Eating Healthy Produce Important for Kids

Produce Critical to Healthy Lifestyle

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Fruits and vegetable are an important part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy produce is especially important for kids whose minds and bodies are still developing.

Teresa Thorne, the executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming in Watsonville, recently talked to California Ag Today about a peer-reviewed study that showcased the importance of healthy eating during childhood.

Teresa Thorne

“It’s another study, and it mirrors other peer-reviewed research that shows the health benefits to children of eating more fruits and vegetables,” Thorne said.

“There have been other studies that also have come out and said that increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially among young children, can really increase IQ. This study, which was conducted in Australia with 4,200 kids, found that test scores on standardized academic tests increased markedly from students that ate more fruits and vegetables and ate them every day,” Thorne explained.

Thorne emphasized that it’s very important for people of all ages to eat their fruits and vegetables.

“We know fruits and vegetables have a benefit for all of us, and on overall health, and that does include brain health, including when your kids are young and growing and maturing,” she said. “Giving the brain those nutrient-rich foods that fruits and vegetables really provide is important, and these types of studies just underscore that.”

It’s not just one type of produce that’s healthy. No matter if you choose organic or conventional, the important part is that you eat more fruits and vegetables.

“Organic or conventional, where ever you purchase them, whether you like to shop at your local grocery store or warehouse store or farmer’s market, buy either organic or conventional, but just always choose to eat more,” Thorne said.

“Even the most loyal, say organic shoppers, there’s times you’re eating in a restaurant or what have you, that they may not have that choice for you, but you should know that the choice to order that salad is always the right choice, whether it’s conventional or organic. Both production methods yield very, very safe and healthy foods.”

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Farmers Appreciate Leafy Green Marketing Agreement

Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Raises Bar

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

The Leafy Green Marketing Agreement took huge steps in the advancement of food safety.

Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California of the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, said, “In 2007, there had never been government inspectors on the farm on a routine basis related to food safety.”

Many other regulators such as the Department of Public Health would often check in on businesses. However, there had never been a routine food safety oversight program on the farm.

Farmers joined this agreement voluntarily. “All of these companies that have joined, and been in the program since 2007, they do so voluntarily, and they pay the freight,” Horsfall said. This raises the bar for food safety and provides value to the industry.

Farmers, who were wary at first, came back to Horsfall saying, “They sleep better at night knowing that they’ve got this program in place, that the auditors are going to be there.”

The California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement continues to improve. Every year, the numbers are studied to see what areas have a continuing problem.

“We have used that to decide what to create in a training program. We hope that we’re helping the industry to better comply with these standards as we go along too, by offering the training,” Horsfall said.

For more information, visit the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement web page.

 

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Raley’s Wants More Fresh Produce

Raley’s Owner Mike Teel On California Farmers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

California Ag Today recently had an exclusive conversation with Mike Teel, the owner of the Raley’s Supermarket chain, which has 135 locations throughout California and Nevada. We asked him what he’s looking for in terms of the produce produced by farmers in California.

“We’re looking for fresh, and any new products that could be in development, because that’s what differentiates us from the rest of the competitors,” Teel said.

“You know, there are new products coming on, and while most of them are not in the produce and fresh arena, there are interesting ways to combine and bring fresh produce and different combinations for our consumers. We’re a great chain for that, because we’re not too big, but yet not too small,” Teel explained.

Teel told us that Raley’s being based in California does have an advantage in being close to the farming industry. “It does make it easier for us to get it into the market faster,” he said.

And Teel said that consumers want to know more about the produce they’re buying. “Today’s consumer wants to know where their food comes from, and who’s producing it,” Teel said.

“They want to have somewhat of a relationship, even if it’s just the knowledge of who they are, particularly if they’re a family business, and so we try and highlight that,” he continued. “We have great relationships with our producers.”

Teel added that consumers would like to see an image of the farmer on the package. “I think they want to see that. They want to have a connection with the source of their food, and so any way that we can convey that to our consumer, whether it is with photographs or information at point of sale, or highlighting them in an ad, where it be online or on television. I think it resonates with the consumer.”

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Vegetables Are the Key to Great Nutrition

How to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

By Laurie Greene, Editor

In honor of National Eat Your Veggies Day, we spoke with Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis, and director of the UC Davis Dietetics Education Program for undergrads. She encouraged the importance of leaning on vegetables for optimum nutrition and health benefits.

Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis
Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis

“A varied diet of fruits and vegetables, along with grains and some protein sources is extremely valuable to give everybody the best energy for them to grow,” Steinberg said. “It really is so important to get the full spectrum of all the nutrients in these foods, particularly the vegetables.”

“In addition to all the required nutrients,” she explained, “we know the required vitamins and minerals—those that we know about and for which we have the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.” (Source: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)

Continuing, Steinberg said, “There are also quite a few other nutrients and compounds in those foods that are good for usthat have biologic effects. Not only just fibers, but also phytochemicals, phytonutrients, they are really part of what helps to promote overall health. It’s not just the vitamins and minerals in a vitamin pill. You really need to eat the whole fruits and vegetables and grains, and so forth, to get the full effects,” noted Steinberg.

There is a new approach to how much produce people should eat on a daily basis. Steinberg noted the importance of eating the rainbow; fruits and vegetables of every color. Previous nutrition campaigns used to stress the importance of consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

“Most people don’t even come near to eating the amount of vegetables they need. Rather than focusing on a specific number, an easier goal is just eat more than you currently do, in terms of vegetables. Eat one more serving each day. Try a new vegetable each week. See if you like them,” said Steinberg.

Eat The Rainbow

In particular, Steinberg recommended red beets which are a wonderful vegetable to add to your eating list. “Beets are delicious. These deeply colored fruits and vegetableswhether they’re red, or green, or orangethat really denotes they have more nutrients in them. There are all these colored compounds that are often bioactive in the body. They really are good for you. You can, as you say, eat the rainbow by choosing these brightly colored fruits and vegetables.” noted Steinberg.

Steinberg encourages consumers to 'eat the rainbow'.
Steinberg encourages consumers to ‘”eat the rainbow.”

By consuming more vegetables, consumers can more avoid many chronic diseases. “I think that certainly most of the chronic diseases we suffer from today stem from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, that sort of thing,” Steinberg commented. “They’re often a combination of overconsumption of overall calories and empty nutrients, and not enough consumption of some of these fruits and vegetables that hold such valuable nutrients for us,” said Steinberg.

“It really is a matter of trying to make your diet as nutrient-rich as possible, and really avoiding those empty calories that seem to provide us lots of extra calories without any added benefit,” she stated. “If folks can cut down on some of the sugary and highly fatty snacks, chips and that sort of thing, and eat a piece of fruit or an extra vegetable serving per day they’re really much better off.”

Steinberg suggested one way to stimulate the desire to eat more vegetables is by making them readily available. “I think sometimes when people buy some of the produce, then they put it away in the refrigerator, it’s not visible. It’s hidden and they go to the cupboard and look and there’s a bag of chips that’s very easy to grab.”

She also recommended ways to make sure produce is not left behind. Consumers can purchase “fruits and vegetables that are already pre-washed and cut up, and put them in a little baggie or bowl on the counter, if they’re not perishable, or just a baggie in the refrigerator. It’s a quick grab and go. You can take it and have it as a quick snack. Things that are appealing to children are small bites that are easily consumed, bright and colorful.”

Steinberg recommended consumers “try to find those fruits and vegetables that are very fresh. Sometimes the ones we find in the grocery stores are not as flavorful as [backyard-grown], from the farmer’s market, or even just knowing which vegetables are in season. At the grocery store, the best things that are in season are usually going to be the freshest and tastiest. ” said Steinberg.

Fresh is not the only way consumers can enjoy the benefits of produce since frozen varieties are easy to come by. “Some of the frozen whole vegetables and fruits are highly nutritious,” said Steinberg. “They’re very affordable and available year round.”

Steinberg also mentioned the availability of low calorie dips such as hummus can easily be found in grocery and convenience stores which encourages more fresh vegetable consumption. In fact, hummus is primarily chickpeas, another great vegetable. “Dipping fresh vegetables in hummus. That’s delicious,” she said.

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Tomato Distributor Works With Large, Small Scale CA Farms

Morning Star Company Supplies Tomatoes to Large Distributors 

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Renee_Rianda
Renee Rianda with Morning Star Packing discussing the California tomato processing company

The state of California has an ample supply of tomato processors and growers. Renee Rianda, a representative with Morning Star Company, talked about the Woodland, Calif. packing industry that mainly supplies to large distributors. “Morning Star company is the overall umbrella. Morning Star is a big player.” she said, “We are unique in the fact that we are owned by one person.”

The majority of California tomatoes are used as an ingredient in other brands. Morning Star is a name that is familiar with companies such as Domino’s Pizza and Heinz Ketchup. They are not branded like companies such as Del Monte or Campbell’s, but they are used in prepared foods for grocery stores.

“Where I fit into this whole massive situation is I deal with the growers.” she said about her role with the company, “I use roughly a couple hundred growers which is not quite everybody in the state but most of them.”

The fluctuation in supply and demand for tomatoes can vary from year to year. Rianda said that is why they work with a variety of farms in California, “We have everybody from a small individual grower of everything to larger family farms that do a variety of commodities.”

Though there is not a panel or board of directors, the Morning Star Company base is efficient. “We’re very flat as far as an organization goes.” Rianda said, “Everybody has their expertise in the areas that they are best versed in.”

Rianda likes to keep herself updated at conferences around the state. In turn, she can help growers have a commodity to sell. Using the right products is key to Rianda, “That way everybody can still have ample tomatoes to eat.”

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DPR Scientists Say Most Fresh California Produce Tested Has Little/No Detectable Pesticide Residues

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced that once again, the majority of produce it tested annually had little or no detectable pesticide residues and posed no health risk to the public. 95 percent of all California-grown produce, sampled by DPR in 2013, was in compliance with the allowable limits.

“This is a vivid example that California fresh produce is among the safest in the world, when it comes to pesticide exposure,” said DPR Director Brian R. Leahy. “DPR’s scientifically robust monitoring program is an indication that a strong pesticide regulatory program and dedicated growers can deliver produce that consumers can have confidence in.”

DPR tested 3,483 samples of different fruits and vegetables sold in farmers markets, wholesale and retail outlets, and distribution centers statewide. More than 155 different fruits and vegetables were sampled to reflect the dietary needs of California’s diverse population.

Of all 3,483 samples collected in 2013:

  • 43.53 percent of the samples had no pesticide residues detected.
  • 51.51 percent of the samples had residues that were within the legal tolerance levels.
  • 3.99 percent of the samples had illegal residues of pesticides not approved for use on the commodities tested.
  • 0.98 percent of the samples had illegal pesticide residues in excess of established tolerances. A produce item with an illegal residue level does not necessarily indicate a health hazard.

Each piece of fruit or vegetable may legally contain trace amounts of one or more pesticides. The amount and type of pesticide (known as a tolerance), is limited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. DPR’s Residue Monitoring Program staff carries out random inspections to verify that these limits are not exceeded.

The produce is tested in laboratories using state-of-the-art equipment operated by California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). In 2013, these scientists frequently detected illegal pesticide residues on produce including:

  • Cactus Pads from Mexico,
  • Ginger from China,
  • Snow Peas from Guatemala and
  • Spinach from the US

Most of the 2013 illegal pesticide residues were found in produce imported from other countries and contained very low levels (a fraction of a part per million). The majority of the time they did not pose a health risk.

One exception occurred in 2013 when DPR discovered Cactus pads, imported from Mexico, that were tainted with an organophosphate-based pesticide. This had the potential to sicken people. DPR worked with the CA. Dept. of Public Health to issue an alert to consumers in February 2014. DPR also worked diligently to remove the entire product it from store shelves and distribution centers. In addition, DPR asked the US Food and Drug Administration to inspect produce at the borders and points of entry to stop shipments into California.

California has been analyzing produce for pesticide residues since 1926 and has developed the most extensive pesticide residue testing program of its kind in the nation. The 2013 pesticide residue monitoring data and previous years are posted at: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/enforce/residue/rsmonmnu.htm

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Water Quantity, Quality Affect Melon Crops

Source: Steve Adler; Ag Alert

With severe shortages of surface water affecting key Central Valley production regions, melon growers say both water supply and quality will affect their final crop yields this year. As they ship cantaloupes, watermelons and other melons to supermarkets around the country, every grower in the Central Valley is talking about the water shortage.

There have been some acreage reductions because of lack of surface water, particularly on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, but most melon growers have wells on their farms to irrigate their fields. Because of the salinity of much of that groundwater, however, melon growers report lower yields in many fields.

In addition, growers said they have found it necessary to sink their wells deeper as underground aquifers decline, and farmers report that some wells have run dry.

The annual melon harvest begins in the Imperial Valley and the neighboring Yuma Valley in Arizona in early to mid-May, then progresses north through the San Joaquin Valley.

Melon yields in Imperial and Yuma were lower than normal this year, growers said, because many of the fields were hit with mosaic viruses.

“We fought mosaic in the melons this year that was aggravated by the strong winds that came in later than normal throughout April and much of May,” Imperial County farmer Joe Colace Jr. said. “The size early on was about a half to full size smaller than what we are accustomed to getting from our early crop, but after about the second week, our sizes improved and we were fine for the balance of the season.”

Due to the lack of water in the Bakersfield area, Colace said his farm decided not to plant melons there as it typically does, choosing instead to extend the season in the Imperial Valley, where water was more available.

Sal Alaniz, director of harvest and quality control for Westside Produce in Firebaugh, said they have about 2,500 acres of melons that will be harvested through October. Their plantings are down about 300 acres this year due to water shortages and quality, he said. The farm is using only groundwater this year and its quality has affected some fields.

“We’re using groundwater that is lower in quality and higher in salts, and that affects the quantity,” Alaniz said, adding that melon quality is good, but yields are expected to be only average.

Westside Produce started its melon harvest on June 27, about eight to 10 days earlier than normal due to warm spring weather, Alaniz said. Harvest crews will go through the fields several times, choosing the ripe melons and leaving the immature ones to be harvested later.

Alaniz said the farm uses drip irrigation, which allows for water to be applied when the plants need it while still providing the ability to move harvest equipment through the field. He noted that drip irrigation does bring extra expenses, “due to the labor and need for filters.”

So far, Alaniz said he has had no problem filling harvest crews. About 80 percent of the workers return each year for the melon harvest, he said, while noting that labor could get tighter as other melon growers begin their harvests. Each machine moving through the field employs a crew of 21 plus a foreman.

For cantaloupes, newly adopted mandatory food safety and trace-back requirements took effect last year, following a vote by melon growers.

“The new food safety and trace-back rules are working fine,” Colace said. “Anytime there is something new or a new application, there is always that learning curve. We are through that learning curve, and we are very consistent and satisfied with all of the food safety requirements. The rules are specific to the cantaloupes, but if we have customers who request this on other melons, we are in a position to do that as well.”

The program operates with oversight from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and utilizes auditors trained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We are very pleased that all handlers achieved certification last year,” said Garrett Patricio, vice president of operations at Westside Produce and chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board marketing committee. He said this season’s audits are currently ongoing and that any new handlers will be added to the certified list as soon as their audits are complete.

In 2013, California growers produced cantaloupes on about 36,000 acres. Farmers also grew 10,500 acres of honeydew melons and 10,000 acres of watermelons last year, along with smaller plantings of a variety of other melons.

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President/CEO Westside Produce on Food Safety

Stephen Patricio, President and CEO of Westside Produce, a grower, packer and shipper of cantaloupe for California and Arizona, talks about food safety of our locally grown foods.

“The Center for Produce Safety is a 7 year-old organization that facilitates science-based actionable research to improve the quality as well as the safety of the healthy fruits, vegetables and tree nuts we are so proud of,” said Patricio.

Patricio commented that in general, growers have a great understanding of food safety. “There’s been a tremendous awareness over the years I’ve been actively involved, and we’re maturing everyday. Realistically, the industry matures, the workers mature, because the elements of food safety don’t exist in an ivory tower or in an office, or in a tractor or in a shop; they exist everywhere on the farm,” said Patricio.

“From the absolute beginnings on the dirt all the way through the packing houses to the shipping docks to the sales offices; it’s a culture. Food Safety is a culture, not just an action,” he added.

And for those consumers worried about the nutrition and safety of their produce, Patricio reassures that everyone involved in produce cares just as much as they do. “What I continue to tell people is that there is not a farmer, producer, or grower anywhere who doesn’t eat the product that they produced themselves. And, they feed it to their family, their children, their grandchildren. And they’re proud of it, they’re happy with it.”

Patricio continued, “If that’s the approach that people simply take to their daily actions and activities, well, I don’t have to worry about the safety of food. We just have to use our heads and manage temperature and everything from spoilage to cross-contamination that can happen anywhere. But you do a good job of creating a safe product,” said Patricio.

The beauty of California produce, according to Patricio is that it is “not a sterile environment. Everything isn’t produced in a factory, taken off a shelf, or torn out of a plastic container. It’s all healthy and from nature. It’s in God’s container and we just have to do our job of not contaminating it.”

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Fresh Harvesting and Packing Co Relies on H-2A Workers

Steve Scaroni is a owner of Valley Harvesting and Packing, a major harvester of strawberries and leafy green vegetables in California and Arizona. At a recent romaine lettuce harvest operation in Salinas, Scaroni talked about how much labor and equipment his production utilizes.

Scaroni said much of his labor comes from Mexico, as part of the federal H-program, which allows temporary visas for agricultural labor workers.

“The H-2A is so important. We absolutely could not produce at the levels of volume that we do without H-2A labor. There is not enough legal labor for us to do the amount of volume that we are asked to do by our customers.”

Scaroni explains that having the H-2A visa program is essential to his produce production and harvesting, even for company that is not seen by the consumer.

“Between the different brands that we probably serve, we probably touch 20 percent of every salad eaten in america everyday. But you don’t see our name anywhere, you don’t hear about us, we are a vendor behind the scenes for the major brands,” said Scaroni.

With the demand and need for guaranteed freshness in produce, a constant flow of workers is even more crucial to the harvesting and production process.

“But we are the ones putting up the harvester equipment and we are making sure we have enough labor. The whole process is now “just in time”. See that’s the other thing, now we have freshness, food safety, but you know we have to have a consistent workforce because we are on just in time deliveries because that’s what the grocery store requires. It comes all the way come back to us.”

Scaroni explains the process by which his company obtains out of state workers, legally and those with good work ethic.

“We’re fortunate that we have what have a farming operation in Mexico, so we vet a lot of our workers that we bring up here. we vet them first in our operation in Guanajuato Mexico. And then the good ones we give them the opportunity to come up here to work two to three to four to five to six  months, making more in an hour than they can make in a day in Mexico.” said Scaroni.

Scaroni noted that there must be approvals from five different government agencies to get that worker out of Mexico and here working in California, legally with a H-2A visa.

“I have a great H-2A team, all they focus on is H-2A, the process, getting the workers up here, going to the consulate to do the intake process. Every worker is background checked, fingerprinted, and if they have any criminal history in the system, they’re excluded and cut off the border, and they can’t come.”

Scaroni said the job wouldn’t get done without them.

“In today’s labor reality I would not have a business at the volume that my customers bless us with. We would be at half of what we are, We’d be half the business we are now.” Scaroni added.

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Drought Could Affect Current and Future Food Prices

California Farm Bureau Federation reported today that with hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland expected to be left unplanted this year due to water shortages, market analysts and economists say shoppers will likely begin to see higher prices on some food items later this year.

Sean Villa, president of Great West Produce, a produce broker in Los Angeles County, said he expects a number of products to be affected later this year, including broccoli, sweet corn and melons from growing regions in Fresno, Mendota and Huron, where farmers will likely cut acreage due to water shortages.

Gary Tanimura, a vegetable grower based in the Salinas Valley, said he will have to reduce his summer melon production in the San Joaquin Valley by about 20 percent due to lack of water.

Tanimura said spring and fall lettuce production in the San Joaquin Valley also could drop by 25 percent to 30 percent this year.

Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, said farms in the Oxnard growing region—which typically plant a second crop in the summer for fall production—may not be able to do that this year.

“If the water situation continues to be this severe, there may not be as many of those acres replanted for fall production,” she said, adding that if the drought continues into fall and winter, when most strawberries are planted, it could affect what’s planted for next year’s harvest.

Because California supplies nearly 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries, Jewell said it is not likely that there will be much of a production shift to other regions.

“It’s not like someone else could step in and do that,” she said. “It’s all about climate and location.”

On the beef market, the California drought may have the most impact on niche products such as grassfed, organic or natural beef, said Lance Zimmerman, a market analyst for Colorado-based Cattlefax. Those programs typically rely more on local or semi-regional supplies, he said.

Retail beef prices have risen nationwide, Zimmerman said, because of improved demand and continued declines in supply caused by several years of drought in other major beef-producing regions in the Southern Plains and the Southeast.

In states where drought conditions have improved, ranchers are now trying to build back their herds, so they’re not sending as many animals to market, particularly mature cows, and that has driven up prices on meat cuts such as chuck roast and ground beef, he added.

On the produce market, fair weather accompanying the drought has, for now, caused vegetable crops to come to market ahead of schedule, creating an overlap of products from the desert region and the San Joaquin Valley.

That, combined with reduced demand from East Coast markets due to severe winter weather, has led to temporary oversupplies of some vegetables, Tanimura said, while Jewell reported that berry production has also been stimulated by warm winter weather.

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