Each month, our newsletter features a person or group on campus that is working toward a more sustainable world. This month features Stacy Philpott, an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and the Alfred & Ruth Heller Chair in Agroecology at UC Santa Cruz. Stacy and a team of other researchers recently received a $730,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to direct a three-year program that will increase opportunities for high school and community college students to study sustainable agriculture at UC Santa Cruz.
We asked Stacy what she thinks about sustainability and how it relates to her work at UCSC.
Name & Job Title
Stacy Philpott, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and the Alfred & Ruth Heller Chair in Agroecology
B.S. in Zoology and minor in music from U. of Washington 1995. Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from U. of Michigan 2004.
Roles & Areas of Focus
I have a 25% appointment with the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). My work at CASFS involves work to enhance and encourage research and educational activities on the farm and Chadwick garden, acting as a liaison between Environmental Studies Department and CASFS. I am also currently the Faculty Director of the PICA program (Program in Community and Agroecology) and the SLC (Sustainable Living Center).
My research touches on agroecology, insect ecology, tropical ecology and conservation biology -- and the connections of all of these things to human livelihoods. Basically, I'm really interested in learning how agricultural management and the landscapes surrounding agroecosystems influence on-farm biodiversity and ecological interactions. I've worked for 15+ years in coffee agroecosystems to understand how alterations in the shade tree canopy that grows over the coffee shrubs affects insect and bird communities, interactions between birds, insects, and coffee plants. I've worked most closely to study ant communities, understanding the role of ants as predators (consume coffee pests), ant competition, ant nesting requirements, and other ecological interactions involving ants. In temperate areas, I have a strong current interest in the ecology of urban gardens, and in understanding more about how garden management affects biodiversity in gardens, as well as the ecosystem services that biodiversity provides (e.g. pest control, pollination services, climate regulation). I also am interested in looking at questions of food security, certification, and in general techniques that both promote biodiversity as well as farmer livelihoods.
What does "sustainability" mean to you?
I tend to go with the text book definition -- maintaining ecosystems and the environment so that we can provide for our generation without compromising the ability of the ecosystems and the environment to provide for future generations. I tend to think the most about agricultural sustainability -- and thinking about ecological, economic and social sustainability and where and how those things overlap or coincide.
Favorite Green Tip
Think about where your food comes and the resources (natural, human) that went into creating your food.
How does sustainability relate to your role at UCSC?
A big part of my role at UCSC is to teach about sustainable agriculture, and to facilitate learning for students about research in promoting sustainable agriculture/agroecology and sustainable food systems. My work with CASFS and PICA is all related to developing ecological sustainability within agricultural systems, and learning how to do that, and how to teach about that. Activities at the farm and on all of the campus gardens are teaching students about growing their own food, and learning more about where their food comes from.
Can you describe the agroecology grant you received and how that will support the community and sustainability work?
Our current USDA grant is working on three things: a) improving and enhancing the agroecology and sustainable food systems related curriculum at UCSC, b) working on recruitment of students to study agriculture-related degree programs at UCSC, and c) working on improving transfer articulation between community colleges in the region with agriculture programs and UCSC. We are primarily focusing on recruitment of traditionally under-represented students in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and have fantastic partners both at UCSC and beyond. We're working in the Environmental Studies department and CASFS to encourage students to do internships at the farm, to take courses in agroecology and sustainable food systems, to offer more internship on the farm, and to have more hands-on activities during coursework.
For recruitment, we're working with UCSC's Educational Partnership Center that works with K-12 students to educate them about STEM opportunities in college and in careers, and to provide non-traditional students with the training and skills necessary to apply to and succeed in college. We are also working with the Transfer Preparation Program at UCSC that works with transfer students to ensure smooth and successful transitions from community college to UCSC. Off campus, we are partnering with Cabrillo and Hartnell Community Colleges and with Greenaction (an environmental justice NGO) and Life Lab's FoodWhat program. All of these organizations have programming or courses related to agriculture, and we are utilizing their knowledge, expertise, and programming to reach out to students, get them to visit UCSC to think about options for college.
This year, UCSC's Chancellor Blumenthal has implemented the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge to push the campus to reduce our waste, helping us in the long run to reach our Zero Waste by 2020 Goal. How do you practice sustainability and reduce waste in your own life?
I recycle, I compost all my food waste. Carry around my water bottle, and my coffee cups...I participate in a community supported agriculture program, I shop at the farmers markets in Santa Cruz, I try to eat local (and organic!), and spend most of my waking hours thinking about how to promote ecological sustainability. I avoid buying junk that I really don't need. Most of all, I try to teach students about all of these things that they can do.
Have you had a favorite sustainability moment at UCSC?
A favorite? Too many to count. Loved the Annie Leonard talk!? Seeing the appreciative faces of the CASFS intern crew?! Attending my first PICA workday?! Realizing how much my students already know about sustainability?!