Three Students Receive Global Food Initiative Fellowships

UC Riverside students Holly Mayton, Melina Reyes and Claudia Villegas will work on projects addressing food safety, food security and sustainable agriculture

UC Riverside graduate student Holly Mayton is one of three recipients on campus of the Global Food Initiative Fellowships given by UC this year. Photo courtesy of Holly Mayton.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Three students at the University of California, Riverside have received Global Food Initiative (GFI) Fellowships to work on food-related research projects. This is the second year the fellowships were given by the University of California.

The UC Riverside students are among 44 fellows this year, representing all 10 UC campuses plus UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The fellows will help advance the UC systemwide initiative, which aims to put UC, the state and the world on a pathway to sustainably and nutritiously feed themselves.

The recipients of the $4,000 GFI Fellowships at UCR and their projects are: Holly Mayton for improving food safety and sustainability; Melina Reyes, for food security through R’Pantry (UC Riverside’s food pantry for students); and Claudia Villegas, for a Seeds and Trees parent-child program.

Mayton is a second-year Ph.D. student in chemical and environmental engineering, expecting to graduate in 2018.  She is conducting her thesis research in the lab of Sharon Walker, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering. Her research focuses on mechanisms of foodborne pathogen attachment to leafy greens. In addition to this work, Mayton’s GFI project goal is to ultimately narrow the gap between agricultural researchers in the lab and growers in the field.

“Through the recently launched California Agriculture and Food Enterprise, I will facilitate student visits to California farms and processing plants, as well as provide outreach opportunities in rural communities,” she said. “Additionally, I will facilitate visits from farmers, processing managers, and agricultural community members at UCR, which will include round-table discussions with graduate students to foster greater understanding of the broader impacts of our research.”

Mayton believes now is the time to pursue food and agricultural research, such as her own, because the global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and “that is a lot of mouths to feed.”

“Not only do we need agriculture that is robust enough to accomplish this task, but we need consumers who actively think about the processes that get food to our plates and where it goes when we waste it,” she said. “Everyone should care about global food because the choices we make locally in favor of sustainable food systems will benefit the health, livelihoods, and economies of communities all over the world.

“UC Riverside has some of the most exciting and diverse food and agricultural research in the country, and we are fortunate to be located in the state that produces 90 percent of our nation’s food,” Mayton added. “I am excited for my project because it will give student researchers the opportunity to take advantage of this fact, and to think more broadly about the big picture of the work we do in the isolation of our labs by looking directly at the places, people, and processes that our results will impact.”

Melina Reyes is an undergraduate student at UC Riverside.Photo courtesy of Melina Reyes.

Melina Reyes is an undergraduate student at UC Riverside.Photo courtesy of Melina Reyes.

Reyes and Villegas are undergraduate students.

Reyes’s project, “Food Security Through R’Pantry,” is focused on food pantry outreach and will involve coordinating students, volunteers, and community support. She will initiate educational campaigns focused on educating people on the importance of eating well and having access to food.  The goal of the campaign is to help reduce the stigma for students struggling with food insecurity.

“My project will be focusing on raising awareness of on- and off-campus resources to help students get immediate relief and help, including but not limited to R’Pantry,” Reyes said. “This will be through structured social media campaigns, events, and information distribution in order to get more students involved in utilizing resources and also helping through volunteering or donations. The process for this will incorporate diverse students at every step, in order to make sure that the interests of the students are being fairly represented in where the efforts are going and how the money is being spent. Finally, these different events will target the stigma attached to student food insecurity, in coordination with other mental and physical health groups and organizations on campus.”

Reyes is excited to work on her project because, she said, it is going to allow her to “magnify the voices of students who are struggling with a previously invisible issue.”

“As someone who suffers from food insecurity, I want to empower others on campus to raise their voices and challenge the stigma attached to this major problem,” said Reyes, who expects to graduate in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and perhaps a minor in law and society. “Tackling this stigma and relieving people of that burden is the most exciting thing to me.”

Claudia Villegas is an undergraduate student at UC Riverside. Photo courtesy of Claudia Villegas.

Claudia Villegas is an undergraduate student at UC Riverside. Photo courtesy of Claudia Villegas.

Villegas’s project, “Seeds and Trees Parent-Child Program,” will promote sustainable agriculture and the consumption of nutrient rich food utilizing UCR’s community garden. Her project will include workshops and activities that reach out to students, local youth, and parents.  The goal is to leverage the UCR community garden to participate in providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge.

“This project will offer parents the tools, support and information they need to make healthier choices while instilling healthy eating habits in children that will last a lifetime,” said Villegas, a senior who is majoring in psychology.

She is excited that the project can provide everyone with information about healthier foods.

“Having access to nutritional foods should be foremost on everyone’s agenda,” she said. “When people learn how to grow their own food, it will reduce the environmental impact of mass agriculture. As citizens of the world they can share lessons about community gardening with their broader community.  I think the best thing we can do is show that gardening is fun and easy, and best done with friends.  If we do that, then we will be promulgating a better relationship with both the land and our neighbors.”

“UCR received nine very exciting proposals for the GFI Fellowships,” said John Cook, the director of sustainability at UCR. “Selecting the top three was a difficult task, but we are very excited about the projects that all focus on addressing food scarcity and safety in our community. The fellows will be engaged with students, faculty and staff through the R’Garden and UCR’s Food Pantry.”

UC leaders launched the Global Food Initiative last year.

In April, the first class of GFI fellows toured an organic peach farm near Fresno. In July, they teamed with UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellows at a symposium to learn, network, build leadership skills and share information about their projects.

Planned activities for the new fellows include an orientation, leadership training, spring field trip and joint summer symposium with Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellows.

“Food production and waste are integrally connected to our other key sustainability initiatives, water and carbon, so we are excited that our Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellows will be collaborating with our GFI Fellows much more closely this year,” Cook said.

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