High school students help increase accessibility to fresh produce at UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley /Courtesy

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The efforts of 53 high school students will allow UC Berkeley’s food-insecure population to more easily access fresh produce from local farms.

The College of Environmental Design’s embARC Summer Design Academy graduated a batch of budding placemakers, or people who use various approaches for the creation, planning and management of public areas. These students were taught how to design public goods to improve the lives of UC Berkeley’s food-insecure population, while also learning tactics in urban development.

According to a campus press release, the program participants built two produce trailers, a kitchen cart and a mobile farm stand for campus areas so that food-insecure students can obtain fresh foods on campus instead of having to seek them out elsewhere. Electric bikes will transport the carts and collect 50 pounds of fresh produce from UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract farm in Albany as well as from gardens in the surrounding areas of campus.

Natalia Semeraro, a garden coordinator with Cal Dining, said the embARC students received a tour of the Clark Kerr Garden from its grounds gardeners in July. According to Semeraro, the Clark Kerr Garden team was the first group to test out the kitchen cart and electric bike since their completion, utilizing them for a summer camp cooking demo.

At the embARC program, students also built “kitchlet” carts — or portable kitchens — that have propane-powered burners and countertops. Nutritionists from University Health Services will be stationed by these carts to guide students through meal preparation, according to the campus press release. The carts will go to the campus Food Pantry in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union basement, or to special events at other locations. The mobile farm stand will be used by the Food Pantry as a pop-up pantry.

Chrissie Bradley, summer program manager at the College of Environmental Design, said the embARC program intends to introduce high school juniors and seniors to city, urban and regional planning by engaging them in college-level environmental design work. Since its founding in the summer of 2011 by Kimberly Suczynski Smith, a College of Environmental Design alumna and faculty member, the program has grown from 20 students to 53 students representing 20 different countries.

The program mimics professional environmental design work by connecting students with a nonprofit client, Bradley said. Students then learn how architect-client relationships work by forging a relationship with the chosen local nonprofit, according to Bradley. This past summer, students worked with the Gill Tract and campus gardens.

The program influenced high school junior Sam Leung to switch intended college paths from civil engineering to architecture.

“Enrolling in the embARC program has truly been a valuable learning experience,” Leung said in an email. “The program really exposed me to the culture architecture and studio life as a college student.”

Ella Jensen is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ellajensen_dc.