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Organic Agriculture

Whether you are a student of agriculture, environmental science, any of a number of related fields, or have an interest in how food is produced and reaches our plates, Cal Poly's organic agricultural operations provide valuable opportunities to experience the many processes involved in organic production, certification, distribution and marketing. Cal Poly is home to two certified organic agricultural operations – the Cal Poly Organic Farm within the San Luis Obispo campus, and certified organic croplands at Cal Poly's Swanton Pacific Ranch in Santa Cruz County. Each offers a unique set of hands-on educational opportunities.

The Cal Poly Organic Farm (CPOF) is an 11-acre vegetable production unit that is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), one of the first organic certifiers in the U.S. Cal Poly's two-acre Student Experimental Farm was certified organic as a senior project in 1995, and the CPOF was founded in 2000 with additional parcels of land added shortly thereafter. The CPOF is actively managed by the Horticulture and Crop Science Department. Through the Organic Farming Enterprise Project (CRSC 203), students of any discipline can receive credit while participating in the planting, care, harvesting, and marketing of organic vegetables. CPOF produce is sold regularly at the campus farm stand, local farmers' markets, and directly to local vendors and restaurants, or donated to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County. In addition, students may enroll in a formal Organic Agriculture course (AG 315) which features laboratory activities at the Organic Farm.

The Organic Farm is also host to periodic workshops and seminars pertaining to organic farming and gardening methods, and is used as a demonstration area for a variety of courses such as soil science, nutrition, and pest management. Community and school groups may arrange for guided field trips to the Organic Farm. Individuals and small groups are welcome to come enjoy the farm anytime during regular business hours.

The organic agricultural operations at Swanton Pacific Ranch (SPR) are comprised of over 80 acres of croplands, also certified by CCOF. These croplands include 65 acres leased to Jacobs Farm/ Del Cabo, Inc. for the cultivation of perennial culinary herbs, a 2-acre apple orchard offering over 12 varieties of apples, and the production of Christmas trees and oat hay. The primary mission of these operations is to provide students with a diversity of crops and marketing opportunities, with an emphasis on ‘learn by doing' experiences that prepare emerging agricultural professionals with practical working knowledge of their discipline. SPR offers internships in organic crop management that are available for all academic quarters throughout the year. Through SPR internships, students receive school credits, direct pay, room and board while they gain experience with the maintenance of organic standards in field production and develop projects involving research in agricultural methodologies, marketing tools, or educational demonstrations.

In addition to these opportunities at the Cal Poly Organic Farm and Swanton Pacific Ranch, the Horticulture and Crop Science Department job center also offers formal internships with local organic farm operations and with many prominent industry leaders.

What is certified organic?

The USDA defines organic farming as a "production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely on crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, compost, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds, and other pests. The concept of the soil as a living system…is central to this definition." Any agricultural product may be certified organic, including fruits, vegetables, fibers, flowers, herbs, and livestock.

In 2002, the USDA implemented a law which created the National Organic Program (NOP) and established a uniform set of standards for organic production nationally. All certifying agencies must now be accredited by USDA and must ensure that certified growers and processors meet NOP requirements. Annual organic sales grew to over $26 billion in 2010, representing approximately 4% of food and beverage sales in the US. Over 5 million acres are now in certified organic production.


Cal Poly
Cal Poly Grown
Cal Poly Organic Farm
Swanton Pacific Ranch (Crops)

Resources for Farmers & Ag Professionals
ATTRA Organic Farming
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)
Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)

Resource for Consumers
Organic Consumer's Association

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) State Organic Program (SOP)
USDA National Organic Program

Research and Outreach
Leopold Center
The Organic Center
Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF)
Organic Trade Association (OTA)
Rodale Institute
Soil Association (UK)

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