Dawn Taccone, manager of the Farm Store, takes a lot of pride in Cal Poly Pomona’s oranges.
The production of oranges — which are sold at the Farm Store — is important because of the success of the store’s orange juice, which is juiced and packaged onsite.
“We have trees all over campus, but if students are taking them [fruit], then yeah, they’re stealing from the Farm Store,” Taccone said.
Reports of students picking and stealing from the orange and avocado trees owned by AGRIscapes, which the Farm Store is a part of, are prevalent and reoccurring. Not only is this trespassing, but such actions impact the Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture’s educational programs and the Farm Store’s supply and sales, which support the college.
Stealing avocados is considered a crime in California. Suspects found guilty of avocado theft can be punished up to three years in state prison, as well as face a fine of up to $10,000.
“We experience a lot of theft of oranges and avocados,” Craig Walters, director of AGRIscapes, said.
He explained just how common the theft is around campus.
“AGRIscapes probably has more agriculture theft than the main campus. Largely because it’s open to the public and we have a lot of visitors, so it’s easy access for them to come onto the property,” Walters said.
AGRIscapes, located west of the main campus, is home to 20 acres of farmland and is mainly used for programs within the College of Agriculture. AGRIscapes grows and sells its own produce. The most popular being the avocados and oranges, which grow on trees both on and off-campus.
It is widely assumed the fruits, especially the oranges, are free to pick and consume, but Walters stated it’s not true.
“It is definitely a myth,” he said. “All of the agriculture commodities, whether it’s fruit or vegetables, even the animals, are part of the College of Agriculture education program. Just like other people wouldn’t expect you to walk into a chemistry lab and help yourself to some test tubes, it’s the same with the produce. These are assets and part of the education program, projects and classes.”
Preserving the oranges and avocados from students picking them is important since they are the store’s best-sellers.
Avocados in particular are a hot commodity this year, due to an avocado shortage throughout the state. According to the California Avocado Commission, peak avocado season takes place from April through July. However, last July’s intensive heat wave affected this year’s avocado production, causing the supply to be smaller than usual. This affects not just CPP, but all avocado providers throughout California. A lower volume of avocado production leads to an increase in prices and a greater likeliness of avocado theft.
“This year in particular, because of the big heat wave we had last year, extensive damage was caused, especially in the Ventura County area and also other parts of the state that grow a lot of avocados,” Walters said. “So not only did it defect the fruit that was on the tree at the time, but it defected the new fruit that was forming and we would be picking now.”
“Avocado theft is a major problem, not just here at CPP, but also throughout the state,” he said.
The avocado trees on campus, located between the Student Health Center and Building 1, are fenced off with a warning sign about avocado theft. People are encouraged to call 911 to report incidents or sightings of theft.
Though avocado theft risks high punishments, students caught taking oranges on the other hand, won’t face as severe repercussions.
“Typically, if we see someone picking an orange from the tree, we don’t call the police, but we do try to educate them,” Walters said.
Faculty at AGRIscapes who catch students stealing from the orange trees will redirect them to the Farm Store to purchase the picked produce.
Walters discourages students from picking or taking any of AGRIscapes’ resources.
“Bottom line, it’s a crime to take agriculture products that don’t belong to you,” he said.
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