Seeing what works
Chico State’s Organic Vegetable Project is all about experimentation
Covered in light-colored clothing and with a gardening hat on her head, Chico State student Angie Flosi bent over a row of low-growing tomato bushes in the Organic Vegetable Project (OVP) garden at Chico State’s Farm, picking the red fruit and placing it in a cardboard box.
Nearby, her sister, Niki Flosi, also a student, sold fat ears of corn and ripe melons to an elderly shopper.
These young women—both majors in agricultural science and education—spend time at the garden as employee and volunteer, respectively.
They plan to enter the credential program after completing their degrees—which for Angie will be next spring—so they can work as high-school ag teachers. For now, they study both in classrooms with walls and desks as well as in the open-air setting at the OVP, which was initiated in 2007 and designed as an outdoor classroom for educating students who want to work in agricultural research.
The OVP is committed to growing nutritious organic produce using small-scale agricultural techniques.
Hailing from Red Crest in Humboldt County, where they come from a ranching and 4-H family, the Flosi sisters said the Butte County heat challenges them, but they love their work at the garden.
Angie started volunteering at the garden last September, through a class titled “Direct Work in Row and Field Crops.” There were two sections, she said: One involved farming for the OVP, while the other concerned driving tractors on the farm. Angie dedicated her volunteer hours to the garden and eventually received a job offer as trials manager, which involves running various trials to see what works best with the climate and soil.
“It’s a really good experience out here working with all the different varieties,” she said.
This summer, she helped grow 36 different varieties of tomatoes, 35 varieties of lettuce, three varieties of soybeans, two varieties of eggplants, and about 13 varieties of basil. Her tasks have included prepping beds, seeding, and harvesting.
Niki started volunteering at the garden last January, after enrolling in the same class Angie had taken. Right now a big part of her work involves selling produce from the Hegan Lane fruit and vegetable stand, which opened this summer and runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays. “We’re starting to get regulars, which is nice,” she said.
Other student volunteers sell on campus from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays, she said, in front of the Student Services Building.
The University Farm is diverse, Niki said. “We’re not just all hard production—we have a big variety of species and crops.”
Both Niki and Angie pointed out that the OVP sells to the Associated Students Food Services, the Bell Memorial Union Marketplace, and A.S. Catering on campus as well as to local caterers, such as Maryann Brenner. The goal is not to turn a huge profit, just to allow the project to become self-sustaining.
A load of vegetables on a nearby truck would soon be dropped off at the Whitney Hall dormitory, they said. The OVP now delivers to Whitney Hall two or three times a week.
As the women talked about their work in the outdoor classroom, an older couple walked into the rows to pick tomatoes. The tall, ruddy-faced man with a soft brogue introduced himself as Scotty Parker. Along with wife Pat, he comes from Paradise each week.
Parker, a retired chef originally from Scotland, uses the fresh produce in meals he makes for a new Paradise program called Lunch with Us, which serves low-income, elderly and homeless citizens. Parker said he appreciates donations from the OVP, as Lunch with Us has gone from serving 45 to 125 people.
Another local charity to which the OVP donates produce is Caring Choices, which makes meals for AIDS patients. Other community organizations are welcome to check with the OVP to see when they have excess produce that can be donated, and OVP especially welcomes people who will “pick their own.”
Katie Fugnetti, former field manager for the OVP, said the garden includes one and a half planted acres—up from a quarter-acre when the project first started. “We grew by one-half acre this summer—mostly melons and corn,” she said.
Fugnetti praised the work Angie has done as trials manager, noting the student has made good use of her quarter-acre research plot. She said Angie plans to write up her research findings at the end of the season, thus contributing information and findings to the local farming community.
The research crops will change every season, Fugnetti explained, and “local farmers may contact us if they want us to try something [a certain variety] for them.” She explained the OVP is a university program, so “that’s what makes us different from other small-scale farms—the emphasis is on research and education.”
Fugnetti said the project is branching out, trying new fruits and vegetables, such as honeydews, cucumbers, and new varieties of tomatoes. But the project needs new funding, as a $10,500 grant awarded last January is almost exhausted.
“It helped us tremendously, including allowing us to hire a market manager,” she said. “But it ends this December, so that will be ‘crunch time’—we have to come up with more funding.” She said the OVP welcomes volunteers.