Aproximately two quarters have passed since Cal Poly ended its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Yet, the closure has benefited student education and faculty research at the organic farm, and decreased overall stress, said David Headrick, faculty adviser to the Cal Poly Organic Farm.
The farm’s agriculture program required an immense amount of responsibility and work from everyone involved, on top of their other jobs within the university. There also was a need to bridge the gap between the staffs’ specialties in order for someone to cover every aspect of the program. As it grew, so did that responsibility, Headrick said.
Headrick said toward the end of the program, it was clear the farm had become a victim of its own success. As the popularity of the program grew, the 11-acre farm couldn’t keep up with demand, and had to buy organic crops from nearby farms in order to give its customers the variety and amount of produce they desired. The outside vendors’ produce was often expensive, something the program couldn’t afford to continue to pay.
The farm itself was overworked in order to provide the expected amount of vegetables to a large community of agriculture participants as well. The soil didn’t have time to rest and replenish nutrients, production manager Jerry Mahoney said.
“The transition has been very smooth and has given us a chance to slow down,” Mahoney said.
The farm is no longer under a constant need to be producing. Instead, the faculty, staff and students involved are now able to do more research with different and new crops, as well as try out different organic farming methods, Headrick said.
“We are currently creating a culture of cooperation at the farm,” Headrick said.
The students at the farm get the chance to see their seeds go full circle and end up in a consumer’s basket at a farmers’ market, mostly through its enterprise class where the most student participation is seen, Headrick said.
The classes, crop science 202 and 203, offer students the opportunity to plant seeds, tend crops, harvest vegetables and market produce for sale. The students get to experience everything that goes into organic farming, Headrick said.
It isn’t just the students in the enterprise class who are doing research at the farm. Fruit science classes also utilize the farm, as well as some construction classes. The organic farm has, Headrick said, become a place where “learn by doing” is offered to students of all majors.
The faculty and staff at the organic farm are also researching ways to improve and diversify it, Headrick said.
First on the list is the addition of new crops, such as asparaguses and artichokes, as well as the continued growth of classic favorites, such as carrots and squashes, which are planted weekly.
The soil will also change along with the crops. Cover crops, or crops that help the soil’s fertility and the farm’s overall health, will be used in order to keep the health of the farm strong, Mahoney said.
Despite the success seen at the farm since the program closed, community members haven’t realized the continued convenience of Cal Poly Organic Farm produce, environmental management and protection junior Nick Shields said.
“It was very convenient from a shopping standpoint because (it’s) over 50 percent of my shopping already done,” Shields said.
Shields said he participated in the organic farm agriculture program for 10 weeks this past summer before the department called it quits. He was slow to switch to farmers’ markets because of an inconvenience factor but now attends the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market almost every week to get vegetables.
Produce from the organic farm is not only made available at the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market but can also be purchased at the Morro Bay Farmers’ Market and the Madonna Plaza Farmers’ Market, Headrick said.
Still, the horticulture and crop science department is looking into new venues for the organic crops to be sold as well as more availablity for the community. With increased student, faculty and community participation, the horticulture and crop science department plans on hosting a large on campus farmers’ market.
“We are building momentum toward a Cal Poly farmers’ market.” Headrick said.
The Cal Poly Organic Farm also offers a U-Pick on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. U-Pick is an opportunity for students, faculty and community members to harvest their own vegetables and fruit that is grown on campus. At each event, a vegetable station sells already harvested vegetables from the organic farm.