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Student Farmhands Propose On-campus Agriculture

By Edwin Gonzalez

Article from

051809farm1Photo courtesy of Karon Klipple
Photo courtesy of Karon Klipple

For all the touted pan-ethnic food that has immigrated to Price Center East, that ribbon of market stands skirting Library Walk on Tuesdays puts up stiff competition. After all, they provide the only on-campus source of locally grown groceries and organic produce.

Now a group of students is actually one-upping local growers with plans to foster an urban farm on the UCSD campus by the end of the year.

Amid accelerating sustainable development across the U.S., the Sustainable Food Project’s urban-farm proposal is only waiting on funds before it begins breaking ground. After receiving approval for an 8,800-square-foot patch of Pepper Canyon, members of the Food Project spearheading the initiative are hoping the university embraces their efforts fiscally as well.

On May 27, the urban-farm proposal will be heard by an assembly of vice chancellors who will decide whether or not the university should allocate funds. As it stands, a swelling congress of students, faculty, organizations and administrators have already endorsed the campaign — including John Muir College Provost Susan Smith, Director of the Wellness Center Dr. Jerry Phelps and Vice Chancellor of Student Life Penny Rue.

“[The university has] had attempts on campus, but they’re mainly community or co-operative,” the project’s community advisor and 2007 graduate Matt Finkelstein said. “What our vision incorporates is an educational center and opportunities for research.”

The farm, a student-led proposal tailored to the university’s academic pursuits, is answering a national call for dramatic change. Although UCSD has already made considerable green strides, project co-founder and Muir College senior Jack Buchanan said an urban farm would enhance curriculum by allowing students to take an active role in the university’s sustainable development.

With a viable plan already in place at other schools such as San Diego City College, the urban farm is looking to similarly utilize a fresh set of seasonal crops and farm managers every year while challenging the characterization of on-campus sustainability.

Urban farming has been successfully implemented in lawns across SDCC, UC Santa Cruz and Yale. Julia Dashe, co-manager of the San Diego City College “Seeds at City” farm, spoke at a UCSD freshman seminar this quarter addressing the positive impact of permaculture — or the designing of self-sufficient human settlements — and interactive gardening.

“Systematic problems need systematic solutions, because what we’re doing to our environment is destroying its equilibrium,” Dashe said.

Though the SDCC’s farm only took root last June — the first-ever urban farm program in San Diego County — it has already upgraded from cover crops (plants that replenish their own soil with nitrogen) to an orchard of apples, figs, pomegranates, fruiting vines and vegetables. The garden has been so productive that its organizers are already looking into establishing a second site.

Instructors and farm managers from SDCC have been helping the Sustainable Food Project plan for Pepper Canyon’s pending blossom.

Last week students in professor Milton Saier’s BILD 87: Urban Agriculture, organized a guest lecture from Dashe.

Madison Sheffield, an Eleanor Roosevelt College senior and member of the Sustainable Food Project, said she has been researching the role of the community in fostering sustainable growth. Sheffield. helps quarry materials for the weekly course by organization class discussions and planning topics.

The seminar approaches agricultural food production as the root of American ancestry and dissects the American diet to spotlight the advantages of on-campus gardening. As Saier mentions, one-fourth of all ecological damage stems from raising livestock in the U.S.

By putting public focus on argoecology and agribusiness, urban farms are modeling sustainable food systems while educating the populace. But the hands-on approach isn’t entirely novel — in the past, Saier has taught classes where students complete independent research projects on his personal farm.

What is unique to the newest urban farm proposal for Pepper Canyon, however, is that according to Finkelstein, it’s an opportunity to ensure continuity, accountability and sustainability at the university.

“This isn’t just about growing food,” Finkelstein said. “It’s a place for the biology department to explore soil research, or psychology to learn more about alternative therapy.”

Establishing an urban farm on campus, the Sustainable Food Project anticipates, will improve quality of life for both college students and the community, who have both vocalized their support.

With a space where people can engage their scholarship with gloves and a motley garden, Buchanan said, the urban farm will foster an awareness of water conservation and natural insect control.

The complications arising from the university’s inconstant student population are also an issue the Food Project has already incorporated into its outline. By employing four interns and a farm manager to oversee the garden’s growth, a composite Farm Committee — made up of student and faculty representatives as well as administrators — the project hopes to remain stably employed.

Though the Che Cafe’s past intiatives have clashed with the university because of political affliations, the Sustainable Food Project has made it clear that its goal is to collaborate and cooperate with the administration’s continued involvement. And not only with the administration, but also among departments, staff, community members and individual students on farm itself.

Currently the Sustainable Food Project is preparing for their May 27 meeting with a council of vice chancellors, where members will ask for the the university’s fiscal endorsement. If the project isn’t able to procure funds from adminstrators, however, they say they will be moving on to research the wealth of grants newly created by the federal economic stimulus plan.

“We understand that the university has other focuses and that UCSD isn’t an agricultural school — we have Davis and Santa Cruz for that,” Finkelstein said. “As environmental and health crises have come to light, UCSD has expressed interest in sustainability, and you can’t have sustainability without sustainable food systems.”

Readers can contact Edwin Gonzalez at [email protected]


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