Explore international agriculture, at our UC Davis demonstration center

student planting at UC Davis demonstration center for Horticulture Innovation Lab
Undergraduate student Chelsea Supawit plants a seedling at the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s demonstration center on the UC Davis campus. (Photo by Brenda Dawson)

Now is a great time to drop by the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s demonstration center, to check out thriving young vegetables plants that are more commonly grown in Africa and Asia.

One of the garden beds is home to vegetable seedlings that are grown in Africa, sometimes called African indigenous vegetables. These include varieties of:

spider plant garden sign surrounded by leaf clusters
Spider plant, growing at the demonstration center, is one of the vegetables that Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers are working with in Africa.
  • spider plant
  • amaranth
  • cowpea
  • groundnut
  • tree tomato
  • eggplant
  • pumpkin
  • okra

Spider plant and amaranth in particular are two of the leafy African vegetables that Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers are working with in Kenya and Zambia, in efforts to improve nutrition and better understand the connection between farmers who grow these nutritious vegetables and people who eat them.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab demonstration center is a chance for UC Davis visitors to take a peek into the global work of the Horticulture Innovation Lab — namely, agricultural research with scientists in Africa, Asia and Central America. You can visit the demonstration center along Arboretum Drive, near the Environmental Horticulture buildings, Nelson Hall and Solano Field (see it on the campus map).

Next to the African garden bed are vegetable varieties more commonly found in Southeast Asian home gardens including luffa, mungbean, bottle gourd and eggplant.

two men adjust plastic cover over chimney solar dryer outdoors
Nick Reitz, left, works with Archie Jarman, right, to dry sliced mangos in the chimney solar dryer. As a graduate student, Reitz was preparing for a trip to Ghana this spring to work on a Trellis Fund project and wanted to be familiar with how the UC Davis-designed chimney solar dryer works before sharing with farmers.

Research to improve lives of farmers in developing countries

Headquartered at UC Davis, the Horticulture Innovation Lab works to improve smallholder farmers’ abilities to grow and sell fruits and vegetables — as a way to reduce poverty and improve nutrition. This global network of scientists is supported by funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

In addition to the African and Asian vegetables, the demonstration center also hosts a chimney solar dryer (designed by UC Davis researchers), a solar-powered cold room equipped with a CoolBot, and a zero-energy cool chamber (ZECC). These are some of the technologies that researchers have been adapting to help smallholder farmers overcome market challenges.

gardener student kneels to plant seedling
Kari Flores, UC Davis grad student, plants amaranth seedlings in the African garden at the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s demonstration center.

New garden team managers

The demonstration center is managed by Archie Jarman, who also helps coordinate Horticulture Innovation Lab centers at Kasetsart University in Thailand and in Honduras, at the Panamerican Agricultural School (Zamorano). In Honduras and Thailand, the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s researchers demonstrate agricultural technologies and conduct training for farmers in neighboring countries.

Kari Flores, a master’s student studying Horticulture and Agronomy, manages the garden as a graduate student researcher. Assisting her are two undergraduate student volunteers in the International Agricultural Development program: Michelle Boutell and Chelsea Supawit.

Besides the African and Asian vegetables, the team also manages a few smaller garden beds that are currently home to a pollinator garden and a salsa garden (tomatoes, peppers and cilantro).

Additionally Tasha Burr, an executive assistant for Community Resource Centers who won last year’s Pitch & Plant contest , has continued a small garden at the demonstration center. She maintains two garden beds inspired by Native American “Three Sisters” gardens — one with corn, beans and squash and a new twist combining sunflowers, pole beans and watermelon in the other.

Want to get involved?

Asia garden sign in front of woman watering seedlings
Student Michelle Boutell waters the Southeast Asian garden at the Horticulture Innovation Lab demonstration center — one of the projects she is focusing on as a volunteer at the center.

Opened in 2015 for World Food Day, the demonstration center continues to grow and change. It is intended to be an active site where faculty and students can test and demonstrate new horticultural practices, particularly ones that might be useful for small-scale farmers in developing countries.

“We would love to hear from UC Davis departments and programs that might be interested in collaborating, either by displaying some of their technologies here or by using our site for small experiments,” Jarman said. “We would be thrilled to find new ways to better integrate with campus groups.”

In coming months, the Horticulture Innovation Lab team plans to host some field tests of solar dryers — including one trial planned with green coffee beans. The team is also working on plans to plant a “living fence” that might include pomegranate, citrus and artichoke.



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