Campus honors Congressman Sam Farr for support of sustainable agriculture

Blumenthal greets Sam Farr at the UCSC Farm.
A new redwood sign at the Farm honors Farr's contributions.
Farr pitched in on the planting of an heirloom rose in his honor. (Photos by Carolyn Lagattuta)

UC Santa Cruz stands alone as a pioneer of sustainable agriculture, and the campus took a moment Friday afternoon to honor Congressman Sam Farr for his early and visionary support of its agroecology programs.

Long before the concept of agroecology was recognized in Sacramento, then-Assemblyman Farr "consistently and forcefully supported agroecology, small-scale family farming and the need to protect California's environment with ecologically sound farming practices," said Chancellor George R. Blumenthal.

Despite "skepticism and even criticism" from the powerful voices representing traditional agriculture, Farr secured the "seed money" that established UCSC's Agroecology Program and has been a champion of sustainable agriculture research and education ever since, said Blumenthal. "Without Sam's support, we would not have this exemplary and renowned program."

Blumenthal presented Farr with a certificate recognizing his decades-long support of the campus.

Calling UCSC's programs "near and dear to my heart," Farr said there was no place he would rather have been than on campus among the pioneers and contemporary leaders of sustainable agriculture.

Farr hailed UCSC's spirit of innovation and ability to accomplish a lot with minimal resources, and he credited UCSC leaders with fighting for agroecology, even when it meant taking on vested interests within the University of California system who wanted to confine agriculture programs to the Davis and Riverside campuses.

Reading from remarks he entered into the Congressional Record on October 4 to honor the 40th anniversary of sustainable agriculture programs at UCSC, Farr called CASFS "one of the most prominent centers of agricultural research and education in the world." In Congress, Farr has helped secure more than $3 million to support CASFS research and extension projects.

Farr has been a proponent of organic farming since his service in the Peace Corps in Colombia in the 1960s, when he saw the importance of helping people improve their ability to grow food. In UCSC's programs, he recognized the relevance of developing small-scale, intensive, organic food production systems.

Over the years, Farr has made several landmark contributions to UCSC's programs, and CASFS director Patricia Allen thanked him for his commitment to sustainable food and agriculture research and education. As host of the program, Allen read from remarks prepared by environmental studies professor Stephen Gliessman, who was unable to attend the ceremony because he was teaching a class. "We owe the existence of agroecology and CASFS to Sam, and it is up to us to continue to carry his vision of sustainable food systems forward," Allen read on behalf of Gliessman, who was the first director of agroecology and who holds the Alfred E. Heller Chair in Agroecology.

Farr also authored the 1990 state law that established standards for organic food production and sales in California, which became the basis for recent federal organic food standards. In Congress, he has insisted that U.S. Department of Agriculture research stations include a focus on organic agriculture.

Former CASFS director Carol Shennan, a professor of environmental studies, thanked Farr for his recent support of research efforts, including UCSC's Central Coast water monitoring project that has helped farmers reduce pesticide runoff into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and for research on regional food systems.

As part of the celebration, Farr and Christof Bernau, manager of the Farm garden, planted an heirloom climbing rose--the first in a new rose garden established in Farr's honor. An adjacent plaque honors Farr for his "visionary support of sustainable food and agriculture research and education." The plaque was fashioned by the UCSC Sign Shop out of redwood reclaimed from the Farm's solar greenhouse, which was recently torn down to make way for a new facility.