Avocados are Ventura County’s no. 6 crop, and now, with the help of several companies, an open space the size of an acre at the Ventura College campus has 109 avocado trees. The trees allow the agriculture students at the college to get hands-on experience and apply what they have learned in their classrooms to real-life situations.
College President Kimberly Hoffmans said the college has had an agriculture program since at least the early 1970s, but stopped offering classes from spring 2012 to fall 2017. After multiple advisory committee meetings, the college revived the program to meet community and industry needs.
Agriculture Professor Dorothy Farias said Keith Barnard played an important role in establishing the orchard. In addition to serving on the Ventura College Foundation board of directors, he’s vice president of global sourcing with Mission Produce, an Oxnard company that bills itself as the largest avocado provider in the world.
Hoffmans said when Barnard saw the hodgepodge of crops that at one time occupied the space now hosting the orchard, “he took a look at it and he said we could do better.”
The company planted trees and installed irrigation and other equipment to help students learn what’s used in the field. Also helping make the orchard possible were Brokaw Nursery, Coast Water Solutions, Ag Irrigation, Quality Ag Inc., Halter-Encinas and the Ventura College Foundation board.
“It is probably the most expensive one acre I have seen,” Barnard said. “It is on micro-sprinklers and auto-irrigation. If you take that orchard, it is what we do in the large scale.”
Managers at the company are excited because they are looking to hire 20 to 30 students at any time.
“We want to rejuvenate the program and hopefully get some hires out of college,” Barnard said.
Trees in the orchard will bear fruit in a year or two. Mission Produce will harvest, pack and sell the crop, with proceeds going to the agriculture program as an endowment to fund activities, Farias said.
The orchard helps students learn about growing and propagating plants, evaluating soil conditions and nutrient needs for plants, identifying and managing pests, investing and other financial issues, she said.
Farias added that students will gain a better understanding of marketing, supply-chain management from the field to the retailer and consumer, food safety practices in the field, harvest practices, post-harvest handling and government regulations.
“It was kind of surprising that there is no agriculture program at the higher level in this entire county, Farias said.
“The school wanted to reintroduce and reinvigorate the program. There has always been demand and interest among students, but they didn’t see access to agriculture education.”
Even though the program is still in its infancy, it has already seen an increase in student interest and as many as 20 full-time students are enrolled in the program now.