UC Agriculture & Natural Resources News
When there's a Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, visitors come to listen, learn and explore. Such was the case during the Parasitoid Palooza open house last Saturday, Nov. 18 when area residents, including parents and their children, and grandparents and their grandchildren, visited the...
Assistant Professor of Weed Science Penn State University Faculty Announcement: The Assistant Professor of Weed Science is a tenure-track faculty position with 60% extension and 40% research responsibilities. The successful candidate is expected to conduct state-wide extension...
If you attended the 2017 Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting, held recently in Denver, you probably recognized a familiar face and his research. Myrmecologist (ant specialist) Brendon Boudinot, doctoral candidate in the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology,...
Candied sweet potatoes – dripping with butter, brown sugar and pecans – or a casserole of mashed sweet potatoes smothered with toasted marshmallows are common sides on the Thanksgiving table. These rich dishes belie the true nature of sweet potatoes, which are nutrient packed, low-glycemic root vegetables that can be a part of a healthy diet year round.
Research by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Scott Stoddard is aimed at making sweet potatoes an even more healthful and attractive food. Stoddard is working with sweet potato growers in Merced County to see if sweet potatoes with dusky purple skin and vibrant purple flesh, called purple/purples, can be grown by more farmers in California. The unusual color and health benefits command a higher price, opening a potentially profitable niche market.
“Purple flesh sweet potatoes have beta-carotene, like the more common orange varieties, plus anthocyanins,” Stoddard said. “It's like eating a handful of blueberries with your sweet potato.”
California is a significant producer of sweet potatoes. About 80 percent of the California crop – 16,000 acres – is grown in Merced County, on farms ranging from 5 acres up to several thousand acres. In 2015, the crop's value in Merced County was $195 million. About 1,000 acres are grown in Kern County and 2,000 acres in Stanislaus County. These locations have the sandy and sandy-loam soils ideal for sweet potatoes to develop their distinctive shape and smooth skin.
Sweet potatoes with purple flesh are not common, but they have been around for quite some time. They are the main type of sweet potato grown in Hawaii, for example. Several years ago, growers in Stokes County, N.C., selected a particularly beautiful and tasty cultivar, naming it the Stokes Sweet Potato and marketing nationwide with Frieda's Specialty Produce. In California, A. V. Thomas Produce in Livingston acquired an exclusive agreement with the company to grow and market Stokes purple/purple sweet potatoes.
“The number of acres of Stokes has really expanded in just a few years,” Stoddard said. "There is a lot of consumer interest in purple-fleshed sweet potatoes."
That doesn't close the door on purple/purples for California's other growers interested in the niche. Stoddard conducts field trials in cooperation with local farmers that include purple/purples. In one trial, 50 types of sweet potatoes of many different colors are being grown to determine whether they have key characteristics needed for local production. From there, he selects a limited number to grow in replicated trials, to determine their potential to produce a high yield, store well, and develop good size, shape, color and flavor. Of these, only one purple/purple made it into the replicated trial.
“In some purple/purples, the flavor can be off, or bitter,” Stoddard said. “We get rid of those right away.”
One of the cultivars in Stoddard's study, which goes by the experimental code number L-14-15-P, was bred in 2014 by Don La Bonte, a plant breeder at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. The potato has some good attributes, but lacks the uniform deep purple color of the Stokes variety.
“Unfortunately, it's probably not good enough to displace Stokes,” Stoddard said. “It's a good start, but we have to continue screening purple/purples to find a variety that offers disease resistance, good yield, and consistent deep purple flesh color."
Sweet potatoes can be eaten raw or cooked. To eat raw, simply peel, cut into sticks and serve with low-fat ranch dressing or apple sauce for dipping. Grate fresh, uncooked sweet potatoes and add to burritos or tacos or sprinkle on salads for a sweet, nutritious crunch.
Cooked sweet potatoes can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, skin and all, plain or with a small pat of butter.
Microwaving is a great way to quickly prepare the vegetable. Wash potatoes and pat dry. Prick skin with a knife in 2 to 3 places. Cook on high for 5 minutes. Turn over. Then cook for another 5 minutes, more or less.
UC Cooperative Extension's sweet potato expert Scott Stoddard says he prefers his sweet potatoes baked.
“Baked is way better,” he said. “Baking gives time to convert to starch to maltose.”
Sweet potatoes are mostly starch, but have a special enzyme that breaks down starch into maltose when cooking. Slower cooking in the oven provides time for the conversion, imparting a subtly sweet caramelized flavor.
To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the lower oven rack with foil, then prick sweet potatoes with a fork and place directly on the middle oven rack, above the rack with foil. Bake 45 minutes for sweet potatoes 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
On Nov. 28, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources will participate in #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving powered by our social networks. Celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season.
Although not as well-known as the shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday appeals to people who are swept up in the spirit of giving at the end of the year. Participants post “unselfies” on social media, as opposed to selfies, stating why they donate. By posting these photos on social media about why they give on #GivingTuesday, donors and volunteers celebrate and encourage giving.
Anyone can post an “unselfie.” Simply visit ucanr.edu/givingtuesday, download and print an unselfie sign that says, “I #UNselfie for ____ #GivingTuesday,” “Together, we can reach for California's greatest potential on this #GivingTuesday” and “I'm donating to UCANR this #GivingTuesday because…” Participants can hold the sign below their face and snap an unselfie to post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media with the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UCANReach.
For UC ANR, #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to raise funds for UC Cooperative Extension county programs, research and extension centers and statewide programs. As a result of the ongoing effects of the drought, recent wildfires and persistent pockets of poverty, California's needs in the coming year will be great, and year-end giving presents an opportunity for donors to assist.
“UC Cooperative Extension professionals have a deep passion for their work and a dedication to the communities they serve,” said Glenda Humiston. University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “While most deliver their research and programs quietly every day, it is especially incredible to witness their response to disaster; for example, recent wildfires saw local UCCE offices responding immediately with vital information for coping with the fires, care for livestock and pets, as well as service in food banks and other volunteer needs.”
In Sonoma County, as residents evacuated during the fires, UC Cooperative Extension staff and 4-H members helped rescue livestock. In Solano County, wildfire took the homes of 17 UC Master Gardener volunteers so the UC Master Gardener Program connected them with volunteers throughout the state who wanted to provide relief.
“UC Master Gardener volunteers are true to their generous nature and have offered tremendous support to fellow volunteers who have lost homes in the fires. With compassionate hearts, they have offered lodging, supplies and words of support,” said Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener Program director. “In the future, we will look to replant what was lost and find healing in the care and establishment of new landscapes and wild spaces.”
For UC ANR stakeholders, #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to support the many research and outreach programs that strengthen California communities each day and more importantly, during times of crisis.
“The value of the programs cannot be overstated,” Chico farmer Rory Crowley wrote in the Chico Enterprise-Record. “Agriculture is the main economic driver in Butte County, and it is extremely important to support our farmers and ranchers through these initiatives. This year we have a unique opportunity to give back to our Butte County researchers and agriculturists.”
Over $64,000 was raised on #GivingTuesday last year to support UC ANR programs including the 4-H Youth Development Program and UC Master Gardener Program.
“Last year, the 4-H Foundation recorded a 430 percent increase in donations over the previous fiscal year, raising over $30,000 in one day from 37 counties!” said Mary Ciricillo, director of annual giving for UC ANR. This was due in large part to a match challenge from an anonymous donor.
“This year, I'm excited to share that we will have two match challenge funds. One supporting the California 4-H Foundation and one for all UC ANR.” said Ciricillo.
Clicking "Make a Gift" at ucanr.edu/givingtuesday reveals links to all UC ANR programs, research and extension centers and UCCE offices so donors may designate the programs or locations to which they wish to donate.
The UC Master Gardener Giving Tuesday website is at http://mg.ucanr.edu/givingtuesday.
The 4-H Youth Development Program also has its own website at http://4h.ucanr.edu/GivingTuesday.
“#GivingTuesday is a fun way for people to show their appreciation for the work their UC ANR friends do,” said Andrea Ambrose, acting director of UC ANR Development Services. “Take an #UNselfie with one of our signs and tell us, your family and friends what inspired you to donate. Remember to use the hashtags #UCANReach, #GivingTuesday and #unselfie!”
Last year UCANR, UC Master Gardeners and 4-H received 224 gifts and hope to surpass that number this year.