California universities to start sustainable agriculture programs

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 01, 2014 6:20 PM

By Jennifer Chaussee

BERKELEY Calif. (Reuters) - University of California campuses would buy food from local growers, grant more scholarships to agriculture students and teach farmers in the United States and around the world how to grow food with less water under a new initiative announced Tuesday.

The program gives the university a voice in global policy discussions about how to grow food in the face of severe drought and rising temperatures, said Janet Napolitano, the former Homeland Security chief who took over as president of the 10-campus system last year.

"A billion people - most of them in the developing world - suffer from chronic hunger or serious micronutrient deficiencies," said Napolitano, speaking at a school garden in Berkeley. "Another 1/2 billion - primarily in the industrialized nations of the world - are obese."

The food initiative is one of several steps taken by Napolitano to raise the university's profile, modernize its course offerings and shore up its shaky finances since taking the helm last fall.

Brought on from her post in the Obama administration in part for her political savvy, Napolitano has lobbied the legislature for more money, implemented programs aimed at helping disadvantaged and undocumented immigrant students and proposed a tuition freeze, among other actions.

Flanked by famed Berkeley chef Alice Waters, Napolitano said she first had the idea for the UC Global Food Initiative during a dinner with several campus chancellors at Waters' restaurant, Chez Panisse, which is known for buying and serving food grown by small local farms.

To jump start the initiative, Napolitano announced three $2,500 fellowships to undergraduate or graduate students on each campus whose work relates to agriculture or food.

Napolitano has not set a specific budget for the new initiative, but officials said the university will use existing funds to pay for research projects including studying the amount of food that goes to waste in school cafeterias or grocery store stock rooms.

The university also plans to seek new funds from the federal government for food-related research and education, she said.

Plans include incorporating food-related issues into existing undergraduate and graduate classes and building and expanding gardens at each campus.

The university also hopes to start research projects looking into how government policies shape the way food is bought and sold in the United States and overseas, Napolitano said.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Jim Loney)