HGP Receives Chancellor’s Innovation Impact Award

April 15, 2024: UCSC Newscenter, by Sandra Messick, Rose Miyatsu, Emily Cerf

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UC Santa Cruz announced the recipients of the 2023 Chancellor’s Innovation Impact awards, recognizing the outstanding research and creativity taking place across the university.

The 2023 recipients of the Chancellors Innovation Impact Awards were honored April 11 From left front row Chancellor Cynthia Larive Holger Schmidt Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer Susana Ruiz back row David Haussler Darrie Ganzhorn AVC for Strategic Initiatives Eric Palkovacs VC for University Advancement Mark Delos Reyes Davis and AVC for Innovation Business Engagement Ryan Sharp

Awards for Innovator of the Year, Lifetime Achievement in Innovation, and Community Changemaker were presented at a celebration on April 11. The recipients include innovators who have created breakthroughs in knowledge and technology that are improving our world, creators bringing forgotten history to life by merging storytelling, augmented reality, and holographic filmmaking, and community partners transforming lives and providing nourishment through job training, transitional employment, and organic farming.

“Innovation has always been a part of UC Santa Cruz’s DNA, but it’s not innovation for innovation’s sake, but innovation with positive real-world impacts,” said UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive. “That’s what is so special about these awards. We’re recognizing members of our community who are committed to addressing the world’s most vexing issues and solving longstanding scientific and technical puzzles that have the potential to greatly improve people’s lives. Others we’re honoring are literally getting their hands dirty to help give their neighbors a better future. It is inspiring to come together to celebrate all of this work.”

Organized by the Innovation & Business Engagement Hub, the awards program recognizes transformational work across UC Santa Cruz – in the arts, engineering, humanities, physical and biological sciences, and social sciences.

“Each day, across the campus, and often across disciplines, our faculty colleagues push the boundaries of knowledge, understanding, and experience through research, creative scholarship, technology, and social engagement,” said Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer. “Their hard work and dedication results in key insights, new innovations, and means of expression that transform the lives of others.”

Community Changemaker

This year the Community Changemaker Award was presented to the Homeless Garden Project (HGP). The award recognizes a leader or organization in the Santa Cruz region that has contributed significantly to driving regional economic prosperity through innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, or support for growing the innovation ecosystem in close collaboration with the university.

The Homeless Garden Project provides job training, transitional employment, and support services to people who are experiencing homelessness, conducts education and volunteer programming for the broader community, and operates an organic urban farm, workshop, and related enterprises. 

After completing the training program that includes a year of transitional support and job training, participants have transitioned from being homeless to careers in farming, social services, retail, and trades, and to having their own homes. Since 2014, 96 percent of graduating participants have gotten jobs and 87 percent have gotten housing. 

For almost 30 years, HGP has run the 3.5-acre certified organic farm known as Natural Bridges Farm. In 2023, they provided more than 18,000 hours of paid job training and transitional employment, and 390 hours of social work support to trainees. The project has donated more than 11,000 lbs. of produce to local nonprofits, served 6,000 meals in 2023, and earned more than $32,000 in farm production revenues through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at the farm stand. 

In 1990 the Citizens Committee for the Homeless launched the Homeless Garden Project. It was co-founded by Paul Lee, a former professor of philosophy at UC Santa Cruz, who had the idea of starting a garden where people experiencing homelessness could feel safe and experience beauty. Co-creator Lynne Cooper, a UC Santa Cruz alumna who also served as the founding director, grew that idea to build a community and create a path into jobs, housing, and belonging.

HGP is a long-time university partner in community-engaged research, investigating how work on the farm can inform research and how research can inform work on the farm. For example, working with Campus + Community and the HGP farm, UC Santa Cruz student Trevin Dace, a former garden volunteer and intern, wrote his senior thesis in sociology titled The Psychological and Social Benefits of Agriculture, focusing on program trainees, volunteers, and staff who work on the farm. In 2016, Heather Bullock, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Economic Justice and Action (CEJA); Shirley Truong, assistant director of institutional research; and Lina Chhun, currently assistant professor of American studies, women and gender studies, and Asian American studies at the University of Texas, Austin published a study titled Combating Social Exclusion: “Safe Space” and the Dynamics of Inclusion at a Homeless Farming Site.”

Professor Bullock, who recently joined HGP’s Board of Directors, has partnered with the Homeless Garden Project for 15 years, assessing the project’s short- and long- term impact on trainees. CEJA is collaborating  with project staff on a manual to share the project’s successes and inform the development of new transitional employment programs. 

The Homeless Garden Project runs a robust volunteer program where UC Santa Cruz students and staff, along with community volunteers, can work on the farm, in their stores, and the office. CEJA provides UC Santa Cruz students with paid summer internships with HGP. 

Darrie Ganzhorn, who has been part of the project for more than 30 years and was named executive director in 2008, accepted the award on behalf of the Homeless Garden Project.