Since Dec. 2, there has been .82 inches of rainfall. Though the rain helps, it’s nowhere near the 12 inches needed to end water restrictions. Amid statewide drought conditions, food production at the UC Santa Cruz Farm decreased in November, according to The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS).
For students, the shortage in fresh produce means raised prices on organic produce. For the staff and faculty of CASFS at the UCSC Farm, these restrictions mean growing less crops and continuing to save as much water as possible.
CASFS at the UCSC Farm is working to save water by growing less and applying new advanced watering technology. Its mission is to “research, cultivate and improve agricultural systems and sustainable food that serve as a base for future generations,” according to the CASFS website.
“Responding to a drought meant we had to cut back on what we produced,” said farm site and research lands manager Darryl Wong. “What suffered the most is the land CASFS and the UCSC Farm have dedicated for the dining halls, and because of the drought, they’ve had to roll back on the project. We had to decrease how much we grew this year, which meant less food. That has been reflected in our sales and what we have brought to our farmers market stands.”
In February 2012, Chancellor George Blumenthal signed The Real Food Commitment to announce UCSC’s commitment to reach 40 percent of “local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane” food by 2020. However, with the statewide drought conditions, CASFS had to put the project on hold.
The dining halls continue to receive organic food from Viridis Aquaponics and Alba Organics in Watsonville, but the UCSC Farm and CASFS are trying to become less dependent on their partners so they can grow more organic food in UCSC’s backyard.
The decrease in food production and sales led the UCSC Farm and CASFS to practice different methods of water conservation, which meant less food growth.
Ben Kutcher, who has apprenticed for two years, said brainstorming sessions were held at the beginning of the season to figure out the best way to save water to continue their programs.
“In the garden we fixed leaky faucets, hose risers and hose bibs,” Kutcher said. “We made sure we met Santa Cruz’s guidelines for overhead irrigation before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m.”
CASFS’s goal, which has since been reached, was to reduce water use by 10-15 percent. It was also necessary to treat water with respect, said apprenticeship program coordinator Diane Nichols.
“We all believe in sustainability, which means you don’t waste resources, even if you have plenty,” Nichols said. “You still are very respectful and careful with water.”
Some of CASFS solutions to help with water shortage involve grants from The Carbon Fund to help fund projects like installing new technology for monitoring irrigation systems, fixing any types of leaks and timing water applications for food and plant growth.
“The biggest thing we did in the garden was installing in-line drip tubing in our orchards,” Kutcher said. “In the past everything has been overhead watered, and our goal was to save water and to make it as efficient as possible.”
The Carbon Fund works to recreate campus as a functionally carbon neutral campus, while also providing tools students and faculty need for a more sustainable future.
“The Carbon Fund grant [and] the sustainability working group have taught us how to refine those practices we’ve been working on for a long time already, but using some of the new technology can help us get a more detailed look at what we’re doing,” said farm site and research lands manager Wong.
The Carbon Fund grant helps CASFS use more advanced technology to monitor irrigation at different soil depths. Treating water with respect has always been a part of CASFS’s actions toward a more sustainable way of life.
“We are learning how to work with it with respect, because it is the most valuable resource we have,” apprentice Kutcher said. “It’s one of our most limited resources and it’s not going to be here forever.”