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Posts Tagged: tomatoes

UC Davis tomatoes provide year-round healthful eating for college students

Chef Bob Walden, right, and Arnulfo Herrera, a cook, show off roasted tomatoes at UC Davis. (photo: Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)
Today's dorm food is far superior to the tasteless, over-processed foods of decades past. No more mystery meat or mushy vegetables. Campus dining services across the country are providing a diversity of fresher and healthier foods, much to the delight of food-savvy students who want variety, flavor, and nutritious choices. Well... being students, they don't always make the healthiest choices, but educational programs at campus dorms are turning the tide toward more-healthful eating.

At the same time, chefs and food buyers at universities, particularly the University of California, are selecting for high-quality fruits and vegetables, produced locally and sustainably. Universities with strong food sustainability programs are rightfully proud of what they're doing to educate students about food production, health, and nutrition. UC Davis Dining Services prioritizes the purchase of locally grown food (ideally within a 50-mile radius of campus). Most University of California campuses have similar programs.

At UC Davis, fresh roma tomatoes are picked each August from the 300-acre Russell Ranch, part of the campus's Agricultural Sustainability Institute, then processed within hours by campus Dining Services to provide year-round tomato sauce for pizza, pasta, and ratatouille. All told, 10,000 pounds of tomatoes are processed during a two-week period in August. About 29 percent of the total food served in the campus's residential dining halls is from local, organic or sustainable sources.

(courtesy photo: UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute)
The tomatoes grown at Russell Ranch are part of a long-term academic research project that examines factors such as farming methods, irrigation needs, crop rotations, yield, and nutritional content. At the end of the growing season, some of the many tons of tomatoes are purchased by Dining Services at market value.

Emma Torbert, an academic coordinator at the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, noted, “Connecting the food system to the research is really interesting. A lot of times there is confusion about where our food is coming from. The more people are educated, the more educated decisions they can make.”

Many UC Davis faculty and staff are so impressed with the food choices at the dorms that they purchase individual meal tickets and enjoy lunches made with the campus-grown tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables, all of which are part of the daily food array. Public dinners are also offered periodically at the dorms so that community members can sit amongst students to taste and learn about the sustainability programs in the dorms.

Additional Information:

  • Video: Farm to Table, UC Davis Tomatoes; 2010
  • Slide show of this year's UC Davis tomato harvesting and processing system; 2014
  • Sustainable Foodservice Progress Report 2014, UC Davis Dining Services
  • Two videos of UC Davis students who work at the Student Farm to produce food, including one on tomato sauce production
  • “Tomatoes: Safe methods to store, preserve, and enjoy.” UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, free publication
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Discovery could deliver vintage flavor to a tomato near you

People often complain about grocery store tomatoes, saying they’re too hard and don’t have the flavor we remember from the days of old. And we thought we knew why - because the millions of tons of tomatoes harvested in the United States and beyond have to be picked before they’re fully ripe and juicy in order to survive being shipped long distances. What’s more, many shoppers store their tomatoes in the fridge, which destroys both their flavor and texture.

Ann Powell inspects tomatoes in UC Davis greenhouse.
But guess what? It’s not just how tomatoes are grown, harvested and stored that affect their flavor. A research team led by Ann Powell, a biochemist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, has discovered a gene mutation that diminishes a tomato’s flavor even if the fruit is picked ripe and stored well. The finding, which was reported in the June 29 issue of the journal Science, identifies a gene that was unknowingly bred out of modern cultivated tomatoes and plays a vital role in producing the sugars and aromas that make heirloom tomatoes so tasty.

The news is unexpected and encouraging, because now breeders have the genetic information they need to create modern varieties suited for large-scale harvest and shipping with all the flavor of more delicate heirloom varieties.

“Now that we know that some of the qualities that people value in heirloom tomatoes can be made available in other types of tomatoes, farmers can have access to more varieties of tomatoes that produce well and also have desirable color and flavor traits,” Powell said.

It takes awhile to breed a new tomato variety, so don’t expect to taste the results anytime soon. But Powell and her team’s discovery is a huge first step. Tomato lovers can also be grateful for C.M. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center at UC Davis, home to a vast collection of mutant and wild species of tomatoes which provides the genetic diversity scientists and breeders need to recapture the flavor of old.

You can read more about the study here.

You can access the Science article here.

You can learn more about the C.M. Rick Tomato Resource Center here.

Posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 8:13 AM

Tomatoes for flavor, for food and for everyone

A wide variety of tomatoes can be grown in the garden.
Tomatoes are the No. 1 garden crop in America. Everyone who has a summer garden grow tomatoes. There are more blogs, forums, tweets, and garden club and café talks about tomatoes than any other garden vegetable. Tomatoes are used in so many recipes, and can be preserved so easily into so many products it just makes sense to grow them in your garden. The garden lore about growing tomatoes successfully abounds. And the really good new . . . the failure rate for tomatoes is pretty darn low. You may not get as many as you like but you will get some pretty much guaranteed even with the low yielding heirloom varieties.

The really hard part about growing tomatoes is trying to select the variety for your location, the preferred size of your tomato fruit whether it is a small, medium or large, a paste or slicing type, red or yellow or orange or striped, or to select for plant size and growth habit, such as suitable for containers or should make the priority disease resistance? Or should you just choose whatever the nursery has in stock? 

The first consideration for variety selection should be climate. There are three basic tomato growing zones in California. Zone A is the coastal area of Santa Barbara south; it includes the coastal foothills,  and mountain ranges from San Diego though Marin Counties and the foothills surrounding the Central Valley, Napa and Sonoma Valleys.  These areas are typified by summer daytime temperatures are warm but below 95F. Zone B are the inland valleys and high and low deserts.  This area has daytime temperatures that regularly exceed 95F.  Zone C are the intermediate central and northern coastal areas; cool coastal valleys from Santa Maria north to the Oregon border and include the SF Peninsula. These areas have cool to moderate summers with evening temperatures in the 45-55F. While many varieties have been evaluated for their climatic adaptations, many have not so keep that in mind when selecting your varieties.  Examples of each are in the table below.

Zone A

Zone B

Zone C

Not yet evaluated

Sungold Cherry

Sungold Cherry

Sungold Cherry

Brandywine

Ace

Ace

Carmelo

Beefmaster

Better Boy

Bush Champion determinant

Patio Hybrid

Lemon boy

Floramerica Hybrid VFFNASt

Floramerica Hybrid VFFNASt

Bingo VFT

Roma

Supersteak

Early Pick Hybrid

Champion Hybrid VFNT

Goliath Hybrid

Early Girl Hybrid VFF

Shady Lady

Dona

Green Zebra

Jackpot Hybrid

Early Bush 76 VF

Stupice

Green Grape

Whopper Improved

Celebrity

Legend

 

Next is to decide how big you want your plants to grow. Determinant or “bush”  varieties are those that grow to a given size (about 3-5 ft) and bear most of their fruit within about 4-6 weeks.  If you like to can your produce, a determinate variety would be best since you harvest most all the fruit in a narrow window. 

Indeterminate tomato varieties grow and set fruit all summer until they are killed by the frost.  This type is good if you have the room to stake or trellis them and want a continual harvest.  I like to plant some of each.

The last thing to evaluate in selecting varieties is disease resistance. One disease that really has become a problem in many gardens is tomato spotted wilt virus.  (see picture, left).  This disease is transmitted by thrips and causes the fruit to spot and become corky.  Look for resistant varieties if you have noticed this problem on your tomatoes in the past.  Fletcher, BHN444 and BHN1021 are resistant varieties and good quality fruit.  For more information on management of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, go to UCIPM Website.

For more information on tomato culture and other pest problems, download our free 10-page leaflet Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden.

Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 11:23 AM
Tags: gardening (19), tomatoes (6)

May showers

A wise man once said that God made weather so farmers would have something to complain about. Or maybe he was just a wise-acre.

One very wet spring a few years ago I was talking with another wise man, the late UC plant pathologist Joe Ogawa. I told him that the fruit trees must be enjoying the rainy weather. Joe's response: "Oh, the trees are probably enjoying it—but the fungi are so excited they're jumping up and down!"

I was working that spring with Joe and his colleague Harley English on their book, Diseases of Temperate Zone Tree Fruit and Nut Crops. Sure enough, our meetings were often interrupted by phone calls from farm advisors, port inspectors, or scientists from USDA or the California Department of Food and Agriculture wanting advice about some piece of fruit they'd found covered with soggy bruises or a fuzz that was not its own. Joe knew his stuff and was eager to help. His idea of a really interesting pear or plum was the sort of thing that would send most of us out of the produce section and over to the canned or frozen fruit aisle in a hurry.

But his point about the rain that day was that it does a lot more than fill our reservoirs and nourish our plants. A late rain can also split cherries on the tree, spoil other fruit unless it gets immediate cultural or chemical treatment, and keep fields muddy enough to keep tractors out and delay planting for tomatoes and other crops. Growers rely on UC people like Joe Ogawa to help them find ways to address those problems without driving their costs (and yours) through the roof.

As a food shopper there's not a whole lot you can do about it—just enjoy the weather while you can, enjoy the food you do get, and hope for better growing conditions and prices next year. Sounds like farmers aren't the only ones complaining after all!

Follow these links to read more about Dr. Ogawa and the awards established in his honor by the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the American Phytopathological Society.

Joseph M. Ogawa
Joseph M. Ogawa

Posted on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 6:35 AM
Tags: fruit (29), plant disease (1), rain (1), tomatoes (6), UC Davis (35)

What makes food nutritious?

Workers sort tomatoes at Russell Ranch

Part of our mission at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis is to ensure access to healthy food. So we’ve focused much of our work on the intersection between agriculture and human nutrition.

An interesting new field of study in this area looks at flavonoids, which are compounds in fruits and vegetables thought to have beneficial antioxidant effects and other medicinal value – they may even help reduce cancer risk.
Measuring the amount of flavonoids is one way we can figure out just how nutritious the food we’re eating really is.

At our Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, UC Davis Food Science professor Alyson Mitchell has looked at the relative nutrition of organic and conventional tomatoes by measuring flavonoid levels in samples from dried tomatoes over a 10-year period.

Aerial view of Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility

She found that flavonoid content is greater in organic than conventional tomatoes, and the differences have increased with time. Over time, it also appears that an increase in flavonoid content is correlated with lower amounts of organic nitrogen application.

These results suggest that over-fertilization can result in lower flavonoid content – and a reduction in the health benefits of tomatoes. You can find out more about this research here.

Posted on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 4:51 PM
  • Author: Colin Bishop

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