Learning From the Ground Up

By Alec Rosenberg

Fortino Morales III helped start UC Riverside’s R’Garden while a student. It began as a quarter-acre pilot program in 2009 and has blossomed into a 3-acre garden, which Morales oversees as community garden coordinator, with help from three student workers.

R’Garden has become a hub of activity for the campus and surrounding community. The garden has 40 plots for students, faculty, staff and the broader community, packed with produce that grows alongside orange trees and row crops of vegetables that include broccoli, carrots and lettuce. It’s a welcoming spot where students can work on projects such as building earthen benches, conduct research on the health benefits of gardening, and attend student-led and faculty-led courses that cover everything from gardening to food and politics.

“It’s been amazing,” Morales said. “It’s brought food to another level of conversation.”

Fortino Morales at UC Riverside's Community Garden.  Carrie Rosema

Fortino Morales at UC Riverside’s Community Garden.
Carrie Rosema

Every UC undergraduate campus now has a student-run farm or garden. From well-established student farms at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz to a crop of new gardens, courses and programs popping up across the University of California system, UC is offering experiential learning opportunities to students at all levels. This hands-on learning offers invaluable real-world experience to students, diversifying their skills, providing leadership development and helping prepare them for successful careers.

Overall, UC offers more than 200 courses and 150 programs related to experiential learning in food and sustainable agriculture systems. For example, farms and gardens provide diverse opportunities for students to participate in activities related to food, nutrition, research, education and outreach, according to a new Global Food Initiative report that highlights best practices, lessons learned and case studies of experiential learning across the UC system.

UC Riverside offers students a wide array of courses, workshops and events focused on food education, from an Urban Garden seminar to talks with local farmers to walking tours of the edible trees on campus, led by Tracy Kahn, curator of the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection.

For a campus with roots as a citrus experiment station, it’s a recipe for a fruitful future.

UC experiential learning resources

The Global Food Initiative’s Experiential Learning subcommittee has produced a directory of UC experiential learning courses and programs that have experiential components in food and agriculture systems; a report with lessons learned, best practices and case studies titled “Learning From the Ground Up”; and released several related student-produced videos. The report’s authors include Kate Kaplan, Jennifer Sowerwine and Ann Thrupp, UC Berkeley; Mark Van Horn, UC Davis; and Damian Parr, UC Santa Cruz.

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