Campus-grown produce, delivered by bicycle and offered at a UC Davis food pantry, is warming not only the stomachs of students, but also their hearts.

"The fresh produce is very helpful to the pantry experience," said Sebastian Cano, a fourth-year student from Oakland, California, who recently took home two melons with some canned soup and pineapple.

"We're receiving help from our student government," the political science major said. "We're also receiving the freshest, most organic ingredients — just as if we're at the farmers market, just as if we're at the grocery store."

Students learn to grow produce sustainably at the iconic Student Farm and sell it for use in campus dining halls or through subscription market baskets in the community.

A Fresh Focus, a new campus program now in its first full quarter, collects some of what's left — surplus, blemished or odd-shaped produce — and makes it available at The Pantry, a unit of the Associated Students at UC Davis.

"A Fresh Focus is my passion," said senior Kiko Barr, who, as Aggie Grown coordinator for Dining Services, collects and bikes the produce to The Pantry. "I know what a great difference bringing fresh vegetables into my life has made, and I want to share that with other students."

Student grown

The sustainable agriculture and food systems major from Rancho Palos Verdes is one of three students, all from California, who helped develop the program.

"It seemed crazy that students were going hungry when there's amazing produce growing at the Student Farm," said Nicole Lesnett of Novato, who graduated in June with a bachelor's degree in international relations. 

Last year, Lesnett worked through much of the plan for A Fresh Focus in a project for a course on program development for international agriculture.

Shinna Kim, a senior design major from Union City, was instrumental as the director of The Pantry last year.

The students also worked with campus officials to comply with health and safety regulations and to identify appropriate produce — varieties that are less fragile and have a longer shelf life.

A Fresh Focus received a $1,500 grant through Dining Services' Go Green Grant program, which funds innovative grassroots projects for a more sustainable campus. It paid for the bike cart, bins and cleaning supplies.

"It's the most humbling and rewarding thing I've done," said Lesnett.

Healthy food

Some 20 to 40 pounds of produce — including eggplants, squash, melons, potatoes, apples, pears, peppers and lettuce — has been a welcome, weekly addition to The Pantry's offerings of nonperishable food and hygiene items.

"It's really special that now those students who are relying on us for all their food have the option of having healthier food," said director Tara Storm, a fourth-year student from Salinas, California. "And fresh produce definitely is that healthier food," added the history and American studies major.

The Pantry, established by students in 2011 amid state budget cuts and tuition increases, distributed the fixings for more than 18,000 meals last academic year.

Barr wants to see a good thing grow. "Our small dream," she said, "is that this will become a model for other universities, food banks and farms to be able to bring more fresh produce to everyone."

Applications for the next cycle of Go Green grants are due Nov. 21.

UC Davis is growing California

At UC Davis, we and our partners are nourishing our state with food, economic activity and better health, playing a key part in the state’s role as the top national agricultural producer for more than 50 years. UC Davis is participating in UC’s Global Food Initiative launched by UC President Janet Napolitano, harnessing the collective power of UC to help feed the world and steer it on the path to sustainability.

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.