Hand-dug vegetable and flower beds at the UCSC Farm, 1972.

The Center's history dates back to 1967, when English gardening expert Alan Chadwick was hired to create a Student Garden Project on the fledgling University of California, Santa Cruz campus. Working only with hand tools and organic amendments, Chadwick and his student assistants transformedchadwick with students a steep, chaparral-covered hillside into a prolific garden bursting with flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. The informal "apprenticeships" that students served with Chadwick would eventually lead to the development of the Center's Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, an intensive organic farming and gardening training program.

Building on Chadwick's success and the popularity of the Garden project, UCSC administrators set aside 17 acres of rolling land on the campus's lower meadows for a student farm. The UCSC Farm, founded in 1971, has since expanded to include 30 acres of hand-dug garden beds, tractor-tilled row crop fields, research fields, orchards, greenhouses, a laboratory, and classroom and offices.

In 1980, in response to growing interest in alternative agriculture, UCSC's Environmental Studies Board hired Dr. Stephen Gliessman to start the Agroecology Program, headquartered at the UCSC Farm. Dr. Gliessman served as the program's director for nearly two decades, expanding the program's research and teaching activities as well as initiating a range of collaborations with researchers and students in the international arena. In 1983, Alfred E. Heller funded an endowed chair in agroecology (the first endowed chair at UCSC).

In 1993, the Agroecology Program's name was changed to the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems to reflect the Center's dual interests in the environmental and social aspects of sustainable agriculture. In 1997, Dr. Carol Shennan was appointed director of the Center, and served as director for 10 years. Dr. Patricia Allen, a leading scholar on social aspects of sustainable food systems, served as director from 2007–2012. Dr. Daniel Press, a long-time member of the UCSC Environmental Studies faculty, served as director from 2012-2019.

Dr. Stacy Philpott, Environmental Studies Professor and Alfred and Ruth Heller Chair in Agroecology, was appointed director in October 2019. In 2022, Dr. Philpott became the Center's faculty director and Darryl Wong was appointed executive director. In 2021, the Center's name was changed to the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology after staff defined their version of agroecology as integrative of the entire food system, encompassing both ecological and social aspects.

Today the Center's staff and affiliated faculty conduct a multifaceted research, education, and public service effort, while the Farm & the Alan Chadwick Garden continue to attract growing interest. Thousands of school children, college classes, visiting farmers and gardeners, international visitors and others tour the Farm & Garden each year. During their tours, visitors see examples of organic soil management, alternative pest control measures, water conservation, and biodiversity on both home garden and commercial scales. Faculty and students use the sites for classes and research efforts, while Center staff and students maintain and develop the Farm and Alan Chadwick Garden as flourishing demonstrations of what can be accomplished with organic management techniques.

Learn more about the Center and its history in this video commemorating the Farm & Garden's 50th anniversary.

To learn more about the history of the Farm & Garden Projects and the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, see the Chronicle of the University of California article, "The Farm & Garden Projects at the University of California, Santa Cruz" (page 29).

To learn more about the history of the Agroecology Program and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Foood Systems, see the Chronicle of the University of California, "Growing a program in sustainable agriculture at UC Santa Cruz" (page 49).