Danielle Renee Ramirez

GFI Fellow - Class of 2015

Undergraduate Student, Urban Studies & Planning
UC San Diego


Educational Aspects of Food Systems & Urban Agriculture


This project focuses on how to harness the powers of the various University of California campuses in partnership with their local and regional communities to address complex social issues, in particular food insecurity. Urban agriculture is a promising avenue for eradicating hunger by empowering communities with the basic skills needed for self-reliance. In order to do this, university-community engagement must be directed in a way that accurately assesses the needs of the public and directs university research and outreach efforts in a solution-based approach.


The primary goal of this project was to determine the most efficient model of university-community engagement to link the University of California campuses with their respective communities, so that local problems such as food insecurity can be approached by a strong partnership with a mutually invested interest in a solution. The strongest and most effective model for university-community engagement is exhibited by Michigan State University. A department within the university exclusively dedicated to University Outreach & Engagement serves as the central node of activities for directing partnerships and engaged scholarship. Other tools utilized by the school include an Engaged Scholar magazine, e-newsletter, speaker series and a comprehensive statewide resource network, all of which are available to the public. These tools extend the research being done within the university to the greater public and thus allow for a more widespread application of the evolution of knowledge. In order to be successful, the office of outreach and engagement needs to be simultaneously supported by involved members of the university, faculty, staff and student body. UC campuses can emulate this model by incorporating workshops on engaged scholarship into the science department curriculums, focusing on how to communicate scientific knowledge to the community in an understandable and applicable way, in particular urban food production in a time of climate change and drought. Additionally, the universities should offer adequate incentives to their faculty members to direct or otherwise take part in community outreach efforts; currently, such a high focus on publishing research detracts from the desire or time available of some of the nation’s most knowledgeable individuals to participate in outreach. As a result, the community in which research is being produced rarely reaps the benefits of this production of knowledge.

The office of outreach and engagement will be available to any individual or organization in desire of university assistance. After completing a detailed explanation of their need and desired outcomes, the office will evaluate the request and direct it to the appropriate department, faculty member and/or university group best equipped for the partnership. A meeting between the community stakeholders and university affiliates will determine the goals and establish the degree of collaboration that is required. Faculty members, staff and students will all be encouraged to participate in these initiatives. In addition to direct partnerships with the university through the office, the additional tools previously mentioned are readily and publicly available as supplementary aids. Community gardens and urban agriculture projects supported by the university can serve as one example of where these ongoing partnerships are nurtured and manifest as critical educational centers for the communities in need and direct engaged research efforts.

Future Plans

My future plans are to continue focusing on university-community engagement and encouraging the implementation of independent departments exclusively dedicated to facilitating these partnerships. I would like to assist urban agriculture projects throughout San Diego in developing the necessary partnerships and research tools to become successful and widely used.


Paul Watson and Keith Pezzoli