Current Social Issues Research and Community Engagement Projects


    Improving Nutrition and Increasing California Specialty Crop Sales: Implementing Collective Buying in K–12

  • In this project funded by the California Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops program, CASFS staff members are working with Food Service Directors from Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz County school districts to identify and implement collective buying strategies of California fresh fruits and vegetables. Cost savings from the project will be used to purchase additional locally produced specialty crops.

    CASFS is supplying partner districts with technical assistance for multi-district collective buying of specialty crops, along with menu planning and marketing support. By documenting this and other similar efforts, UCSC will provide “best practices” information statewide to allow the project to scale-up. This project will increase the purchase and consumption of California fresh fruits and vegetables in operations that serve over 125,000 meals per day (including breakfast, lunch, and supper programs) and support nutrition for vulnerable populations and children.

    CASFS experience working with Food Service Directors has shown that there is demand for collective buying, shared problem solving, and buying locally. There is clear dedication to improving nutrition by increasing consumption of locally grown fruits and vegetables in schools, yet barriers challenge many of these efforts. Problems include the cost and time to understand and coordinate sourcing specialty crops as well as inadequate structures to jointly conduct menu planning and promotions. Facilitating a collective buying, menu planning, and promotional effort will make California fruits and vegetables more affordable and allow Food Service Directors to buy more of them. 

    The project builds on existing efforts and momentum to increase local and regional produce sourcing in the Central Coast of California. CASFS has helped facilitate ongoing conversations since winter 2010 with Central Coast school districts to increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, and healthy options in school meal programs. This project establishes institutional purchasing and lifelong consumption patterns for California specialty crops.

    This project also harnesses interest from regional grower-shippers of specialty crops and small to medium-scale farm operations that are partnering on aggregation efforts to participate in institutional market sales. The state and federal representatives have championed interest in linking regional farming systems more closely; they value this effort to support school districts' capacity in increasing nutrition with a greater abundance of California specialty crops. Parent and teacher groups to regional school administrators are interested in scaling up farm-to-cafeteria projects. CASFS's affiliates from across the state, including California Department of Education's Nutrition Services, California Farm to School Network members, and others have all encouraged projects that link children to fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the state. UCSC looks forward to implementing this project and sharing impacts with friends from the field to the fork.

    CASFS Participants: Tim Galarneau, Jan Perez, Food System Working Group Interns. Cooperators: Food Service Directors from 9 Central Coast school districts. Funding: California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.


  • An Institutional Partnership Model for Sustainable Agriculture Curriculum Development and Recruitment of Underrepresented Students in California

  • A 2013 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will expand opportunities for UCSC students studying sustainable agriculture, and for Central Coast junior college and high school students who might not otherwise have considered a career in agriculture. The three-year, $730,000 grant is part of the USDA’s Higher Education Challenge program, which funds efforts to improve agricultural education in the U.S. and attract students to the agricultural sciences. UCSC will team with Cabrillo and Hartnell colleges, along with the “Food, What?” and Greenaction programs that serve high school students, to bring more students into four-year degree programs focused on sustainable agriculture.

    A related effort to expand and improve courses and internship opportunities for UCSC undergraduates is also underway, with the support of the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation.

    CASFS Participants: Damian Parr, Stacy Philpott, Daniel Press. Cooperators: Deborah Letourneau, Carol Shennan, UCSC Environmental Studies Department. Funding: USDA/CSREES/NIFA
    Related publication: USDA grant boosts opportunities for sustainable agriculture education. UCSC News.


  • Building a Foundation for New Farmers: Training, Resources, and Networks

  • The goals of this project are to prepare well-trained new farmers for sustainable production and small farm viability, to support these farmers in their early years of operation, and to build a mentorship and peer farmer network that will help ensure their long-term viability and success. A special focus of this project is providing top-quality training and support resources to new and future farmers from socially disadvantaged and limited resource communities. Read more at the BFRDP Grant page

    CASFS Participants:Christof Bernau, Martha Brown, Jim Leap, Orin Martin, Liz Milazzo, Diane Nichols, Jan Perez, Daniel Press, Darryl Wong Collaborators: California Certified Organic Farmers, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Ecological Farming Association  Funding: USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program 


  • Central Coast School Food Alliance Projects

  • Few issues are more important to parents than the health of their children, beginning with the food they eat. CASFS has been a leader in serving the Central Coast School Food Alliance, an action research project that brings together leaders and practitioners from food service, food banks and K-12 education, to collaborate on improving school food programs. The Alliance’s goal is to develop a model for the local community and other regions throughout the U.S. to provide healthy school lunches and breakfasts for all children. This is particularly important for low-income children, since often their main meals are those they eat at school. The Alliance also provides the community with public sessions on sustainable agrifood system issues and solutions; piloting social change programs based on action concepts identified through work of the Alliance; conducting community-based research; and developing leadership skills. The Alliance is developing strategies to obtain changes in state and federal legislation, increase school food funding sources, and build additional community organizing and local leadership around school nutrition and access to food. CASFS has assisted in the compilation of information from research on the impact that limited access to food and nutrition has on students’ academic success. The working group is developing a public relations strategy to engage the community through events that highlight innovative school-food program successes.

    WhyHunger, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, funded CASFS to disseminate and amplify successful community-based program models and activities that reduce health disparities by increasing the availability of and access to healthy food within low-income and rural communities. With this support, CASFS’ assists the Central Coast School Food Alliance to access information resources from WhyHunger’s Grassroots Action Network database, access information and analyses on food deserts through WhyHunger’s Food Security Learning Center, and access WhyHunger’s financial resources to address the problem of food deserts in the Central Coast Region of California.

    CASFS participants: Patricia Allen, Tim Galarneau, Jan Perez  Funding: U.S. Department of Agriculture, WHYHunger
    Related publication: Galarneau, T., S. Millward, and M. Laird. 2013. Farm to school efforts: Innovations and insights. Furthering Healthy Food Systems in California. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.


  • Scaling Up Healthy Change in the School Food Environment

  • Initiated in 2014, the goal of this project is to develop effective tools and models for advancing a healthy school environment by directly addressing candy and junk food competition in and around schools. This project will help add policies and procedures to enhance the school environment by targeting mobile vendors and other sources of unhealthy foods outside of the cafeteria that compete with the efforts to improve healthy on-campus options. Steps include:

    • Develop resource engagement packets for fostering a healthy school environment for school district leadership teams and Wellness Committees (we will gather and provide best practices and examples from districts outside of the region and around the US of key steps and model efforts to improve a healthy school environment, specifically targeting the landscape of competitive foods, unhealthy fundraisers, birthday snacks & class food servings, and concession sales);
    • Develop and facilitate district-based leadership teams for the project who will support CCSFA and youth team members for passing regional healthy school environment ordinances;
    • Create district policy templates on banning candy and junk food-related sales as sources of fundraising revenues through School Boards as well as propose alternate models to pilot so we can maintain a solution-oriented focus; and,
    • Create a policy template to establish buffers to school districts for the sales and distribution of junk food and soda through city council ordinances.
    • Work toward the implementation of district and city council policies through successful passage in six regional districts and four city councils (with youth leaders from the districts and communities introducing the policies that are co-developed with the project staff team);
    • Develop recommendations on classroom-based birthday and special snacks to reduce the amount of sugar and empty calories served outside of School and Nutrition Services within six regional partner districts partnering with Wellness Committees; and,
    • Develop healthy, regionally focused, concession food menu models for school athletic "snack shacks" to serve as sites for healthy food offerings for school and athletic programs (with in-kind partner support from FoodSmith, recently launched enterprise from former Santa Cruz City Schools Food Service Director, Jamie Smith).

    Additional information:

    Link to the "Change Up for the Good" Business Pledge for Healthier Choices

    Link to Healthy School Food, Healthy Celebrations, Healthy Fundraising, and Healthy Incentives information

    CASFS participants: Tim Galarneau, Jan Perez  Community Partners: Central Coast School Food Alliance, "Food, What?!", FoodSmith, Jovenes SANOS Funding: Monterey Peninsua Foundation, United Way

See Also