Social Implications in Agriculture, What is Organic

The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems – 50 years Outstanding in Their Field

Nestled in the coastal range above Santa Cruz, CA. lays a living piece of history that continues to make significant contributions to organic agriculture. Dating back to 1967 when master gardener Alan Chadwick transformed the rolling chaparral into a prolific organic garden, the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) has evolved into a multifaceted research, education, and public service endeavor.  The work at their 33 acre organic farm continues to make an impact on organic producers locally and across the globe.

This vital but often underappreciated Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) resides within the Division of Social Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. Here they undertake a myriad of projects to improve agroecology and organic agriculture.  Their mission is to research, develop, and advance sustainable food and agricultural systems that are environmentally sound, economically viable, socially responsible, nonexploitative, and that serve as a foundation for future generations.

Agroecological Science is their Specialty

CASFS continues to support science and research that increases yields, optimizes nutrient use while decreasing off farm impacts and eliminating reliance on synthetic chemical inputs. Their work has made a significant contribution in the control of strawberry pests and diseases. They research various crop rotations to suppress pests and diseases and improve fertility, and have conducted variety trials for organic specialty crop production on the Central Coast.

Their efforts include studying cover cropping with annuals and perennials, conducting analysis of nutrient uptake in organic and conventional systems and  they have experimented with “farmscaping” using native hedgerows and vegetative buffer strips to increase biodiversity.

Education Remains the Core of Their Work

CASFS’s educational component is far-reaching, serving audiences ranging from pre-K to elementary students. Through classes, conferences, public events, tours, and publications, CASFS teaches academics, researchers, policy makers, students, and the general public about sustainable agriculture and food systems.

As part of the University system they are able to serve graduates and undergraduates in a variety of topics. UCSC students can take courses on agroecology, urban agriculture, domestic and international food systems, agricultural policy and food security. They work with CASFS through internships or independent studies developed in collaboration with faculty in a variety of campus departments.

From the youngest students to community members, their educational efforts are making a difference.

Apprenticeship Training Offers Practical on Farm Training

The CASFS apprenticeship model combines theoretical and practical instruction in organic farming techniques that have been successfully replicated locally and internationally.  You may know or be one of the many graduates that have established their own organic farms or gone on to do important work in the organic food sector.  Some graduates have taken part in international development projects, including programs in Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and throughout Central and South America.

Others have raised the standards of the organic food industry through their work with certification programs and retailers. Learn more about the Graduates at Work page for examples of what apprenticeship alumni have done with this hands-on training.

The growing interest in sustainable agriculture, organic food and issues of social justice underscores the need for the type of work conducted by CASFS staff, faculty, and students.

It’s been fifty years since Alan Chadwick applied his agroecological mastery to the UCSC Farm and Garden. Since that time CASFS has trained and nurtured generations of new organic farmers, built a model undergraduate experiential education program, and helped shape a more sustainable food system through research and policy efforts.

Come celebrate their 50 years of work at the “First 50 Celebration & Symposium” at UC Santa Cruz, July 28–30th 2017. There will be a compelling lineup of speakers, workshops & tours, with good music, local food and time for mingling with old-timers (like me) and many newcomers to the sustainable agriculture community. You can join the fun by registering here.

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