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UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology Officially Recognized as an Agricultural Experiment Station

by Guest Blogger |

Underscoring more than a half century of pioneering work in organic farming, University of California President Michael V. Drake announced today that UC Santa Cruz will be designated as an Agricultural Experiment Station (AES). 

UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced are the first campuses to receive this designation in 50 years and join UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and UC Riverside as AES campuses. 

“Both UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced have long conducted research on agricultural issues, so it is appropriate that these campuses also receive this designation and have their work recognized as contributing to the overall UC agriculture research portfolio,” said President Drake. “Congratulations to these two new campuses on this wonderful milestone.”

AES is a system of campus-based scientists with the mission to develop cutting-edge knowledge and technologies to address agricultural, natural resources, and health issues. UC’s AES faculty conduct land-grant mission research and transfer basic and applied knowledge to the public through UC Cooperative Extension offices.

“Our campus has been working toward this designation for some time, and I’m so pleased that the hard work of our faculty and staff has paid off,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive. “UC Santa Cruz has a more than 50-year track record of pioneering work in organic farming and building sustainable food systems. This designation will allow us to continue building programs and have a positive impact on our community and on the wider field of sustainable, regenerative agriculture.”

Leading at the intersection of innovation and social justice, UC Santa Cruz has a long history of groundbreaking work in agroecology and regenerative agriculture. The campus has a well-earned reputation as a trailblazer in organic agriculture, a standing supported by continued efforts among campus researchers to find new ways to fight agricultural disease and pests without using chemicals. 

“UC Santa Cruz was a pioneer in organic agriculture and sustainable farming and is unique for the longevity of our work in those fields,” said Carol Shennan, emeritus professor of environmental studies and former director of the campus Center for Agroecology. “This designation will allow the campus to broaden our community impact by continuing to expand on the foundation already in place.”

The Center for Agroecology, rooted in the Social Sciences Division, brings a social justice perspective to envision an equitable future for food systems. Founded more than 50 years ago, the center created an intersectional space for researchers to study the science, policy, and community aspects of organic and sustainable agriculture. 

“If we’re really changing food systems and access to sustainable agriculture, we need to create spaces where people who have deep knowledge and experience, like farm and farmworker families, help shape the system as it grows,” said Darryl Wong, executive director for the Center of Agroecology. “UC Santa Cruz is very well-positioned to lead that work, from an interdisciplinary perspective.”

UC Santa Cruz has played a vital role in the flourishing of organic farming on the Central Coast and beyond, through undergraduate education, training provided by the apprenticeship programs, and faculty research projects. The Central Coast is well-known around the world for the high concentration of organic production, and UC Santa Cruz is internationally recognized as a hub of organic activity and expertise. 

Steven Gliessman, emeritus professor of environmental studies, led the groundbreaking research on organic strawberry farming that transformed the industry. UC Santa Cruz researchers continue to work to find profitable alternatives to chemical use in agriculture. 

Joji Muramoto, a Cooperative Extension specialist with the Center for Agroecology and the first Cooperative Extension specialist dedicated to organic agriculture, coordinates a statewide program focused on the organic production of strawberries and vegetables. The center is in the process of hiring an additional specialist as well.

The Center for Agroecology offers an apprenticeship program that immerses seasoned beginners in experiential study of soil health and cultivation, plant physiology, and crop production and distribution. Around the world, graduates of the program are improving the health of the environment through organic food production, education, advocacy, and social service programs. 

The center manages the Alan Chadwick Garden, a three-acre organic and biodiverse garden on the UCSC campus founded in 1967, and the UCSC Farm, a 30-acre organic farm founded in 1971 that serves as an outdoor classroom and research site. For more than 50 years these sites have hosted students, residential apprentices, and community members who learn about organic gardening, farming, and the food system. 

“I believe the new AES designation will facilitate the continued success of the UC Santa Cruz Farm in supporting relevant on-farm research with the goal of improving our collective ability to sustainably produce food for our communities in a rapidly changing environment,” said Jim Leap, former UCSC Farm manager. 

Center staff participate in interdisciplinary research projects that focus primarily on improving organic farming practices and increasing the sustainability of local food systems. They collaborate with UC Santa Cruz faculty and students, local farmers and gardeners, the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), and others to study farming and food systems issues.

“Having worked with the Center for Agroecology for over 15 years, it has been an incredible journey to see how the projects we have stewarded impact the Central Coast, the state, and connect to national and international dimensions of the food system,” said Tim Galarneau, UCSC food systems education and research specialist. “I look forward to advancing new and innovative efforts from the field to the plate.” 

Building on work happening in the Environmental Studies department and at the Center for Agroecology, a new agroecology undergraduate major was introduced in fall 2020. The undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree rounds out UC Santa Cruz’s programming in agroecology, adding to pioneering faculty research, hands-on experience for students, and transformational alumni contributions to the field and organic farming.

“The AES designation expands our capacity to do research, but it also codifies this sense of community involvement and engagement that is at the core of the work we do,” said Wong. “This is an agricultural experiment station for the community.”


This article was written by Abby Butler and published by the University of California, Santa Cruz