Coming Up Roses ? and Strawberries

Coming Up Roses ? and Strawberries
Tom Carruth, head of Weeks Roses? research department, relocated his department to Cal Poly Pomona.
Kristin Camacho, of Camacho Strawberries, has also partnered with the university.

On the scenic landscape near Cal Poly Pomona's AGRIscapes and Farm Store, new members of the Cal Poly Pomona community are taking root.

Weeks Roses, one of the most esteemed rose producers in the United States, and Camacho Strawberries, a local farming business known for its delicious crop, have relocated to on-campus sites.

Headquartered in Upland since 1938, with additional acreage in the San Joaquin Valley, Weeks Roses found itself hemmed in by housing developments. As urban land prices soared, so did Weeks' sales, and it decided a change was in order. Tom Carruth, head of Weeks' research department, investigated the possibility of a partnership with the university.

“It is a winning solution all around,” says Carruth, who, along with the rest of his research department, moved into new offices near AGRIscapes in November. “Close association with Cal Poly Pomona professors will keep us up-to-date on research and technology, and we can offer students hands-on experience with highly specialized projects on site.”

Carruth, whose skill in fostering new varieties of roses has led Weeks to 12 All-America Rose Selections (AARS) the rose industry's equivalent of an Olympic gold medal in the past 13 years, sees infinite possibility in this new partnership.

“We have our own marketing department and envision partnering with the communications and photography departments, as well as opportunities for seniors and graduate students to create intricate research projects,” he says.

After all, new varieties of roses do not spring up overnight. In fact, it takes at least 10 years of painstaking work to create one new flower. Each year, the new research greenhouses at Cal Poly Pomona, funded mainly by a generous $200,000 donation from Weeks Roses, will see the hand-pollination of 35,000 flowers, resulting in about 200,000 seeds, which are harvested, planted, and carefully nurtured.

Only 800 to 1,000 of the strongest and most beautiful flowers will advance to the next step. These then go from one of a kind in the greenhouse to 10 of a kind in the test fields in Wasco, Calif., where they are evaluated over time for flowering capacity, disease resistance, vigor, finish color, rebloom, petal size, etc. The best of the best are placed in the AARS trials where they undergo a rigorous two-year judging in various locales and climates. Of the 50 or so roses from growers around the world that entered in the trials, only two to three roses are awarded the coveted AARS award each year.

Carruth is justifiably proud of the Weeks Roses reputation for excellence and would like to see Cal Poly Pomona become home to one of the AARS test gardens there are only 24 different test garden locations in the country. He is equally interested in refurbishing the university's famed rose garden, as well as assisting with other landscaping projects around campus.

As a producer that provides more than 4 million plants to wholesale nurseries around the country, Weeks Roses has never dealt with on-site rose sales. However, that too might change. Weeks Roses might partner with the Farm Store to sell its new award-winning varieties.

“We also plan to use about 10 acres at the university's Spadra facility to grow roses,” says Carruth, noting that 10 acres of roses will be beautiful thing to see.

Also enjoying an on-site working relationship with Cal Poly Pomona at its Spadra farm in Chino is Camacho Strawberries. The family business grows the bulk of its product on acreage leased from the university and has generously provided one acre of strawberries adjacent to the Farm Store on Temple Avenue for Cal Poly Pomona's own use.

“In a good year, one acre of strawberries can yield 3,000 flats at 12 pints per flat,” says Kristin Camacho, who enjoys the pleasant working relationship she and her family have with the university. “Cal Poly Pomona can sell the strawberries, which fruit three times per year, in the Farm Store and use the field for educational tours for schoolchildren.”