From Farming to Fashion, the College of Agriculture Celebrates 70 Years of Excellence

From Farming to Fashion, the College of Agriculture Celebrates 70 Years of Excellence
Cesar Gonzalez passes a watermelon to Brittany Moreland during watermelon harvesting.
Blake Brown fits a toddler shirt onto a mannequin.
Jesse Samson, a plant science major, trims lettuce plants grown in the hydroponics lab.

Just as farming has evolved into a high-tech industry, the College of Agriculture's programs have changed and expanded. Uniquely situated in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, the college has quite an urban focus, emphasizing the technology, business and lifestyle components of the industry.

Ag students aren't limited in their professions. Today, it's just as easy to find graduates designing clothes as it is to find them working as teachers, horticulturists or veterinarians. Their options stretch from the farm lands and animal pastures in California to science laboratories, restaurants, hospitals and to the international fashion scene. Indeed, the scope of agriculture is as wide and as varied as the world itself.

This year as the College of Agriculture celebrates its 70th anniversary and its legacy as the foundation of Cal Poly Pomona, it is also a time to consider the many changes it has experienced.

Today, students can choose from eight majors and 13 minors, ranging from animal science to food science and technology.

Southern California's landscape has changed as well. As the farming industry continues to disappear from the region, fewer students are coming from rural backgrounds, and more are arriving from urban and suburban neighborhoods. In response, the College of Agriculture has adjusted its programs, moving away from focusing on producing corn, milk and eggs to expanding the science and business aspects of the industry.

“We are unique. This college is now an urban agricultural school. Our students don't just learn one segment of the supply chain. They learn it all,” says Dean Lester Young.


As an urban agricultural college, students and faculty members are deeply involved in the science and research that help solve the many challenges of California's agricultural industry. While traditional methods of farming have not changed, farmers are pressed to increase production while keeping costs down and using fewer resources such as water, fertilizers and pesticides. Global warming is expected to create extreme weather conditions, making farming even less predictable.

Through the California Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI), scientifically minded students and faculty from several universities, including Fresno State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, help find immediate and practical solutions. At Cal Poly Pomona, some of the research projects include developing a more nutritious variety of iceberg lettuce, finding ways to eliminate runoff from irrigated landscapes

and conserve water, producing chicken eggs with more of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids and combating fungal disease in tomato crops.

“The research being conducted by the ARI is making a significant contribution both to California agriculture and the research effort on campus,” says Plant Science Professor and ARI Director David Still. “It allows our faculty to engage in research while providing training and learning opportunities for our students that are not otherwise written into our curriculum.”

Alumnus Bob Pettis, '63, has seen many of the technological changes first-hand. An agronomy major, Pettis says he used to think that agriculture was a slow industry — that is, until he took a break from the business for two years. When he returned, he was “blown away” by all the advances in technology, such as GPS units in farm machines and crop harvesting equipment that recognizes fruit ripeness by its color.

According to Pettis, who now grows wine grapes, “Farming is just really becoming high-tech stuff. Those who think they can be successful farmers today without a college education just won't be able to do it. Cal Poly Pomona isn't a traditional ag school. They're not farmers anymore in that area. And that's not a negative thing.”


Not only have students and professors made scientific advances benefiting plants and animals, they're also interested in how agricultural products affect people. Once referred to as consumer sciences, this field has expanded into two distinct programs — food and fashion.

Foods and nutrition and food science and technology majors master a range of subjects — from nutrition and chemistry to sociology and physiology. They learn how food is digested and metabolized, and they receive training in counseling and motivating patients. With strong science and people skills, graduates can apply to medical, dental and veterinary schools or work as health care professionals, food

scientists, food service administrators or nutrition researchers.

“Our department has as much as or more science than some biology programs. But it is the type of science that you have to apply to real-life situations,” says Douglas Lewis, chair of the Human Nutrition & Food Science department.

On the other side of campus, apparel merchandising and management (AMM) students learn about the business and production aspects of the apparel industry. “Southern California is the major center for apparel in the United States. It's eclipsed New York, economically,” says Peter Kilduff, AMM department chair.

In production classes, students use industry equipment to learn about apparel design, construction and factory production lines. The department also employs a high-tech, 3-D body scanner that can analyze body shapes and sizes, which helps students explore trends in consumer body types. Fashion retail classes impart the principles of marketing, planning and supply chain management.

“It's important for students to understand the fabric, dyeing, machines and manufacturing. Eventually, they'll make the decisions that are worth millions of dollars,” says Assistant Professor Muditha Senanayake.


Pulling the various agriculture disciplines together in a business context, the Food Marketing & Agribusiness Management department prepares students to start their own businesses, manage companies, work in marketing and sales, or work in product development. The combination of disciplines is especially attractive to students like Anthony Xavier, who began as an animal science major with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. When he discovered he was more interested in advertising and marketing, he knew he didn't have to give up working with animals to study business. Another avenue that pulls the various ag disciplines together is the Agriculture Science program. As teachers, these graduates will be preparing the next generation of agricultural professionals.

“An ag student is someone who's involved with animals and part of the field,” Xavier says. “In my major, we learn about food, animals and clothing and where things come from and where they go. It's all part of marketing and business.”

Given Cal Poly Pomona's unique location in the middle of a vibrant metropo
litan region, the College of Agriculture cultivates students who are stewards of the land and of society. Whether they work on a farm, in a hospital, laboratory, factory or office building, graduates have a unique combination of professional skills, passion for their work, love for the land and a genuine interest in helping people.

“Our students like the idea of taking care of things, growing things, developing things and nurturing things,” says Jean Gipe, interim associate dean. “We love our legacy and the history of the campus. But we have also worked with that history to move forward, bringing great new opportunities to our students.”