European subspecies of elderberry.
“Elderberries have this great potential as a ‘win-win' crop. Farmers harvesting and selling elderberries from their hedgerows can receive a direct income from a farm practice that benefits the local ecosystem,” says Brodt.
Consumer demand for elderberry-based products has skyrocketed in recent years. Blue elderberry has similar antioxidant levels to blueberries and can be processed into products such as jams, syrups, tea mixtures and herbal supplements.
“We found that two-thirds of surveyed herbal and specialty foods processors and retailers were strongly interested in sourcing California-grown elderberries and couldn't find enough supply to meet their needs” says Gwenaël Engelskirchen of UC SAREP. Farmers who grow blue elderberry can tap into this growing market.
The research team recently completed a field trial in the southern Sacramento Valley to assess the profitability of blue elderberry. They found that elderberry yields from a 1,000-foot, multispecies hedgerow could provide $2,700 to $4,800 in revenue, after harvest and de-stemming costs, in only the second year after hedgerow planting. This revenue helps offset typical hedgerow establishment costs of $3,000 to $4,000, and elderberry revenue is expected to grow over time as the plant yields continue to increase. Value-added processing and specialty products made on-farm could also increase overall profitability.
While native elderberry hedgerows is a new area of research for the University of California, North America's indigenous people have been harvesting and tending blue elderberry in California for hundreds of years. Many Native persons across the state continue to gather, cultivate and use elderberry.
Sage LaPena, Nomtipom and Tunai Wintu ethnobotanist and certified medical herbalist, stresses that “elderberry is one of our most important traditional medicines and we've never stopped using it.” Cultivating elderberry for harvest could be one path towards increased food sovereignty for California's Native American tribes.
“There's an important lesson with this work,” said Brodt. “While new technologies are valuable for making agriculture more sustainable, we shouldn't lose sight of ancient practices that have benefited humanity and our landscapes over thousands of years. Hedgerows and other biological solutions are an essential piece of the sustainability puzzle. In addition, we have much to learn about the value of our native species from Native peoples and their traditional practices.”
To learn more about this research and to find educational resources for cultivating, processing, and marketing elderberry, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/Elderberry.
Organic farming continues to expand in California and now includes more than 360 commodities, according to a new University of California report. The number of organic growers, acreage and farm gate sales revenue is reported by commodity, county, region and statewide in the new “Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture, 2013-2016.” The data are collected from farms that register as organic with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
“This report highlights the incredible diversity and abundance of organic crops being grown across so many different geographic regions in the state, which reflects California's leading role in this production sector,” said Houston Wilson, director of the new UC Organic Agriculture Institute.
“Dairies continue to lead by value of organic production,” said Rachael Goodhue, UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics and coauthor of the report.
The number of organic growers in California jumped from 2,089 in 2013 to 3,108 in 2016. The top 10 organic commodities for sales value in 2016 were cow milk, strawberries, carrots, wine grapes, table grapes, sweet potatoes, almonds, raspberries, salad mix, and chicken eggs.
“This review is critical to understand the changes in the fast-growing organic agriculture sector in the state where more than 50% of the nation's organic vegetables and fruits are produced,” said Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of the report. “It provides statistics of all organic commodities produced across the state as well as at county level. This is the primary reference to learn about the size, diversity, and trends of organic agriculture in the state.”
In 2016, California organic sales were $3.1 billion with an average of $1 million in sales per farm, but revenue varied widely among farms. For example, San Diego County had the most organic growers (313) in 2016, but Kern County's 47 organic farmers earned the most in total organic sales: $381 million on 49,727 acres, excluding pasture and rangeland, according to Muramoto.
“The average gross income of organic farms increased 14-fold from 1994 to 2016, reaching $1 million in 2016,” Muramoto said. “However, 77% of growers received less than $500,000 per year and 22% of growers who made $500,000 or more per year received 94% of the total gross sales, showing the income concentration among organic growers in the state.”
The statistical review of California's organic agriculture had been published since 1998 by the late Karen Klonsky, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and her team after statistics for organic agriculture became available in 1992 as a result of the California Organic Food Act.
The last report published by Klonsky, who passed away in 2018, covered 2009-2012. All previous organic agriculture statistics reports can be accessed at https://aic.ucdavis.edu/research1/organic.html.
“This report of organic data continues the series of studies initiated by Karen Klonsky many years ago. It contains vital summary information for industry and policymakers as well as researchers,” said Goodhue.
Since the data collection began in 1994, the number of organic growers in California has increased 2.8-fold to 3,109 and the farm-level sales 40-fold to $3.1 billion in 2016.
“Accurate annual data on California organic crop production, acreage and value is critical to understanding the scale and scope of this growing agricultural sector,” said Wilson. “As the UC Organic Agriculture Institute begins to develop research and extension programs, it is important that we have a reliable way to assess the extent and geography of organic production as well as track changes over time.”
Muramoto, who became the UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist in 2019, collaborated with Goodhue, Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics; and UC Davis graduate student Hanlin Wei to produce the latest statistical review of California's organic agriculture.
More recent years are not included because the data collected by CDFA changed in 2017 and again in 2019 so they are not comparable to the data in this report. The full report can be downloaded from the UC Agricultural Issues Center website at https://aic.ucdavis.edu/2020/10/06/statistical-review-of-californias-organic-agriculture-by-wei-goodhue-muramoto-and-sumner.
Society gains $10 in benefits, on average, per $1 invested in international agricultural research and development, according to a new report released today (Oct. 14, 2020) by the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation.
“This report shows that international agricultural R&D, of the type that drove the Green Revolution, continues to generate a fantastic rate of return and that we have not been investing nearly enough in the types of agricultural R&D undertaken by the CGIAR,” said Julian M. Alston, distinguished professor of agricultural and resources economics at UC Davis and coauthor of “The Payoff to Investing in CGIAR Research.”
Formerly called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR is the world's largest global agricultural research network. The report found that CGIAR investments of roughly $60 billion in present value terms have generated a benefit-cost ratio of 10 to 1 over the past five decades.
“The same is true of agricultural R&D undertaken by U.S. land grant universities,” Alston said. “Not only does investing in this kind of R&D make great economic sense, with benefit-cost ratios of 10:1 and more, it saves lives and livelihoods for the poorest of the poor around the world, and reduces pressures on the natural resource base.
“In spite of this evidence, rather than ramping up funding, in the United States and the other high-income countries, we are seeing a decline in real funding support for public agricultural R&D and a decline in donor funding support for R&D undertaken by the CGIAR.”
It can take many years for the investment to pay off, from research and development to farmers applying new practices, planting new crop varieties and adopting new technology. Not investing in research will make it harder for farmers to produce the food needed while meeting the challenges posed by weather, pests, political strife, policy risk and market risk.
“Agricultural R&D is slow magic,” Alston said. “The costly consequences of today's policy mistakes may take some time to become apparent, but then we will have to live with them for a long time.”
Alston's coauthors on the report are Philip G. Pardey, professor of science and technology policy and director of global research strategy at the University of Minnesota, and Xudong Rao, assistant professor of agribusiness and applied economics at North Dakota State University. SoAR commissioned this work to examine the benefit-cost ratio of CGIAR investments.
“This work by esteemed economists exemplifies the continued need for increased investment in agricultural research across the globe,” said Thomas Grumbly, president of SoAR. “Farmers everywhere need new innovations to be able to adapt to the effects of climate change, while still feeding their communities and the world.”
Established in 1971, CGIAR comprises 15 research centers working under One CGIAR mandate to reduce poverty, enhance food and nutrition security, and improve natural resources. CGIAR's early work included developing high-yielding wheat and rice varieties, which is credited with spurring the Green Revolution and saving a billion lives primarily in Asia where many people were on the brink of starvation. Today, CGIAR focuses on ending hunger by 2030 through science to transform food, land and water systems in the climate crisis.
This report provides a strong economic investment case for funding partners as they consider future investments in international agriculture research and development. With a strong presence and long-term partnerships in developing countries, CGIAR is uniquely positioned to further create and develop needed innovations. Additional investments in CGIAR research would continue to yield dramatic returns on investment and benefits for poor communities, particularly in Africa and South Asia where smallholder farmers and local food systems are most vulnerable.
SoAR strongly encourages governments and foundations to accelerate their funding of CGIAR to strengthen smallholder agriculture and protect food systems for future generations.
To read the full report, visit https://supportagresearch.org/assets/pdf/Payoff_to_Investing_in_CGIAR_Research_final_October_2020.pdf. For key findings, visit https://supportagresearch.org/assets/pdf/soar_cgiar_key_findings_final.pdf.
In Riverside County, 65 cooks have been approved by the county Environmental Health Department to cook and sell meals to their neighbors from their home kitchens. These innovative entrepreneurs are the first in California to take advantage of a new legal path that legitimizes and regulates what has long been part of an informal economy in many communities.
The Riverside County cooks are cooking as Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations (MEHKOs). MEHKOs are small businesses (only $50,000 gross sales per year allowed, adjusted annually for inflation) that involve home cooks preparing and selling a limited number of hot meals from their home kitchens. One of the intentions of MEHKOs is to create legal and regulated options for home cooks currently operating informal businesses, many of whom are immigrants and members of minority communities.
The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a statewide program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, is working with the COOK Alliance, a coalition of home cooks and their supporters, to organize a virtual convening of home cooks, their advocates and county officials and staff. This convening will involve cooks sharing their experiences and discussions among county officials, regulators and advocates for cooks about the process of legalizing and operating MEHKOs in other counties.
The Home Cooked 2020 convening will be held via zoom on October 20 and 21, 2020, from 1 to 3 p.m. each day. Everyone is invited to join the discussion. Participation is free, but registration is required. Everyone who registers will be sent log-in information for the Zoom meeting. Register here: http://ucanr.edu/homecooked.
Denise Blackmon, proprietor of Soul Goodness, a licensed Riverside County MEHKO, says, "Being able to operate a home cooking business is especially helpful because I'm the single parent of a special needs son. This lets me work around his schedule when I am able and help support my family." Blackmon will be one of the speakers, on a panel with other home cooks, at the upcoming online event.
The option for California counties (and the four cities that have their own Environmental Health Departments) to allow permitting of MEHKOs within their counties was approved by state passage of The Homemade Food Operations Act (AB-626) in 2018, amended by AB 377 in 2019. When permitted by a county government, MEHKOs are allowed to produce and sell limited quantities of home-cooked meals from a home kitchen in any zoning in the county, including in municipalities within the county. The program is regulated, and home kitchens are inspected by the Environmental Health Department of the county that opts-in to AB-626. As of October 2020, Riverside County is the only California county that has permitted MEHKOs, although Solano, Imperial, San Mateo, Santa Barbara and the City of Berkeley are all in the process of implementing regulations for MEHKOs. Several other counties are considering doing so. Home Cooked 2020 will feature county officials and staff discussing the issues and process for issuing licenses with cooks and their advocates. The program will include break-out rooms for cooks to talk with cooks, advocates to share strategies, county staff to talk with each other across county lines, and for those helping market and support home cooks to meet together.
The COOK Alliance, with a national membership of nearly 5,000 cooks and advocates, has been since 2018 the primary advocate for home cooks, supporting county advocacy efforts for opting into AB-626 and providing education for county staff and home cooks about MEHKOs.
During the COVID19 pandemic shut-down of restaurants and catering businesses across California, many professional chefs have found themselves out of work. Some of these chefs established informal pop-up cooking businesses to try to support themselves and provide healthy cooked food for their communities. Some of these unlicensed establishments, including the "Brokeass Cooks" from Oakland, were shut down by county health departments, generating stories in local newspapers and interest in their predicament. The COOK Alliance is working with some of these chefs to advocate for legal MEHKO operations in Alameda County and other counties where they have operated. Bilal Ali, one of the Brokeass cooks, will be talking on the panel of cooks at Home Cooked 2020.
This project is supported by a Public Impact Research Initiative grant from the UCD Public Scholarship and Engagement unit.
If you have a mature persimmon tree, you know it produces more fruit than you can consume fresh. But the good news is that there are ways to preserve them. You can freeze them, dry them, or turn them into jam. But before we go into the details of preserving persimmons, let's quickly review the two major types of persimmons that exist.
Persimmons are generally categorized as astringent or non-astringent. Non-astringent persimmons, such as the Fuyu and Jiro, are oblate shaped and can be eaten crisp like an apple, or slightly soft. Astringent persimmons, like Hachiya, are larger and acorn shaped. They are highly acidic and bitter unless they are really ripe, to the point of being somewhat mushy.
The most common method of preserving astringent and non-astringent persimmons is to dry them. Dehydrating astringent persimmons also removes the astringency. To dry persimmons in an electric food dehydrator, select firm persimmons and wash them under running water, patting them dry with a paper towel. Remove the stems. You can peel them or leave them unpeeled. Slice them into a quarter of an inch to no more than half inch slices. Lay the slices single layer on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate. To test for dryness, cut a couple of pieces in half. You should not be able to squeeze any moisture out of them, and there should be no visible moisture. And if you fold the piece over, it should not stick to itself.
Astringent persimmons are also frequently dried whole Hoshigaki style, i.e. open air drying the whole persimmon. To dry Hachiya persimmons Hoshigaki style, harvest only orange, firm persimmons for this purpose, leaving about one and a half inches of the stem intact. Trim away the calyx (the green ruffled top,) being sure to leave the stem intact. Next, rinse the persimmon under running water, drying it with a paper towel. Peel away the skin. Tie a foot-long length of cotton string to the stem and hang it from the rafters or some other well-ventilated area for it to air dry. It can take one to two months to air dry. When dried, the persimmons should feel leathery but still pliable.
You can also freeze persimmons to use later in baked items. To freeze persimmons, puree the pulp. It is recommended to add 1/8 teaspoon of ascorbic acid to each quart of persimmon puree. Place the pulp in a canning jar or freezer container being sure to leave sufficient head space. (See https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/headspace.html if you're uncertain how much head space to leave.)
And if you do not mind the natural texture of ripe astringent persimmons, you can simply freeze the ripe pulp as is to consume later as a frozen treat.
Persimmons can also be made into jam. Although you can find a lot of persimmon jam recipes on the web, many of them are not from reputable sources and may not be safe. Only use jam recipes from trusted sources such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation, pectin companies, universities etc. If you are uncertain if a jam recipe is safe or not, contact your local UCCE Master Food Preserver Program for assistance. Two sample reputable persimmon jam recipes can be found here: www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/mcp-persimmon-freezer-jam-63386.aspx and www.pomonapectin.com/recipes/persimmon-jam/.
Sources/references: National Center for Home Food Preservation www.nchfp.uga.edu and “Persimmon Time.” (a handout), Author: Olive McCracken, Home Advisor, University of CA Cooperative Extension, Solano County.
For more information about the UC Master Food Preserver Program, including the Food Preservation Video Library, visit mfp.ucanr.edu.