Horticulture and Crop Science Department Donates Citrus to Help SLO County Residents in Need

Cal Poly’s Horticulture and Crop Science Department, part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, donated more than 12,000 pounds of citrus to two local organizations that are serving San Luis Obispo County residents in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 9,000 pounds of mandarins were donated to the San Luis Obispo Food Bank – with deliveries made weekly of about 3,000 pounds to be distributed to local residents in need.

In addition, 1,000 pounds of citrus was donated to San Luis Coastal Unified School District, which is providing free lunches for all students during the shelter at home mandate.

The shift to a virtual spring quarter, along with fewer students on campus, left the campus orchards inundated with fruit. Typically, students harvest the fruit, process it in small batches, and sell it at campus farm stands, in local markets and at community U-Pick events.

“For the health of the trees and the quality of the fruit, we had to hire a crew to get it off of the trees,” said Dan Chesini, plant science operations manager. “We didn’t want it to go to waste and we knew the that the food bank was facing a higher demand than ever before.”

The San Luis Obispo Food Bank has partnered with Cal Poly since 2013, sending volunteers to the fields to glean fruit when needed and making sure that fruits and vegetables do not go to waste. A truck from the San Luis Obispo Food Bank is parked near citrus trees in the Cal Poly Orchard.

“It's a really amazing partnership to have,” said Emily Wilson, GleanSLO program coordinator. “Our volunteers absolutely love the experience of gleaning at Cal Poly, and it's great to know that the folks at the Crops Unit are just as dedicated to reducing waste as we are.”

The food bank has seen an increased demand during the shelter at home order – with many people out of work or working reduced hours, increasing the demand from local families for food resources, Wilson said.

The Cal Poly fruit will be shared at more than 50 monthly distribution sites, from Shandon to Nipomo, and at more than 40 food pantry and meal sites throughout San Luis Obispo County.

Erin Primer, director of food and nutrition services at San Luis Coastal Unified school District, said that the district is handing out about 15,000 meals free weekly to families with students enrolled at one of its 15 schools — giving five breakfast and five lunch meals to each student who preorders on a weekly basis.

"We are thrilled to support local businesses like Edna's Bakery and Taco Works and proud to accept local produce donations such as the delicious tangerines from Cal Poly,” Primer said. “It is incredible to see our community come together in this time of need to nourish our students. We are grateful for this kind donation and know how much our students and families truly appreciate it.”

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