Farm Center celebrates decade of growth

The Pierce College Farm Center turned 10 years old this harvest season.

In 2005, the Farm Center hosted its first Halloween Harvest Festival. Ten years later, the farm is celebrating its anniversary by doing what it has always done – providing produce, fun, and education to the students and community.

The Farm Center always cuts an environmental message into the corn maze during the Oct. festivities, but this year, the message simply reads “Pierce Farm 10 Years”.

Farm Center director Robert McBroom said the farm has come a long way since 2005, when it was just a piece of fallow land.

“It started with just selling pumpkins,” McBroom said. “It grew into a farm and developed into a community asset.”

McBroom has been in charge of the Farm Center since 2005, after previously running a Halloween show at a Boeing facility in Chatsworth.

While running the Chatsworth show, McBroom met Rocky Young, the president of Pierce College at that time. Eventually, McBroom could no longer host the Halloween show at the Chatsworth location, but Young offered him the chance to organize an event at Pierce.

“It started with giving us a chance. We looked at it as an opportunity to continue our Halloween production,” McBroom said.

According to McBroom, the first Harvest Festival at Pierce in 2005 was actually an effort to raise money for an “Agricultural Education Center”, which McBroom had been contracted to develop. The festival was so successful that McBroom’s contract was changed to focus on farming year-round.

“The college wanted to make sure that the sustainability of this project was there from the get-go,” McBroom said. “And boy, was it there.”

McBroom said that since then, the Farm Center has been a fiscally successful operation that has stressed the importance of educating students and the community on the processes of farming and agriculture.

Currently, the Farm Center has snippets of information and answers to common questions posted around its grounds, encouraging visitors to learn a bit more about the facility itself. There’s also a “scavenger hunt of knowledge” in the corn maze to provide kids with an educational goal as they explore.

On top of educating its visitors, the Farm Center is the top employer of Pierce College students on campus, according to McBroom.

One employee, 24-year-old Pierce student Fernanda Gonzalez, has been working at the farm center for 8 years.

“I started as a ride operator when I was 17, but since then I started working with animals, especially the ponies,” Gonzalez said. “We get a lot of students in the animal section and we love to have them here, especially little kids. They come and learn a lot of new stuff.”

Fernandez said that working with horses at Pierce inspired her to pursue a major in equine science, the study of horses. She said her favorite part of working at the Farm Center is interacting with and teaching the kids who come on field trips.

Another farm employee, 22-year-old Kate Donovan, recalled visiting the farm center with her father when she was younger.

“My dad and I would always come here to pick the strawberries,” Donovan said. “The strawberries were my fondest memory of this place.”

Donovan also said that the current celebration brought many familiar faces back to the Farm Center in recent weeks.

“Everyone from the past, especially employees, have been coming by because it’s our ten-year, and they’re all surprised about how much bigger we’ve gotten since our first year,” Donovan said.

Though the Farm Center’s anniversary celebration has been tainted by the earlier announcement that it will be closing after this year, McBroom said that the mood for visitors is still a happy one.

“I don’t want it to be depressing,” McBroom said. “The harvest is always a culmination of the hard work of the year. In modern times, it has evolved into larger celebrations of Halloween and all the different things we do now. It’s a great environment.”

McBroom’s wife, Cathy, who also serves as the co-director of the Farm Center, said she’s been pleased with the community’s response to the Farm Center since it opened.

“The community’s response has been pretty consistent from opening until now,” Cathy McBroom said. “They love it. They believe in it. They invest in it.  We’re in our tenth year and they’re still coming.”

As the Farm Center moves toward its impending closure, the McBroom’s said they are happy with the “family” they have created through the Farm Center, and hope that its spirit and lessons stick with those who visited it over the years.

“We have set family traditions,” Cathy McBroom said. “We’ve seen the customers’ children grow up, as well as our own staff that have come back and are taking courses at Pierce College themselves. They won’t walk away from the family that we’ve all become.”

The Farm Center’s Halloween Harvest Festival ends Nov. 2.