UC Merced’s desire to fight food insecurity in Merced County and on campus got a big boost recently after being awarded a $492,000 grant from CalRecycle.
The university — along with Merced County Food Bank and Blue Strike Environmental — received the grant in an effort to increase food rescues in the county, while also increasing the number of distribution sites that take in food through an extension program within the Bobcat Eats Food Waste Awareness and Prevention Program. The program, created in May 2018, has saved more than 1 million pounds of food from the landfill since its inception.
The extension program funded by the grant will provide outreach and education to a variety of audiences in the county and support diverting waste destined to the landfill, increasing food access while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Support for the development of paid co-curricular internships for UC Merced students that satisfy the sustainability and community engagement intellectual experience badge will be part of the grant as well.
“We are establishing a program that leverages the opportunity to impact our community while providing our students with experiential learning experiences that will include waste audits and greenhouse gas emission reductions,” said Assistant Director of Sustainability Breeana Sylvas. “This will help increase food access while supporting improving community organizations operations and will allow the team to hire a recent graduate to manage the program launch.”
According to the California Food Policy Advocates 2014 census, 52 percent of families in Merced county are food insecure, while 61 percent of students at UC Merced are considered food insecure. The opportunity to continue to impact both segments is a critical function of this program.
“The Merced County Food Bank is excited about this expansion of our joint project with UC Merced,” Merced County Food Bank Executive Director Bill Gibbs said. “Together, we have positively impacted the lives of thousands of our neighbors who are food insecure and low-income through the Bobcat Eats Food Waste Awareness and Prevention Program. The addition of Blue Strike Environmental increases our capacity to connect to more of our agriculture community, which, in turn, will provide more highly nutritious fresh produce, nuts and fruits for our neighbors in need.”
Kristin Cushman, CEO of Blue Strike Environmental, said the project supports a state senate bill that mandates communities focus on building edible food recovery programs that serve a social, environmental and economic mission.
“We are honored to work with Merced County Food Bank, UC Merced, and the local farming community to make this happen,” Cushman said.