• newswise-fullscreen CSU Awards Grants to Support Student Well-Being

    ​The CSU's inaugural Basic Needs mini-grants will help develop and enhance campus farms and garden to provide fresh produce for campus food pantries.

Newswise — The CSU Chancellor’s Office has awarded inaugural mini-grants to CSU faculty, staff and students in support of basic needs and student well-being. The funding will go toward identifying ways to connect students with available campus resources and removing barriers to a degree.

Seven student researchers, 10 faculty members and 14 campuses were awarded grants, many of which are aimed at incorporating sustainability and service-learning to supply campus food pantries with fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement non-perishable items. 

The grants are a part of the CSU’s Basic Needs Initiative, which was launched in 2016 as part of Graduation Initiative 2025 to help identify barriers to student success and implement strategies to support students on their path to graduation. 

All 23 CSU campuses currently have a food pantry or food distribution program and staff who manage these programs help connect students to on-and-off campus resources, including CalFresh.

Grown by Students for Students

Many campuses work with community partners to supply their food pantries with fresh produce, but some are also growing their own produce through campus farms and gardens. Through this, faculty and students from multiple disciplines come together to learn about sustainability and agriculture, and educate the campus community about food insecurity.

California State University, Dominguez Hills received a research grant to expand its efforts to grow produce through the Campus Urban Farm, an outdoor classroom, lab and garden. The farm was funded through the CSU’s “Campus as a Living Lab” grant program in 2018 to support the study of urban agriculture and sustainability.

The farm quickly grew to provide fresh produce for the Toro Food Pantry’s multiple locations, and staff now host pop-up pantries and deliver produce to residence halls to meet students where they are. To date, the farm has provided more than 50 pounds of food to students since spring 2018.

Jenney Hall, Ph.D., a professor of interdisciplinary and environmental studies at CSU Dominguez Hills, says staff began to realize that much of the donated produce was not taken by students for a variety of reasons, including that many students are unfamiliar with how to prepare the produce. 

“We are living in a food desert—an urban area where it’s hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Hall. “Many of our students are using their local convenience store as a grocery store because they don’t have a lot of options or haven’t been raised in a culture where fresh, organic produce is used a lot.”

Hall and her colleagues plan to use some of the grant funding to connect the farm to electricity, among several initiatives, so they can eventually build a demonstration kitchen in which students learn how to prepare nutritious meals with the fruits and vegetables provided by the farm.

Building Leaders through Service Learning

California State University San Marcos received both a faculty research grant and a community garden grant and plans to use the funding to expand the Sustainable Food Project (SFP), a living lab begun by CSU San Marcos professor Greig Tor Guthey in 2012, and begin to supply fresh produce for the Cougar Pantry.

Students from all disciplines will be invited to participate in food justice projects, which focus on providing access to fresh, healthy food items to underserved communities. Gabriel Valle, assistant professor of environmental studies at CSUSM, says grant funding will also be used to track a cohort of student volunteers to determine the impact participating in food justice projects has. 

“We already know there are major benefits of participating in community-based service learning, such as building leadership skills and becoming more civically-engaged,” says Valle. “But we want to document the true impact of empowering students to produce food for their peers.”

Campus staff are in the beginning stages of expanding the SFP and are incorporating student researchers to help identify the best crops to grow to serve students’ tastes and best practices for reaching underserved students once the crops are harvested.

For a full list of awardees and projects, visit the page for Basic Needs mini-grant opportunities. 

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