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Student-grown, organic produce sprouts at Farm Store

By Ashley Cruz and Cynthia Haro, Mar. 6, 2022

For the first time in its history, Cal Poly Pomona’s Farm Store at Kellogg Ranch is selling organic produce after years of research and testing. Organic kale and romaine lettuce freshly picked from the Spadra Farm are now available for the campus community to purchase.

The Farm Store, overseen by the Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture and located across the main campus on Temple Avenue, has been operating for over two decades. Although the farm-to-table process is relatively straightforward when it pertains to conventional crop growing, the process of growing organic crops is more complex.

Organic produce are harvested on multiple acres of Cal Poly Pomona’s Spadra Farm. (Courtesy of Desiree Monarrez)

“Everybody is a consumer, is a smarter consumer; they’re looking, they’re reading labels,” said Farm Store Manager Dawn Taccone. “They’re looking at what they’re putting in their body and the organic is kind of what we’re all going toward.”

Brothers Bryan and Christopher Van Norden work on the campus’ Spadra Farm, harvesting and coordinating the organic project along with students.

Bryan Van Norden, coordinator of the farm, explained that bringing organic produce to the store has been in the works for years, but the team “went from ideas into action.”

The process of harvesting an ample amount of produce involves paperwork, certifications and logistical aid from those who specialize in plant science and agriculture.

“With the help of professors in the plant science department to get the three-year certification, this is the first time in history that Cal Poly is selling USDA certified organic produce,” Bryan Van Norden added.

The title organic is not just for show; for a crop to be considered organic the fertilizers used must not be synthetic and the seeds themselves must be organic. Bryan Van Norden mentioned that any pesticides or herbicides used must be on a specific list of safe organic-use chemicals.

Although the cultivation process is much safer, it doesn’t mean that no chemicals are used throughout.

Desiree Monarrez, team leader of the Organic Project said, “I hope that everything pays off time and money-wise, and I hope that our tracking is detailed enough that it satisfies anyone who wants to come check on our certifications. So, I hope we stay organized and up to date and accessible.”

Jackson Muir shovels over beds to prepare the harvest. (Courtesy of Desiree Monarrez)
Patrick McNicoll transplants produce intro beds. (Courtesy of Desiree Monarrez)

The organic team has made it clear that their plans for harvesting crops does not end at lettuce and kale, as they are already transitioning into planting crops for the summer.

“We went through a lot of certification and documentation to get this. Right now, there’s only about 2 to 3 acres planted of actual crops in the ground using drip tape irrigation,” explained Agronomy Farm Coordinator Christopher Van Norden.

Christopher Van Norden explained that on the farm there are about 9 acres specifically for certified organic produce. Of those acres, three are being used for research, organic tomatoes and squash among other crops. None of this select harvest is sold as produce at the farm store, however, as it has yet to be certified. On the organic plot, there are 6 acres of produce and vegetable production total.

Taccone emphasized that she admires the amount of work and dedication given to this project. Because having organic produce certified and sold at the store involved several layers of certifications, it was something they could only hope would happen one day.

“I know the organic is such a huge deal because I know it is a hard process to become organic. There is so much work,” Taccone said.

The farm’s aspiration to provide organic produce has been made possible after years of conducting research and collecting a paper trail to certify their produce. Taccone mentioned the importance of providing this type of produce.

Farm Store displays the new organic vegetables. (Ashley Cruz | The Poly Post)

“We’re a nonprofit so them (the community) knowing that it goes back to the agriculture department they just know that their dollars are going to a good spot,” Taccone explained.

With the organic kale and romaine lettuce now available to purchase, customers can expect a wider variety of organic produce to choose from later this year.

“Now it’s happening, that’s a big deal you know. That goes to show you with Craig (project owner) and his crew that they’re really working hard. And our farm crew, to have people to do this is so impressive,” Taccone assured.

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