The Pierce College Farm Center may have had its beginnings in fields filled with pumpkins for the first Harvest Festival, but in the nine years following, it has become a thriving business year-round.
Launched in 2005 with $10 million in bond funding, the Harvest Festival was a way to meet the goals of the Enterprise Group, which existed at Pierce to “provide alternative sources of funding to support Pierce’s academic programs,” according to the group’s 2004-05 annual report.
The Enterprise Group sought to create sustainable income through the Agriculture Educational Center, and brought Robert McBroom on as operator to run the Harvest Festival. McBroom said he worked closely with then-President Rocky Young and followed the vision and business plans from the college.
“The Harvest Festival year one, 2005: absolute home run,” McBroom said. “We had to re-evaluate: are we doing a farm, or a Harvest Festival operation? Immediately the next year, we’re opening up the market, we’re starting to grow summer produce, years ahead of original foresight and projections.”
As the years have progressed, so has the development of the vision plan, with the addition of the Pizza Farm, field trip projects and Christmas tree sales, to name just a few, while also providing more jobs for Pierce students than any other program on campus, according to McBroom.
Third year Pierce student Anthony Russo, 20, is one of those students hired for a seasonal job at the Farm Center, and although he has only just started working, he said he likes the way McBroom and his wife run the center.
“I really, really like the way they do it. They realize that it’s a lot of people’s first job here, they don’t really say, ‘here’s your training manual, now go.’ They take their time to really lay it down and do it step-by-step,” Russo said. “Very thorough, very detailed.”
McBroom said he’s happy with the connection he has with Assistant Professor of Horses Science Patty Warner and her students: the Farm Center’s ponies are utilized by the Equestrian Center during the school year, and then in the fall, a “tremendous amount” of those students are hired to work with the animals.
“There’s this great relationship of utilization and connection. We find that we have dedicated staff, someone that absolutely cares about the welfare of the animal,” McBroom said. “They’ve had an expert and an academic that has gone through and actually physically shown them techniques, and they’ve gotten to know the ponies, and then they come over here and they get a job.”
For now, the staff is busy with all those pumpkins growing in the Pierce fields, although the school does not have the acreage necessary to produce as many as they will sell.
“In nine years, the demand has grown to where we now deal with other farmers, and bring in,” McBroom said. “We’re expecting to sell 240,000 pounds of pumpkins. That’s a lot of pumpkins. A river of orange, so to speak.”
McBroom continues to follow the vision plan to grow the Farm Center and has several projects in mind, the one he’s “been dying to do” incorporating bugs. He wants to teach kids how to identify which bugs are the heroes and which are the villains. “It’s a bug’s life” will be just one more program to enhance business and community outreach.
As a community service operation, the Farm Center is able to control the budgets, make improvements, continue the sustainability, and be able to take a large sum of bond-funded money and divert it back into education, according to McBroom.
“You’re looking at a facility that is now 9 years old, that hasn’t spend $1 of bond money,” McBroom said. “When you can turn around and show that you can make something work, and you’re following a vision plan, and you’re fulfilling a need, and you’re listening: that’s something to be proud of.”