Cultivate, Fall 2022

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Fall 2022

RENEW and restore $39.5 million in state funding to invest in a better future

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FALL 2022



This is an exhilarating time in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. The food, agriculture and environmental science industries forecast a double-digit job growth over the next decade — a testament to the increasing value of the academic programs our students are immersed in daily. In an unprecedented move, California’s 2022-23 budget, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June, included $20.3 million in one-time general funds to rebuild Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch and $75 million earmarked for California State University farms to make equipment and infrastructure improvements to the university’s agricultural production units. Of that latter amount, the college will receive $18.75 million to directly improve the hands-on learning opportunities for students in preparing them for careers in climate resilience, regenerative agriculture, working landscapes, food processing, and water and natural resources management. The significance of this investment in the college is evidence to what our donors and partners have long known – today’s investments in tomorrow’s leaders ensure that we are able to build long-term stability for food and agricultural systems for a growing global population. The college has come a long way, from opening the donor-funded JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture to students this fall and rebuilding Swanton Pacific Ranch to best meet the needs of future generations, to laying the groundwork to build the Plant Sciences Complex to ensure students have the state-of-the-art tools and experience they need to meet future challenges. In this issue, you’ll read stories about students and faculty who are working diligently to address global issues such as soil health, sustainable food production and forest management. Investing in the college today ensures that Cal Poly can train students to solve 21st-century programs in laboratories and classrooms that prepare them to be Ready Day One. To continued partnership,

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Cover Story SUSTAINING LIFE ————

10 Q&A






CULTIVATE is published for alumni and friends by the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES). Dean’s Office 805-756-2161 Communications Team Haley Marconett 805-756-2933 AnnMarie Cornejo 805-756-2427 Cover photo by Brittany App

Publication Designer Julia Jackson-Clark

(Graphic Communication, '19) Printer Lithographix Los Angeles, California Staff Photographers Felipe Vallejo (Agricultural Communication, '21) Gold Vang (Graphic Communication, '22) Andrew J. Thulin , Ph.D. | Dean Stay connected on:




Empowering student employees to be Ready Day One Graduate student Anthony Bella has deep ties to agriculture but knows that there is always more to learn. As an undergraduate studying agricultural science, he joined the Cal Poly Strawberry Center as a student employee and nearly three years later said there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t learn something new. Bella is one of about 30 students who work for the Strawberry Center each year, gaining exposure to both day-to-day operations and research focused on improving the California strawberry industry, which produces more than 90% of strawberries in the country. Last year the center launched a student workforce readiness program called the Strawberry Academy to increase its offerings to students. The three-tiered program encourages students to progress from beginner to intermediate and advanced levels, while gaining proficiencies such as public speaking, mentoring skills and the ability to understand and communicate the positive social and environmental responsibilities of today’s agriculturalists, that will benefit them in their future careers. In addition, a partnership with Cal Poly’s Career Services offers workshops in resume writing, conducting interviews and other practical skills. As students advance, they are rewarded with incremental pay increases, swag such as branded hats and T-shirts and tools that will help them in the field such as a professional strawberry field kit and a compendium of strawberry diseases book. “We worked directly with our industry advisors and recent graduates to determine what skills and qualities will help our student employees succeed after they graduate,” said Drew Summerfield, who oversees the program in addition to managing the campus strawberry farm. “Learning how to be a leader, work hard and to show up on time and for each other are skills that are as important in the industry as knowing how to

identify pests in the field.” Bella, who is pursuing a master’s degree in agriculture, specializing in crop science, said that he wanted a job that would expose him to the various aspects of agriculture. “It is pretty rare that as a student you get the opportunity to work side by side with both the research manager and the operations manager,” Bella said. “The program opens a lot of excellent experiences for students, while exposing us to current research that will directly impact the strawberry industry such as cultivars that are resistant to diseases and the production side of operating a farm. Everything is done in a way that gives us a learning opportunity. The faculty and staff make sure we know exactly why we are doing what we are doing.” Students are encouraged to pursue opportunities in the pathways that interest them, with research opportunities in pathology and entomology always available. They are also learning how to navigate future career opportunities. “We want our students to learn to advocate for themselves in the industry,” said Summerfield. “But every student working here should also know how to pick and pack a clamshell. This is a yeararound operation and our students ensure it operates smoothly.”

What we do at the Strawberry Center directly impacts the industry while providing a great experience and exposure that helps us transition from being in class to a career.” - Anthony Bella, student employee at the Strawberry Center

When industry representatives visit Cal Poly to tour the Strawberry Center, it is students who guide them. “Working here and communicating with growers and other graduate students and co-workers has prepared me extremely well for what is to come in the industry,” Bella said. “Everything we do is pretty incredible and important, as the state’s strawberry crop is valued at about $3 billion a year. What we do at the Strawberry Center directly impacts the industry while providing a great experience and exposure that helps us transition from being in class to a career.” CAFES.CALPOLY.EDU



UNIVERSITY OUTSTANDING STAFF AWARD Aaron Lazanoff, beef operations manager in the Animal Science Department, was awarded the university’s Outstanding Staff Award for 2021-22. Individuals selected for this recognition are nominated and chosen by their colleagues and peers. His peers recognized his efforts as one of the first crews to bring Swanton Pacific Ranch livestock and horses to safety during the CZU Lightning Complex fire without the loss of a single animal. He was also commended for his sustainability efforts of improving grazing practices on Cal Poly rangelands, which have set an example for other operations to follow. Lazanoff was formally recognized by the university at the Fall Convocation on Sept. 12.



Faculty and staff embarked on an industry bus tour in early September to visit several agricultural partners to learn more about the latest trends and technologies being used in the field. The tour included stops at Gallo’s Courtside Cellars in San Miguel, and Tanimura and Antle, and Braga Fresh in Salinas.


Fall Commencement

JAN. 25

Alumni and Friends Reception at Unified Wine and Grape Symposium

FEB. 15

The 2021-22 award recipients: OUTSTANDING FACULTY AWARD: Jaymie Noland,

Animal Science


Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences


Agricultural Education and Communication


Lauren Garner, Plant Sciences

Alumni and Friends Reception at World Ag Expo



Wine and Viticulture / Food Science and Nutrition

Seeta Sistla, Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences





Cal Poly Open House


Poly Royal Rodeo



Hugins, Food Science and Nutrition



Michael La Frano, Food Science and Nutrition

Animal Science

Cal Poly’s Horticulture and Crop Science Department has formally changed its name to the Plant Sciences Department. The agricultural and environmental plant sciences major has also been renamed to reflect predominant employment opportunities more accurately for graduates and prospective students. The department, which was formed in 2002, offers curriculum that is designed to train plant scientists who are ready upon graduation to make informed decisions and recommendations regarding sustainable farming or horticultural practices that maximize plant production and protection while minimizing economic, environmental and social impacts. The name change enables the program to clearly convey its academic mission and broaden recruitment of applicants who may or may not have a background in agriculture and allow them to be successful in robust careers throughout California and beyond as production managers, agronomists, horticulturalists, food safety technicians, pest control advisors, certified crop advisors, and sales representatives. Within the plant sciences major, students can focus on three concentrations: environmental horticultural sciences, fruit and crop science and plant protection science.


Honored Alumni Dennis Stroud (Crop Science, '75) was named the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences’ 2022 Honored Alumnus. Stroud has been instrumental in the success of Cal Poly’s Wine and Viticulture Department, connecting the department with leaders throughout the industry, hosting outreach and fundraising events, serving on the department’s inaugural advisory council as well as the fundraising committee to help build the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture. He now chairs the newly formed Wine and Viticulture Department Advisory Council. Stroud, a partner in Vintage Supply Partners, has been affiliated with the wine business for 37 years. Beginning his career as a product specialist developing technology for use in vineyards, he quickly developed relationships with several key industry leaders, leading to a career in fine wine sales. He is consistently available to support the university, college, department and industry, and provides guidance and counsel to faculty, staff and students, serving as a mentor and resource for the wine and viticulture program. Since 1990, he has given nearly $75,000, including a $50,000 gift to support the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture, for which he passionately led fundraising efforts.

Holiday Cheese Sales The Cal Poly Creamery has new award-winning cheeses and traditional favorites, available in a variety of gift box arrangements. The holiday sale kicks off in November. Subscription boxes are a unique way to celebrate the season with a gift that keeps on giving into the new year and a convenient way to share Mustang Pride! Shop early from the comfort and convenience of home. You will find something special for everyone on your list. Stay tuned on social media @calpolycreameryslo for the holiday launch and online at Thank you for supporting our students and Cal Poly's Learn by Doing tradition!


LUCY MCGOWAN DEPARTMENT: Agribusiness AREA OF SPECIALTY: Entrepreneurship and innovation EDUCATION: Doctorate in agriculture and applied economics from the University of Missouri HOMETOWN: Centralia, Missouri CURRENTLY READING: “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck FUN FACT: As a kid I wanted to be an Olympian pole vaulter when I grew up.

RACHEL LYONS DEPARTMENT: Animal Science AREA OF SPECIALTY: Large animal internal medicine, livestock emphasis; food animal physiology EDUCATION: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from UC Davis, master’s degree in clinical sciences from Colorado State University, completion of a three-year large animal internal medicine residency with a livestock focus from Colorado State University HOMETOWN: Torrance, California CURRENTLY READING: “Large Animal Internal Medicine,” as I’m studying for board exams to become a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, large animal FUN FACT: I share the same birthday as my 10-year-old Cal Poly Quarter Horse gelding, “Mr. Strawberry.” I bred the mare via artificial insemination as a student at Cal Poly and bought him as a 2-year-old colt at the Cal Poly Performance Horse Sale in 2014.

DANIEL SCHEITRUM DEPARTMENT: Agribusiness AREA OF SPECIALTY: Agricultural economics, law, and policy EDUCATION: Doctorate in agricultural and resource economics from UC Davis HOMETOWN: San Jose, California CURRENTLY READING: “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir FUN FACT: I love to be in the water, and I once swam to shore from Alcatraz. CAFES.CALPOLY.EDU



SUMMER UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH PROGRAM Each year, the college sponsors a 10-week Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) to provide students the opportunity to experience undergraduate research projects on topics related to their programs or in which they have interest.

Eye-To-Eye What is the first thing you see when you walk into a hotel lobby? Or a hospital emergency room? There is much work done behind the scenes when creating impactful experiences for people in all industries, but how do you measure the success? Fourth-year environmental management and protection major Lilyana Elola, alongside Associate Professor Kevin Lin in the Experience Industry Management Department, are researching ways to use advanced technology such as eye tracking to improve consumer experiences. The research is just one example of the work that will be conducted in Cal Poly’s new Experience Innovation Lab that will open to students later this academic year. In a recent pilot project, part of the college’s 10-week Summer Undergraduate Research Program, Elola and Lin partnered with the hospitality industry to test the use of eye tracking to enhance sustainability initiatives at a local hotel, the Allegretto Vineyard Resort. Participants in the project were outfitted with glasses that track and measure where a person looks and for how long,

as well as a wristband that measured emotional responses by tracking a user’s heart rate. “We are able to use cutting-edge technology to get to the core of people’s experiences to promote and provide better experiences for attendees, while helping businesses improve their bottom line by better designing their customer experience journeys,” Lin said.

lasting experience — one that is recognized, reacted to and remembered — for participants. All participants noticed the compostable toiletries, drought-resistant plants, and reusable drinkware according to their eye-tracking data, yet many of them couldn’t recall seeing them when surveyed later and none elicited an emotional response.

Elola worked with staff at the Allegretto to identify six areas of sustainability efforts to measure, including energy-efficient lighting, signage encouraging reduced water usage and sensor-activated faucets, reusable drinkware, biodegradable toiletries, water refilling stations and drought-resistant landscaping. Participants in the pilot project then independently wandered the hotel lobby and guest rooms while wearing Tobii Eye Tracker glasses and an E4 Empatica wristband, both recently purchased by the Experience Industry Management Department with grant funding. Elola then monitored participant responses to better understand how an actual customer would act in that setting.

“This is a revolutionized way of measuring how sustainability efforts affect customer loyalty and value. Businesses want to know if they are providing the right things and we can provide clarity on this matter,” Elola said. “If people are not having a lasting experience or are not being encouraged to embrace sustainability practices, then it is not profitable for the businesses and they can then reappropriate their resources in a way that is more impactful.”

Ultimately, Elola found that less than half of the hotel’s efforts created a

With the pilot study successful, Lin will now seek additional funding to expand the research, the scope of which could apply to all industries and impact everything from airport signage and hotel lobbies to bus-riding experiences. “You name it,” Lin said. “Where there is experience, this applies.”

Top Left: A student wearing the Tobii Eye Tracker glasses | Top Right: Elola fitting the E4 Empatica wristband on the test subject




Aquaculture As the world population continues to grow and is predicted to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, the challenge of feeding future generations in a way that is sustainable and reduces enviromental impact is critcal. Associate Professor Gregory Schwartz and fifth-year bioresource and agricultural engineering major Raven Middleton are researching ways to do that through aquaculture — raising fish and plants in water in a synergistic system that attempts to lessen the environmental impact of ocean farming while increasing food production. In September, through a partnership with Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, Schwartz and Middleton successfully moved 200 juvenile California yellowtail fish, a cultured species of saltwater fish from San Diego, California to the Cal Poly campus — a feat that involved a full day’s travel and weeks of meticulous planning. The fish are now part of a larger system built in the BioResource and Agricultural Engineering Department’s lab that will provide valuable research over the next two years. “There are so many areas of aquaculture that can be improved and countless reasons why research like this is important to the future,” Schwartz said. “It is important to expose students to aquaculture systems so that they can go into the workforce both interested and ready to make a difference.” Middleton spent more than two months building and fine-tuning the saltwater multi-trophic aquaculture system that houses the fish as part of the college’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program. The recirculating system has an intricate number of connected parts, including tanks, filters, sterilization tools and temperature controls that essentially ensure

that with the right balance, the entire food system functions independently. For now, the fish live in a 350-gallon tank from which the water flows to varying tanks containing seaweed and additional filters and then back again to the fish. Oysters will also be added in the future. The seaweed, being cultivated by another student project, and oysters are part of the natural system that will remove nitrates and particulates from the water. The filters add additional purification while the system has time to mature to its fullest potential. Eventually, as the fish grow, a second 350-gallon tank will be added. “We are measuring for performance,” Middleton said. “If this can be done inland, it provides new opportunities for food production.” Middleton, who grew up in Southern California and does not have any prior experience in agriculture, will spend his final year at Cal Poly working on the project. His classes in the BioResource and Agricultural Engineering Department have inspired him to pursue a career in water regulation. However, the research will continue for years to come. “Just like other areas of agriculture and food production, there is no way to address all of the issues at one time,” said Schwartz, who has studied aquaculture for more than 25 years. “Yet this research project is a big step to understanding how efficient aquacultural systems can be built anywhere in the world while controlling the environmental impact that we have. The food needed to feed the future populations must come from somewhere, why not here?”

Top: Gregory Schwartz feeds the fish in a 350-gallon tank. Middle: Raven Middleton adding fish to the aquaculture system. Bottom: Schwartz measures the pH of the water.

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Nitrogen Rich The mounting pressure to produce more food organically as consumer demand continues to grow is challenged by typically lower yields of organic crops than those grown by conventional farming methods — something that Cal Poly researchers are working tirelessly to change.

Top left and right: Shane Egerstrom preparing and testing soil samples. Bottom: Taylor Van Rossum sharing her findings at the SURP Poster Symposium.

Healthy soil is essential for growing productive crops, with nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium providing essential nourishment to growing plants. The challenge in organic soil health is maintaining those nutrients without using synthetic fertilizers. Fourth-year environmental earth and soil science major Shane Egerstrom and fourth-year environmental management and protection major Taylor Van Rossum are working with Assistant Professor Charlotte Decock of the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department to further understand how key nutrients in soils are made available to plants through mineralization to help provide solutions to organic producers. “With conventional farming, producers are able to apply fertilizers that provide these nutrients immediately to the plants they are growing,” Decock said. “In organic farming, there are different steps needed to make nutrients available, such as allowing microorganisms to naturally breakdown organic fertilizers, which makes it more difficult to predict how much of the needed nutrients will become available at a certain time and how to match that to the times that plants will need it.” Throughout the summer Egerstrom and Van Rossum, both participants in


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the college’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, did lab incubations of soils from organic farms using 12 different organic fertilizers to study how nitrogen is mineralized in the soil. Egerstrom focused his efforts on soil provided by Grimmway Farms, researching how varying temperatures impact nutrient release of different fertilizers. Van Rossum researched a different aspect of soil health – how existing soil properties impact the release of nitrogen in soil. Soil health and fertility will be a major research component of the college’s new Grimm Family Center for Organic Production and Research. The organic industry is one of the fastest growing agricultural segments in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This emphasis on organic production and research is of particular importance in California, which accounts for 40% of all organic production in the nation. The center will serve as a hub for students such as Egerstrom and Van Rossum to work with experts from across the industry to develop solutions to the most pressing issues related to organic production and agriculture. “What we are ultimately working toward is making organic farming more accessible by using science and lab analysis to provide the best information possible to growers,” said Van Rossum. “This is a step toward more sustainable ways of getting nitrogen back to the soil and making it healthier for the future of agriculture.”


The college was awarded $39.5 million in one-time state funding to build longterm sustainability for food, forestry and agricultural systems. Photos by Brittany App

funding the future




The brisk, steady revving of chainsaws echoes through the surrounding hillside at Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch, as trees burned in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire are felled and processed. Crews work tirelessly, cutting what seems like an endless amount of timber. It’s been two years since the fire swept through the ranch in Davenport, California, destroying most of its structures and infrastructure such as fencing and utilities, leaving behind a scorched, unfamiliar landscape. While much has been done behind the scenes to ensure the future of the ranch, such as removing dangerous debris and ash and securing funding to rebuild for future generations, visible signs of progress are now emerging.




Every day is filled with hope, followed by hard work." Continued from page 7 A resurgence of life, both natural and manmade, can be seen at the ranch. Green shoots spring from the trunks of charred trees. A thick understory grows unfettered by the once shaded tree canopy. Gleaming metal fence braces, where once wood ones stood, make way for returning livestock. Rubble from previous buildings is now cleared, replaced by newly built wooden platforms to support tent cabins overlooking the valley below that will provide temporary lodging for students attending educational trips and doing research at the ranch. “It can be haunting to remember what it was like in the weeks after the fire,” said Swanton Pacific Ranch Director Mark Swisher, while surveying the ranch on a recent afternoon. “I am continually humbled at the support that is occurring from the local to the federal level.” The latest financial support comes from California’s 2022-23 budget that allocated $20.3 million in one-time general funds to rebuild the ranch. The funding will be used to help offset remaining restoration costs and help fund the college’s effort to build an Education Center at the ranch. The Education Center will provide on-site learning opportunities for students to better meet the workforce development and research needs of California, enabling the college to help create actionable climate-smart solutions critically needed by the state and beyond. The extent and ferocity of recent catastrophic wildfires, including at Swanton Pacific Ranch, have elevated the need to improve the health and resiliency of forests before and after wildfire, especially in California’s coastal redwood ecosystems, as wildfires become more frequent. In the future, students will have regular access to the Education Center through field trips, weekend enterprise classes, senior projects, undergraduate research and residential internships. In addition, access will be available to Cal Poly or visiting faculty conducting research, industry and government agency partners, and participants in seminars and short courses, including those participating in existing CAL FIRE grant programs associated with the ranch. In the classroom, students will be taught practical lessons such as designing vegetation management plans to make forests more resilient to fire. Participants will be able to partake in fire recovery research and aid in reforestation efforts that include planting 55,000 trees across 270 acres. “There is a long road ahead but the opportunities are endless,” said Swisher, who had only been at the ranch for nine months before the fire scorched it. “Every day is filled with hope, followed by hard work.” Of which both are seen, as sprouts of life emerge from the soot and people and nature work together to rebuild after the devastation.


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An unprecedented $39.5 million state investment in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences emphasizes the significant role that sustainable agriculture will play in feeding the growing global population and reducing the environmental impacts of a changing climate. The college is poised to provide programs that prepare future generations in sustainable agriculture practices that will build long-term stability for food and agricultural systems in the face of intensified weather events and changing climate patterns. However, additional investment in the college’s programs and infrastructure now ensures that the future demands can be met. California is the world’s largest producer of food. More than a third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts are grown in the state — making it essential that the future workforce is prepared to address challenges related to food security and meeting increasing demands. The one-time state funding, the first of its kind in California State University history, will assist in providing the infrastructure needed to build programs to teach future generations sustainable agriculture practices. “The food, agriculture and environmental science industries foresee double-digit job growth over the next


10 years. Building climate resilience is critical to the future of farmers, food producers, and land, water and air resources,” said Dean Andrew Thulin. California’s 2022-23 budget allocated $20.3 million in one-time general funds to rebuild Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch and $18.75 million of $75 million earmarked for California State University farms to make equipment and infrastructure improvements to the college’s agricultural production units. The funding for Swanton Pacific Ranch in Santa Cruz County will assist the university in recovery efforts following the August 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire that destroyed nearly all structures and forced evacuation (read more on Page 7). “With this investment, state leaders recognize the significance of Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences in preparing the next generation of professionals to lead the food and agricultural industry into a sustainable future — and they appreciate the Learn by Doing philosophy by investing in our living laboratories and facilities,” said Dennis Albiani (Agricultural Business, '93), vice president of California Advocates. The $18.75 million university farm funding will directly enhance hands-on learning opportunities for students and prepare them for careers that address sustainable

food production and agriculture, water and drought resilience, forest health and wildfire resilience, food biosecurity, automation and energy. The funding was made possible through the collaborative effort of the four California State University campuses with agriculture colleges: Cal Poly, Cal Poly Pomona, Fresno State, and Chico State. “Cal Poly was a significant player in securing funding in the state budget for its university farm and for the three other farms in the CSU system,” said George Soares (Agricultural Business, '66), founding partner of Kahn, Soares and Conway. “President Jeffrey Armstrong was at the core of the effort along with Cal Poly alums including Louie Brown and Dennis Albiani. This team effort is rooted in the special connection that Cal Poly alumni have with the university — when there is a need, it is up to alumni to help the university that has been so meaningful to each of us in our lives and careers.” LOOKING FORWARD In the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, more than 4,100 students are actively engaged in academic programs with direct ties to agriculture. Students work directly on the nearly 6,000 acres on campus managing onsite operations and gaining firsthand experience that prepares them for successful careers. In addition, these

facilities serve as classrooms — exposing students daily to existing challenges and preparing them to be future leaders. In recent years significant improvements have been made to enhance student hands-on learning opportunities through strategic partnerships with industry leaders who recognize the value of investing in the future. This includes the launch of the Cal Poly Strawberry Center, the Grimm Family Center for Organic Production and Research and the completely donor-funded JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture which opened to students this fall. The state investment in the college will be used to replace aging farm equipment with climate-smart upgrades, enhance the Plant Sciences program with greenhouse facility upgrades, modernize dairy production and processing facilities while decreasing its environmental footprint, and enhance sustainable working landscapes on campus for the college’s livestock. “Our industry partners have long recognized that investing in the college is critical in preparing for the future challenges that await,” Thulin said. “This unprecedented investment from the state in the college demonstrates that we are all in this together. The challenges that face a growing global population are many, but we are unified in our efforts to work toward resolving them.”





JIMMY WONG Jimmy Wong (Food Science, ’19) first made a name for himself as a chef his junior year at Cal Poly, while serving a weekly seven-course dinner from his studio apartment for four people once a week. Even Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong paid him a visit to sample the cuisine. Wong is back at it, reopening DENCH. in Oakland, California, at the historic Oakland Tribune building where he serves a five-course dessert tasting for up to 18 people each Saturday night.

DENCH. Oakland, California


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How have you grown as a chef since you graduated and in what ways, if any, has your approach to food changed? I'd like to think that I've gotten a little better at cooking since my days preparing tasting menus on an electric coil stove in my studio apartment. Since graduation, I've been lucky enough to work for and alongside some really talented people here in the Bay Area that have helped me grow my creativity and operations skills. My approach to food hasn't changed a ton since my Cal Poly DENCH. days but that my style and techniques have definitely been honed in a bit more. I want to say my food now is a bit more me, if that makes sense.


Left: Photo by Chris Chu | Above and Below: Photos by Amy Huang

What’s the meaning behind the name DENCH.? DENCH. is named after the one and only: Dame Judi Dench. Back in high school, there was this one soccer player in England that used to say her last name as slang for something "cool.” My friends and I kind of adopted it into our vernacular and subsequently tried to sneak it into our essays as much as possible to see if any of our teachers would notice. (None of them did.) When it came time to name my pop-up, there seemed to only be one name that fit so I ran with it. How did the food science program at Cal Poly prepare you for your future culinary adventures? The food science program at Cal Poly has been helpful in dealing with problems on the nerdier side of food and cooking. Even though I haven't yet worked in an actual packaged food company since graduation, I've still had to solve issues in kitchens with things learned at Cal Poly like food safety, packaging, product development, and making sure college-aged kids do their work. What makes you nervous?

I feel like now that I'm back in the swing of things doing pop-ups again, I haven't really felt too nervous about anything cooking-wise. I did just finish Black Bird on Apple TV though, so maybe I'd say a serial killer.

How do food and culture intersect, and how does that present in your dishes?

I would say that food is culture. And that my food, specifically, is a blend of my two cultures. When coming up with new ideas for dishes, I tend to revert to my memories of what I would eat growing up as an Asian kid in America. Often times what I'd eat would be a mix of these two identities; it wouldn't have been too out of place to go to school strapped with the pepperoni pizza Lunchables and some Hello Panda cookies or come home to a dinner of steamed fish and rice, only to finish the meal off with some frozen Go-Gurts. Not saying I'll be putting a pizza Lunchable steamed fish dessert on the menu anytime soon, but I try to put out food that I connect with personally and hope the guests do too, or at the very least, find delicious.

How do you feel at the end of the night after a pop-up event? Pretty beat and sweaty but more so, very grateful. I'm just honored people are willing to come out and taste desserts from this random guy who started a pop-up out of his bedroom. I'm also very thankful to the people that give up their Saturday evenings to help me. Thank you, Kyle, Nate, Sophia, Sam, and Ryan! (Most of these guys are all Cal Poly grads too!) Any future plans? Currently, it's just to continue to get better at doing DENCH. for as long as I can! It's still my goal one day to open up my own space, but still figuring out the timeline on that one. I’ve also been exploring ideas to maybe start a food or food tech company. CAFES.CALPOLY.EDU





The Cal Poly Bull Test Enterprise was awarded a $750,000 grant from the USDA Eight miles north of Cal Poly’s main campus, more than 100 bulls are cared for by a team of students on the sprawling rangeland of the Escuela Ranch. The cattle are part of a long history at Cal Poly, serving as a source of tested and proven genetics that provide a valuable resource to ranchers throughout the state and beyond.

What is the Cal Poly Bull Test? Each year more than 100 bulls are consigned to the student-run program from all over the country, arriving at Cal Poly’s Escuela Ranch in May. Using targeted genetic and performance testing, students seek to improve beef cattle herds across the western United States by providing the beef cattle industry with top-notch, performance-ready bulls. The bulls, which are used for breeding, are sold at an annual auction in October to ranchers throughout the country. Each year more than 50 Cal Poly students take part in the enterprise course in the spring and fall quarters, doing everything from daily health assessments and monthly weight checks to herd management and working with consigners and potential buyers.

2021-22 Cal Poly Bull Test Enterprise Team 12

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The Cal Poly Bull Test started in 1956 and was one of the earliest performance bull tests in the country. It was designed to be a proven source of range ready bulls available for sale to commercial cattle producers, provide valuable management experience for students, and as a service to the beef cattle industry. Sixty-six years later, the Cal Poly program is the only student-run bull test of its kind in the country. A recent grant for $750,000 from the USDA Capacity Building Grant program will increase the research opportunities for students and assist the program in evolving to meet the future challenges of ranchers who face growing concerns about drought and their ability to feed herds. “We want to shift our focus from not only thinking about growth and genetic potential of bulls to researching the most efficient way to feed cattle,” said Zach McFarlane, who has managed the Cal Poly Bull Test for five years. “With the continued environmental pressures in California and throughout the country, feed efficiency is one of the most important traits we can research moving forward.”

The grant is in partnership with Chico State and the University of Wyoming with the goal of increasing the program’s research and teaching focus by creating student exchanges among the partner universities to further understand the future of bull development and management in varying regions, from behavioral traits to genetics and fertility characteristics. “This collaborative effort will bring together students who are interested in learning more about several aspects of beef cattle management,” said Kasey DeAtley, associate professor of animal and range science at Chico State. “Students can expect to create a network, gain research experience, learn about ranching in multiple ecosystems, and gain management skills in cattle production.” The research will help provide improved cattle management techniques to ranchers who are facing increased environmental pressures such as California’s record-breaking drought. “There is a lot of uncertainty,” said McFarlane. “The drought makes it difficult for ranchers to know how much forage availability they will have to maintain their herds. Add increased feed and gas costs and other economic challenges on top of that and it becomes increasingly harder each year. This grant will allow us to provide a better service to consumers through a multi-pronged approach. We can’t continue to do things the same way as before; we need to improve and to think outside the box for beef producers to stay in business.”


Definition of


The 2022 CAFES Summer Undergraduate Research Program poster symposium was held Aug. 26 at the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture. Students presented more than 39 projects representing majors from across the college on topics such as soil health, autonomous tools in the field and sustainable practices in the tourism industry.

The Cal Poly Floral Team tied for third place at the American Institute of Floral Designers National Symposium held July 4-9 in Las Vegas. In addition, the team took first place in the wedding category and second in the sympathy category. Kiara Benavides (Agricultural Science, ’22) won the People’s Choice award and placed first in the overall student category. The team is coached by Lecturer Melinda Lynch.

Jennifer Luevano, a second-year graduate student in the nutrition program, is one of two Cal Poly students selected as Sally Casanova Scholars through the CSU’s Pre-Doctoral Program. Luevano’s research involves the use of metabolomics, the study of small molecules (metabolites) produced by the metabolism of a biological system. She also works at the Cal Poly Metabolomics Service Center, performing data processing and analysis for a variety of metabolomics studies. During her time at Cal Poly, she has contributed to metabolomics research related to COVID-19, head and neck cancer, and gestational diabetes.




THE FIRST CRUSH Students experience the new JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture for the 2022 wine harvest


By Gabby Ferreira

On a weekday morning before the start of fall quarter, trucks loaded with wine grapes harvested from Cal Poly’s Trestle Vineyard arrived behind the JUSTIN and J. LOHR Center for Wine and Viticulture just as the sun started to peek over the horizon. As the cartons of grapes stacked up near the processing equipment, a group of fourth-year wine and viticulture students — the first students to ever work in the new center — prepared for a Learn by Doing experience like no other.

“We’re being trained on state-of-the-art equipment, and it’s setting us up to be successful in the industry,” said Taylor Robertson, one of the students working on this year’s Cal Poly grape harvest. This is Robertson’s second harvest; she’s also worked at Chamisal Vineyards. “I’m really excited to focus on the technology and chemistry aspects of the process.”

“This is one of the most in-depth Learn by Doing experiences I’ll ever do.”


FALL 2022

The completely donor-funded center in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences opened to students this fall and includes a state-of-the-art, 5,000-case bonded winery, a fermentation hall, bottling room, barrel rooms and a research lab. “It is paramount for us to give our students a real-world winemaking experience,” said Jim Shumate, lecturer and winery supervisor. “Our new production and teaching winery, along with all the new equipment that was donated to the college, will give the students a head start on their winemaking careers.” The students filed out to the crush pad in the back of the building, where they loaded grapes

into a destemmer machine, which de-stems and lightly crushes the grapes. They each took on a different role in the process: student Toby German used a pitchfork to push the grapes out of their containers and into the machine, while Robertson, Mikaela Wessel, Olivia Capiaux and Nolan Maas evaluated grapes on the conveyor belt, picking out dried leaves and other debris. “I love the processing line. It’s satisfying work,” Capiaux said. This fall quarter is her first harvest at Cal Poly, but she worked on a grape harvest in Paso Robles last year. The smaller size of Cal Poly’s harvest is ideal for paying attention to detail and learning to be precise, she said. The students worked with Shumate and associate enology Professor Federico Casassa. “It’s truly invigorating to see our students interacting with and being exposed to every facet of the winemaking process for them to see the science of the process at work,” Casassa said. “It’s full circle from an educational standpoint for them.” “I’m excited to work with them,” Maas said of Shumate and Casassa, adding that both instructors take the time to explain and answer students’ questions. “I’m dipping my toes into what it’s like to make wine.” Wessel agreed, adding that the experience aligns well with the way she learns best: through hands-on work.

“I wanted an in-depth Learn by Doing experience with people who care that I’m learning,” she said. “This is one of the most in-depth Learn by Doing experiences I’ll ever do.”









Stand in one place long enough and you will see a campus that is constantly in motion, from the daily movement of students traveling between classes at the top of the hour, to the construction of major building projects. This site at the intersection of Via Carta and Polyview Drive, here photographed circa 1963, is a case in point. In the 50 years prior to this photo, this site was the center of poultry instruction and horticulture at Cal Poly. Then, the rapid expansion of the university in the 1950s moved the agricultural units toward the outer campus and the building of major classroom and lab spaces at the core of campus to support increased enrollment and newly established majors. First came the Mathematics and Home Economics building at the south and the Agriculture and Social Sciences building at the center of this view, which was dedicated in 1960, followed by the English building to the north, which opened two years later. Visitors to the same location today will see the same view, but with the addition of the William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation, which opens to classes next year, behind it.

Agriculture Sciences Building (No. 10) Photographed 1963, courtesy of Univeristy Archives.

Shortly after construction, the Agriculture and Social Sciences building was dedicated as the Alan A. Erhart Agriculture Building. Erhart served five terms on the county board of supervisors and was California State Senator for San Luis Obispo County from 1952 until his death in 1960. Erhart championed the growth and expansion of Cal Poly, in addition to being a proponent of state water programs and recreation projects on the Central Coast. Recent alumni might notice that the pedestrian bridge is missing from the south side of the Agriculture Building in this photo. The bridge was constructed between 1982-84 by construction students as a senior project and built by students as a class project using funds and materials donated from individuals and companies across California. The River Red Gum tree to the south still stands today and was nominated in 2014 as a California Big Tree.


FALL 2022



PHASE ONE George Wurzel Plant Sciences Building

A growing global population. A reduction in farm acreage. Shifts in climate and water sources. The grand challenges in feeding the world in sustainable ways require the best minds. At Cal Poly, we're developing tomorrow’s leaders, today. A new, state-of-the-art Plant Sciences Complex is rooted in an interdisciplinary approach to conducting world-class teaching, research and production to prepare our graduates to meet these challenges. The complex will include support for teaching and applied innovation in soil health, water and air quality, plant cultivation, harvesting and processing, and food safety, as well as a site for automation and systems testing.

PHASE TWO a high-tech greenhouse complex

PHASE THREE a building for fruit and vegetable processing


PHASE FOUR a farm store featuring Cal Poly grown and student-made products including produce, wine and cheese

C O N TA C T :

RUSS KABAKER Assistant Dean of Advancement and External Relations 805-756-6601 | CAFES.CALPOLY.EDU


California Polytechnic State University 1 Grand Avenue San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0250

FALL NEW STUDENT WELCOME The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences welcomed 1,226 new students in the fall after a record number of applicants applied to the college’s 15 majors.

STAY CONNECTED /calpoly.cafes /calpoly_cafes /calpoly_cafes /calpoly_cafes

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