Fresno State’s Grosse Industrial Technology Building filled with the smell of fresh citrus and a buzz of excitement as the Jordan College of Agriculture and Industrial Technologies welcomed guests Feb. 8 to view its new packing line.
For Jim Marderosian, founder and president of Bee Sweet Citrus, gifting the machine to the college was an opportunity to give back. He has connected with the Jordan College of Agriculture by working with student interns. The internship program allows students to engage within the industry as it moved toward automation and technological development.
“I think what [the internship] does is gives hands-on learning to the students which is a big plus, having the ability to have the students to actually operate the equipment and to look at the equipment and to look at the results,” Marderosian said. “It’s not only from the production side of it, but it’s also from the field side of it.”
The packing line, valued at $600,000, was custom-built with contributions from Bee Sweet Citrus and six other companies. The line is equipped with technologies allowing the students and faculty of the Jordan College to clean, wash, track and label fruit, which is all grown on the university’s farms.
“As educators, we at Fresno State know that companies are looking for innovative solutions to keep their businesses competitive in the vanguard of the challenges they face,” Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro said, as he thanked the company’s representatives and the community members who attended. “They need qualified graduates to lead this effort, and I know we have them right here at Fresno State.”
Jordan College Dean Sandra Witte emphasized the faculty’s excitement to expose students to an entire cycle within the industry. Fresno State grows, picks and sells its own citrus. The addition of the packing line completes the process, she said.
“We were missing this important piece of the cycle,” Witte said. “This part in which we really take that step to move from the farm closer to the fork and to our customers.”
Following the presentation, guests were invited to view the packing line in production for the first time. Students unloaded crates of oranges onto the conveyer belt, and one by one, the oranges moved down the line into boxes.
For students like Tomas Luna, the equipment is the next step toward preparing for life after college.
“This citrus packing line will allow myself and my colleagues to train on equipment that incorporates technologies which are at the forefront of today’s agricultural and process industry,” Luna said in a speech to those who came to the dedication ceremony. “This educational experience will certainly change our future and the future of our local industry.”
Along with members from Bee Sweet Citrus, representatives from other contributing companies Aweta Americas, Inc., Decco US Post-Harvest, Inc., Intelligrated, Mid Valley Packaging & Supply Co., Valley Automation Solutions and Valley PackLine Solutions attended the dedication.
“All of us that put this together, all the vendors that were a part of this, we’re very proud to have the opportunity to do this,” Marderosian said.