Tomatozania kicks off at CPP’s Farm Store

By April Ruiz, March 26, 2024

Tomato enthusiasts and plant-lovers made their way out on March 16 to Cal Poly Pomona’s Farm Store for its annual sale, showcasing a wide range of well-known and unique tomato plants.

Tomatozania’s annual sale began in 1997, selling tomato plants grown and produced by CPP’s student employees currently studying plant science.Evolving over time, the event has grown along with its plants.

“We’ve added more varieties and more people come out, it’s fantastic and it’s only the first day,” said Kelsey Swayze, the ornamental horticulture unit manager.

The process for growing these plants began back in November, with the ordering of the seeds, planting occurs in January, and transplanting the tomatoes in February. Now in March, CPP and its community can enjoy 180 varieties of tomato plants because of Swayze and her 12 student employees.

Among those student employees is Rushabh Patel, a geology student. With a love for plant science and through classes at CPP, Patel was involved in a tomato plantation project, which introduced him to the greenhouse and its employees. Since then, Patel’s experience enriched his knowledge after switching things up from rocks to plants.

“My favorite part is taking care of the plants, checking on them every day, seeing if they’re in good health,” Patel said. “They’re like babies; we always call them our babies.”

The “baby plants” are finding new homes quickly as dedicated gardener Bernadette Casiano, along with many others, wasted no time stocking up on the freshly grown plants.

Events like Tomatozania also bring a better understanding and appreciation for locally grown and sustainable agriculture.

“That’s why I come,” Casiano said. “I like that the students run everything, and they know what they plant, they’re very helpful.”

Attendees of Tomatozania looking through the assortment of fruits. | April Ruiz

Tomatozania along with other events hosted by the Farm Store go full circle when it comes to proceeds. Profits go back into the program, where they can fund student employment, greenhouse maintenance, projects, lab materials and more.

Student employees not only contribute to the Farm Store’s success, but working there also provides learning opportunities to help prepare them for their futures.

“It really gives some practical experience, so they’re able to produce a high-quality plant for our customers,” said Swayze. “It’s instrumental because they can go on and do that somewhere else.”

Customers are not the only ones making their return as alumni Erwing Castillo, a plant science student, has made his way back to the greenhouse, while working on a grad school project. Castillo is motivated by the expansion of knowledge and experience he has gained while working at the greenhouse.

“I really like that it’s not too much of a business,” Castillo said, “I get to move around and work with the plants. … I feel like it’s a little therapeutic and a more casual type of thing.”

There’s been a change of pace from last year when the event was postponed because of rainy weather. This created a lack of quantity of not only tomato plants, but other popular plants like strawberries.

“Last season the rain tanked us,” said Swayze. “This year we’ve been OK, and we timed the rain correctly.”

As the Farm Store prepares for an increase in crowds due to better weather, the greenhouse has accommodated 10,000 tomato plants along with a variety of fruit and vegetables available now until the end of April.

Feature image courtesy of April Ruiz

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