The morning line snaked around the corner and down the building’s sidewalk. The parking lot filled early.
It was a polite crowd. Police were directing traffic for late arrivals. No pushing and shoving when the doors opened.
The throng was not waiting for first day ticket sales to a concert. It was the season’s first sweet corn from the California State University farm that had the Fresnans lined up outside the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market on the campus.
Fresno State’s viticulture and enology department has put the university on the map with award-winning wines from the only California university with an on-campus winery.
However, Fresno State’s student-grown sweet corn is challenging the wine for the No. 1 product from the university’s 1,000-acre farm in the heart of urban northeast Fresno. Sweet corn was originally marketed at a roadside stand in 1986, and drew in $20,000 in sales.
“The sweet corn popularity has grown quite a bit in recent years,” said Ganesan Srinivasan, director of the University Agricultural Laboratory, the academic name for the farm.
This year students planted 85 acres to sweet corn production for the 2010 season, up from 70 acres last year. Half of the 85 acres are planted with the white Xtra Tender hybrid, while the other half is the yellow hybrid Vision. Students are testing a new variety in a six-acre experimental plot of Mirai, a yellow hybrid variety known to be the ‘sweetest sweet corn in the world’.
From field harvest bins inside the small store, consumers can buy all they want for 25 cents per ear. Students pick only what they estimate can be sold during that given day. Some days demand outstrips supply. It is supposed to last until 3 p.m. The early-season corn was gone by 11 a.m.
Fresno State expects to sell 1.5 million ears of corn through its farm market store. It has become so popular, some of it is wholesaled to other retailers who happily identify it as Fresno State corn. This year’s sweet corn crop is expected to bring in at least $250,000.
Colleges and universities across the nation have long prepared ag students in the classroom, as well as in the field.
CSUF prepares ag students for careers in agricultural business; agricultural education/communications; animal science; child, family and consumer sciences; food science and nutrition; industrial technology; plant science; and viticulture and enology.
Most agricultural classes at Fresno State are designed with a lab section, which enable students to acquire valuable hands-on experience working on the various plant, animal and food processing units that make up the university’s 1,000-acre farm. Students can also gain learning experiences at Fresno State’s 4,400-acre commercial cattle operation at the San Joaquin Experimental Range north of Fresno in the Sierra Nevada foothills. This range is managed by Fresno State, the University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service.
There are also paying jobs within the university’s farm. These range from field management at the livestock production units, as well as marketing and sales in the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market.
Revenue from the sales through the farm market on the east side of the campus is used to support the university’s farm laboratory.
Three Fresno State students have jobs on the farm specifically working with sweet corn, and six students are involved in sweet corn enterprise projects. These involve all aspects of sweet corn production and marketing from seeding to sales.
Nathalia Mourad, 24, is a graduate student focusing her master’s degree research on sweet corn. Mourad arrived at Fresno State in January after graduating as an agronomic engineer in 2007 at Escola Superior de Agricultura “Luiz de Queiroz” University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. She worked for a year and a half for Monsanto focusing on corn seeds in Brazil, which was her motivation for graduate studies related to sweet corn. “I have a trial to evaluate best timing for harvest for four hybrids based on eating qualities. My other study is a production trial to determine the best plant density and nitrogen rate for sweet corn at the farm,” said Mourad.
Fresno State’s farm market store employs about 15 students weekly, depending on the season. These students are responsible for cashiering, regulating stock and customer service. Students work with a wide range of products grown on the campus farm.
Some of the more popular items include various flavors of Fresno State ice cream, fruit, table grapes, meat and wine. The sweet corn draws the largest crowds during its summer to early fall season.
Cliff Rogers, 24, an agricultural education graduate working toward his teaching credential, has been employed at the CSUF market for two years. “Because of my job at the farm market I have been exposed to many networking opportunities, as well as gaining a lot knowledge that I would have never learned from the classroom or any textbook,” said Rogers.
Fresno State is not alone in its classroom and hands-on ag education program. California State University, Chico, in the Sacramento Valley also offers a variety of programs associated with its farm. Chico State’s most popular program is you-pick peaches in late summer.
David Daley, Chico State associate dean and farm administrator said, “We focus on student involvement in all aspects from planning and planting, to harvest and marketing. Student projects are central to our undergraduate program.”