FAO in North America

University of California launches Global Food Initiative

Submitted by Amy McMillen on July 3, 2014

This article was originally published on July 1, 2014.

By Alec Rosenberg, University of California Newsroom

Janet Napolitano plants oregano with student Matt Orke

University of California President Janet Napolitano and chancellors from all 10 campuses are joining forces on an audacious and far-reaching goal: harnessing the collective power of UC to help put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself.

President Napolitano unveiled the UC Global Food Initiative today (July 1) over the course of three events, starting at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, followed by a presentation to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, and finally at the UCLA community garden in the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.

Alice Waters and Janet NapolitanoUC President Janet Napolitano (right) tours the Edible Schoolyard at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School with founder and restaurateur Alice Waters.
Credit: Robert Durell

The initiative brings together the university’s research, outreach and campus operations in an effort to develop and export solutions throughout California, the United States and the world for food security, health and sustainability, Napolitano said during the morning briefing.

“It is a commitment to apply a laser focus on what UC can do as a public research university — in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world — to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues,” Napolitano said.

The Edible Schoolyard is a 1-acre garden and kitchen classroom at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, founded by Chez Panisse chef and owner Alice Waters. It has become a model for teaching children how to grow and eat a healthy, sustainable diet. It features vegetables, herbs, vines, berries, flowers, fruit trees and chickens.

Waters gave Napolitano a tour of the garden and then at a press conference gave her a basket of eggs from the garden’s chickens, quipping that she was “putting all her eggs” in Napolitano’s basket.

“I’m extremely excited and very hopeful because I know that she believes as I do that public education is the best way to solve the problems of the world,” said Waters, a UC Berkeley alumna.

Vision and leadership

Napolitano received an equally warm reception from state agricultural leaders.

Helene Dillard, Janet Napolitano, Karen Ross
Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, talks with reporters in Sacramento.
Credit: Robert Durell

“There is no better time to launch this initiative than today,” said board President Craig McNamara. “Count on us at the State Board of Food and Agriculture. We are your partners.”

The initiative will harness UC’s leadership in the fields of agriculture, medicine, nutrition, climate science, public policy, social science, biological science, humanities, arts and law, among others.

It comes at a crucial time, Napolitano said. A billion people — most of them in the developing world — suffer from chronic hunger or serious nutritional deficiencies. More than half a billion — primarily in the industrialized nations of the world — are obese. Against this backdrop, climate change and population growth fuel additional uncertainty and urgency about how to sustainably feed the world.

“This initiative shows great vision and leadership from President Napolitano and the University of California,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “Climate change and population growth will greatly strain our ability to provide healthy food to people here and around the world.

“President Napolitano’s proposal to leverage the strategic assets of the entire UC organization makes it a valuable partner in addressing the significant challenges and opportunities for our production agriculture and food system.”

Napolitano said that she and campus chancellors decided to launch the Global Food Initiative after recognizing that the university system is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in addressing the related challenges of nutrition and sustainability.

Playing to strengths

Henry Brady, dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, was among a half dozen UC leaders and members of the university’s Food Initiative Working Group to join Napolitano at the Edible Schoolyard. Also in attendance were UC Santa Cruz professor Daniel Press, executive director of the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at that campus, and Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute at UC Berkeley.

Brady said that the initiative’s strength comes from the depth of work and research across the 10-campus system. Each location brings its own area of expertise, he noted.

“We at the Berkeley Food Institute are trying to see how we can transform the food system to be more sustainable and we want to do it through good science, good policy, good thinking,” Brady said.

Press echoed Napolitano’s sentiment that UC’s involvement comes at a crucial moment.

He said that UC Santa Cruz had long been the “mothership” of organic agriculture in California and the U.S.

“We feel a lot of what people are talking about with sustainable agriculture and justice in the food system — these are things we’ve been working on for 40 years,” Press said. “Now the world is much more receptive.”

Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, who joined Napolitano at the meeting with the state board, said that people at UC Davis are particularly excited about the initiative because it aligns so well with work already under way at the campus.

UC Davis last year launched the World Food Center to focus on transformative research at the intersection of food, agriculture, health and public policy.

“We’re already the No.1 agricultural school in the nation and the world,” Dillard said. “Having the UC system focusing on this really plays to our strengths.”

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