Luminaries and speeches abounded at Cal State Bakersfield on Monday afternoon.
But the star of the show may very well have been the university's edible garden, which provides thousands of pounds of garden-fresh produce to students at the southwest Bakersfield campus.
On Monday, CSUB announced that Adventist Health Bakersfield and the Grimm Family Education Foundation have given a gift of $50,000 to improve and enhance the the university's edible garden.
"On behalf of our students, faculty and staff, I would like to thank Adventist Health Bakersfield and the Grimm Family Education Foundation for your generous and great support of the edible garden," CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny said at the announcement Monday.
"Your gift will allow us to make significant upgrades to the garden, which means more food for our students."
All the food grown in the garden feeds CSUB students through the Food Pantry on campus, which opened in 2017 after a survey found that food insecurity among students was far more widespread than anyone imagined.
CSUB Assistant Director of Basic Needs Jason Watkins said the garden is both a place to grow food and a place to learn.
"As you can see, there's a lot of great things going here, but there's a lot that needs to be done," Watkins said. "We really envision this as very much an educational space, a living classroom where faculty and students can come and be engaged in the learning process."
But the vision extends to structural changes as well, Watkins said. A wash basin is needed, and some sort of structure to use as an educational space. Maybe a portable kitchen, he said. And more raised beds to grow more food.
"More than 40 percent of our students are food insecure," Watkins said. "That's more than 4,000 students on our campus.
"The reality is healthy food tends to cost more, so this gives them access to healthy food. It's picked here in the morning and is in the pantry in an hour or so."
Edible Garden Coordinator Joel Kirksey has been helping to improve the produce yields in the edible garden.
"In the past two weeks alone, we've harvested over 400 pounds," Kirksey said.
That's more than 3,000 pounds of garden-fresh produce getting into the hands of students this year.
"That freshness, it improves the nutritional value of the food," Kirksey said. "It also improves the flavor and the long-term storage value.
"They're getting it directly after we harvest it, so it's able to store for longer in their own home," he said. And that translates into a reduction in food waste.
Kiyoshi Tomono, a community partnership executive at Adventist Health, suggested the very notion of widespread food insecurity in a fertile place like the southern San Joaquin Valley seems almost paradoxical.
"It really comes down to food insecurity, which is a striking problem in our community, the breadbasket of California where we produce so much agricultural product," he said.
Associated Students Inc. President Stephanie Magana spoke briefly to the gathering of mostly students, faculty and staff. She recalled the early days of the garden when its only water source was a 1-inch garden hose.
"I've heard of stories from students who don't know what they're going to eat that week, or have no money to spend on nutritious options," she said. "The edible garden is so essential to our students, and I greatly appreciate the amount of support that this garden is receiving."
RJ Valentino of the Grimm Family Education Foundation, was lauded for bringing the Grimm Family's expertise directly into the university's edible garden project.
And Daniel Wolcott, president of Adventist Health's Kern County hospitals, spoke about the three things Adventist wants to inspire on behalf of the community: health, wholeness and hope.
Those three goals led them, Wolcott said, to the partnership with CSUB and the Grimm Family Foundation.
For university President Zelezny, building such partnerships in the community, and facilitating the cross-pollination of talent and energy, resources and ideas, is central to the university's mission.
"One of the key pillars in our seal at CSUB is excellence, community and partnerships," she said. "This is what today is all about.
"What we're so proud of is this is at the heart of student success," she said of the garden. "It's a learning laboratory for students who participate, but it also is a way to significantly impact a large number of our students."
Partnerships like this send a powerful message to students, Zelezny said.
"It sends a message that not only is the university invested in them and their success, but the community and our partners are invested in them — and they want them to thrive.
"To be here together with Adventist and the Grimm Family Education Foundation," she said, "really speaks to who we are as a city and a county."