It’s healthy, cheap, sustainable and Cal Poly-grown.
U-Pick is a long-standing tradition at Cal Poly and offers students a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at market price. During season, the Cal Poly farms are open to the public to pick fruits straight from the tree for $1 per pound.
Agribusiness graduate student and U-Pick employee Justin Peterson said U-Pick has helped strengthen the relationship between Cal Poly and the San Luis Obispo community.
“People can come right out to the farm and pay for everything by the pound,” Peterson said. “It helps get the community involved and they can see how we grow the produce.”
David Headrick is the faculty adviser for the Organic Farm and specializes in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and implements it at Cal Poly. This method of farming is ideal for environmentally-conscious students concerned with pesticide use and ecological protection.
“Everything we’re doing in terms of plant production can very easily be referred to as sustainable,” Headrick said. “We have really tried to minimize inputs, minimize fossil fuels, minimize harsh chemicals, minimize tillage and use composting as much as possible.”
Cal Poly farmers are finding ways around these harmful, conventional methods of growing which seem to be more beneficial overall.
The farmers are currently working on a new project in a field on Highland Drive that is prone to weeds but too small for a tractor to till. Instead of using pesticides to spray the weeds, they will be utilizing lavender.
Not only does lavender suppress the weeds, but it is also “nice to look at; it’s a harvestable product and it attracts bees that help pollinate the vegetables next to it,” Headrick said.
“Diversifying the farmscape,” as Headrick calls it, is part of the IPM system that Cal Poly implements for all of its farms.
Environmental engineering alumnus Chris Ringer, a U-Pick employee, started working on the farm as a volunteer with no previous farm experience. He has been able to use his knowledge in environmental engineering to help Cal Poly’s farms remain environmentally sound.
“Almost all of the veggies and fruit are certified organic,” Ringer said. “We just planted marigolds actually to get rid of and control pests instead of using pesticides.”
The Organic Farm used to market its produce through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system, which means that people pay a fixed price for a weekly bin of assorted produce. This marketing system was not as well received as members of the Organic Farm hoped, so it was discontinued last year.
The Organic Farm now markets and sells Cal Poly produce in a different way.
“Without the CSA, (the organic farm) started joining in on the U-Pick,” Headrick said.
In between fruit-picking seasons, the Cal Poly Organic Farm and enterprise students run a fruit and vegetable stand every Wednesday and Saturday near the crops unit on campus. They also participate in the two San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Markets, as well as Morro Bay’s Farmers’ Market.
“It’s a two-pronged approach: students learn to grow produce and they also learn to sell and market the produce,” Headrick said.
Each enterprise student, as a part of a credit/no credit curriculum, spend approximately six hours every week performing various tasks on the farm such as planting, fertilizing and picking.
“We pick our fruit when it’s ripe on the tree,” Peterson said. “Supermarkets usually have to pick their products early. They end up picking it hard and not really quite ripe. When it’s at the store it ends up ripening while it’s sitting out on display.”
Cal Poly might have a completely new market for Cal Poly-made goods as early as next fall, thanks to an interdisciplinary student project currently in progress, Headrick said.
“Our hope is to eventually take that U-Pick concept and make it into a ‘campus farm market’ that would be open to the public certain days of the week,” Headrick said. “People could just come and buy anything. That would include all kinds of Cal Poly products: eggs, poultry, beef, flowers, honey, chocolates, jams, vegetables, fruits — everything.”
There are several incentives to purchase Cal Poly-grown produce for students, but the most important, according to Headrick, is the support.
“By buying produce from our farm, students are supporting their fellow students,” Headrick said.