Moe Lee says a huge part of the reason they came to Cal Poly was their interest in the Student Experimental Farm (SEF).

Lee, now an environmental management junior, is president of Polyponics, a club run out of the farm and a fixture of the farm’s day-to-day operations. 

“The SEF, to me, is an amazing space for students from whatever major to come and appreciate sustainable agriculture and get involved in regenerative farming,” Lee said. “A lot of people don’t have access or have never had access to a farm area where they can actually dig in the dirt and experience what it’s like to produce their own food.”

However, the SEF may not be around for future generations of Cal Poly students. Cal Poly is planning to build a Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) on the land currently occupied by the SEF, according to multiple environmental impact reports (EIRs) for the WRF. The WRF would recycle water not fit for human consumption, generated by Cal Poly into water fit for human consumption.

The original location of the WRF, as outlined by the 2035 Cal Poly Master Plan – a document that details the university’s plans for new construction – placed the WRF north of the dairy unit and southwest of the compost facility.

Despite the university having finalized the EIR for the Cal Poly Master Plan in 2020, Cal Poly decided to restart the EIR process for the WRF on Sept. 14 2022. The new impact report placed the facility in a different spot – on top of the farm.

The farm was established in 1989 by a group of Cal Poly graduate students and is now the home of many graduate-level research projects, three clubs, senior projects and much more. The farm is located north of the compost facility near the railroad. 

To read more about the day-to-day activities of the farm and its history visit the farm’s website here.

“The Master Plan is something that took years to compile, there were multiple student-faculty-community workshops,” said lecturer Sarah Spann, who teaches environmental impact analysis. “They went through the whole programmatic environmental review process [for the Master Plan], and then one of the first projects out of the gate is inconsistent with this document they spent all this time on.”

University spokesperson Matt Lazier said that the Master Plan is usually “aspirational in nature, not execution based.” 

In the newest draft of the EIR, agriculture is not one of the main topics of issue mentioned in the environmental impact analysis, despite the fact that it was one of the environmental impact areas that was reviewed in the final 2020 EIR.

Spann got Lee and the rest of Spann’s Environmental Impact Analysis and Management (NR 416) class interested in the environmental review process when last fall they compared the Master Plan and the NOP to find inconsistencies in the school’s environmental review. 

Lee and their classmates sent letters to the school, urging them to offer an explanation for the change in the location of the WRF and why its new location was placed on top of the farm. The school did not respond to their letters as they were submitted outside the comment period. Spann also emailed Facilities and asked if they would be willing to come to her class and talk to her students about the environmental review for the Master Plan, but received no response.

The Dean of CAFES also stated they have been in communication with students and advisors at the farm whose projects may be impacted by the relocation of the SEF. When asked whether the Dean of CAFES has been in contact regarding the future of SEF, the farm’s faculty adviser, Nicholas Babin, said “the dean has said that this process is at the university/facilities level and that they have no information on the timeline of the WRF.”

Furthermore, in the event that the WRF is built on the SEF, the university said the farm will be relocated elsewhere. However, the university has not yet decided on a new location for the farm.

Currently, the draft EIR is in a 45-day public comment period ending on May 31, where the public is allowed to provide input on the plan. However, what comments are considered “substantive” is decided by Cal Poly, according to CEQA guidelines

“It all feels very suspicious to me,” Lee said. “They want to override any consideration of students who put their work out there.”

For those interested in commenting on the proposal, please email facilities and planning director

Update, May 23: This article was updated to include statements from Cal Poly and the farm’s faculty adviser.