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The Gift Of Growth

slug-greenhouseSLUG REPORT > UCSC receives funding for organic farming and ocean health programs 

Deep in the east field of the UC Santa Cruz campus, tucked beneath a sequoia grove, are nine tent cabins. Within these cabins reside 36 apprentices, who daily get their hands dirty in research and development of organic, sustainable food systems through the six-month Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems’ (CASFS) “Grow a Farmer” apprenticeship program.

On Tuesday, Aug. 21, Congressman Sam Farr and UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal announced that this year, thanks to a $665,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program will be substantially recognized and rewarded for its work. The university applied for the grant in conjunction with its three Central Coast organic and sustainable farming programs—the Ecological Farming Association (EFA), California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)—a few years ago, and now CASFS has the ability to further develop.

Longtime UCSC professor and recently instated director of CASFS Daniel Press says the “Grow a Farmer” program has been cultivating a new generation of organic farmers.

“Anybody who pays attention to agriculture acutely realizes that farmer replenishment is a major problem,” Press says. “We’re not replenishing farmers with young farmers at a fast enough rate [to keep up with demand].”

The “Grow a Farmer” program attracts people from across the globe—East and West Africa, South America, Europe, even Asia. Graduates often go on to start new organic farms, and teach others about organic and sustainable farming both in California and back home. Recently, CASFS graduates Jane Hodges and Maggie Cheney founded Farm School NYC, which was featured on ABC in early August.

Press says that most of the grant funding channeled to UCSC will accordingly water at the roots via scholarships.

“Our six-month apprenticeship program costs $8,000. We try to discount it to $6,000, but for our target enrollments, we want to get that down to zero,” Press says. “So we’re talking about $360,000.” Press confirmed that the funding “definitely” makes a big dent in that amount.

slug-cabinThe grant money will also go toward updating UCSC’s organic and sustainable farming training manuals, which are available to the public for free online.

“We haven’t updated those in about a decade,” Press says. “This is about teaching the teacher … one of the things we’re proud of is we’re not all hush-hush about organic farming. We have a global mission and a global reach.”

CASFS is not the only program at UCSC currently getting recognition. The Center for Ocean Health at Long Marine Lab has recently received a $1 million gift from university alumni Christine and Robert Holo, which will provide additional space and equipment for teaching and research.

“Of all the projects at Long Marine Lab, the Center for Ocean Health expansion is the most critical,” said Gary Griggs, UCSC faculty member and director of the Institute of Marine Sciences, in a press release.

The 23,000 square foot, privately funded center opened to students, researchers and faculty in 2001. After the $12 million planned expansion, the center will be close to 40,000 square feet. As part of that expansion, one small classroom will be transformed into a fully equipped lecture hall and named the Holo Family Lecture Room.

Robert and Christine met as undergrads at UCSC—he a history major, she biology.

“Chris,” as Robert fondly calls her, went on to put him through UCLA School of Law. Robert now works as a lawyer at the prestigious Simpson Thatcher law firm in New York City, specializing in tax counsel for major corporations.

The couple said they were drawn to their alma mater’s Center for Ocean Health because of their teenage daughter’s enthusiasm and concern for the coast’s health. UCSC will now be able to leverage the donation to acquire further grants.

The funding comes to the center at a time when both coastal science and policy are evolving with a rise in sea level, a highly controversial desalination plant, a stall in sea otter recovery in California and Alaska, the questionable sustainability of coastal fisheries, and toxic algae blooms.

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