Growing California video series – What does California Grown mean to you?

With Thanksgiving coming next week, CDFA presents “What does California Grown mean to you?” It’s the latest segment in the Growing California video series, a partnership with California Grown.

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Veggie Trike brings fresh produce to streets – from the Sacramento Bee

Photo by Renee C. Byer, Sacramento Bee

Photo by Renee C. Byer, Sacramento Bee

By Sammy Caiola

“Fresh fruits and veggies! Fresh fruits and veggies!”

Like a jovial street merchant from days of old, a bearded Collin Samaan stood on Liestal Row between 17th and 18th streets Friday in Sacramento, vending healthy foods out of his newly christened West Sac Veggie Trike.

The pedal-powered produce-mobile has three wheels, one in front of Samaan’s bike seat and the other two behind him, supporting the bed of a miniature farm stand. In the back are stashes of persimmons, onions, Apple Hill apples, artisan garlic salts and even kiwis. A cooler holds carrots and rainbow chard, most of it harvested that morning.

Samaan’s haul comes from a handful of farms in the Sacramento area, including Abbott Organics, where he and wife Aimee Benner grow garlic and greens and where the tricycle lives when not in action. For the past six weeks, he’s brought seasonal goods like apple and pumpkin pies from Bodhaine Ranch in Camino and jars of honey from Arden’s To Bee Young Apiaries to the midtown spot, hoping to catch lunchers passing by.

During the summer months when days were longer, Samaan had been pedaling the tricycle, which weighs a few hundred pounds loaded, all over Sacramento and West Sacramento trying to sell produce on residential streets. It’s decked out with a megaphone that he uses to play gypsy jazz as he cruises by at 8 to 10 mph.

“I’m roaming, playing, announcing and catching the squint of blinds,” he said. “I’m waving, they’re looking straight at (the tricycle), and usually that person will come out. … Every single person gets a smile and a wave and positivity. It feels good doing that.”

Now that daylight is waning earlier, Samaan is shifting from the “ice cream truck” model to a slightly more stationary method. On weekday afternoons, he bikes the goods in from West Sacramento and parks them in front of partner businesses downtown, such as Edible Pedal bike shop and delivery service, where he was Friday, and La Bonne Soupe Cafe at Eighth and J streets.

The timing is ideal considering that several farmers markets held downtown midweek recently closed for the season, said Benner. The young entrepreneurial couple hope to fill the gap that those markets left and continue providing organic produce options to customers year-round.

Dan Best, manager of more than a dozen Certified Farmers’ Markets in Sacramento County, said he has to close some of his locations during the winter because demand drops below a point of sustainability. The pedestrian markets, as he calls the downtown markets, draw people less consistently than community markets, such as the Sunday market held under the freeway, which survive year-round because people drive there to do the bulk of their grocery shopping.

“At the pedestrian markets, people just come check it out and maybe don’t buy much or anything at all,” he said. “There has to be enough customer base. We know it’s not penciling out, so we sometimes make the decision that this market is not supporting the farmers.”

But Samaan, a part-time farmer and part-time bike-building enthusiast, said he believes he can at least break even with community collaboration and the right advertising.

One couple who stopped by Friday said they put off going to the grocery store so they could visit the Veggie Trike. Rick Houston, a regular at Edible Pedal, took a photograph of the produce display and posted it on Facebook, hoping to draw more people to the stand.

“It’s indicative of where our priorities and our ethos are headed, in terms of eating properly … now it’s more accessible,” he said. “Obviously you’re not going to be able to have enough food for 100 people to get their groceries, but it’s nice for people to be able to come pick something up. It’s close. It’s clever.”

The Veggie Trike, which is licensed as a business through the city of West Sacramento, was constructed by Cycle Trucks, a West Sacramento business specializing in cargo bikes that are made for carrying loads. Samaan said he intends to work with the company to build a coffee tricycle, which he’ll use to tote local brews around the Capitol in the mornings.

For many in Sacramento, the concepts of quality food and quality bicycles go hand in hand. In addition to its function as a bike shop, Edible Pedal handles deliveries for Magpie Cafe, Hot Italian, Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates and other “slow food” institutions around Sacramento. Edible Pedal owner John Boyer said the Veggie Trike fits perfectly into the shop’s mission.

“It’s probably senior to the bikes here, the delivery of good quality food, especially to the workaday world down here,” he said. “We want to feed them right so they don’t fall asleep on their desks at 3 o’clock.”

Link to story

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Cost of Thanksgiving dinner rises, but is still under $50 for 10 people – from the American Farm Bureau Federation

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The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 29th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.41, a 37-cent increase from last year’s average of $49.04.

The big ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – came in at $21.65 this year. That’s roughly $1.35 per pound, a decrease of less than 1 cent per pound, or a total of 11 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2013.

“Turkey production has been somewhat lower this year and wholesale prices are a little higher, but consumers should find an adequate supply of birds at their local grocery store,” AFBF Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said. Some grocers may use turkeys as “loss leaders,” a common strategy deployed to entice shoppers to come through the doors and buy other popular Thanksgiving foods.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10. There is also plenty for leftovers.

Foods showing the largest increases this year were sweet potatoes, dairy products and pumpkin pie mix. Sweet potatoes came in at $3.56 for three pounds. A half pint of whipping cream was $2.00; one gallon of whole milk, $3.76; and a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.12. A one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery ($.82) and one pound of green peas ($1.55) also increased in price. A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour) rose to $3.48.

In addition to the turkey, other items that declined modestly in price included a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.54; 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, $2.34; two nine-inch pie shells, $2.42; and a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, $2.17.

The average cost of the dinner has remained around $49 since 2011.

“America’s farmers and ranchers remain committed to continuously improving the way they grow food for our tables, both for everyday meals and special occasions like Thanksgiving dinner that many of us look forward to all year,” Anderson said. “We are blessed to be able to provide a special holiday meal for 10 people for about $5.00 per serving – less than the cost of most fast food meals.”

The stable average price reported this year by Farm Bureau for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks closely with the government’s Consumer Price Index for food eaten at home (available online at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm), which indicates a 3-percent increase compared to a year ago.

A total of 179 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 35 states. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey.

Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages. Another option for busy families without a lot of time to cook is ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, which are available at many supermarkets and take-out restaurants for around $50 to $75.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986. While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

Link to full story

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Three-hundred tons of nutrition from annual food drive

Turkey donations at the Sacramento Food Bank.

Turkey donations at the Sacramento Food Bank.

CDFA knows food. We inspect it, we protect it, and we really enjoy it. So when the State of California came looking for a lead agency to coordinate the annual State Employees Food Drive, they didn’t have to look far. This year, CDFA is announcing a new partnership with Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) to help us surpass last year’s phenomenal collection of 621,644 pounds of donated food. Let’s make it all the way to 700,000 pounds!

SFBFS is Sacramento County’s largest direct food bank provider feeding approximately 40,000 food insecure individuals a month, including 15,000 children and with 8,000 senior citizens. In 2013, SFBFS distributed over 6.5 million pounds of food, including 2 million pounds of fresh California grown fruits and vegetables.

If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, there are several convenient ways that you can help:

  1. The annual turkey drop is this Friday, Nov, 21, from 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at SFBFS, on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 33rd Street. (3333 3rd Ave.)
  2. Fill those bins! State offices throughout the region have staged colorful bins to collect donated canned goods and other items. Set a reminder on your smartphone today and you can bring a few items in tomorrow – easy!
  3. Rice Donation Program – monetary donations accepted – details on the food drive web site at http://www.fooddrive.ca.gov/Rice_Donation_Program.asp
  4. Individual departments, agencies and offices think up all sorts of creative ways to collect donations on-site, so keep an eye out for the posters, emails and other information sources at your workplace.

December is Farm to Food Bank Month . Help increase farm to food bank donations to 200 million pounds annually by making a product donation or future donation pledge today – contact Steve Linkhart, California Association of Food Bank at (510) 350-9916.

For our friends and foodies– tweet, Instagram or Facebook  – #CAGrown with a pic of California Grown produce and a pound of food will be donated to a local food bank.

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USDA and partners complete first-of-its-kind sale of carbon credits from working ranch grasslands

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant has helped initiate a partnership that is improving the environment, creating a market for carbon credits generated on working grasslands. Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, recently purchased almost 40,000 carbon dioxide reduction tons generated on working ranch grasslands in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota.

“This announcement is the first-of-its-kind. The amount of carbon dioxide removed from our atmosphere by Chevrolet’s purchase of carbon credits equals the amount that would be reduced by taking more than 5,000 cars off the road,” Secretary Vilsack said. “This public-private partnership demonstrates how much can be achieved with a modest federal investment and a strong commitment to cut carbon pollution.”

Robert Bonnie, USDA’s under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, announced the purchase and USDA’s involvement in the project at an event today at USDA headquarters. He was joined by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Greg Martin, executive director for global public policy, General Motors; Sean Penrith, executive director of The Climate Trust and Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer of Ducks Unlimited.

Chevrolet’s first purchase of third-party verified carbon credits generated on working ranch grasslands was undertaken voluntarily as part of its commitment to reduce eight million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted. This is comparable to the annual carbon reduction benefit of a mature forest the size of Yellowstone National Park.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $161,000 through a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to Ducks Unlimited in 2011 to develop the necessary methodology to quantify the carbon stored in the soil by avoiding grassland conversions, resulting in the generation of carbon credits.

This is how the credit system works:

-Landowners voluntarily place lands under a perpetual easement but retain rights to work the land, such as raising livestock and growing hay.
-The carbon storage benefits of this avoided conversion of grasslands are quantified, verified, and formally registered resulting in carbon credits.
-The carbon credits are made available to entities interested in purchasing carbon offsets.
-The landowners receive compensation for the carbon credits generated on their lands. “Ranchers benefit from new revenue streams, while thriving grasslands provide nesting habitat for wildlife, are more resilient to extreme weather, and help mitigate the impact of climate change,” said Vilsack.

Besides the landowners, USDA, and Ducks Unlimited, other key partners that helped make this project a success include The Climate Trust, American Carbon Registry, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund and Terra Global Capital.

Link to USDA news release

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202 drought maps reveal just how thirsty California has become – from the Los Angeles Times

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It doesn’t take much to understand why California is so worried about drought. Reservoirs are ever-dwindling. Rainfall is sporadic at best.

More than 80% of California is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and the state’s condition isn’t expected to improve in the near future.

The Drought Monitor, which collects data from 50 different weather indicators, have shown an increasingly red California since 2011, the last time the drought map was clear.

Watch the 6-second snap-shot here.

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‘Explore Exporting’ seminar comes to Sacramento on December 9th

exploreexportinglogoSmall businesses lead the way in U.S. export growth, however many food companies never consider the prospect of going international. On December 9th, the Western United States Agriculture Trade Association (WUSATA), in partnership with California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Centers for International Trade Development, will provide an overview of export resources and training for interested food businesses.

This event will be held on Tuesday, December 9th from 9:30 a.m. to Noon at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 1220 N Street – Main Auditorium, Sacramento, CA 95814. Registration  is required.

California is the largest agricultural producer and exporter in the nation with more than $18 billion in exports. On average, the state’s farmers and ranchers export approximately 26 percent of their production. Connecting farmers, ranchers and food processor to the opportunities available in the global marketplace helps support jobs throughout California’s economy.

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Flies Prefer Yellow – Art show includes work performed by CDFA scientists

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From the Kadist Art Foundation web site: 

Resulting from his three-month residency at Kadist Art Foundation, Flies Prefer Yellow is the North American debut exhibition of Singapore-based artist, Robert Zhao Renhui (b. 1983). Featuring installation and photographic works, the exhibition explores boundaries, systems, neuroses, and control through the artist’s encounters with one of the most inconspicuous insect species on earth–flies. Despite their ubiquity and adaptability (more than 145,000 species exist), flies remain nearly invisible to many humans. This dismissive outlook is attributed less to visual perception, and more to a psychological predisposition towards the insect’s lack of purpose—a manufactured negligence that determines what we see and what we do not. Rendering the unseen visible, and the ignored critical, this multidisciplinary exhibition amplifies the intersections of insect and human, natural and urbanized environments, and entomology and art practice.

During his residency, Zhao made multiple visits to the Sacramento insect lab of Dr. Martin Hauser, Senior Insect Biosystematist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (and longtime acquaintance of the artist’s). Inspired by Hauser’s scientific impulse towards exhaustive taxonomy, Zhao began observing and cataloguing insects. Ranging from beetle-tracking within the urban core of San Francisco, to collecting the various insect carcasses from his windshield during road trips, the artist began accumulating observations about the indigenous insects, and in particular, the flies he encountered. In addition to the flies themselves, Zhao’s curiosity extends to the various traps and methods humans use to rid themselves of the pests.

The exhibition’s title, Flies Prefer Yellow, on the one hand refers to the artist’s affectionate imagination through its anthropopathic tone, implying a desire to be friendly with the insects. On the other hand, the preference is actually a statistical observation as most commercial flytraps are produced in the color yellow. Through the lens of flies, the exhibition invites critical reflection on human’s paradoxical relationships with animals and our organic world.

Through this collision with art, the insect world, long suppressed and diminished by the congestion and monumentality of urban life, is revealed in the full glory of its contradictions: the fly is both friend and foe, beautiful and repellant, known, yet never fully described. Through languages of humor, repetition, contradiction and juxtaposition, Zhao’s practice negotiates the process of image making and the proximity of vision that continue to blur lines between objective documentation and fictional narrative.

On the evening of the opening reception, November 19 6-9pm, Dr. Martin Hauser will join Zhao and Xiaoyu Weng in conversation within a pop-up laboratory of his scientific materials and specimens. Monica Martinez, of Don Bugito, will serve edible insect appetizers alongside a special insect cocktail by Helena Keeffe.

ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI: FLIES PREFER YELLOW
WEDNESDAY, 19 NOVEMBER, 2014 – SATURDAY, 10 JANUARY, 2015
Opening Reception: November 19, 6-9pm
Exhibition Dates: November 19 – January 10 
Kadist Art Foundation
3925 20th St. San Francisco, CA 94111
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Veggies on the roof: Urban farming in LA – from the Los Angeles Times

Galvanized horse troughs are used to grow a wide array of vegetables on top of the Jonathan Club. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

Galvanized horse troughs are used to grow a wide array of vegetables on top of the Jonathan Club. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

By Nita Lelyveld

At the Jonathan Club downtown, not everyone took it well when an infrequently used paddle tennis court on a fifth-floor roof was sacrificed to gem lettuce, swiss chard and microgreens.

Executive chef Jason McClain, of course, was thrilled. His father, a retired landscape architect, flew in from Alabama to build the garden, installing neat rows of galvanized horse troughs in which vegetables and herbs now grow.

Club members walking on the artificial turf track nearby pass tubs filled with citrus and fruit trees. The dinner menu lists “our home-grown items”: broccolini, baby carrots, yuzu, blueberries, figs, snap peas and heirloom tomatoes.

“I mean, you cut a tomato and it’s like a real tomato. The juice runs down your arm. It’s never been refrigerated,” McClain, dressed in crisp fresh chef’s whites, said Tuesday morning to a busload of visitors on a daylong tour of urban agriculture and local food systems.

“It’s just magical. You’re in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. It’s really great at 5 o’clock, when the traffic’s going and you hear the obscenities, and I’m up here snipping arugula.”

The visitors — who included growers, urban policymakers, consultants, entrepreneurs and representatives of nonprofits — wandered around the vegetable beds and asked questions as they got a taste of the garden.

Waiters served a drink called an Autumn Escape, featuring garden-grown rosemary, fresh pressed pineapple, cinnamon, lime and club soda, and offered spoon-size tastes of lemon verbena crème caramel and dainty Warren pear financiers, decorated with leaves of just-picked arugula.

A serious, note-taking group, the visitors were interested in the practical ins and outs: That the garden yields as much as $150,000 worth of produce every year. That it cost about $40,000 to build. That it provides work for a local urban farming venture called Farmscape Gardens, whose farmers plant the Jonathan Club’s seeds, compost the beds and rotate the crops.

The tour was organized by Seedstock, a Los Angeles-based company that offers consulting services and disseminates information about sustainable food projects. It hosts an annual conference on sustainable agriculture, which begins Wednesday at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. This year’s theme is “Reintegrating Agriculture: Local Food Systems and the Future of Cities.”

As they left the 120-year-old private club and headed back to the bus, tour members talked about what they had seen. Didn’t the galvanized tubs burn up in summer? Did that tree really produce edible olives?

Niki Mazaroli, program officer at the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, said one of her foundation’s aims is to help struggling people reach self-sufficiency. She said she hoped Jonathan Club members with means might look at the garden there and get inspired to invest in the sort of urban agriculture projects that create livable-wage jobs.

That was the kind of effort underway at the next stop — a farm on the grounds of Pasadena’s Muir High School that was as wild and lush and loud as the Jonathan Club garden was tidy, crisp and quiet.

At Muir Ranch, roses bloomed and sunflowers blared and squashes bigger than bowling balls grew under enormous leaves.

Mud Baron, the goateed project director, wore flip-flops, sunglasses and a brown cap that said “GROW!” in big green letters. On the belt of his jeans was a leather holster keeping his pruners at the ready.

He spoke of the farm’s community-supported agriculture program, in which people subscribe to get weekly flowers or boxes of fresh produce. How much of what’s in the selection comes from the farm, but he also buys from other local farmers, thus helping support them. How, contrary to its reputation, Pasadena has many people in need, including many Muir families. How getting young people interested in the garden was one way to push them toward better futures.

Looking out over the rows of vegetables and flowers, he pointed to a young man who was helping set up a long table for lunch. Manny, he said, now 20, had gotten training in the garden, learning how to plant and install irrigation systems. He’d also learned about flowers and had just done all the flowers for a wedding, earning $20 an hour.

“At the heart of what I’m trying to do is to teach these kids to be entrepreneurs,” said Baron, who then talked of further plans — for a food truck run by students and a charter school centered on making things — that would teach kids how to grow vegetables, how to pickle, how to weld benches and how “to really do something.”

A catered lunch in the garden came next, featuring salads of kale and quinoa. Baron clipped flowers and arranged them like headdresses, which he got the visitors to place on their heads. He took photographs. Everyone laughed.

 

These two projects, L.A. Prep and L.A. Kitchen, certainly sounded exciting, but they were almost too much to process at once on such a bountiful day.

Link to story

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For Veterans Day – an encore presentation from the Growing California video series

In honor of Veterans Day tomorrow, CDFA presents an encore presentation of “From Service to Harvest,” a story from the Growing California video series of veterans turning to farming after their service is complete.

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