Nearly two tons of fruit and vegetables grown at UC's Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center (HAREC) in Santa Paula have been donated to Food Forward and the Ventura Unified School District (VUSD), destined for children and families.
Some of the vegetables – planted by volunteers and farm staff - became available when UC HAREC's farm field trips were canceled due to COVID-19. Other vegetables were harvested from the student farm located at HAREC, a partnership with VUSD and the city of Ventura. Kale and lettuce at the student farm were planted by youth from DATA and Montalvo schools.
Every fall and spring, volunteers from the UC Master Gardener program propagate seedlings for schools, bundling them into variety packs of vegetables and herbs, which are given to schools with gardens. Because of COVID-19, plants were given to schools for direct distribution to families. Ventura Unified School District staff partnering in this effort include Kara Muniz, Director of Food and Nutrition Services; Ashely Parrish Decker, Nutrition Educator, who runs the Student Farm; and Alise Echles, RDN.
Additional fruit and vegetables were harvested from HAREC's citrus demonstration area, the site's educational gardens and the farm grounds.
UCCE's education program manager Susana Bruzzone-Miller said, “We are saddened that spring field trip season is cancelled and miss the sound of children delighting in harvesting, sometimes for the very first time. But, it warms my heart that our field trip garden can help feed so many families in need.”
John Antongiovanni, farm manager, worked with the farm staff to organize the harvest. He said, “Working together during this difficult time is very rewarding.”
Food Forward is a gleaning organization that helps residents turn the surplus produce grown on their property into a nutritious food source for local communities. Rick Nahmias, founder and executive director, indicated that the Food Forward Backyard Harvest team remains active, and may be reached via phone at 805.630.2728 or email.
Author - Emeritus - UCCE Advisor in Digital Communications in Food Systems & Extension Education; Editor, UC Food Observer; Food and Society Policy Fellow