Environmental studies professor David Cleveland will present a free on-campus lecture today about the benefits of localizing the agricultural systems that grow produce for Santa Barbara.

Marking the conclusion of Cleveland’s one-year term as UCSB’s sustainability champion, the conference will reveal Cleveland’s research findings about localization and sustainability in the agricultural sphere. The talk will be held from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion.

Sponsored by the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and The Green Initiative Fund, the position of campus sustainability champion was created last year to support university research into local sustainability efforts. Cleveland used the $25,000 grant that accompanied his position to fund a year-long research expedition of the county’s food system.

While Santa Barbara produces an array of fruits and vegetables, Cleveland said most of its produce is imported — causing a problematic trend that can contribute to global warming.

“We learned that we are not very local,” Cleveland said. “Only five percent of the fruits and vegetables that people consume in Santa Barbara County are grown here.”

Carrying that theme, Cleveland said his speech will delve into the complex relationship between localization and sustainability.

“You can’t just assume that because something is local it’s going to have all these wonderful effects,” Cleveland said. “The ‘greenwash’ part means you have to be very careful. You always have to question what people mean by ‘local.’”

Although many are attempting to improve the county’s food supply processes by decreasing its reliance on imported produce, Cleveland said he and his team of undergraduate students discovered that these good intentions may not be yielding ideal results.

“Even if the county is producing a lot of fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t mean that the poorest people are going to have access to them,” Cleveland said. “Santa Barbara County has a lot of malnutrition. For example, for every one grocery store or produce stand, there are three convenience stores or fast food restaurants.”

Nonetheless, Cleveland said, a number of legitimate efforts are underway to revamp the county’s agricultural framework.

“We found many people who are working to localize the system. Lots of groups in Santa Barbara are trying to make localization happen. Part of our research is to document and publicize the present condition as well as the good things that are happening here.”

Aside from introducing the chancellor’s Sustainability Internship Program and Cleveland’s successor, 2010-11 Sustainability Champion mechanical engineering professor Eric Matthys, event organizers will also offer an edible demonstration of local food following the keynote speech.

According to Campus Sustainability Coordinator Katie Maynard, the presentation is an informative way to communicate the value of the departing champion’s contributions.

“The presentation is an annual public talk and our opportunity to share with the community the work of the champion,” Maynard said. “This serves as the final and celebratory lecture as well as the largest [sustainability] lecture of the year. It is our opportunity to bring together the accomplishments and conclusions of the research that the champion has done throughout the year.”