How Darryl Wong, executive director of the new Center for Agroecology, envisions food system change

This year, the University of California, Santa Cruz announced 55 years of national leadership in organic and sustainable farming and a campus hub for that commitment. Agroecology Centeris preparing to expand its impact even further. The Center recently elected Managing Director Darryl Wong to provide administrative and strategic leadership that supports the Center’s mission to advance agroecology and build an equitable future for food systems. His work will complement Professor Stacey Philpott’s continued oversight of the Center’s academic and research functions.

Wong has been the Research Land Manager of the Agroecology Center since 2013 and has had the opportunity to work across the Center’s food production, education and research programs.he is a graduate of the center apprenticeship program I have a Ph.D. She holds a PhD in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a focus on soil health and organic no-till farming. Prior to joining the Center for Agroecology, she owned a variety of organic farms and has over 15 years of farming experience.

In Wong’s new role, the Center for Agroecology is poised to help shape the future of the global food system as new challenges and opportunities emerge from rapid social, environmental and technological change. I’m here. The center continues its history as perhaps the oldest university-based organic farm in the country. And the team continues to work on core services such as access to meals for students and communities, and experiential education through UCSC. Agroecology Major Apprenticeship programs, extension services for farmers, cutting-edge research on sustainable agriculture.

The UC Santa Cruz news team got in touch with Wong to learn more about the center’s future goals and the vision he brings as executive director. Below are highlights from that interview.

UCSC: Daryl, congratulations on your new position. How do you feel about becoming Executive Director of the Center for Agroecology?

won: I am really excited! I sometimes joke that I’ve experienced the Center from all angles, but one of the things I’m most excited about is how impactful the Center for Agroecology and UC Santa Cruz Farm are. can be shared with And Alan Chadwick Gardens, as someone who has had a really deep and grounded experience himself, could be. I’m really looking forward to the challenge of figuring out how we can combine

UCSC: As the Center’s former research site manager, how do you see the legacy of organic farming on campus reflected in the types of research being done here today?

won: The Agroecology Center is unique in that it has a long history of food production on which research has been built. The fact that we maintain functioning organic farms and gardens here on campus is the next level of research that combines aspects of technical, natural and biophysical sciences to understand these lands as a whole system. make it possible. This differs from the approach found in agronomy, which often focuses on constituents. Our research site is like a Petri dish that allows us to study the relationships that people work in agricultural systems. The Center’s work has a broad focus on highly technical agricultural research and its attendant social issues.

UCSC: Can you talk a little more about the social aspects of agroecology and how this affects the work of the Centre?

won: When people talk about sustainable farming, they are usually thinking about organic production methods or strategies such as no-till farming, cover crops, nitrogen cycling, etc. And learning and discovering about sustainable production methods There are certainly many. But also for some of these we no longer need to prove that they work. I know it works. Now we need to understand what tools we should turn to to drive social change that transforms our food system towards more sustainable production and distribution, more equitable access and labor practices. . Ultimately, agriculture has social issues that govern the biophysical realities of the field.

For example, what producers can do is often limited by social decisions about the value of food and land. It reflects how much consumers are willing to pay, the regulations that exist on things like pesticides, how the market rewards consolidation, and how commodity support for conventional produce drives down the price of all foods. As a farmer, I myself have faced these harsh political and economic realities. And that’s part of what drew me to the Agroecology Center. , combines insights on social forces in agriculture in a very unique and powerful way.

UCSC: And how does the Center’s educational mission contribute to food system change?

won: Historically, in its early days, the UC Santa Cruz farm was one of the only games that brought together people familiar with the principles of organic farming and agroecology. Part of the role our campus played was to provide hands-on training and curriculum, but there was also a very important community-building aspect. Those who came to study agroecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz were early adopters who continued to connect with each other as they progressed in their careers. And today, if you look across the country at our apprenticeship alumni, former students, and early faculty, you can really see how there is a network of support to help grow this movement that goes all the way back to the University of California, Santa Cruz. can be seen in .

Going forward, I believe our goal is to train the next generation of scientists and activists who can speak across food systems with both broad social understanding and real-world experience. I don’t think everyone who completes an apprenticeship program wants to start a farm and drive a tractor. They could be someone who works for state policy in Sacramento, is passionate about agricultural accessibility, and knows how much effort it takes to harvest strawberries. When I tell them about the problems strawberry workers face, they get their fingertips and backs up about how difficult the job is and what people are asked to do to produce that crop. I have experiential knowledge.

UCSC: What other important issues will the Center address to advance its mission into the future?

won: We need to know who has access to the center, who has access to the educational opportunities that are here, and this resource that has had such a huge impact on the food system that it has traditionally been underserved. We think a lot about how we can provide the right format and support to connect with underserved people. I had access to it before. This is especially important at a time when so many new tools are emerging in agriculture through AgTech developments. When you give someone a tool, what they do with it depends a lot on the perspective they have. .

I think UC Santa Cruz could play a role in enabling those connections. We need to understand the implications of new technology and access to technology, and who can join the developing table. We need to make sure these questions are asked. And as a campus, given the strength of our programs in both engineering and social sciences, I think we are uniquely positioned to support that. Rather than being overwhelmed, I think there is a real opportunity to ensure that AgTech can instead become an example of technology for social good. I can’t wait to see if I can do it.

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