UC Santa Cruz receives $10 million grant to cultivate diverse food and agriculture professionals

Stacy Philpott is a Professor of Environmental Studies and Faculty Director for the Center for Agroecology. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

In a momentous stride toward fostering a sustainable and equitable future in food and agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded the University of California, Santa Cruz a $10 million grant to lead a transformative five-year project entitled “From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals.” UC Santa Cruz will leverage this funding to serve and uplift a broad range of students and community members, ensuring a lasting impact on the food and agriculture sector. 

This project, done in collaboration with California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), Hartnell College, and Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), aims to empower and support many different types of students who may be interested in embarking on careers in the dynamic realms of food and agriculture. By providing comprehensive education, experiential training, and unparalleled leadership opportunities, the program seeks to nurture a diverse and inclusive cohort of future leaders who will shape the industry's trajectory. 

“UC Santa Cruz and our partner institutions have been working for years to train the next leaders in agroecology and related fields,” said project director Stacy Philpott, Professor of Environmental Studies and Faculty Director for the Center for Agroecology. “This grant will allow us to supersize our efforts to provide students with experiential learning possibilities, mentoring and coaching, and with substantial financial resources, all while bringing a significant focus on justice and equity in the food system,” Philpott said. “It is exciting to have the opportunity to support learners from diverse backgrounds and ages – from elementary school to the Ph.D. level to farmworkers – and to encourage them to appreciate that knowledge is held and generated from multiple sources.”

Project co-directors at UC Santa Cruz include Environmental Studies Professor Flora Lu, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Maywa Montenegro, Center for Agroecology Research & Education Coordinator Damian Parr, Environmental Studies Professor and Department Chair Jeffrey Bury, and Becca Fenwick Director of the CITRIS Initiative for Drone Education and Research.

Commencing on June 15, 2023, this grant will enable UC Santa Cruz to provide crucial financial support to approximately 40 graduate students pursuing doctoral and master's degrees, 400 undergraduate students, and 50 K-12 youth annually. Furthermore, in collaboration with ALBA, the initiative will extend its reach to approximately 75 farmworkers each year, fortifying the resilience and well-being of those driving the industry forward.

Beyond direct support, the project will engage an even wider audience through counseling, advising, immersive events, and enlightening career panels. By fostering an ecosystem of mentorship, guidance, and collaboration, UC Santa Cruz aims to touch the lives of countless students, equipping them with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in the evolving landscape of food and agriculture.

“UC Santa Cruz has had a long commitment to an equitable, just, and diverse approach to agroecology, and this grant is a reflection of the work that has been done previously and the promise for the future,” said John MacMillan, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Santa Cruz. “Along with the recent Agricultural Experiment Station designation and a recent grant to establish a Regional Food Business Center to support food producers in the North Bay and Central Coast, UC Santa Cruz is continuing to grow as a leader in the agriculture community.”

The USDA's program, “From Learning to Leading,” administered through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has dedicated approximately $262.5 million to cultivate transformative initiatives within the realm of food and agriculture. UC Santa Cruz’s $10 million grant is one of 33 nationwide awards through the program that was announced on June 21, and stands as a testament to the campus's unwavering commitment to advancing sustainable practices, enhancing food security, and fostering inclusivity within the industry.