In bringing students one step closer to the real world of production aided with the cushion of a fiscal safety net, Cal Poly Foundation funds agricultural enterprise projects that compensate workers and re-invests profit in the program.
If an enterprise loses money, the department conducting the project absorbs the loss, making it a “financially, risk-free opportunity” that can provide students with fundamental skills in management, marketing, packaging and labor, according to the College of Agriculture enterprise booklet.
Resources for more than 40 enterprises are supplied to many agriculture student workers in departments such as horticulture and crop science, food science and nutrition and animal science that range from such endeavors as cultivating poinsettias at the Poly Plant Shop, full production and packaging of Cal Poly Eggs and supplying the community with veggies.
Such projects are valuable for students seeking industry “know-how” because the projects provide opportunities without financial burdens, Jennifer Fox head of horticulture & crop science department said.
“(There is) the possibility of a nice upside, if they work on an effective and profitable project,” she said.
In 2001, two students worked 915 hours in poinsettia production and shared approximately $11,000 in profits, according to The Foundation Annual Report from that year.
Poly Plant Shop generated $164,500 in gross revenue in the 2004-2005 fiscal year, said Sharon Dobson, shop advisor and Cal Poly lecturer. Revenue either goes directly back to students involved with enterprise projects, minus project expenses or to cover labor and supplies.
“Poly Plant Shop operates on a break-even basis,” she said.
Not only are student employees financially supported while under the wing of an Enterprise Project, they also work in close contact with faculty and staff in the growing and marketing of a product, Fox said. They also pick up a wide assortment of skills, such as business and marketing plans and team-building.
“I have been able to take the information that I learn in class and apply it to a work environment, said Jennifer Hart, Poly Plant Shop manager and environmental horticulture senior. “This experience has gone far beyond just horticulture. It has taught me a lot about customer relations, managing staff, marketing and planning for large events.”
Students put into practice what they learn in a classroom setting and whether or not there is a monetary profit, Fox said. “They usually learn some important take-home messages from the experience.”
Agriculture students are not the only ones who can “get their hands dirty” in these projects because the program is open to all students willing to work and go through “some basic farming practices and other safety training,” Fox said.
Business and liberal arts students have worked side by side with college of agriculture students on several instances, such as learning about growing and selling organic crops, fruit and vegetables, flowers or making candles.
“Without these projects students outside of agriculture may never have the opportunity in an educational setting while at Cal Poly,” she said.