Advancing Student Food Security

Integrated campus approach helps ensure Banana Slugs’ basic needs are met

Student picks up groceries at the Redwood Free Market. 

Students thrive when their basic needs are met. When students have stable and reliable access to food and housing, they are better able to focus on their studies, connect with their peers and professors, participate in extracurricular activities, and fully engage with all aspects of their UC Santa Cruz experience.

According to a University of California survey, 43 percent of undergraduates systemwide report having limited or uncertain access to food. California’s housing crisis has left 8 percent of UC undergraduates without stable places to live. Closer to home, nearly 9,000 current UC Santa Cruz students have been food or housing insecure at some point.

The University of California system is committed to reducing food and housing insecurity by 50 percent in 2025. UC Santa Cruz is taking an integrated approach to knocking down the obstacles that stand in students’ paths as they navigate their educational journey. The university has created a network of strategic, cross-divisional efforts to connect students with the resources they need, when and where they need them.

“We are doing all we can to ensure that the basic needs of our students are met. Only then can they fully focus on their studies and take advantage of the many personal and academic opportunities that we make available to them,” says UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive.

A coordinated approach

The university’s multi-pronged approach—including field-to-plate food security, expanded access and food pantry resources, holistic CalFresh support, student-centered basic needs research and assessment, and Slug Support program—works to ensure a safety net for UCSC students.

“We’ve identified key campus areas and developed benchmarks to ensure that we are increasing our ability to support students’ basic needs. Our efforts at UCSC can serve to inspire our colleagues and partners across the University of California and beyond,” says Tim Galarneau, education and research specialist at the Center for Agroecology and Co-Chair of the UC-wide Basic Needs Initiative. 

The initiative will support five areas on campus:

Field to Plate Food Security

Across the UCSC campus, students engage in field and kitchen internships, and plant, harvest, and access free, organic, farm-fresh produce at a variety of basic needs distribution sites, including a twice-a-week pop-up market, and non-transactional cafe space. The Foodways Fund supports this work through student positions, ingredient sourcing, equipment innovation, and ensuring the Center for Agroecology cultivates a sustainable and equity-driven vision for nourishing food-insecure students and their dependents from the field to the produce bag and prepared plate across campus sites. 

Expanding Access and Pantry Resources

The Redwood Market—a non-transactional market space to support students—sources fresh and prepared food items as well as supplemental hygiene, baby products, and other essentials to support student success. The Dean of Students provides pantry guidance and support to campus programs and partners with our Student Union Assembly on their direct student-to-student food distributions to provide meal swipes for access to dining halls for non-meal plan holders. The fund will ensure continued access to this important set of campus resources. 

Holistic CalFresh Support 

UCSC provides support for student CalFresh enrollment and renewal as well as supplemental aid for non-eligible food insecure student populations, including undocumented students, underground scholars, and international students. CalFresh and our CalFresh equivalent food support programs ensure impacted students can receive supplemental resources in assistance to ensure their food security and access to fresh and prepared food. 

Slug Support Program

Slug Support ensures that every student has access to the resources they need, when and where they need them. UCSC’s Slug Support program identifies students who are navigating difficult or challenging situations and helps them resolve their concerns. Taking a holistic, student-centered approach and working as an interdisciplinary team in partnership with other campus programs, Slug Support helps students focus on their time at UC Santa Cruz and reduces barriers to graduation. 

Student Centered Basic Needs Research and Assessment

Building on the foundational work of the UCSC Blum Center,  the basic needs team engages undergraduate and graduate applied research and scholarship to advance food and housing security efforts at UCSC. Resources from the Foodways Fund will provide experiential learning opportunities by funding undergraduate and graduate student positions as well as publication and education materials to inform improving our practices and advancing our basic needs support and student success.

“Addressing food security is essential to cultivating our students’ success,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Success Akirah Bradley-Armstrong. “Focusing on these five areas will increase access to necessary nourishment and promote students’ health and well-being. Doing this is critical to improving students’ overall educational experience and learning potential.”

Expanding resources

The UCSC Foundation Board of Trustees committed resources to support the development of the roadmap to student food security and is co-hosting this year’s Foodways Dinner, an important fundraising event for these efforts. Scheduled for Friday, June 2 at UC Santa Cruz’s historic Cowell Hay Barn, the event will raise necessary resources to further advance student food and basic needs security over the next two years. 

“The Board of Trustees cares deeply about student success,” says UCSC Foundation Chair Richard Moss (Stevenson ’85). “We are inspired to promote food security at UC Santa Cruz, knowing that our efforts will help ensure students’ academic success as well as contribute to their overall well-being and future accomplishments.”

For more information about the Foodways Dinner and to support UCSC’s efforts to combat food and housing insecurity, contact Joop Rubens or Rafferty Lincoln