Follow fun updates as well as interesting stories about clients, volunteers and supporters of SFBFS

April 20, 2015

Plants: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Before I began working at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, I worked for the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico. My job title, Land Management & Conservation Intern, gave little indication of what I really did every day, which was drive around southern New Mexico collecting seeds of native flowers and grasses. It remains poetic and pastoral sounding to me still, and it generally was except for the amount of time I spent driving to sites in my gas-guzzling government truck. Many of my collecting sites were in the Chihuahuan desert, the huge expanse of arid land from New Mexico dropping into ol’ Mexico. I love deserts but many people don’t, because they see a flat, dead surface. When I look at deserts I see a flourishing, diverse array of flora – albeit a temperamental one dependent on seasons. It’s easy to love lush forests, thunderous rivers, breathtaking valleys and tall mountains. It’s harder to love deserts because you have to look much closer to see the life and color. Almost everything is small, from the plants to the animals. But everything is so tenacious and resistant and unwilling to die from the heat and dryness! I’ve always favored the underdog and it’s no different when it comes to biomes. Desert plants have become so well adapted to their environment that some will even die if the elements get too cushy (like overwatered).

Why am I talking about deserts? Because there is so much to learn and appreciate in these barren places.  Like that plants change with the seasons and they aren’t always beautiful and lush. Or that some plants have amazing adaptations like silvery foliage or waxy leaves that reduce their need for water. Or that small can be beautiful.

Not all of California is a desert (as some are fond of saying), but neither is it the East Coast or the United Kingdom, areas we have tried to emulate in our landscaping, a.k.a. lawns. There is such a beautiful diversity of Californian and Southwestern native plants well acclimated to our hot and drought-prone environment, that thrived before we ripped them up to lay sod. Blah, blah, blah – you’ve heard this chatter all before, the lawn is the enemy, it’s been drilled into your brain by now and for that I’m sorry. I don’t want the lawn to be the enemy, it’s good for many activities and serves a functional purpose. I want people to PREFER native landscapes over turf grass. I want there to be a shift in what’s considered beautiful. Perhaps you’ve walked around your neighborhood and passed by a house without a lawn but with a variety of colorful plants of different textures, heights and smells.  I find such a yard so engaging and fun to look at and I hope other people feel the same. Maybe people will become more interested if they have more information. Yes, you are supposed to stop flooding your native plants in the summer and they will look dead, that’s what’s supposed to happen. But what a treat when it that brown bush is flush with green foliage after the first fall rain?  Egad, a season!

It will take time, better information and a lot of discussion to change people’s perspective about native plants. The drought has gifted us (if you want to call it that) with a great opportunity to open this discussion with other neighborhoods and friends. It will definitely require a shift in mentality and our ideas about beauty, but change is always possible! 

Kate Wilkins
Garden Coordinator
Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services

March 23, 2015

Kate's Korner: April 2015

Garden Cooking for Free!

Have you ever tried to cook something with solar energy? You probably have, but didn't realize exactly what you were doing.  Ever fry an egg on the asphalt or accidentally cook something in your car? You harnessed solar energy! 

Solar cooking is an old concept but it took a while for anyone to apply the technology to food. Greenhouses were built in England and the Netherlands to house tropical plants from the Mediterranean regions. These solar traps later evolved into conservatories and sun rooms attached to houses. A Swiss-French scientist named Horace de Saussure created the first solar cooker in 1767 with five glass boxes set on a black surface. Since then solar cooking has slowly gained in popularity as its usefulness has proven itself. Solar cooking is great in arid regions, places bereft of firewood or fuel and humanitarian crises areas like refugee camps. Not only can people cook without fuel but they can also pasteurize water when safe sources are not available. Solar cookers can be left unattended all day and pose no danger to children like cooking fires or fuel might. When the reflective panels are angled towards the sun, a solar cooker can heat up to 350 degrees! People in the United States are becoming more interested in solar as a free and sustainable source of energy.

The Demonstration Garden is lucky to have two portable sun ovens that work great in cooking all sorts of garden-fresh produce. Last week I harvested carrots and threw some in the cooker with some fresh thyme and a splash of olive oil. They came out fantastic! I also cooked some potatoes, carrots, onions and Swiss chard with tomato sauce to share with the gardening class. I have big plans to cook bread, amaranth and corn in the sun oven later this summer! On a sunny day, come check what is cooking in the garden!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

March 3, 2015

Kate's Korner: March 2015

As California’s drought continues, farmers and gardeners are perhaps the most keenly aware of its repercussions. We work with water every day, whether checking irrigation lines, watering newly planted seeds or rinsing off fresh produce. I can tell you exactly how long I have been able to shut the irrigation off in the Demonstration Garden this year – 10 days. That was after the two largest (maybe only) rain storms we have had in winter and spring. I thought I could get away with not mulching a few beds because temperatures would be cool, but with the lack of rain and summer-like days I had to put in more work later to mulch around each little sprout.

I believe that this may be the new normal in California but even if it’s not, gardeners and farmers should take some easy, precautionary steps to conserve water. Even if the drought eventually ends, conservation is still smart for your wallet if you have a water meter, or soon will. A few cheap, simple steps to dramatically reduce your water usage and increase your water use efficiency are:

1. Mulching! Use straw, dried leaves, grass clippings, newspapers or almost anything that biodegrades to cover the soil surface of your garden or yard. This mulch acts as an insulating layer that protects plants from temperature fluctuations as well as reduces evaporation significantly.

2. Drip Irrigation! Save yourself the time and heartbreak of hand watering each day and set up a drip irrigation system. There are many different kinds, including drip tape, soaker hose, and drip line that deliver water directly where you want it while decreasing water loss to evaporation. Think about investing in a hose timer so the system will go on automatically because who likes to come home from work and find that there tomato plant completely fried on the hottest day of the summer?

3. Water deeply. By watering deeply you encourage plant roots to grow down, where they can avoid the scorching hot soil surface and find more water that seeps lower into the soil. This will reduce the amount of water you use.

4. Intensive planting. Plant crops closer together so there is less area to water and their leaves shade the soil, thereby reducing evaporation. There are some great online guides and books that suggest the distances to space crops when planting bio-intensively.  

Come check out the Demonstration Garden to learn more about any of these technique. I’ll also be trying other inventive water-saving measures, so stop by and see how they’re working!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

March 2, 2015

2014 CA State Employees Food Drive

The final results of the 2014-15 California State Employees Food Drive are in!

The food drive raised more than 623,000 pounds benefiting Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS). California state employees donated more than $168,000 to purchase rice and food products and almost 213,000 pounds of food, including the turkey drive during the two and a half month duration.
This was the first year that SFBFS was the beneficiary of the CA State Employees Food drive and considering there were nearly 100 agencies with multiple locations and hundreds of thousands of employees, it was virtually a seamless transition. Each state agency designated a coordinator to work with SFBFS' CA State Employees Food Drive Coordinator on details such as barrel pick-up and cash donation deposits. There were many creative ideas implemented to raise money and food donations such as raffles, bake sales, canstruction competitions and more. The state agencies really stepped up to the plate and their generosity earned a home run! We are looking forward to surpassing our goal in 2015-2016.

"We are honored and grateful to work with the California state employees for this wonderful food drive,” said Blake Young, President/CEO at SFBFS. "The compassion and enthusiasm the state employees showed for helping families in need went beyond our wildest dreams. This group effort will allow our organization to reach more families who struggle with food insecurity and access to healthy food."

Food Drive coordinators and staff celebrate a successful year

To see a complete list of agency donations visit the State Employees Food Drive Web site:

Submitted by Peggy Marshall, CA State Employees Food Drive Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

February 5, 2015

Youth Education Veterinary Field Trip

Fifteen students in the Youth Education program at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services were able to participate a field trip to Abel Pet Clinic in Elk Grove through a grant from the Sacramento River Cats. 

Transportation was provided for youth to take a tour of the entire clinic and the chance to meet an experienced veterinarian. Owner and veterinarian, Dr. Kelly Byam, gave youth an inside look at what a routine visit is like for her patients, as well as a typical day for the staff. 

Dr. Byam showed students how patients are checked in and explained common reasons pets are brought to her clinic. She showed students what an x-ray looks like and the purpose of one, as well as how to navigate through the x-ray system. She showed children what the surgery room looked like and explained the different surgical tools as well as their functions. 

While on the tour youth got the opportunity to see a dog get its teeth cleaned while under anesthesia. Dr. Byam did a great job explaining the procedure taking place as youth watched in amazement. 

After touring the entire facility and learning the steps you must take to get in the field of working with animals, youth got the chance to ask Dr. Byam anything they wanted to know about animals and what her job entails. 

Not only was this field trip fun and exciting it was very informational not to mention one of our students interested in becoming a veterinarian was given the opportunity to receive free mentorship from a veterinarian. 

Submitted by Krystal Oliver, Youth Education Program Assistant at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services

February 4, 2015

Kate's Korner: February 2015

I'm a plant nerd.  

If you had not realized this yet, it is probably your first time reading my blogs. That or you're also a plant nerd and you presumed we were normal human beings with an equal appreciation for all things with roots! It is one of my life goals to make everyone else plant nerds because being one is fantastic.

Plants provide food, shelter, medicine, fabric, beautiful vistas and oxygen! Maybe you do not like eating plants (like vegetables) but you like eating steak? Well, cows eat plants, so I think you really like plants. Love a terry cloth towel after a steamy shower? Well you must really like plants because plants give us cotton. Would you feel deprived without coffee or bedtime herbal tea? P-L-A-N-T-S, my friends!

Since my job is running the Demonstration Garden, I've become an offshoot of a plant nerd – I’m a garden nerd. As a garden nerd I have noticed some peculiar things. I find it interesting how many people dissociate produce from plants. To some folks, it's not food unless it is wrapped in a bundle and lounging in the aisle of your grocery store. I love teaching people what food looks like when it is still in the ground, plus it's true that produce does taste better if you grow it yourself! All that time and effort you put into watching your food grow makes the experience of eating it even more enjoyable. 

I encourage everyone to grow something, anything that they can eat.  If you are one of those people who feels like they don't have a green thumb, please come see me in the Demonstration Garden and I will give you something you cannot loose.

Happy growing!

P.S. You know you're a garden nerd if….
  • Going through seed catalogs is more exciting than writing a Christmas list
  • You walk into a plant nursery with a limited amount of money so you won’t regret anything later
  • Your idea of a fun day trip is visiting a farm or garden
  • You try to identify all the crops as you wiz by farm fields along the highway

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services

December 22, 2014

Top 10 Demonstration Garden Bloopers of 2014

Happy 2015! The start of a new year means another chance to achieve your dream garden! It's time for a clean slate (and hopefully some compost-enhanced soil) to get your spring crops off to a glorious start. It's also valuable to reflect upon your garden experiences from this past year so you know what NOT to do this time around. Find those crumpled garden notes where you wrote down all the exciting crop varieties you wanted to grow! 

For this blog, I decided to muse about the failures in Demonstration Garden in 2014. Of course, the garden as a whole was incredibly successful but it's entertaining to recount some of the lessons learned. From crop failures due to pests and diseases, painful plant varieties and scary flowers I'm going to recount the Top 10 Demonstration Garden Bloopers of 2014 (in no particular order).
  • The invasion of the harlequin bugs – Fellow gardeners of Sacramento, 2014 was a great year for harlequins, which meant it was a bad year for us. I battled them for my perennial tree kale for months until I realized I could not defeat them.  I gave up and pulled the whole patch up in frustration. Only then did I realize I could have cut most of them down to the ground and they would have re-sprouted. Oops! Check out our new, gorgeous (and shorter) patch of tree kale in the garden this year! 
  • The okra planted in the garden became monstrous and produced a bountiful crop of okra pods.  The problem was I never wanted to harvest them because my skin was severely irritated by brushing against the plant. Yes, I could wear long gloves but it's hard to grasp the pods with bulky gloves. I was never excited to squeeze past the okra and I might have been a tad gleeful when I finally pulled it out of the ground. What will I do differently in 2015? Have more help with harvesting! 
  • A well managed compost pile should be damp and odorless. Poorly managed compost that is rarely turned will cause your volunteers to run away from it. We are often very busy and build our compost piles without turning them regularly (which you should try to do at least every other week). One day a garden volunteer turned a pile and released a stench from the gelatinous mass was shocking, overwhelming and  grossly sweet. One of the volunteers had to leave because of the smell. 2015 will be the year of regular compost turnings! 
  • Everybody loves California poppies, especially me. This is why I planted a dozen around the garden last spring. Unfortunately, not all the flowers bloom on a plant at once, meaning that while the late-bloomers open, the early-bloomers have gone to seed. The most prolific weed in the garden today? California poppies. Who knew that could be a problem? Lesson in 2015 – pull it out before the seed disperses!
  • Sadly, we had some loss of life this year. The aquaponics system lost three fish friends to various causes. The two found floating in their tank died of unknown causes. The final fish jumped out of a huge pot off a counter and onto the concrete while I was cleaning his tank. Note to self: put a cover on all containers full of fish.
  • I grew some interesting flower varieties this year but perhaps the most infamous was cleome. These spider flowers grew about 4’ tall, had a musky scent and sharp spines on the leaves. They caught of a lot of attention by people taking tours in the Demonstration Garden. 
  • We grew pole beans that produced beautiful red flowers, but not one bean. At first I thought an animal was eating all of them up but then I realized no living thing could be that efficient. I figured that the plants were too stressed by heat to produce any beans or I got a mysteriously sterile batch. I am going to try different varieties in 2015.
  • The cucumbers this summer grew phenomenally. The vines became so overgrown and thick that it was often difficult to find the fruit until it was a foot long. I sampled one of these monsters one day and immediately spit it out because the flesh and seeds were so bitter. The cucumber had decided it was no longer being propagated for consumption and decided to put all its energy into make strong seeds. Pro tip: do not give away or eat foot-long cucumbers.
  • Our tomato plants also grew well this summer, and by well I mean they became tomato bushes and obliterated the measly trellis system I erected to hold them up. Given, I should have used wire instead of garden string to hold them up but by the time the strings broke it was too difficult to pull the plants back up or tie string around their branches. We were awash in green leaves but less awash in tomatoes since a majority of the flowers were hidden and didn't get pollinated. This summer – pruning and trellising, oh my!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, Garden Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

October 28, 2014

Kate's Korner: November 2014

I just returned from a trip to Portland and I’m very excited.  Yes, the city is nice, the weather was amazing and the babies in Birkenstocks were adorable – but this is not what has me wound up. I’m excited about …THE FRONT YARD GARDENS!

While walking around different neighborhoods I saw garden beds tucked in amongst perennial flowers and shrubs, filled with tomatoes, greens and herbs.  These were beautiful old residential areas with a strip of grass between the sidewalk and road and often time a garden bed was squeezed into the small space.  It was inspiring to see so many households growing a few vegetables and not just for obvious reasons. Growing your own food is generally preceded by a concern or desire to be healthier, know where your food comes from, save money, cook more at home or be more self-sufficient.  I admire all of these reasons and I do my best to promote them in my gardening classes and everyday life. 

Sacramento has its own thriving agriculture scene and continues to see more people participate in urban gardening and farming.  Unfortunately, this growth has not altered many front yards and the green lawn ideal continues to prevail.  The City of Sacramento passed an ordinance in 2007 allowing fruit and vegetables in the front yard but gardens have been slow to catch on.  I know there are a variety of other reasons for this, like the expense of ripping up a lawn and replanting or a neighborhood association allowing only lawns. It might also be that people think their vegetables could be taken if they are visible from the street. Now I haven't scouted every neighborhood and I'm sure there are pockets of front yard gardens, but would not it be great to see more? Instead of all that grass growing, it would be nice to see food growing! How much food could you grow in place of your lawn? 

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

September 24, 2014

Kate's Korner: October 2014

Autumn is officially here, although you might not know it from the temperature. The length of daylight shortens every day and soon enough we will all be pitched into blackness by the early evening. Although this means after-work outdoor recreation will be cut short, it also means it's time to start planting fall crops!

Fall crops tend to fall into three broad (and occasionally overlapping) categories: leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and root crop vegetables. There are also peas, a cool-weather loving legume. 
Leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach and mustard make wonderful additions to salad and soups.  They can also be cooked, preferably sautéed with some oil and garlic. A couple of my favorite recipes are kale and rice soup and sautéed greens with eggs and toast. With regular watering and fertilizing these greens can produce all season! 

Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables of the Brassicaceae family which include cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and many more. In addition to having the coolest name ever (cross bearing because the flowers resemble crosses), these crops are high in Vitamin A and soluble fiber.  Unlike leafy greens you only get one harvest out of most of the cruciferous vegetables – a head of cabbage or cauliflower. Also, be prepared to patiently wait for your prize as Brussels sprouts and broccoli can take up to three months before they are ready to harvest.

I liken root crops to comic book superheroes like Superman. They look pretty dull and placid while they're growing because the fun, tasty part grows underground. When you harvest them - KAPOW - big, colorful, nutrient roots were hiding just below the surface! Time to plant your beets, carrots, radishes, parsnips, onions and garlic! Potatoes, although they are tubers, are generally classed with the root vegetables also. These are one-time harvest crops and many are fantastic raw, roasted or mashed. Some oil or butter and fresh herbs are all you need to make a wonderful dish out of your root vegetables!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

September 9, 2014

Recognizing an outstanding Senior program volunteer

Susan McCrystal has been volunteering at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services for over two years (since April 9, 2012). She started as a volunteer tutor in the Adult Education program, helping adults move toward their goal of passing the high-school equivalency test. Later, she became a volunteer in our Senior program, which matches volunteers with socially isolated senior citizens and provides them with home visitations and socialization. Ever since starting in the Senior program, Susan visits her senior, Ruth, twice a month bringing her groceries from SFBFS on one visit per month. During the winter, Susan brings Ruth her homemade soups and in the summer, roses from her garden. Susan brought a cucumber plant for Ruth and they both enjoyed watering it and watching it bear fruit. Susan has helped Ruth's family see Ruth's needs with letters and conversations.

Because of Susan’s generosity of spirit and abilities, she graciously took on the additional volunteer task of assisting with office work, data entry and much more. Susan has updated what she has coined, “administrivia”, administrative systems like data entry, and filing systems. She donated new file holders and has offered ideas for expediting and collating information. Her ongoing support and energy are very valuable to this program. To date, Susan has volunteered 275 hours for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. Susan is an incredibly wonderful person who gives her all for the betterment of the community.

Submitted by Marie-Louise Nelson, Senior Program Manager at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

August 27, 2014

Kate's Korner: September 2014

Summer in the Demonstration Garden has been quite a learning experience; from judging a vegetable's perfect ripeness to dealing with persistent garden pests, everyday held a different task to conquer! 

Perhaps the most challenging task, which continues to elude me, is navigating my way around gigantic plants that have sprawled into the path and encroach on their neighbor's bed. Pushing through the eggplant and tiptoeing around the tomatoes and melons are a fine exercise in balance and flexibility. Every week I dutifully hack away at the overgrowth only to see it magically reappear on Monday. If you have walked past the garden lately, then you may have seen the pumpkin vines spilling onto the ground. This is the plants attempt to turn the garden into a pumpkin patch. 

As a consequence of this, it's often a challenge to locate the produce hidden within the plant's greenery.  Volunteers often harvest baby-size cucumbers and zucchini that had previously escaped notice. These vegetables will not stop growing and can avoid detection quite well considering their mammoth proportions.  (Note: Huge cucumbers, of the variety we grew, have incredibly bitter seeds. Left to grow so long they made their seeds bitter to discourage being eaten so the seeds would survive and produce the next generation.)

An unrelated and particularly unpleasant garden problem I also experienced was summer pests. I have written previously of my battles with true bugs but their levels have diminished significantly since my reigns of bug-eliminating terror. The new offenders are mites and white flies. Mites look like small aphids and come in a variety of colors while white flies are tiny, pale and winged. Combined, they both took out an entire row of summer squash after repeated attempts at eradication. Unfortunately, I should have sprayed NEEM, a go-to natural pesticide, much earlier in my pest management but I was determined that a natural sticky spray could take care of the problem. Alas! The things you learn.

Have you had any summer gardening challenges? Feel free to come chat with me whenever the Demonstration Garden gates are open. Happy last days of summer!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

August 20, 2014

My first Fun in the Sun Fair

Fun, food, and information on healthy living were in store for families attending the Fun In The Sun Fair on Saturday, July 19 at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS)’ Saca Community Learning Center. Since this year was my first time attending the fair, I was quite excited to see what it was all about and to help make it a huge success.

I was in charge of the SFBFS' information booth at the fair and was happy to hand out informational flyers and talk to families about the six wonderful programs we offer the community. But SFBFS was certainly not the only organization at the fair. Many community organizations from Wellspace Health and Radio Disney Sacramento to Terra Nova Counseling and SMUD were also in attendance. Fun in the Sun fair made sure that families received resources that encompassed different aspects of their lives including mental, nutritional, and financial.  

Not only was there information on healthy living for families but there was also a lot of delicious food and fun activities. Families enjoyed a delicious meal of hot dogs, chips and fruit. The kids were able to get their faces painted, slide on the water slide and play fun games with SFBFS volunteers. Families were also able to participate in a raffle to win cute stuffed animals.

My first Fun in the Sun fair was an amazing experience. It was wonderful seeing families relaxing and having fun while receiving the resources they need to become more self-sufficient. It’s another great example of the work SFBFS staff and volunteers do every day at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

Submitted by Ryan Mishler, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

July 29, 2014

Youth Education Summer Camp Update

Discovery Museum
The youth went to the Discovery Museum to see animals and science projects last week. The discovery museum has animals, space and many other ancient items from the past. The trip was very interesting because we got to see animals live and actual skeletons.

The animal hall has animals, some live and some leaving behind bones known as modern day fossils. The animal hall has bear pelts, live fish, rabbits and frogs. They also have the fossils of dinosaurs, leaves and butterflies. The favorite animal was the lion face rabbit.

Another exciting thing sectioned in the Animal Hall that was a intriguing game called Swim For Your Life. It is similar to the game system the Wii. The major difference is that you use your body as the controller. This by far was the major highlight of the whole field trip because the youth kept doing it over and over again.

The science and space center is based on scientific research and contains numerous science projects. Inside holds moon rocks, Cosmos the Robot and different inventions. Everyone's favorite was looking at the rocks and the special sand. They all wanted to show each other their favorite things making the trip unforgettable.

The trip was amazing because the youth got to see new things and play games. The trip was full of adventure. It was another great memory added to the youth's fun filled summer.

The Sacramento Police Department came to talk to the youth today. The youth and law enforcement officers discussed the importance of not trusting strangers and safety strategies. Stranger Danger is the danger to children present by strangers.

The youth learned to not talk to strangers and to not do anything they say because it could result in putting the youth at risk for danger. In the future they will use these strategies to protect them from harmful people, who are suspected to be dangerous. The highlight was being able to see a policeman and woman who gave great insight on what to do if a problem rises.

In conclusion, the youth were able to learn how to keep themselves safe and learn that they have resources to protect them if they feel harmed.

Submitted by Journey A., Youth Education Intern at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. 

July 22, 2014

Kate's Korner: August 2014

Bugs. There are good ones and there are bad ones – and then there are really bad ones. The Harlequin beetle falls into the latter category as it is a pest in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, we have become familiar enemies in the Demonstration Garden. I first noticed them a couple months ago milling about on the perennial tree collards. They are easily identified by their black shield-shaped bodies with orange and white markings. The young beetles are a rounded shape and the eggs are generally white with black stripes. 

Although they eat anything, they’re particularly fond of plants in the Brassica Family, including cabbage, collards, broccoli, mustard, kale and more. I had a handle on it at first...or so I thought. Every weekday a volunteer or I would spend some time picking them off the plants. At the week’s end I would be impressed by how few adults I could find but come Monday, the beetles would be back in force. I began looking for the eggs in an attempt to eradicate the next generation. I found so many eggs it was scary, there were one to two clumps of eggs (with about 10 eggs per clump) on each leaf. At a certain point I realized it was an inefficient use of time to hand pick for an hour each morning. I then graduated to spraying NEEM on the plants every day hoping to kill off all the beetles. By this time, the tree kale was looking awful since the harlequin beetles had been sucking the juices out of their leaves and stems for a few weeks. The leaves were also covered with uneven white spots where the bugs were munching them.  

After about a week and a half of spraying I could tell my efforts were futile. The last resort was to pull the plants out and hopefully remove the bugs with them. In the few days after this tree kale problem, I noticed some beetles on the hops and lovage nearby. My hopes were that they had fled to these plants but wouldn’t find them to their liking. They found a flower variety they favored, cleome, which I promptly removed.

Unfortunately, I have been starting winter crops the last few weeks and a few beetles found their way into the greenhouse and began enjoying a nice Brassica lunch. I've resorted back to hand picking those because the scale is much easier to manage. In a pleasant twist, the fish in the greenhouse aquaponics system love a harlequin beetle snack!

Fingers crossed I can eradicate them before our winter planting. Stay tuned for future installments of Kate the Gardener vs. The Harlequin Beetle Hordes!

Submitted by Kate Wilkins, AmeriCorps VISTA at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

July 21, 2014

Sacramento Youth Chosen to Attend Worldwide Teen Summit

Two youth leaders from Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS)’ Youth Education program are heading to Boston, Massachusetts on July 28 to join nearly 200 other young people for the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network’s 2014 Teen Summit. Youth from 18 countries including India, Jordan, Israel, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil and the United States will be in Boston from July 29 - August 3 to explore using technology to make positive change and stand up for youth rights in issues such as education, environment, freedom & safety, health and speech & expression.

Youth ambassadors, Maria (age 16) and Beatrice (age 14), were chosen for their outstanding peer leadership and efforts to give back to their community. 

SFBFS’ Intel Computer Clubhouse, a member of the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, based at the Museum of Science in Boston, provides a creative out-of-school learning environment where young people from Sacramento work with adult mentors to explore their own ideas, build confidence, develop life skills and find pathways to success through the use of technology. Clubhouse members also learn to give back to their communities in ways that help build self-esteem, respect for others and commitment to community involvement.

About Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services’ Intel Computer Clubhouse
SFBFS' Intel Computer Clubhouse is a part of the Youth Education program. The Clubhouse is a year round, drop-in program Monday through Thursday. Staff and volunteer mentors engage youth in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (S.T.E.A.M). Youth, ages 12-18, with an interest in joining their local Clubhouse are encouraged to contact Kelly Ann at (916) 456-1980 or

About the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network

The Computer Clubhouse was founded in 1993 and has expanded to include 100 locations serving 25,000 youth annually from under-served communities in 20 countries. The Intel Computer Clubhouse Network is a project of the Museum of Science in Boston in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab. For more information visit:

Submitted by Kelly Ann Adams, Clubhouse Coordinator at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.