For the first time in its three-year history, The Pantry is now offering fresh produce as part of its Fresh Focus collaboration with the UC Davis Student Farm. Fresh Focus is a collaborative effort between The Pantry and the Student Farm at UC Davis to combat food waste and food insecurity on campus.
The Pantry is an on-campus food bank where students have access to basic food items and toiletries, and by presenting a valid UC Davis ID, students can select up to three items per day. The ASUCD unit has aided students since 2011 with non-perishable items and hygiene essentials, but the Fresh Focus program marks the first quarter that fresh produce is available.
Campus-grown fruits and vegetables are harvested by the Student Farm and then sold to Dining Services. Any food that the Dining Commons does not buy, including blemished or misshapen produce, is biked directly over to The Pantry.
“It’s super helpful because a lot of students use us as their sole grocery store, so they haven’t had access to perishable food items,” said Pantry unit director Tara Storm. “Now that we have that for them it’s just increasing their diet.”
The idea emerged when one of the Fresh Focus project’s creators, Nicole Lesnett, was informed by Aggie Grown coordinator Jessica Brown about excess produce from the Student Farm that often goes uneaten.
Surplus crops are left to be composted, which inspired Lesnett to try to eliminate extra waste. Lesnett, who graduated in June, proposed the concept through the Student Farm dialogue — quarterly meetings open to Student Farmers’ questions and suggestions — where a lot of interest built.
“The Student Farm was started by students, so we wanted the program to reflect the desires of students also,” said Student Farm director Mark Van Horn.
The Student Farm has served the UC Davis community since 1977, providing healthy food, in-field experience for student employees and volunteers, as well as internships and courses.
Under former director Shinna Kim, The Pantry applied for Dining Service’s Go Green grant to pursue the sustainable project and received $1,500 in funding.
The grant proposal targeted the connection between learning and adequate food consumption.
“Healthy and nutritious food will not only help students live healthier lives, but provide energy for them to think more clearly and perform better in school,” Kim said. “We want to empower students who are going through financially difficult times. I hope our classmates know that we are truly here for them and no student has to face this economic struggle alone.”
Fresh Focus is entirely green, delivering produce by bike and composting any untaken fruits and vegetables. The wide range of produce biked over to The Pantry includes varieties such as eggplant, kale, peppers, grapes and brussell sprouts, varying by season.
Kiko Barr, one of the program developers and Aggie Grown coordinator for Dining Services, collects and delivers to The Pantry twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.
“It’s not right for students to be food insecure,” Barr said. “I hope we can get more manpower behind it and expand it.”
Students show high demand for fresh produce, as The Pantry often runs out of stock before 6:00 p.m.
The Pantry recently hired an intern who will be responsible for delivering and maintaining a relationship with the Student Farm.
“I think it’s amazing that one problem can help solve another, and that the outcome is fresh, nutritious, sustainably produced produce for fellow students,” Lesnett said. “I also hope that programs like Fresh Focus can be replicated at other universities, or even within other interested communities.”