UC President supports Global Food Initiative programs

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UC President Janet Napolitano announced her support for the creation of local food sustainability and security projects in UC’s Global Food Initiative on Wednesday.

The projects, which are being developed by groups on all UC campuses, aim to increase local food security, raise awareness on public policies and promote food sustainability. Berkeley groups involved include Berkeley Food Institute, UC Berkeley Food Pantry, Berkeley Student Food Collective and the Gill Tract Community Farm.

The food initiative, established in July, is a UC-wide effort to conduct research and advocate for sustainable food sources and examine ways to increase student access to healthy foods.

Alastair Iles, a campus environmental science, policy and management associate professor and BFI faculty co-director, said several BFI faculty are part of UC-wide committees working to develop the initiative. UC Berkeley leads three of the committees: experiential learning, food security and making an impact on policymakers.

“BFI has begun working a little with President Napolitano to help create a more integrated community of food and agriculture researchers, teachers, policymakers and students across the many campuses,” Iles said. “If people can become more aware of where their food comes from and how it’s grown, they can be much more active in demanding alternatives.”

The projects will help identify the best practices for research, policy development, curriculum, operations and outreach for campuses, medical centers and educational services in California.

Planned projects include systemwide lectures on health and food equity, student experiential learning workshops, a summit discussing fisheries and aquaculture research and encouraging campus collaborations and the development of resources to support healthy dining options in school districts.

The first-phase projects will receive nearly $500,000 from the UC Office of the President’s Initiative Fund. Each campus, as well as the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will also receive three fellowships. The fellowships, each $2,500, aim to support undergraduate and graduate student research on food sustainability.

Megan Svoboda, operational manager at the student food collective, said food sustainability and security are issues that need to be addressed.

“I am excited to see money going to food accessibility and affordability,” Svoboda said. “There is a lot of invisible work going on, and the UC president has created a platform for new opportunities and for new projects. It’s creating a space for solutions to be funded.”

Lauren Nelson, a member of the Gill Tract Community Farm and the student food collective, said the greatest impact for change comes from the grassroots level, where people must directly advocate for change.

“The goal of (the community farm) is to have a community and university partnership to increase food security, a problem that plagues the bay area and the world,” Nelson said.  “Action … has to be taken in our backyard before we can fix other societies. We are trying to provide access to healthy, fresh produce.”

Napolitano’s statement comes just before Food Day on Friday. Established by the campus University Health Services, Food Day encourages students to eat healthy and minimally processed foods.

Contact Robert Tooke at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robertono_t.