Cal-Poly Students And Faculty Ask Industry To Help Save Horticulture Facilities

Cal-Poly Students And Faculty Ask Industry To Help Save Horticulture Facilities

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential, and/or recreational space.

According to a letter from Scott Steinmaus, the horticulture and crop science department head, the proposed changes directly affect the current orchard plantings and other long term plans for the department. The department is committed to making sure that its facilities remain invaluable teaching environments that enable its students to learn about crop, fruit and horticulture production, food safety and pest protection, in addition to providing sites for externally funded research projects that benefit the industry.


Industry members are invited to submit comments to the university. According to Steinmaus, a recent eMail to the Cal-Poly community from the university president indicates that all of the input gathered through the end of May will be studied by the planning team.

“We need as much input as our industry leaders can provide in this short time period,” Steinmaus says.

Students voiced their concerns at a recent listening session that made the local news. They focused on the urgency of maintaining Class 1 soils for agricultural use, and the importance of having such land close to the campus in order to facilitate the school’s Learn by Doing philosophy, Steinmaus says.

“You may have the same concerns and could effectively voice concern that developing agricultural land around the Crops Unit would also seriously impact research and learning collaborations with outside industry,” Steinmaus says.

Here is what you can do to help:

  1. Submit your comments about the Master Plan through its website or directly to [email protected]
  2. eMail or call in your concerns to the university president’s office at [email protected] or 805-756-6000
  3. eMail or call in your concerns to the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences Dean’s Office at [email protected] or 805-756-2161
  4. Pass this message along to anyone who you feel would be an effective advocate for the program and its lands.

Visit to see more about how the current students feel about the proposed plan.

Leave a Reply

Joel Leonard says:

It’s important to note that we agree and support building student housing, recreational fields, and a hotel on campus and it is our belief that these ideas will greatly benefit the campus and community as a whole. However, we do not support this construction at the cost of our agricultural land and program. We see many other viable building sites on Cal Poly property and we believe that the hands-on experience gained through the use of our farmland should not be compromised for this construction.

Thank you for spreading the word about this issue and helping keep ag education strong in California!


– Joel Leonard
Students for Agriculture
College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
[email protected]

Karen Holtermann says:

My husband and 2 sons graduated from CPSLO; 2 from AG and 1 from business.. We own and operate a family farm. What ever happened to learn by doing? CP AG students graduate and have a hands on education for agriculture. Maybe this is about $$$$$? Don’t forget,” we the farmer” have the most important job in the world… feeding the people. Keep the AG farm land!

julie briggs says:

This would be very sad not to continue the hands on experience that Cal Poly is so famous for!

sk says:

Learn to balance your own growth! dont blame others later – in this CYA move.
Either kill the program or continue it well without excuse. America nees to understand to grow its own food and livestock.
Glad my kid did not take the Cal Poly admission if this is the state of thinking at the top

Kurt Messick says:

I was quite surprised and upset to hear of Cal Poly’s plans to repurpose much of the horticulture facilities, orchards and field sites. Repurposed for housing, buildings and recreational space would be tremendously disappointing and very concerning to me as the leader of a national horticultural brokerage company (Messick Company LLC). Cal Poly’s “learn by doing” theme has always been a huge asset that I and other horticultural managers have always held dear. I have discussed with countless industry leaders and nursery/greenhouse owners over the years how this “learn by doing” practice has always put Cal Poly graduates at the head of the list when screening for potential employees.

If Cal Poly were to abandon this practice and “repurpose” many of its assets that help make it possible to “learn by doing”, Cal Poly would revert to just another school in my mind. There are plenty of schools out there that have ‘book smart’ programs but, Cal Poly was always a “cut above” in my mind due to the experience that the students were able to get by actually ‘getting their hands dirty’. This experience is alway something I’m looking at when interviewing prospective employees. I am quite certain that many others in my industry feel quite the same.

I am also a Cal Poly alum and currently have a child enrolled there as well. Part of her decision to attend Cal Poly was because of their ‘learn by doing’ . This is quite disappointing to both of us.

I certainly hope that this decision to repurpose these facilities and ground is reconsidered.


Kurt Messick

Messick Company LLC

Lynn Hamilton says:

Thank you for bringing this important issue to the industry – it is vital that industry partners and alumni chime in and voice their support for Cal Poly’s agricultural programs. All students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences will be negatively affected if this plan goes forth.

Nate Smith says:

Greenhouse Grower– I truly appreciate your efforts to bring this topic to the industry’s attention. Scary that we are so very close to the university’s 05/31/15 DEADLINE to accept public commentary.

Converting these important facilities and Class 1 land to other purposes goes against the “learn by doing” motto of the university. Not to mention, the Leaning Pine Arboretum took several decades to develop and is a key resource for the education of both students and public alike. Such teaching environments are not easily replaced… regardless of one’s budgetary capacity.

As a Cal Poly EHS Alumni, I believe that my education and onsite college work experience were largely shaped by regular use of these crucial teaching facilities supported through proximity and ease of access (including the arboretum, horticulture greenhouses and crop science facilities). Like many of my classmates, I took the personal opportunity to make various use of the facilities- working as Foliage Project Manager, Foliage Lab Assistant, D&P Lab Assistant, Pesticide Spray Technician, participant of the Poinsettia Enterprise Project and volunteering in the arboretum. Despite being peripheral to my course requirements, all of those supplemental “hands on activities” were vital to enhancing my knowledge and deepening my understanding about various aspects of my study.

Cal Poly has always been a top notch institution from which to pursue a degree in the fields of Horticulture and Crop Science up to this point in time. Once a commercial grower/researcher and now serving the industry as a floricultural broker & consultant with Sheppard West, I owe much of my professional success to the education I received at this well respected university (Cal Poly EHS ’93-’96).

Looking to the future prospect of losing these important multi-functional spaces [through conversion to generally unrelated applications] will surely prove to undermine the long-term draw of agricultural/horticultural students and will sharply inhibit associated educational development from much needed practical experience. I therefore urge the Cal Poly Master Planning Committee to further consider the preservation and maintenance of these vital educational resources [& class 1 lands] for generations of farmers and horticulturists to come.

NOTE: Visiting the “Students for Ag” link above will take you to a well-organized petitioning site; ensure our voices are heard. Please participate and spread the word through your various networks. Just 2 minutes of your time before the 05/31 deadline can make a difference!

P.S. For the record, some of the best mountain and town views are obtained from the northern “rim” edge of the university where both the horticulture unit and arboretum are located. It therefore comes as no surprise that this very space is now slated for university faculty and staff housing (I too would enjoy the view). However, locating residential quarters adjacent to the equine unit does not seem to be a suitable long-term match for those who may find fresh & composting manure offensive. Is this suggestive that the equine unit will be subject to relocation and/or demolition [?]. Thoughtful reconsideration of other land resources available to the university’s development is certainly in order.

Alan Roach says:

How in the heck can you teach Ag without dirt to work with????

Robert Garlow says:

Arch Engr. 1966 Building more facilities that are required is needed but should be kept to the minimum. Building more residential is ludicrous with the drought and water storage. Keep the AG lands Horticulture areas and the engineering areas such as Poly Canyon as these are part of Cal Poly tradition and a backbone of the programs at Poly. I agree that many other areas of land could be substituted for these!!!

Alan Roach says:

Bob, I like your comment, there are other areas. There is a certain “Value” to be had by leaving traditional areas untouched. As an ex Ag Major I’m glad to see that your aware of the value of water.

Barry Malm says:

Cal-Poly is a school that allows students practical experience , not just theory. The hands on experience that students receive working with the agricultural crops located on campus not only teaches them how to create, but can also inspire them how to improve. The loss of this unique experience will place Cal-Poly at the educational level of any other school and not above them. Other locations need to be strongly considered for Student housing in order to help save and preserve our agricultural lands.

Bob Kiesling says:

“Repurpose ” these assets and you will disproportionately lose others……including me….. forever.
Please rethink the consequences relative to Cal Poly’s long term mission.

Janine says:

These changes you are proposing not only affect the students, they affect the community. Cal Poly has always been set apart from other university programs by all the hands-on learning and interaction with the community at large. We often can be found strolling through the Arboretum, which I have done through the years with my children and now my grandchildren. it is a sad day to hear you want to take away the agricultural land from an agricultural school.

Jay Platt says:

For as long as Cal Poly has been around it has been known for its hands on approach. It is one of the most successful programs in the US. It puts us ahead of such schools like Davis in my eyes and has put us consistently in the rankings across the US. I was not a Ag major but I am a believer in their program and the students that graduate from the program. I must believe that Cal Poly getting a new President must be linked to the Schools cultural changes. It looks more like the new President does not believe in what the schools greatness was built on but wants to remake it like so many others. Big, liberal institutions that put the almighty dollar in front of the education of students. Maybe instead of the land being repurposed we should be looking at repurposing Jeffrey D. Armstrong instead.

Martin O'Connor says:

I am a Cal Poly alumnus (FM ’80) and for decades Cal Poly has provided the ag industry and ag-allied industries its talent base, with a foundation in hands-on ‘learn by doing’ education. It seems that in the headlong pursuit of grant $ Cal Poly is overlooking its mission to agriculture in order to adopt the UC Davis research orientation. Cal Poly may well acquire more research grant $, but is losing its soul in the bargain.

C Fiore says:

Sadly, I’ve missed any deadline for comment b/c keeping up with postings is challenging at best. But, I must say that this is a trend across the country and particularly in California’s community colleges. A friend who teaches at Orange Coast College and another who taught at San Mateo College faced the same battle and for the same reason.
So, I would invite this community to look beyond CP Ag department challenges, reach out to other institutions’ hort depts and bring the matter to a much higher visibility. It has gone beyond a “learn by doing” motto or “do the right thing” for future students/employees/employers. It is now about land grabbing from those tradition institutions that are not high profile STEM programs or tech ventures. And I say this as one who comes to the table from both Planning and Engineering.