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UC farm advisor comments on valley strawberries

Yesterday, the Fresno Bee ran a story about opening of roadside stands selling local strawberries. For the article, reporter Dennis Pollock spoke to UC Cooperative Extension small farm advisor Richard Molinar.

Pollock reported that only 25 strawberry farms remain in the county, down from 45 ten years ago. Most of the growers are Hmong and Mien, refugees from Laos.

Many farmers quit growing the fruit because of urbanization, costs for fumigants and unavailability of contracts with processors, Molinar said, according to the story. Wawona Frozen Foods stopped buying from area growers several years ago, and last year Dole Packaged Frozen Foods Inc. closed its Sanger receiving facility.

"That means growers would have to take their strawberries to the Dole plant in Atwater," Molinar is quoted.

Molinar told the reporter that valley strawberries need fewer or no spray treatments for mold prevention because of the dry climate.The crop this year looks good -- "as long as we don't get any rains," Molinar is quoted.


Posted on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 at 9:47 AM

Mexican farmer honored for environmental work

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story yesterday about a Mixtec farmer from Mexico who formed a non-profit that promotes soil conservation, sustainable agriculture and irrigation to improve the livelihoods of the Mixtec Highlands' 350,000 inhabitants.

The small group ecologists led by Jesus Leon organized more than 1,500 small farmers in 12 communities to reverse hundreds of years of environmental damage. For the effort, Leon is one of seven winners of San Francisco's Goldman Environmental Prize, a $150,000 award for pioneering environmental activists.

The story included a comment from Miguel Altieri, a professor of entomology at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.

"What's impressive is that they did this all from scratch," he is quoted. "Money is not the crucial factor here. It's their ability to work bottom-up, creating farmer-to-farmer networks and promoting low-tech solutions that tap local knowledge."

Posted on Monday, April 14, 2008 at 5:06 AM

Produce may need more than a wash

Washing fresh produce may not be enough to make contaminated food safe, according to a report on about USDA findings. KTVU is the Bay Area Fox Television affiliate.

USDA found that irradiation could provide a reliable way to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses reported each year in the United States, according to the director of the study.

For the story, the TV station sought comment from UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist Christine Bruhn. Bruhn said some activists are opposed to irradiation, but the process is gaining consumer acceptance as studies have shown that it is effective at reducing pathogens that cause illness, according to the version posted on the Web.

Posted on Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 2:59 PM

LA Times spreads the word on spreading invasives

An article in the Los Angeles Times gardening section today takes on weeds -- especially those that were deliberately introduced by nurseries for landscaping purposes but have naturalized, spread wildly and are crowding out native species that provide wildlife habitat.

Freelance writer Emily Green centered her story on the UC ANR publication "Weeds of California and Other Western States" by UC Davis Cooperative Extension weed specialist Joseph M. DiTomaso. In an interview with Green, DiTomaso said pampas grass is a perfect example of a landscape plant gone wild.

Pampas grass was introduced by a Santa Barbara nursery in 1848, according to the article.  When commercial production began in 1874, the plants were propagated by dividing them at the root, and only females were selected for their superior plumes.

"To simplify the process, they turned to seeds and planted the seeds and sold plants as tufts before they flowered, so they did not know if they were males or females," DiTomaso was quoted. "Males got out in the environment and boom, within about 15 years, the plant became an invasive problem. We actually had the solution, but we didn't stick with it."

Other common landscape plants that have turned into difficult weeds are salt cedar, arundo, English and Algerian ivy, ice plant, periwinkle and nasturtiums.

To address the problem, the article says a diversity of groups -- including Sustainable Conservation, the UC Davis Arboretum, Nature Conservancy, California Farm Bureau, California Native Plant Society, Huntington Botanical Gardens, California Department of Food and Agriculture and California Assn. of Nurseries and Garden Centers -- worked together to form an organization called PlantRight, It doesn't mention UCCE.

PlantRight has started its effort by enlisting UCCE's Master Gardeners to find landscape plants the group has identified as weeds in local nurseries. The group will then ask nurseries to take the offending plants off their shelves, the story said.

An interesting side note: In her article, Green officially christens the word "invasive" a noun.

Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 1:19 PM

UC advisor a source for national school garden story

UC Cooperative Extension 4-H and environmental horticulture advisor Rose Hayden-Smith provided information about California school gardens to an Associated Press writer who was reporting on the growing popularity of school gardens in the United States.

The story focused on a concrete schoolyard in hurricane-recovering New Orleans that has been transformed into a garden. It appears that writer Janet McConnaughy was looking for national numbers on school gardens, but noted that difinitive data are scarce. She wrote that the National Gardening Association's online registry lists 1,500 school gardens, up from 1,100 a year ago, and she spoke to Hayden-Smith for information on California's school gardens.

Hayden-Smith told the reporter that California alone had about 1,000 instructional school gardens in 1995 and triple that number by 2000. Nearly 3,850 schools - more than 40 percent of all state schools - got state grants last year to begin or improve gardens, according to the article.

Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 10:45 AM

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