Although most of Southern California’s farmland and citrus groves have turned into freeways and suburban sprawl since Cal Poly Pomona was founded in 1938, the university has remained an oasis for farming and agricultural education.
“We’re the only four-year agriculture program south of the Tehachapis,” says Les Young, the retiring College of Agriculture dean. “We continue to operate a 700-acre farm in the middle of three freeways and 13 million people, and our presence continues to define the open, green space environment of the campus.”
The College of Agriculture will honor both past and present at its 75th anniversary celebration on Saturday, May 3, at AGRIscapes. The event will feature an open house in the visitor center, horses and animals on display, and tours of the greenhouses. California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross will speak at a barbecue dinner about the importance of higher education and Cal Poly Pomona’s role in the development of the state’s agricultural industry.
The College of Agriculture’s roots date back to 1938, when Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo obtained the former Voorhis School for Boys in San Dimas and held classes there in agriculture service and inspection, citriculture, deciduous fruits and landscape gardening.
The campus grew larger in 1949 when cereal magnate W.K. Kellogg gave the state of California his 813-acre Arabian horse ranch three miles to the south in Pomona.
Today, Kellogg’s Arabian horses remain a fixture at the university, occupying a substantial section of campus and serving as a reminder of its agricultural heritage. Cal Poly Pomona continues Kellogg’s tradition of holding regular Arabian horse shows, and students help care for the animals and raise their foals.
Other livestock kept on campus include cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. Students can learn how to care for these animals and train to become veterinary technologists.
Animal science is just one of the traditional agricultural production majors taught at Cal Poly Pomona, along with agronomy, soil science and irrigation science. The college grows everything from hay to jalapeños. It has its own vineyard, from which it makes its own wine that is sold at the Farm Store. Alumni have gone on to manage some of the biggest agricultural operations in California.
The college’s alumni include:
- Richard Wilson (ornamental horticulture, ’75), founder of the Colorama Wholesale Nursery in the San Gabriel Valley with growing areas in the Coachella Valley and Santa Barbara area, and owner of La Verne Nursery Inc. and Cal Agri Transplants
- Terry Noriega (ornamental horticulture, ’79), owner of the award-winning Mariposa Horticultural Enterprises Inc.
- John Grizzle (agronomy, ’62), owner of a 3,000-acre farm in the Imperial Valley
- Marty Evanson (animal husbandry, ‘63), who established Jobbers Meat Packing Company and Ice Cold Storage Company in Vernon
But traditional agriculture is not all that’s taught at Cal Poly Pomona. Students are also studying the more contemporary disciplines of agribusiness, food industry management, apparel merchandising and management, and food science and technology.
“Agriculture today is science, technology and business. It’s no longer about whether you can drive a tractor or lift a 50-pound bale,” Young says. “It’s about using your skill set in business, science or technology.”
Students can experiment in the food science lab or participate in the culinology program that allows them to develop food ideas from the lab to the table. They can develop their own apparel lines, and get sales and marketing experience selling designer bridal gowns.
The College of Agriculture also looks to the future, training the next generation of teachers through its agricultural science program and holding an annual field day for more than 500 Future Farmers of America students.
The faculty are engaged in cutting-edge research that seeks to solve problems farmers face today.
One such project involves testing whether farmers can use algae grown in polluted water from dairy farms to feed livestock. If successful, algae would become a more economical source of livestock feed, Associate Professor Shelton Murinda says. The algae has the added benefit of helping to clean up the polluted water.
Another project involves trying to stop an insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, from spreading a disease that has decimated citrus crops in Florida. Researchers are attempting to stop the psyllid by breeding tiny wasps that kill the insect, Professor and Plant Sciences Chair Valerie Mellano says.
Such forward-thinking research helps ensure that agriculture will have place in the years to come at Cal Poly Pomona.
“Agriculture is important because we grow things,” Young says, “we nurture things, we take care of things.”