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Campus organic food options grow

It’s a cool Wednesday afternoon at Weyburn Terrace — the graduate student housing complex at Weyburn and Veteran avenues — and the breezeway of the Palm Court building has been temporarily converted into a mini-farmers’ market. Boxes of fresh produce, just delivered from the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative (SCFC), are stacked against a wall.

The folks who are stopping by to pick them up are conscientious graduate students doing their part to help UCLA’s sustainability efforts by buying locally grown, organic produce. Right now, they’re awash in such winter delicacies as beets, carrots, radishes and kale — lots and lots of kale.
Organic produce at UCLA
Graduate students Shanna Gong (left) and Viraj Navkal show off the contents of the bushel boxes delivered by the South Central Farmers' Cooperative. Photos by Reed Hutchinson.
 
“There isn’t a lot of variety, but there’s so much you can do with the same vegetables,” said Alina Corcoran, a graduate student majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. “Kale is not one of my favorites, but I love it roasted with garlic and oil.”

Corcoran and her friend, Akane Nishimura, have biked in from Santa Monica and Venice, respectively, to pick up their produce. They are just two of the 31 people who will drop by to pick up their allotment that day.

The bushel boxes of fresh produce started arriving last fall, when the UCLA Graduate Students Association partnered with the SCFC to bring Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to campus. CSA is a new idea in farming in which a community of individuals pledges support to a farm operation and shares in the risks and benefits of food production.

Students can join the Weyburn CSA by signing up on its Facebook page, organized by graduate students Shanna Gong and Juan Matuté, and order their produce using PayPal. The cost? A very reasonable $15 per week for a bushel-sized box of whatever crops are in season.

Not just for students

CSA is not just for students, however. Matuté has started a CSA site on Facebook for faculty and staff who are interested in becoming members. If you have a Facebook account, simply go to the “UCLA CSA” site to sign up.

Picking up organic food at UCLA
Akane Nishimura (left) and Alina Corcoran, graduate students in ecology and evolutionary biology, pack their produce into reusable bags for the bike ride home.
There are currently three CSA drop-off points — Weyburn Terrace, University Apartments South, and the Office of Residential Life at De Neve Plaza — and there are plans for more.

“The purpose of CSA is to establish a relationship with the farmers and invest in what they grow. If they have a bad harvest, there’s less food,” Gong said. “But this has been a great harvest. The boxes are filled to the brim!”

Students are generally the first to jump on the environmental bandwagon, but at UCLA, they have been joined by the people in charge of the campus’ restaurants, catering services and dining halls.

Staff and faculty who dine at ASUCLA restaurants such as Kerckhoff Coffeehouse, Bruin Buzz in Ackerman Union, North Campus Student Center and the Bombshelter have the option of buying finished products made by Organic To Go, a supplier whose products are at least partially made with organic ingredients.

The Greenhouse, on the first floor of Ackerman Union, offers many organic vegetables and fruits. Even the bowls and flatware are made of biodegradable materials. The trade-off, though, is a higher cost for such goods.

“At ASUCLA, our biggest commitment to the community and to the student body is to keep pricing as low as we can,” said Roy Champawat, director of the ASUCLA Student Union. “Everybody’s always been concerned about costs, and they’re even more anxious in the current environment. Whatever we do has to be tempered against the cost implications.”

Champawat noted, however, that markets are reactive — the more organic products people buy, the more it helps to drive down prices, making it possible to buy even more goods as costs decrease. “I would think that the future looks pretty good for being able to make more progress without sacrificing cost,” he said.

According to Robert Gilbert, sustainability coordinator for Housing & Hospitality Services (H&HS), approximately 1 percent of the food served in the campus’ residential dining halls and eateries is organic. All of the tofu served in the halls is organic, and there is one entirely organic salad bar in Hedrick Hall. In addition, Gilbert said, H&HS has begun a new program called “beef-less Thursdays.”

“Every Thursday, no beef will be served in the four residential restaurants,” Gilbert said. “This program has health and environmental benefits, since conventional beef is water-intensive, emits twice the greenhouse gas emissions of most other meats and is high in saturated fat.”

Sustainable food, too

Gilbert is currently part of a working group of representatives from the UC Office of the President and other UC campuses to develop a food services section for the UC Policy on Sustainable Practices.

“The draft policy covers things like facility operations (including energy and water consumption, and waste generation and composting), health and wellness, and sustainable food,” he said. “Sustainable food includes organics, but also includes other social and environmental aspects of food, such as fair trade, humanely raised, locally grown, etc.”

The UCLA Faculty Center has added some organic dishes to its daily lunches, Tuesday and Thursday night dinners, and 35-page catering menu, said general manager Ali Tabrizi. Approximately 10 percent of the food served at the Faculty Center is organic, including an all-organic salad on the banquet menu and organic Scottish salmon with vegetables on the dinner menu. All the lettuce in the salad bar in the cafeteria is organic as well.

Who knows? Someday, UCLA might very well be producing its own organic produce for consumption on campus. Some energetic students, led by third-year environmental science major Jaynel Santos, have been tending an organic garden located at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.

The garden currently grows lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and edible flowers. Santos said plans are in the works to grow herbs for use in the dining halls.

“It’s not just food for the halls, but also opportunities for the community to come and participate,” Santos said. “I was talking to Steve [Najera], manager of the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, about a program for kids from neighboring schools that will teach them how to grow crops. Once we get something like that going, perhaps we can make a curriculum out of it as well.”