Guests sample university farm

Photograph by Brooke Bell-Barnes Student volunteers  ferried tourists around the different areas of the farm on tractor-pulled passenger trailers like this one.
Photograph by Brooke Bell-Barnes
Student volunteers ferried tourists around the different areas of the farm on tractor-pulled passenger trailers like this one.

Hungry patrons sampled pulled pork sandwiches, assorted cheeses and other organic appetizers at Chico State’s University Farm this weekend as part of an annual taste tour across rural Butte County.

The farm was one of 30 stops for visitors traveling along the Sierra Oro Farm Trail, a two-day exhibition of wineries, vineyards, ranches and olive farms.

“It brings the consumer to the food,” said Amie French, a tour guide and business marketing senior. “Some people only see it on boxes and pictures.”

About 1,900 tickets were sold for the event, said Nicole Johansson, who organized the tour.

Guests could hitch a ride across the 800-acre farm via tractor-pulled trolleys or take self-guided tours on foot.

The Young Cattlemen’s Association presented the Beef Unit exhibit, where 80 mother cows graze on 100 acres of land.

“We just try to educate people about beef,” said Bailey Hagata, the treasurer of the Young Cattleman’s Association.

In the feedlot, cows are supplied with leftover yeast and grains donated by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Hagata said.

The farm’s dairy unit is the first and only student-run dairy facility in the country, said Courtney Champlin, an animal science senior. There are currently 11 student volunteers.

The facility sells its milk seasonally to Organic Valley, the largest organic farming cooperative in the United States, Champlin said.

Packaged string cheese and cubes of Gouda were offered to visitors.

“Raley’s and Costco are some of the places you might find some of these products,” Champlin said.

The Organic Vegetable Project, a one-acre certified organic vegetable farm, offered fresh tomato slices at its produce stand.

The vegetables from the organic garden are sold to Associated Students, Sutter Dining and local cooperatives like Chico Natural Foods and S&S Produce, said Kyle Riddle, a senior agricultural business major.

About 120 pounds of produce are sold each week to Craig Hall, Riddle said.

“We’re always expanding and looking for outlets we can get our produce to,” Riddle said.

Research is still the priority at the farm, Riddle said. Non-compete agreements with local farms limit the sale of harvested crops.

“We’re not here to put other farms out of business,” Riddle said.

Goat, sheep, and swine exhibits were also available to visitors.

Much of the livestock is processed at the meat lab, overseen by Chico State alumnus and lab technician James Richards. Meat is sold to the public at the sales window and shipped to local clients like Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Richards said. The lab recently produced about 1,600 pounds of bratwurst sausage for Oktoberfest, a German-style celebration of beer held by the brewery.

Richards manages five student volunteers who help get the meat ready for sale.

“Most of the students that come out of the lab can go to work in just about any company in the meat industry,” Richards said.

Over 100 student volunteers are employed at the farm every year, according to an information brochure.

Many of the agriculture students would prefer working on the farm over in the classroom, French said.

“That’s a huge part of our learning experience,” French said. “Getting out here and being to do what we’re going to be doing in the future.”


Mozes Zarate can be reached at [email protected] or @mzarate139 on Twitter.