Foodways benefit dinner advances food security at UC Santa Cruz

A night of deep caring amplifies efforts to expand students’ access to basic needs

Alumni, donors, and friends of UC Santa Cruz gathered at the Hay Barn on June 2 to raise funds for Basic Needs programs at the university.
Event attendees gather outside of the Hay Barn.
The first dinner course featured Napa cabbage, golden beets, cilantro, and white sesame seeds, plus a special sauce created by James Beard-award-winning and Michelin-starred chef Brandon Jew, executive chef and owner of Mr. Jiu’s restaurant in San Francisco.

As alumni, donors, and friends of UC Santa Cruz entered the Hay Barn, with its rich warm wood accents and natural afternoon light, the sounds of music from local live performers on the patio flowed in through the back doors. 

The building, an original part of the Cowell Lime Works Historic District, was restored a few years ago and now serves as the headquarters of the Center for Agroecology—a key partner in expanding basic needs access to the 19,000 students at UCSC. 

“We’re calling you into a night of deep caring,” said Tim Galarneau, education and research specialist at the Center for Agroecology and Co-Chair of the UC-wide Basic Needs Initiative, during his welcome speech at the Advancing the Road Map to Student Food Security benefit dinner at UCSC’s Hay Barn on June 2. He invited attendees to open their hearts as they learned about the transformative work that UCSC is doing to increase food security for students. 

Fundraising from ticket sales and individual donations has reached over $110,000. The long-term fundraising goal is $1.2 million by 2025; more on that later.

“I’m very proud of the work that our campus is doing to support student basic needs,” said Chancellor Cynthia Larive in her remarks that night. “It’s a collaboration between our divisions of social sciences and student affairs and success. The basic needs concept is simple and powerful. It’s the acknowledgment that for students to succeed, their basic needs must be supported. Whether it’s food, housing, health and wellness, financial support, or a combination of all those things. Our Basic Needs program provides support for students that’s desperately needed—especially as our numbers of first-generation and low-income students continue to rise.” 

This year’s event celebrated UCSC’s new roadmap for student food security, which shows how the university will achieve food security through five key initiatives: Field-to-Plate Food Security, Student-Centered Basic Needs Research and Assessment, Expanded Access and Food Pantry Resources, Holistic CalFresh Support, and the Slug Support Program. The Division of Student Affairs and Success, led by Vice Chancellor Akirah Bradley-Armstrong, oversees the latter three initiatives and plays a pivotal role in ensuring physical, mental/emotional, and intellectual nourishment for all UCSC students. 

Foundation Board as galvanizing force  

Last year, UCSC’s Basic Needs cross-divisional programs served nearly 6,400 students. But the needs of our students are higher than current resources can meet, and the UCSC Foundation Board of Trustees provided the necessary funding to plan for the future.  

“We are very strong proponents of student success, which is a signature effort by the Chancellor to make this a better campus,” says Board Chair Richard Moss. “We hoped that such an effort would yield an immediate and substantial positive impact on the campus generally and student success in particular. If you can’t eat and you don’t have housing, you’re not going to study.” They realized this was something they could help with, and they wanted to tap into the power of the board acting as a collective body.

 Last fall, the trustees committed to allocating $75,000 to support efforts addressing food insecurity and deliver an actionable plan to make these resources sustainable. It took a lot of planning and many people coming together from across campus to accomplish what has been done so far – including the Center for Agroecology, the Division of Student Affairs and Success, the Social Sciences, students themselves, and more. 

The trustees have since made more personal commitments and contributions, which means that all proceeds from the Foodways dinner—including tickets sold, and additional donations people made that night—will go directly towards supporting the finalization and implementation of UCSC’s food security roadmap project. “This will result in students receiving food, assistance in qualifying for CalFresh funding, and education about other pathways to food security, as well as life skills and basic nutrition,” says Moss.

 A recent UC-wide survey found that more than 40% of undergraduate students reported either very low or low food security. “We heard that UC Regents had a mandate for every UC campus to have a food security pathway, to find a way to reduce food insecurity by 50% by 2025,” says Moss. “This happened before the pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, none of the campuses have come up with a food security pathway. Santa Cruz is the first campus in the UC system to do so."

Foundation Trustee Janet Buck, one of the many trustees in attendance last Friday, referred to the evening as “a joyous celebration of the extraordinary work of UCSC’s Center for Agroecology. Through sharing a meal, it highlighted the many ways they integrate students in their programs, support the broader student population, and align with issues in the broader agricultural ecosystem,” says Buck. She not only attended, but also sponsored an entire table, so that she could “both bring in dear friends to experience what I feel, and also share the essence of what it means to be connected to the Slugs while supporting this worthy program. It is a true privilege to be part of this community.” 

Trustee Greg Reyes (Kresge ’76) also sponsored a table. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to both educate my tablemates about the important issue of food insecurity, affecting so many college students, and also provide them an opportunity to actively participate in a local UCSC and community solution.” Part of the reason he joined the UC Santa Cruz Foundation is because he is sincerely grateful for his UCSC education. “My attendance at UC Santa Cruz was critical to what I have been able to achieve in my professional and personal life, impacting not just me but those around me. ‘Giving back’ to UCSC is a way for me to enable and empower others to make their own way forward.”

Peers helping peers 

Emily Sanchez Reyes, CalFresh Outreach Team student lead, started working on the Basic Needs team in May 2021 and is graduating later this month with a BA in Critical Race & Ethnic Studies. “Something I’ve learned from my major is the ability to look at things for more than face value and to honor and lift the voices of people with lived experiences. This has made my understanding of basic needs much more thorough.” She loves being able to work with her peers: the people in her classes, her TAs, etc. “I think as students we are much more willing to open up and access these services—especially because there’s a stigma around it. When it’s someone you know that works for CalFresh, or someone you know that’s also received CalFresh, this makes it much easier to accept those resources into your life.” 

Gabriela Anger has been a student worker at Cowell Coffee Shop for two years. Prior to that, she was an intern at the farm. She is graduating this spring and is very excited that in the fall she will return to UCSC as a staff member—becoming assistant kitchen manager of the Cowell Coffee Shop. She talked about how important this spot has been to her, and to the other students and staff who work there, and to the hundreds of students who pass through the doors every day, being fed organic, culturally relevant meals. “It’s a really special thing to be able to make and serve food that plays a part in the fight for food justice,” said Anger. “I hope you all feel the time and love that went into your meal tonight,” she added, her face beaming.

Chef and Menu

The first dinner course—a stunning dish in terms of color, texture, and flavor—featured Napa cabbage, golden beets, cilantro, and white sesame seeds, plus a special sauce created by James Beard-award-winning and Michelin-starred chef Brandon Jew, executive chef and owner of Mr. Jiu’s restaurant in San Francisco. Several months ago, the chef asked UCSC if it would be possible to grow certain things at the farm for his menu: the aforementioned beets, cabbage, and cilantro, plus bok choy, scallions, and chrysanthemums. The answer was a resounding yes, just one of the many examples of people collaborating for success—for the dinner itself and for the program and students it benefits. 

Other menu items included a wonderful union of Chef Jew’s creativity, ultra-fresh just-harvested produce from the UCSC Farm, and local artisans: the fish course was “sizzled Ocean2Table black cod” with bok choy, snap peas, young ginger, and scallions. Santa Cruz-based Ocean2Table, from UCSC alumni Ian Cole and Charlie Lambert, is a CSF (similar to a produce CSA, but in this case, a community supported fishery). UCSC students helped prepare and cook the entire menu. 

How did Jew end up donating his time and staff to this event? Darryl Wong (Kresge, ’12; Ph.D. ’23), executive director of the Center for Agroecology, says it started when he and Brooks Schmitt (Porter ’13) were texting after last year’s successful Foodways event with Alice Waters. Schmitt said how it would be great to get Brandon Jew for this year’s event. “He’s one of my favorite chefs,” said Schmitt, who serves many roles including the center’s Cowell Coffee Shop Food Supervisor.

One text message later, Wong says, the decision was made. “Hey Brandon, do you want to do an event for food security at UCSC?” He immediately replied, “Heck yeah, I’m in.”

That’s all it took. His generosity and immediate willingness are emblematic of the Basic Needs village as a whole. “This is really a community of people that are willing to do the hard work to make our students’ lives just a little bit easier,” says Wong. 

It didn’t hurt that Jew was familiar with the UCSC Farm after buying the farm’s produce for several years.

 “I don’t get out of my own kitchen very often, but this is a very worthy cause and I’m really happy to be part of it,” says Jew, who thanked attendees for their support at the end of the night. “I hope other UCs learn from what you guys are doing here. I think it’s really important, the work that this really special program is about.”

Most of the produce included in the dinner was grown at the farm; the rest was from local growers (snap peas came from Pinnacle Farm, and mushrooms came from Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market, one of the UCSC Farm’s active partners). Nicole Zahm, who serves as SCCFM Communication and Programs manager, attended the event. “It was moving to hear the students speak and to take note of the level of leadership and ownership they have over the Basic Needs Program,” she says. “This team is clearly passionate and invested in the labor of food security and I was glad to know the Board was unified in supporting this essential work.”

Students involved in all stages

Francis Ge, who serves as Basic Needs Coordinator, and the Basic Needs team are focused on getting input from students at basic needs sites, asking questions like, “What are foods/ingredients relevant to your culture that you aren’t finding at the local grocery store, that you would like access to? Perhaps something your grandmother used?” One result of asking these questions: the team comes up with a wish list of crops, and as they can, they add crops to what the UCSC Farm grows.

A big part of Ge’s job is coordinating and helping manage production and distribution with students. “A lot of it is training student staff and interns in everything from crop planning to transplanting to harvest (via the Field Team, with Field Manager Kirstin Yogg),” says Ge. Who exactly harvests the produce that nourishes students in need? Over 150 undergraduate student interns. There are also paid students and staff that help. 

Ge also interacts with the farmers' market, does distribution, and supervises the Produce Pop-Up student team. “And now that the first group of student staff is trained, they get to teach the new students coming in,” she adds. 

The training gives students vital skills. So, in addition to food insecurity being healed in the short term through assistance that UCSC provides, the campus is also teaching skills that will help students throughout their lives. Students that helped prep and cook at the event were Cowell Coffee Shop student staff, co-leads, and interns. The servers (except the wine team), dish pit, and setup and cleanup crews were students from the coffee shop, Field Team, Produce Pop-Up, Farm Garden, and communications. “We also had some help from Center staff and Tim’s family and friends,” says Ge. “Basically, a huge team effort with students from across the Center for Agroecology.” 

 It doesn’t matter what’s in your wallet

“It doesn’t matter what’s in your wallet, it’s about what you need to succeed,” said Galarneau during the program. “Basic needs is about caring for one another. About honoring the non-linear reality of basic needs. One minute you have food, one minute you have housing, the next minute you don’t.” 

Making sure students have resources for success is the Basic Needs team’s goal. Estefania Rodriguez (Merrill ’15), who serves as Dean of Students Basic Needs Program Manager, spoke about these resources. “The Redwood Free Market is a non-transactional market space,” she explained. At this location, students can access a free food pantry that stocks produce grown on the UCSC Farm, pantry staples donated by campus partner Second Harvest Food Bank and other items donated from local places like campus partner New Leaf Community Markets. The market has expanded to offer services like a diaper assistance program and CalFresh application assistance, and they added a sustainable toiletry dispenser where students can get things like shampoo, laundry detergent and soap.

Last year, 2,100 students – over 12% of the population – successfully enrolled in CalFresh thanks to the Basic Needs team. The plan is to increase enrollment and renewal numbers to 20% of the population by 2025; this will bring an additional four million dollars in CalFresh annual dollars to students, and then into our regional food system.

At the Cowell Coffee Shop, students can get free ready-to-eat delicious meals (including rotating dishes like ramen, tamales, and frittatas with seasonal ingredients) plus fresh juices and more. “When you have this resource where you can get food for free, every day, that is a very different way of thinking about food,” says Wong. “Everyone has a right to have food – you have this right because you are a human. If you have this experience while you are a UCSC student, for four years, it will change what you do when you graduate. And that is really important to think about when we think about the next generation of changemakers, the folks that will impact our food system and impact our society at large, that is the impact we are trying to have through this really broad-based collaborative effort, across so many different divisions and departments.” The effort displays the university’s commitment to intersectional and equity-driven work.


A fun bonus: each attendee got to take home a jar of homemade organic strawberry jam cooked by students. The recipe is from Schmitt’s grandmother (restaurateur Sally Schmitt, founder of renowned restaurant The French Laundry). What a yummy, tangible reminder of the evening and themes of food, students, training, nourishment, and collaboration.

Schmitt thanked the crowd for all of their support, and said, “One of the biggest things about this road map that we really try to do is bring in so many different types of foodways to represent the many types of students that are here on this campus. So, being able to bring in absolute rock stars like Brandon to show what Chinese cooking is in California, and the ways in which he takes these ingredients from these farms and tells the stories of the diaspora, and in such exciting new ways, is so incredible and inspirational to us. Every time we get to do something like this, our students come away and cook completely differently. Because college students are brilliant, creative, and dynamic.” 

The evening ended on two perfect notes. First, the exquisite dessert was a wonderful homage to the chef’s heritage while bringing in creativity for a unique interpretation (UCSC Farm strawberries stacked in a cordial glass bowl with black sesame cream, white tea jelly, and meringue). Second, the biggest applause of the night was—deservedly so—for the students. As the student workers walked into the barn at the end of the program, everyone at the dining tables spontaneously stood up and gave them a giant standing ovation and booming cheers, acknowledging their hard work both tonight and throughout the school year, in classrooms and libraries, in the fields, and in the kitchens. And after that, they went outside where they were going to feast on the same food that they had served to attendees.

“One of my favorite things about the event was seeing the students who prepared and served such a fantastic meal and being able to honor them for it,” said Moss.

This is what the night was about: taking care of our students and ensuring they have the resources to reach their full potential. And this is what the Advancing the Road Map to Student Food Security campaign is about. UCSC is planning to raise $1.2 million in the next two years, to help with the goals of reducing food and housing insecurity by 50% by 2025. “The funds raised from the dinner only represent a minimal down payment on the full cost of achieving food security, which is why UCSC and the greater Santa Cruz community must come together to support the implementation of UCSC’s food security pathway,” says Moss.

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