UCCE Sonoma County
University of California
UCCE Sonoma County

Posts Tagged: Beth Mitcham

Making the case for fruits and vegetables

Why do you love fruits and vegetables? Is it their bright colors? Their many shapes and varieties, the way they can makeover your plate with the seasons? The opportunity to taste local terroir in a very fresh bite of fruit or forkful of salad?

Is it more about the juiciness, crunchiness or succulence?

Or do you think more about nutrition? About vitamins, micronutrients and fiber, after decades of being encouraged to eat “5 A Day” to be healthy? Is it about that feeling of righteous virtue when you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables — and know you're earning a gold star for eating right?

Basket of fresh fruits and vegetables, ready to wash and slice in Guinea, including mangoes, avocados and okra. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Archie Jarman/UC Davis)

The importance of eating fruits and vegetables has been making headlines again recently, with studies refocusing on the concept of “nutrition security” in a changing climate and pushing for an emphasis on nutrient consumption. The EAT-Lancet commission — while mostly garnering headlines in the United States related to reduced meat consumption — also recommended a diet that would require almost every global region to increase its consumption of fruits and vegetables to meet healthy diet goals.

But there's another reason to love fruits and vegetables that might not be as obvious. Here's a 30-second video clip of what a young farmer in Uganda had to tell me about vegetables, when I had the chance to meet him last year:

“There's no quicker source of getting money in town,” Boaz Otieno explained, when discussing why he chose to farm instead of going to town to find a job. He also talked about the concept that he could grow vegetables like tomatoes on a smaller plot of land and earn as much for those tomatoes as a larger plot of corn or cassava.

"You might even grow (tomatoes) twice while the cassava is not yet harvested, so there's a lot of money in horticulture," he said.

Otieno is a farmer who was also working as a site coordinator for a research project led by Kate Scow in Uganda, which was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, the USAID-funded research program that I work for at UC Davis. Elizabeth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist, often talks about the “double-duty impacts” of fruits and vegetables, as these crops can be a tool to achieve two major global goals: improving nutrition and reducing poverty.

And it's not just one farmer's opinion that horticultural crops can yield higher incomes. In a white paper about aligning the food system to meet fruit and vegetable dietary needs, the authors pointed out that data from Africa and Asia have shown farmer profits per hectare 3-14 times higher when growing vegetables versus growing rice. The paper also points out that USDA estimates fruits and vegetables account for 23 percent of production value in American agriculture, grown on less than 3 percent of the country's agricultural land. And here in California, fruits and vegetables are a $20 billion industry.

A "colorful harvest" at a market in Cambodia, including eggplant, ginger, bittermelon, leafy greens, herbs, mushrooms, peppers and more. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Brenda Dawson/UC Davis)

Later this month, the Horticulture Innovation Lab will be hosting a conference in Washington, D.C., focused on making the case for fruits and vegetables with the theme, “Colorful Harvest: From Feeding to Nourishing a Growing World.” The conference will bring together decision makers, international development practitioners, and researchers from universities across the United States, Africa, Asia and Central America to discuss how horticultural innovations can advance global issues of food security, food waste, gender empowerment, youth employment, malnutrition, and poverty reduction.

While the conference speakers and participants will be diverse, we're also working to bring farmers' voices — like Otieno's — into the conference with video clips from our partners in Nepal, Honduras, Rwanda and elsewhere, to explain what exactly it is that makes them love fruits and vegetables.

More information:

Watch a short video clip on what Boaz Otieno likes best about vegetables: https://youtu.be/aEu9BgL9aH4
Watch a short video clip on what Boaz Otieno likes best about vegetables: https://youtu.be/aEu9BgL9aH4

Still from video with Boaz Otieno speaking outside at a farm. He is a farmer and site coordinator in Kabos, Uganda

Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2019 at 8:18 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

More irrigation for climate-smart farming and food security in Guatemala

Connecting 9,000 rural households in Guatemala with improved water management and climate-smart agriculture strategies is the goal of a new project led by a team at UC Davis, to ultimately increase food security and reduce poverty in Guatemala's Western Highlands.

Meagan Terry, left, a UC Davis researcher with the Horticulture Innovation Lab in Guatemala, discusses conservation agriculture with a Guatemalan consultant and a local youth group member. (Photo by Beth Mitcham)
Called MásRiego (“more irrigation”), the project aims to increase farmers' incomes and their use of climate-smart strategies, including drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, reduced tillage, mulch use and diverse crop rotation. To enable farmers to adopt these new practices, the team will not only provide trainings but also build partnerships to increase farmers' access to needed micro-credit financing and irrigation equipment.

“The opportunity to impact so many farmers' lives on this scale is exciting,” said Beth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “We're taking lessons learned from our previous research — in Guatemala, Honduras and Cambodia — and building a team to help more small-scale farmers apply our findings and successfully use these innovative practices.”

The new project is part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. The project represents an additional $3.4 million investment in the UC Davis-led Horticulture Innovation Lab by the U.S. Agency for International Development's mission in Guatemala.

The project's international team also includes representatives from Kansas State University; North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; the Centro de Paz Bárbara Ford in Guatemala; Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala; and the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano, in Honduras.

“The learning shared between these three U.S. universities and the universities in Honduras and Guatemala will be enriching for all of the institutions involved,” said Manuel Reyes, research professor at Kansas State University who is part of the team. “I find it satisfying that these academic institutions will be investing intellectually in marginalized groups in Guatemala's Western Highlands — and in turn, learning from them too.”

Helping youth envision a future in agriculture

Miguel Isaias Sanchez has started farming with drip irrigation and a water tower, using information from one of the first MásRiego trainings. (Photo by Beth Mitcham)
The new MásRiego project will focus on helping farmers, particularly women and youth, grow high-value crops on very small plots of land (200 square meters minimum), in the Quiché, Quetzaltenango and Totonicapán departments of Guatemala's Western Highlands.

By partnering with local youth groups and agricultural schools, the team will better prepare students for jobs in commercial agriculture and agricultural extension with knowledge of climate-resilient conservation and water management practices.

“Our local team is training youth as entrepreneurs, to see agriculture as an economic opportunity instead of just back-breaking work,” said Meagan Terry, UC Davis junior specialist who is managing the project in Guatemala for the Horticulture Innovation Lab. “They can envision a future in agriculture, with innovative ways to create value-added products or grow high-value crops for niche markets.”

As rainfall patterns vary with climate change, farmers in this region are expected to face increased competition for water. Practices such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and conservation agriculture will become more necessary for small-scale farmers.

Climate-smart lessons from conservation agriculture, drip irrigation

In previous research, the Horticulture Innovation Lab has found that combining drip irrigation with conservation agriculture practices can successfully grow vegetables on small plots of land, without significant yield reductions. These practices improve soil structure, moisture retention and soil health.

Additionally, women farmers who participated in the Horticulture Innovation Lab studies in Cambodia, Honduras and Guatemala favored using these practices for another important reason: reduced labor in relation to controlling weeds, vegetable bed preparation and manual watering.

“I dream for many women, youth and their families, that their lives will be better off because of 'MasRiego' and the science behind this work,” Reyes said. “As for the research, we are learning how to improve this suite of practices so they can be tailor fitted globally. I am convinced that if this picks up, steep sloping lands can be farmed with the soil quality not being degraded — but even being enriched.”

These lessons, as well as findings from the program's “Advancing Horticulture” report about horticultural sector growth in Central America, lay the foundation for this new project.

A previous version of this article was published by UC Davis News Service and on the Horticulture Innovation Lab blog


Curious about partnering with the Horticulture Innovation Lab? The Horticulture Innovation Lab builds partnerships between agricultural researchers in the United States and researchers in developing countries, to conduct fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries. The program currently has three research grant opportunities for U.S. researchers: one focused on tomatoes, another on apricots, and a third on integrated crop-livestock systems. 

Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 at 8:02 AM

UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center offers first-ever produce professional certificate program

Learning about field packed lettuce in the Salinas Valley.
It takes a lot of knowledge and training to successfully handle produce from farm to plate. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a mechanism that helped produce industry employers recognize qualified applicants and helped applicants validate their postharvest qualifications?

Now there is, thanks to the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center’s new Produce Professional Certificate Program, the first of its kind in the world. Led by a cadre of the most respected experts in postharvest technology, the certificate program covers everything from safety, new technologies, physiology, harvesting, cooling, transportation, ripening, marketing fresh produce and more.

“It’s fantastic,” said Leo Kelly, a product development specialist with Monsanto Vegetable Seeds who focuses on developing tomatoes, peppers, melon, broccoli and other commodities with improved traits like flavor, nutrition, color and convenience. When the Postharvest Technology Center first started offering the Professional Certificate Program in early 2013, Kelly was among the first in line.

“I had attended some of their other courses and I really admire the instructors’ knowledge and expertise,” Kelly said. “This certificate program gives me a deeper understanding of the science behind postharvest technology, the reason you do the things you do, like store tomatoes at a different temperature than onions.”

Kelly has a Ph.D. in cereal biochemistry, 20 years experience in the food industry, and five years experience with Monsanto. And, he says, there is still so much more to learn.

The program allows participants to customize their curriculum through an a-la-carte menu of classes in addition to three core classes — the Postharvest Technology Short Course, the Produce Safety Course and either the Fruit Ripening and Retail Handling Workshop or the Fresh Cut Products Workshop. Some of the customized classes can be taken online and you have four years to finish.

“That’s very convenient for working people like me,” Kelly said. “You can keep your job and get the education.”

The program is designed for anyone in the fresh produce industry, no matter their specialty or level of experience. Postharvest technology involves people all along the supply chain — growers, shippers, packers, retail and others — and Kelly says participants benefit from that diversity.

“You network with people throughout the industry and from all over the globe,” Kelly said.

The produce professional certificate program will help employers, job-seekers and anyone who wants to expand their postharvest expertise, said Beth Mitcham, director of the Postharvest Technology Center and a postharvest biologist and Cooperative Extension specialist with the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis.

“When produce industry employers are hiring, candidates with a Produce Professional Certificate will have an advantage over other candidates,” Mitcham said. “When you know the candidate has learned and demonstrated knowledge of best practices for produce handling, you’re confident they will be an assist to your company.”

Depending on which courses you chose, the certificate program will cost about $7,500 over four years. For more details, check out the Postharvest Technology Center website at http://postharvest.ucdavis.edu/ or contact the center staff at (530) 752-6941 or postharvest@ucdavis.edu.

Media contacts:

  • Diane Nelson, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, (530) 752-1969, denelson@ucdavis.edu
  • Beth Mitcham, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, (530) 752-7512, ejmitcham@ucdavis.edu
Posted on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 10:58 AM
Tags: Beth Mitcham (12), postharvest (12)

Hot days, cool rooms, tasty vegetables

I'll admit that one of my favorite things to do on a hot day is to walk into an air-conditioned room. That burst of cool air in those first moments can be so refreshing.

It turns out I'm not alone — fruits and vegetables like to be cool on hot days too.

Shade provides some simple cooling at a fruit and vegetable market in Tanzania. (Horticulture CRSP photo by Keshavulu Kunusoth)
“Temperature management, or cold chain, is the single most important factor in maintaining postharvest quality in fruits and vegetables,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Controlling temperature helps regulate the aging process of a fruit, along with its water loss and microorganism growth. Storing fruits and vegetables at their lowest safe temperatures means they taste better and last longer.

To help us know the best ways to store fresh produce at home, the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center offers a free PDF poster Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste, which includes tips for different fruits and vegetables, from avocado to watermelon.

Knowing the right temperature is only part of the battle for farmers, who are responsible for the first links in the cold chain. Getting produce out of the sun and cool for storage can be a big challenge — and an expensive one.

But a farmer in New York, Ron Khosla, answered this challenge with a tool that can help make cooling produce less expensive for small-scale farmers. He created the CoolBot, a micro-controller that turns a well-insulated room with a regular air conditioner into a commercial cool room for storing fruits and vegetables.

Just as small-scale American farmers struggle with affordable cooling, so do smallholder farmers elsewhere in the world. Researchers with the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Horticulture CRSP) decided to test the CoolBot device, first at the UC Davis Student Farm and then with farmers in India, Honduras and Uganda.

Neeru Dubey, of Amity University, shows a CoolBot installed in India during a Horticulture CRSP project.
“The CoolBot creates, in my mind, the perfect compromise between effective cooling and reasonable cost,” said Mitcham, postharvest specialist and director of Horticulture CRSP.

Indeed, the CoolBot-equipped rooms worked, and the program is building more in Bangladesh right now. But there is a catch: Farmers must have access to reliable grid electricity for a cool room like this to work. To address this problem, the CoolBot in Uganda was powered with solar photovoltaic cells, but that led to another set of challenges — expensive equipment and fear of theft.

So how do you effectively cool vegetables, hot from a field, without grid electricity? A solution that is low-cost, effective and off-grid has not been found yet. In an effort to uncover such a solution, Horticulture CRSP will soon be launching a technology design competition that asks that very question. Can you answer this challenge?

Posted on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 7:43 AM

Grad students head abroad to work with farmers

You’ve probably heard it millions of times in your lifetime, but it bears repeating: Not everyone has enough, good food to eat.

To that end, the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program at UC Davis builds global partnerships for fruit and vegetable research to improve livelihoods in developing countries.

An Eco Finder volunteer discusses weeds with Michael Wolff, UC Davis graduate student, in Kenya during the first round of Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund projects.
Starting in September, those partnerships will include 14 graduate students from UC Davis, Cornell University, North Carolina State University and University of Hawaii at Manoa who will travel to work with smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Through Horticulture CRSP’s Trellis Fund, these students have been matched with organizations in Nepal, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Honduras and Nicaragua to provide their agricultural expertise in assisting the organizations' projects with smallholder farmers.

Besides supporting local farmers in developing countries, the projects will also potentially infect students with an interest in international agricultural issues.

“With the Trellis Fund, our goal is to engage young people in an international experience — a chance to partner with a small organization working with real people with real needs and apply what they know about science,” said Beth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Plant Sciences Department at UC Davis and director of Horticulture CRSP. “For a small investment, we’re creating lasting relationships and perhaps changing the career path of a young person.”

Read our full press release for more details, or find out who is going where on our Trellis Fund page.

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 8:36 AM

Next 5 stories | Last story

 
E-mail
 

University of California Cooperative Extension, Sonoma County
133 Aviation Blvd Suite 109, Santa Rosa, CA 95403  Phone: 707.565.2621  Fax: 707.565.2623
Office Hours:  M-F, 8am-Noon & 1pm-4pm

Like us on Facebook: UCCE Sonoma                        Follow us on Twitter @UCCESonoma 

Webmaster Email: klgiov@ucanr.edu