Earn By Doing

Two Donations Help Expand Earn by Doing Opportunities for Students

Two recent donations to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) Earn by Doing program have helped expand hands-on learning opportunities for Cal Poly horticulture and crop science (HCS) students.

The Earn by Doing program supports students who work in the university’s agriculture production units. “Students can earn money on campus while gaining professional training and managerial leadership skills,” said CAFES Senior Director of Development ​Tim Northrop. 

To aid that effort, the Orange County Farm Bureau (OCFB) donated $55,000, and Charles Walton, past owner, president and chief executive officer of Smithers-Oasis Co., donated $15,000. Smithers-Oasis is an international producer and marketer of floral and horticulture products. Walton serves as a member of the company’s board of directors.  

The donation from the Orange County Farm Bureau, a nonprofit group that advocates for farms and agriculture in Southern California, will support 30-50 students working in the Crops Unit throughout 2021. 
“Cal Poly’s Earn by Doing program aligns with the Orange County Farm Bureau’s mission to support and train future farmers in Orange County and California,” Northrop said. 

Orange County Farm Bureau Executive Director Casey Anderson added, “We believe keeping students on the farm, gaining valuable hands-on experience, is of far greater value to them and the industry than having those same students look off campus for jobs. The Earn by Doing model at Cal Poly is one were eager to support. Were excited to see such numbers of students Learning by Doing, and we're pleased to support a program that pays them for their skilled work on the farm.

The Earn by Doing program runs quarterly, and that did not change during the pandemic because agriculture is considered essential work.  

“We followed all COVID-19 guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the university,” said Dan Chesini, Cal Poly’s plant science operations manager.  

Northrop added, Over 400 students will be employed by CAFES during the year – including 13 HCS students during spring quarter 2021 -- to work in our 15 agricultural production fields, facilities and labs.” 

HCS students help run the Crops and Horticulture units, including the campus greenhouses, where the poinsettias and tomatoes are grown for two popular annual sales events. “The students do it all, Chesini said. “They plant and transplant, cultivate, prepare the ground, install drip and sprinkler irrigation, harvest and process crops, and make market deliveries.”  

The global pandemic that upended so many aspects of life actually created new opportunities for HCS Earn by Doing students. 

“Spring quarter we began selling produce to San Luis Coastal School Unified District,” Chesini said. “In doing so, we had some major orders and harvests. We harvested 2,000 heads of lettuce and cabbage a few weeks apart plus a citrus order of 5,280 pounds over three weeks. This gave our students a real-world feel of what a major harvest is like." 


“Normally we do smaller harvest-to-fill orders,” Chesini continued. “It was great to see the students step up to the challenge and put in extra hours to ensure that the orders were filled and delivered on time.

The students last quarter also experimented with floating row covers on a small romaine lettuce planting at the organic farm. 
We planted a new variety of romaine calledpetite romaine’ – a brand new varietal,” Chesini said. The row covers provided insect protection, frost protection and increased growth rate. The students had to set, remove and reset the covers for various activities, such as irrigation repair, cultivating and harvest. The petite romaine came out beautiful!

The Earn by Doing fundraising efforts took on new urgency in 2020 because of budget reductions brought on by the pandemic. 

CAFES faced budget cuts that would have eliminated some student positions, Northrop explained. “We reached out to industry partners to help support the program and our students -- the agricultural leaders of tomorrow -- and the initial response has been great. We hope to engage even more industry partners in the future in support of Earn by Doing. 

Individuals interested in contributing to the Horticulture and Crop Science Earn by Doing Fund should contact Assistant Dean of Advancement and External Relations Russ Kabaker at rkabaker@calpoly.edu.

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