Thanks to greenhouse staff and students in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES), 6,300 tiny tomato and strawberry plants originally planned for Picnic Day giveaways will soon find a good home.
“We’re reaching out to local food banks, community gardens and students here on campus to find places and ways to safely distribute these plants,” said Saarah Kuzay, graduate student researcher with the Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Group.
Plant giveaways are a popular feature at UC Davis Picnic Day, which had to be canceled this year in response to California’s state-at-home directives to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the meantime, essential CA&ES greenhouse staff and student assistants have been tending to the 5,000 tomato transplants and 1,300 strawberry plants—along with thousands of other breeding projects. The college is home to more than 150 greenhouses and the UC Davis Plant Breeding Center where breeders conduct innovative research to keep crops plentiful, nutritious and resilient.
Many operations at UC Davis have been suspended in accordance with the state’s shelter-in-place order. But an essential team of employees, using strict protocols, are tending crops, caring for animals and conducting vital research during the pandemic.
“Our researchers have a lot of multiyear projects going on, and we can’t let those stop,” says Chris Durand, CA&ES lead greenhouse manager, watering the young crops on a recent spring morning. “If we did, breeders would lose an entire season and that would compromise the data.”
Kuzay and the outreach team of the Horticulture and Agronomy Student Association at UC Davis will help Durand distribute about 5,000 tomato and strawberry plants to members of the community. The remainder will go to essential employees still working on campus.
Though they’re tiny now, 6,300 tomato and strawberry plants can grow to feed a lot of people. The student team hopes to watch the crops flourish by encouraging recipients to post pictures and videos with #UCDavisPlants.
“That way, we and others can see the progress of the plants as they grow and feed the community,” Kuzay said.