UC Riverside’s ‘sustainability warrior’ fights for the environment on and off campus – Press Enterprise


Riverside environmentalist Fortino Morales III takes inspiration from his mother, Sofia.

Why? It was “sustainable long before it was a thing,” he said.

“She made her own clothes, made things from recycled materials,” said Morales, who comes from a family of migrant farmers. “She still does today. Make roses out of wrapping paper for my daughter to wear in her hair.

Morales himself is an advocate for sustainability and climate action. He works for UC Riverside’s Sustainability Office, leading green initiatives on campus and working with students interested in issues of sustainability, social justice and environmental science.

Years ago, as an undergraduate student at UCR, Morales helped start the R’Garden on campus, which now serves as a space for student environmental research and fresh produce for the community.

  • Fortino Morales III, an environmentalist and climate activist, is seen at the R’Garden at UC Riverside on Monday, December 20, 2021. While an undergraduate student at UCR, Morales helped start the garden , which includes a community garden, crops, orchard and greenhouse area. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

  • Fortino Morales III poses at the R’Garden at UC Riverside on Monday, December 20, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

  • Fortino Morales III, an environmentalist and climate activist, is seen on Monday, December 20, 2021 at the R’Garden at UC Riverside, which he helped start. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

  • Fortino Morales III, seen on Monday, December 20, 2021, helped start UC Riverside R’Garden, which has since grown. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

  • Fortino Morales III poses at the R’Garden at UC Riverside on Monday, December 20, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

  • Fortino Morales III, an environmentalist and climate activist, is seen on Monday December 20, 2021 at the R’Garden at UC Riverside on Monday December 20, 2021. While an undergraduate student at UCR he was helped start the garden, which now includes a community garden, crops, orange grove and greenhouse. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

As a student and now UCR staff, Morales, 33, has worked to build a sustainable and collaborative world for the next generation and to fight climate change.

“Until climate change affects them, people don’t want to change,” Morales said. “Let’s not wait for it to affect us – let’s take steps now towards a better world for everyone.”

Morales was born in Blythe, in the Eastern Desert of Riverside County, and raised in the San Diego area. He remembers going to zoos and museums, having a garden in his backyard, and being exposed to social and environmental issues in high school.

When he arrived at UC Riverside in 2006, he knew little about environmental science, believing it to be “a hobby, something you do outside of your daily job.”

“But I’ve always been very interested in the social justice aspect of it,” he said.

Morales declared his major in Environmental Science and found himself involved in sustainable green initiatives, public policies and environmental groups on and off campus, such as Durable UCR and Cultivating Riverside. He is co-author of UCR Green Campus action plan, an open-ended green fund of $ 2.50 for students that funds related projects and helped launch sustainability and agriculture course.

  • Fortino Morales III, right, with some of the founding members of UC Riverside R’Garden in 2012. (Courtesy of Fortino Morales III)

  • Fortino Morales III with his mother, Sofía Rodríguez Bernal Morales, at the 2012 inauguration of the R’Garden at UC Riverside. (Courtesy of Fortino Morales III)

  • Students and staff from the UC Riverside Sustainability Office are seen in 2020. (Courtesy of Fortino Morales III)

In 2009, Morales and others helped launch a campaign to build the pilot R’Garden by parking lot 30, near boulevard Martin Luther King. The idea arose out of a desire for more “ecological” agricultural spaces on campus.

In 2012, Morales became director of the R’Garden and, for six years, helped it become a resource center for student-led agricultural projects. The 8-acre R’Garden now includes a solar-powered greenhouse, a Valencia orange grove, community plots and crops that supply the UCR community with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Food safety is a big deal at Riverside, Morales said.

“One of the main food deserts is the Eastside, our neighbors,” he said.

The R’Jardin provided over 1,200 students with fresh produce during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, when the UCR campus was closed.

Dawn Carter, who met Morales in 2014 while helping plan a Grow Riverside Conference on urban agriculture and sustainability, was inspired by his work with the R’Garden.

“He’s a sustainability warrior who really cares about doing the right thing,” Carter said. “It was cool to see young people (like Morales) giving back to those who didn’t have access to food.”

Morales said everyone in their respective fields – from policy makers and educators to artists and engineers – can do their part to tackle climate change and reduce their carbon footprint.

“It’s not just a Riverside or California issue – it’s our world, our home,” he said. “The next generation will inherit the land passed down to them, so I think we should do our best to make this world a better place for them.”