Farm hosts organic ag research tour for Congressman Jimmy Panetta

Photo of Jimmy Panetta with faculty and staff
Congressman Jimmy Panetta, second from left, is pictured with (left to right) Carol Shennan, Joji Muramoto, Daniel Press, Darryl Wong, and Brise Tencer, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation. (Photo by Erin Foley)

It was a beautiful September morning when Congressman Jimmy Panetta visited the UCSC Farm to hear from leading researchers in the field of organic agriculture.

Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) got updates from faculty member Carol Shennan, a professor of environmental studies, and UC Cooperative Extension Specialist Joji Muramoto, who have led the campus's pioneering work on organic strawberry production. He also learned about "no-till" farming, a strategy designed to increase carbon sequestered in the soil, from Farm Manager Darryl Wong, who is also a graduate student in environmental studies.

Panetta, who was delighted to receive a bag of strawberries from grower Rod Koda of Shinta Kawahara Farm, listened carefully and fielded questions from a number of attendees. The "field day" was a joint production of UCSC's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) and the Santa Cruz-based Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). The two organizations share a vision of producing food in harmony with natural systems.

CASFS Executive Director Daniel Press underscored the research contributions of public universities, and UCSC in particular, throughout Panetta's visit. Brise Tencer, executive director of OFRF, made the link between university research and public policy. Stacy Philpott, professor of environmental studies, highlighted educational programs and student experiences that can be transformational for undergraduates.

"Thanks to Jimmy Panetta, and Sam Farr before him, UC Santa Cruz has been the beneficiary of federal investment in organic agricultural research for many years—an investment that has paid handsome returns for farmers and consumers," said Press. "We were delighted to show Congressman Panetta where those dollars have gone and to highlight our leadership in sustainable agriculture."

Press also described the pathbreaking work in sustainable aquaculture being done by Anne Kapuscinski, a professor of environmental studies and the director of UCSC's new Coastal Science and Policy Program. Kapuscinski has developed an ocean-friendly feed for farmed fish based on microalgae rather than wild fish. Her lab, which is under construction, will be based on the UCSC Farm.

Social Sciences Dean Katharyne Mitchell attended the tour and said afterwards that bringing elected officials to campus is an impactful way to communicate the importance of investing in the university. "It really brings the message home when they can see firsthand what we're able to do with their support," she said. "Their work helps make all of this possible."

The visit was organized by OFRF with help from their policy intern Chantal Waite, a UCSC undergraduate who also works in Shennan's lab.

During a free-ranging, post-tour discussion, CASFS research associate Mark Lipson (Merrill, '81, environmental studies) and Tencer expressed concern about structural changes taking place at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including moving offices from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City.

"We have to do what we didn't do in November 2016, which is get out the vote and vote," Panetta said with a smile.