The Cal Poly Organic Farm embodies Learn by Doing to a T — meaning students plan work days, till the soil, plant the seeds, harvest the crops, price the food and sell produce to San Luis Obispo residents. The sales are made through the Farmer’s Market, Vons, Big Sky Cafe and boxes on Dexter Lawn.
Paid student assistants, volunteers and other students required to do the work for class work together on the nine acres off Highland Drive, either producing food or conducting research.
“I just did it for sh*ts and giggles, but I loved it and then I stayed,” business administration senior Gianna Prainito said.
Prainito has worked on the farm for four years, despite never being in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.
She said the recent departure of a full-time farm manager allowed students to learn farm management and experiment more with the crops they were planting.
“We’ve got to use each other as resources,” agricultural communication senior Victoria Ross said.
The 17 workers rely on each other for help, with some of the managers specializing in tractor help or certain farming methods.
“When [the farm manager] was here, you’d show up for work and he’[d] tell you what to do. Now we look at the board, which we wrote, and figure out what to do,” Prainito said.
Some students work at the farm for class credit under horticulture and crop science professor Ashraf Tubeileh, who also directs research activities.
“I wasn’t expecting the first day of class to be sent out to the farm to work, but that’s what happened,” environmental earth and soil sciences sophomore Samantha Joyama said.
Most workers start out in the class directed by Tubeileh and stay on as volunteers or paid student assistants, Ross said.
The students recently finished their pumpkin and butternut squash rotations. They are now growing broccoli and burying the old squash roots under the new furrows in preparation for the next crop.
“We’ve become so distanced from where our food comes from,” Ross said.
The farm gives students the opportunity to see what food looks like before they buy it at the store. Wide cyan leaves hide broccoli sprouts before farmers harvest them, and lettuce looks like agave when it “bolts” and becomes inedible.
“I’ve gained a huge appreciation for one: farmers and two: how our food is grown,” Prainito said.
The farm does not fully sustain itself, Prainito said. Help from private donations and Cal Poly Corporation help pay for workers and materials, including her own salary.
Horticulture and Crop Sciences Chair Scott Steinmus wrote in an email to Mustang News that he is proud of the Organic Farm because of its financial, social and environmental sustainability, and its ability to teach students from all over campus about how and where their food is grown.
The farm “strikes a balanced approach to food production such that all farming operations in California and the U.S. can adopt as a component to their farms whether they are 100 [percent] California Certified Organic or not,” Steinmus wrote.
Correction: Scott Steinmus is the Horticulture and Crop Sciences Department chair, not interim chair.