Partnership on UC campuses will prepare the next generation of organic agriculture leaders

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A grant of more than $700,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will support a University of California collaboration to improve and expand undergraduate education in organic agriculture, with a focus on supporting undergraduate students. represented. The project will be led by UC Santa Cruz, in partnership with UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).

The awarding of the grant demonstrates the educational leadership of this group of UC campuses, which are among the most well-established and respected university organic agriculture programs in the nation. Each partner campus and UC ANR will bring unique academic strengths as well as distinct regional knowledge and networks to the collaboration, with the goal of broadening the educational experience of students beyond what any one campus could offer.

Over the next three years, the project will establish new course and counseling options at the three partner campuses and provide students with more opportunities for experiential learning and research internships with UC ANR. These efforts come at a time when organic production is experiencing rapid growth, leading to an increased demand for professionals trained in research, extension and producer services focused on organic agriculture. The new programs will prepare students for these roles and will be particularly focused on underrepresented students.

“We need more diverse voices in the leadership of organic agriculture if we are to ultimately improve the agricultural system,” said UCSC Professor Stacy Philpott, faculty director of the Center for Agroecology and project director on the new grant. “Diversifying the field and ensuring that the experiences and knowledge of many different communities are represented will push us to new places in the future.”

Grant co-leads include Damian Parr, Ph.D., coordinator of the UCSC Center for Agroecology Research and Education, assistant professor at UC Berkeley, and associate co-director of faculty at the Berkeley Food Institute. Timothy Bowles, UC Davis Professor and Faculty Director of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute Ryan Galt, and UC ANR Associate Cooperative Extension Specialist and Presidential Director of the Institute of organic farming from UC Houston Wilson.

Expand the offer of courses and internships

Trainees from the Center for Agroecology practice planting
strawberries. Photo: Jim Clark

To better help students become the next generation of organic agriculture leaders, the grant project will combine the best educational offerings from across the UC system. A new intercampus exchange program will be developed to guide students from UC Santa Cruz Agroecology BA, UC Davis Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems BS, and UC Berkeley Food Systems Minor to take courses on any which partner campus and apply the credits toward the completion of their organic agriculture-related degree program. This will help students follow their interests through the biophysical and social science aspects of organic agriculture.

UC Santa Cruz will also lead the development of a new system-wide, seven-week field term program, complete with a super course in organic agriculture. The cohort of supercourse students will travel together to farms, UC campuses, and UC ANR field stations across the state for experiential fieldwork focused on organic agriculture production, research, and policy. The UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology will serve as the primary host site for the initial supercourse offering in 2024, and the UC Santa Cruz Department of Environmental Studies will lead instructional development, with administrative support for the program of field provided by the ANR UC.

Additionally, UC ANR will launch a new program to connect students from partner UCs with internships, field work opportunities for paid student staff, as well as professional development and mentorship, through participation in research projects. organic farming research led by UC ANR Cooperative Extension. Joji Muramoto, UC ANR Cooperative Extension Assistant Organic Production Specialist based at UC Santa Cruz, is the only system extension officer focused specifically on organic agriculture, and he will help design the program internships to meet the needs of students and state organic farming. Farmers.

Muramoto says California leads the nation in organic production, with one in five U.S. organic farmers located in the state. Yet specialized organic extension services have always been lacking. Training more students in this area could help fill the need.

“Both in terms of production and in terms of history, California is one of the states leading the organic movement, and our organic farmers deserve to have more public support,” Muramoto said. “We need to meet their unique needs and provide more extension services. Matching extension specialists with student interns is a win-win situation, as extension gets highly motivated assistants and students gain experience with different types of agricultural research across the state. »

Under the new internship program, UC ANR researchers will receive specialized training to build their mentorship capacities to work with underrepresented student populations. And all new grant programs will strive to demonstrate how farmers and community stakeholders can have a direct influence on setting research agendas, defining organic farming problems and solutions, and developing policies and extension services.

Supporting student success

Counseling services associated with new grant programs will be designed with the needs of underrepresented students in mind, and a student leadership development program will use federal co-op funds to provide mentored fieldwork opportunities in organic production on the campuses of UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. farms for students with financial need. The UC ANR internship opportunities will also allow students to benefit from scholarships and scholarships. And campuses will host career panels featuring alumni from underrepresented groups to help students build professional networks and explore possibilities for their future.

Damian Parr, UCSC’s research and education coordinator at the Center for Agroecology and a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Studies, is co-lead on the new grant and says the project ultimately aims no only to meet the needs of students, but also to draw inspiration from the many dedicated underrepresented students who have found creative ways to chart their own educational paths in organic agriculture over the years.

“The main inspiration for this work really came from the fact that minority and underrepresented students on campus have seen them innovate and take advantage of resources on campus in ways they see as best suited to their needs” , did he declare. “Almost everything this proposal proposes has already been done by students who have taken it upon themselves to figure out how to do it, but so far they haven’t had the programmatic structure and support to make it as accessible as possible. it should be.”

Parr says there is a long history of student passion that advances research and teaching of organic agriculture at the University of California. In the 1970s, student-run organic farms at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis were established to draw attention to the environmental and social costs of conventional agricultural production methods. These efforts laid the foundation for the University of California to become a world leader in organic agriculture today.

“UC organic agriculture has matured to such an extent that we have entire curricula, centers and institutes dedicated to it,” Parr said. “We have reached a threshold where we can now design UC system-wide partnerships, like this grant project, to deliver even more powerful educational programming for future generations of leaders in the field.”

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