UCR’s Fortino Morales III Wins the Global Food Initiative 30 Under 30 Award For His Work with R’Garden

UCR graduate receives UC recognition for his efforts to grow food for the campus and the community.

Fortino Morales III, R’Garden manager, is being recognized in the inaugural UC Global Food Initiative 30 Under 30 Awards. UCR File

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Fortino Morales III’s agricultural roots run deep.

His maternal and paternal grandparents were Mexican migrants who arrived in the United States via the Bracero Program, a farm worker bilateral initiative that operated from 1942-1964.

Three generations later, Morales is leading UC Riverside’s community garden as the very first R’Garden manager, and for his work he is being recognized in the inaugural UC Global Food Initiative 30 Under 30 Awards.

The announcement recognizes the 2011 UCR graduate who obtained a bachelor’s in environmental sciences. Morales has been involved in growing the R’Garden, a 3-acre project, since he was a student here. He established the first student-run course, the urban garden seminar and ushered through a student referendum to fund sustainability engagement.

The UC Global Food Initiative was launched in 2014 by UC President Janet Napolitano to develop and execute solutions to help lead people around the world on a path to sustainably and nutritious eating.

“Today we honor 30 young people who have devoted their lives to addressing some of the most important topics of our day,” Napolitano said.  “Food is at the heart of issues related to sustainability, climate security and healthy communities.”

Global Food Initiative focuses on young people, innovators within the UC system, California and the rest of the U.S. The initiative involves all 10 UC campuses, UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural  Resources and the Lawrence  Berkeley  National  Laboratory.  It is guided by a systemwide  working  group  appointed  by Napolitano and the UC chancellors.

When Morales received the news, he felt grateful, he said.

“What I really like is that it’s not just a recognition of me. All the projects that I’ve worked on involve many, many people,” said Morales, who will be starting his master’s degree at UCR’s School of Public Policy in the fall.

One of the key aspects of the R’Garden, is to work with staff, faculty, students and the community. He offers sessions to teach locals how to cultivate their own fruits and vegetables. This past Earth Day, he worked with Lothian’s chef to integrate into the menu, kale, strawberries, leeks and oranges – all ingredients from R’Garden.

He is also reaching out to UCR’s food pantry (R’Pantry) and the campus’ Swipe out Hunger UCR program.

Off campus he helps with city of Riverside programs such as the Eastside Heal Zone, collaborates with Salvation Army and most recently, he joined that Riverside Land Conservancy’s board of directors.  “I hope to work on bridging sustainable agriculture with conservation efforts. I am also attending trainings on diversity within land trust and conservancies to increase participation and engagement to a broader audience,” Morales said.

His family is surprised at the work he is doing, he said. He grew up in urban San Diego and helping mom with garden work “almost served as punishment,” he said with a laugh.

But college broadened his understanding on issues such as food, food access, agriculture and sustainability. For two years he interned with the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, and brought back many ideas.

“R’Garden’s role as a living laboratory, coupled with community outreach, the film series and conferences, spreads Fortino’s impact far beyond just one community,” said Glenda Humiston, vice president, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and member of the selection committee for the awards.

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