Photo Courtesy of Hai Vo.

Strawberries may not come to mind when one thinks of justice, but this year’s second annual Strawberry and Justice Festival is intended to connect issues surrounding the delicious berry to larger issues of agricultural production, labor and pesticide application.

The event is entirely student-directed and will take place from 4-7 p.m. at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) farm on May 17. The festival is open to the public and all activities will be free of charge.

Event organizers hope to engage students with issues not only involving strawberry production, but agricultural justice in general.

“The focus is to take a largely celebrated spring fruit, strawberries, and talk about issues of production that are involved but invisible to the consumer at the grocery store,” said Aliesha Balde, UC Santa Cruz Food Systems Working Group (FSWG) co-coordinator and one of the event’s organizers.

The Strawberry and Justice Festival is hosted by the CASFS and FSWG. Funding for the event was provided by the Sustainable Food, Health and Wellness Initiative, which is a university-wide measure that funds various undergraduate projects to make such events free for students. Through the festival, organizers are hoping to create a community space for students to interact in a panel concerning food, justice and agricultural production.

The event will feature a panel discussing safer alternatives to strawberry production as well as a recent ban on methyl iodide, a toxic pesticide used in strawberry agriculture. Other activities will include fresh organic berry tasting, interactive tabling and an art and mural expression zone, in addition to addressing themes of labor, wage and workers’ ability to provide for their families. A live performance by local band Wooster will also begin at 5:30 p.m.

“We hope our activity will help make this social justice issue come to life for festival guests, since it is difficult to fully comprehend what farm labor is like, being that we are all removed from where our food comes from,” said festival coordinator Alexandra Villegas, who also serves as the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Intern for Dining and co-chair for the FSWG. “We have the luxury of being able to go to the farmer’s market or grocery store to buy our food, which makes it easy not to think about the hard work that goes into producing and harvest the food we eat.”

In addition to CASFS and FSWG, the festival is partnered with the Student Environmental Center (SEC), UC Santa Cruz Dining, Education for Sustainable Living Program, Sustainability Office of UCSC and the Science & Justice Working Group. In past years, the apprenticeship program at CASFS ran the event, but the FSWG has recently started playing a more active role in organizing it.

“Historically, the event has been a celebration of berries, the springtime, and serves as a community space for people to connect and learn about agriculture,” said Tim Galarneau, community coordinator for the Central Coast School Food Alliance and food systems education and research program specialist for CASFS.

After the event ends at 7 p.m., students are encouraged to attend a discussion concerning food waste. The discussion will take place from 7:30-9:30 p.m. in Social Sciences 1, Room 110. Guest speaker Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland,” will discuss the reasons why Americans waste food and ways we can reduce food waste.

The Strawberry and Justice Festival brings together many organizations for a chance to converse and connect themes of agricultural labor and justice, all while also enjoying live music and student-made, organic berry dishes.

“We’ll have opportunities to better connect and understand issues of labor, issues of pesticide application and production as well as challenges of farming, marketing and consumption,” Galarneau said. “It definitely goes beyond what choices are best in buying to what are the bigger problems and how can we in our everyday way of living be more mindful and supportive of a different vision in our food system and what will it take us to get there.”

All in all, festival organizers hope the event will stimulate learning and create a fun and refreshing environment for students to become educated and engaged in agricultural and labor issues.

“I believe that educating people on these issues and increasing general awareness,” Balde said, “is a form of pursuing justice in itself.”