By Julia Ann Easley, July 18, 2016
As the summer sun warmed her, student Hanna Morris stood up and surveyed row upon row of vegetables ripe for harvest near the UC Davis Student Farm. The spring plant sciences course on plant growth and care had ended, and this two-acre lab had been largely abandoned by her classmates.
Her heart grieved as she picked what she could to take to residents of a transitional housing project in Berkeley where she volunteered on weekends. “There’s still so much (available to harvest), and I’m barely making a dent in it,” the environmental science and management major said to herself.
Three years later, that same acreage has provided thousands of pounds of fresh produce for the Yolo Food Bank and shows how UC Davis crops and compassion are helping feed students and others in need.
Students are leveraging their university’s leadership in agriculture, food science, and sustainability — and their own abilities — to address locally what is the growing national concern of food insecurity among college students and others. And along the way, they have developed leadership skills, discovered career paths and created a campus family.
Gleaning an outdoor lab
It was three years ago that Morris began working through regulations related to agricultural practices, food safety and more to enable the field’s produce to be gleaned for others. When Morris graduated in 2014, Carli Hambley, a senior majoring in anthropology, saw the project through its final hurdle related to insurance.
In January, Morris returned to the same fields to help as some 30 student volunteers harvested more than 3,300 pounds of produce in the first official gleaning of the PLS 5 Produce Recovery Project (named after the course taught by Muhammad Marrush in the Department of Plant Sciences). “It was moving to see it all come together,” she said.
Morris said working on the campus project was the most important influence on her educational and career development. “One person can make a difference,” she said. “That was an important lesson for me.” She helps bring surplus food to individuals in need as a program coordinator for Food Shift of Oakland, California.
In June, volunteers gleaned more than 2,100 pounds of produce from the same field. And while the course went into retirement with its professor, organizers are seeking to build partnerships for gleaning in other teaching fields and orchards.
“We’ve broken ground,” said Stacey Parker, the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden’s horticulturalist who mentored Morris and Hambley through the project. “We’ve planted a seed, and we’re going to follow up on that.”
Karen Strach, director of programs for the local food bank, appreciates distributing the fresh produce to clients and is looking forward to more. “It gets into every nook and cranny of the county,” she said. “It’s a big help.”
[Read more articles about UC Davis crops and people helping those in need.]