Campus receives $440,000 grant to study sustainable practices for urban agriculture

Environmental studies professor Stacy Philpott will lead the research team exploring biodiversity, sustainability, and ecosystem services in urban agricultural landscapes

Stacy Philpott
Stacy Philpott looking for parasitized aphids on kale plants at the Live Oak Grange garden.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded Stacy Philpott, associate professor in environmental studies and holder of the Ruth and Alfred Heller Chair in Agroecology at UC Santa Cruz, a $439,676 grant to research sustainable agricultural practices in urban environments.

“As the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing USDA’s budget, I’m really pleased to support this research and help bring this grant home for UCSC,” said U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) about the award. “Not only is the Central Coast a leading producer of fresh produce for tables across the nation and abroad, we’re also leaders in agriculture research.”

Thanks to support from the USDA and Rep. Farr, Philpott will be able to help urban farmers and gardeners better understand the relationships between vegetation management, landscape composition, socio-cultural diversity and biodiversity. She will study 25 urban gardens on the California central coast, including spaces in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Salinas, and Monterey.

Over recent years, American urban areas have experienced a boost in small scale, local food production. Urban farms and gardens have provided residents—especially those living in underserved communities—with the fresh produce and nutrition lacking in these areas.

“Many urban gardeners lack regionally appropriate agricultural knowledge regarding pest control, pollination, water storage, and garden sustainability,” says Philpott. She has been studying insect biodiversity in urban gardens to better understand the ecological roles that natural enemies of pests and pollinators provide in these green spaces.

“This missing knowledge is especially concerning given increasing food demands, increased climate-induced ecosystem stress, and the increasing importance of urban agriculture for providing for food security, especially in communities where food access is quite limited.”

As Philpott points out, ecosystem services like pest control and pollination are a necessary function of biodiversity and a critical factor to a successful crop yield.

“Despite the known importance of ecosystem services for crop yields in urban farms, there is a gap in our understanding of ecosystem services for urban agriculture,” Philpott says.

Philpott and her research team will look at what production practices are essential to promoting pest control, pollination, and water conservation in urban gardens—essential to providing food for urban gardeners.

Throughout his tenure in political office, Rep. Farr has advocated for organic agriculture for California and the country.

“During my 40-plus years in elected office, I’ve been a champion for increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables and for improving sustainable agriculture practices,” he says.

Rep. Farr has also been a strong supporter of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, UCSC’s farm and garden program. In 2012 he presented a $665,000 USDA grant to the school for its organic farming training program.