The University Farm Laboratory at Fresno State recently welcomed back its organic farming enterprise with the support of a $250,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Organic farms back on campus

The University Farm Laboratory at Fresno State recently welcomed back its organic farming enterprise with the support of a $250,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The production of organic vegetables is well underway on the campus farm and the enterprise has already made a small profit at the Gibson Farm Market selling organic radishes, lettuce and Swiss chard.

But the growing and marketing of organic food is not a simple task, said Sajeemas “Mint” Pasakdee, a research technician for the University Farm.

“The certification process takes about three years to complete,” Pasakdee said.

The Students for Environmentally Responsible Agriculture (SERA) club planted the organic plot on 0.08 acres of campus farm in 2004, but production and maintenance was hindered by lack of funding and resources.

After Pasakdee joined Fresno State in late 2006 as a research scientist for the College of Agriculture, she began working on getting the organic farming enterprise up and running on campus. With the recent donation from the USDA, the organic plot now has proper support to become a sustainable enterprise.

According to the Organic Trade Association, the organic industry in the United States increased by 20.9 percent in 2006. In 2008, it is estimated that the organic industry will reach more than $23 billion. California is currently the number one state in organic production.

Because of this influential growth on the produce industry, Pasakdee said it’s important for agriculture students to have the opportunity to learn about all different types of farming practices, especially organics.

“Fresno State has a duty to support the education of students and it needs to teach all perspectives in the agriculture industry including organics,” Pasakdee said. “The job market is continually growing in organics, so it’s important for students to be prepared to enter that industry.”

Pasakdee brings to Fresno State a solid background in organic studies. After receiving her master’s degree in plant science at Fresno State in 2001, she earned a Ph.D. in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz. Her specialty in soil science and agronomical ecology gives her the knowledge and experience to help accelerate the organic enterprise on campus.

Director of the University Farm, Ganesan Srinivasan, said he welcomes the concept to help widen the view of agricultural practices on campus. But he said that traditional methods of farming will not be discarded.

“Conventional agriculture will continue to play a key role in providing food, fuel and fiber to the growing population around the world by producing more from less land. More than 95 percent of the 1,000-acre farm at Fresno State will be under conventional agriculture,” Srinivasan said.

The organic enterprise currently has 0.08 acres officially certified as organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers. Fresno State is somewhat lacking in organic study, trailing behind schools such as Chico State, which is planning a 60-acre organic plot, said Pasakdee.

Fresno State’s plot is maintained by four students who are paid with the USDA grant funding. The enterprise is also working with the CCOF to provide internships for students interested in gaining credits within the plant science department.

During the Fall season Pasakdee hopes to sell a variety of vegetables at the Gibson Farm Market.

“We plan to have broccoli, cauliflower, beets, arugula and different lettuces available for purchase,” she said.