The UC Food Observer chooses a handful of important stories for you to read as you finish your work week. On the menu, in no particular order: a sardine fishery collapse on the West Cost. Amina Harris from UC Davis teaches us how to taste honey. The Tropics of Meta crafts an absolutely riveting piece on the history of small farms and urban ag in Los Angeles County…”rurban” homesteads as part of a federal program. Is the new Whole Foods label better than organic? And pesticide use near schools in California’s Ventura County is causing controversy…and may lead to new regulations.

Don’t miss our Q&A with plant geneticist Pam Ronald. She discusses GMOs, sustainable agriculture, farmers and labeling. She also shares ideas about how we might inject more science into public policy for the benefit of our nation’s civic life. And she offers some compelling thoughts about how a certified sustainable labeling system could transform the food system.


1. A little fish with a big impact is in trouble on the West Coast. It’s estimated that the U.S. Pacific sardine population has dropped by 90% since 2007. As a result, the Pacific Fishery Management Council – one of eight regional fishery management councils – decided to close the fishery as of July 1st. The impacts are huge, and not only for fishermen and seafood processors. (Per 2012 figures, the economic value of the fishery was worth more than $21 million that year). Scientists “are particularly concerned about what this means for the marine food web.” Did the fishery closure come too late?

Elizabeth Grossman (@lizzieg1) wrote this piece for Yale Environment 360. It was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a non-profit investigative journalism organization.


2. Learning how to taste honey. Amina Harris is the director of the Honey and Pollination Center, located at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, on the UC Davis campus. Harris might be considered a “sensory scientist”, and her job (we think it’s a sweet gig!) includes “curating a honey library and hosting honey tastings.” A focus of her work has been to create the Honey Flavor Wheel, “a thorough tool for understanding the wide range of flavor characteristics present in honey, while expanding vocabulary we use to describe it.” Harris hopes that by learning more about honey, consumers will become more engaged – and discerning – about consumption. Ultimately, she hopes that this will lead to a better understanding of pollinators.

Amber Turpin interviewed Harris for Civil Eats.


3. The Tropics of Meta is an eclectic website run by a group of academics who explore history and culture. Co-Editor Ryan Reft is a University of California alum, earning his PhD from UC San Diego in urban history. Reft has crafted an absolutely riveting piece exploring the history of small farms and urban agriculture in parts of the Los Angeles basin. What he’s written may surprise you. For Los Angeles was one site in a bold national experiment to provide wage earners with “rurban” homesteads, in order to increase their self-sufficiency and achieve other social and economic goals. What lessons might the area’s past – and “rurban” homesteads – hold for today’s burgeoning urban ag movement?


4. Is Whole Foods new labeling system better than organic? Whole Foods has recently established a “Responsibly Grown” program. It provides another set of standards for the produce and flowers that the retailer sells. The system rates both organic and conventionally grown produce. It considers energy conservation, water use and other “environmental and ethical factors” (including how producers treat workers). Adam Chandler (@AllMyChandler) writes an excellent piece for The Atlantic.


5. California grows nearly 90% of the nation’s strawberries. About 30% of the state’s strawberry production takes place in coastal Ventura County, with much of the crop being grown in the community of Oxnard. Strawberry producers rely on chemicals called fumigants to help grow the crop. Now, the use of fumigants has become a civil rights and environmental justice issue.

The latest news? In response to concern from parents, community members, school administrators and local leaders, California regulators are in the process of “developing the first statewide restrictions on pesticide use near schools.” Tony Barboza (@tonybarboza) writes an important piece for the Los Angeles Times.


As you roll into what promises to be a beautiful weekend, savor every moment. And for all you fathers out there, enjoy your special day.