The 450-acre avocado and lemon ranch in Arroyo Grande that was officially deeded to Cal Poly on Monday will allow the university to conduct research and projects in a variety of areas — including studying irrigation methods and how to manage water.
“Senior projects will take place here, (along with) classes and innovative research projects with companies,” said Andy Thulin, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences.
The ranch, with its 104 acres of avocados and 131 acres of lemons, will serve as a resource that will “open up a deck of cards with what we can do,” he added.
Stuart “Stu” Bartleson, 92, signed the deed before Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong, officials in the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences, and university agriculture students.
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Bartleson and Thulin, formerly a faculty member, have known each other for 17 years, Thulin said.
Bartleson said he had previously donated plants to Cal Poly and had considered the land donation for a long time. He began formalizing the gift with his lawyer about a year ago.
The property, valued at $11.3 million, increases Cal Poly’s land holdings to more than 10,000 acres, including 6,000 acres adjacent to the campus in San Luis Obispo. It marks the largest land gift the university has received in San Luis Obispo County.
Cal Poly also owns the 3,200-acre Swanton Pacific Ranch and 600-acre Valencia property, both in Santa Cruz County.
Bartleson bought the Arroyo Grande land in 1985 when it was a feedlot, handling up to 5,000 animals, and planted the first lemon trees shortly thereafter.
The ranch now has 18,572 lemon trees and 8,842 avocado trees.
“I’m so fulfilled that Bartleson Ranch will remain a place for agriculture into perpetuity,” Bartleson said. “Today is a wonderful day for me and my family.”
Bartleson will continue to operate the ranch, guiding Cal Poly through the transition, until he decides to formally relinquish operations to the university.
“It’s for him to decide when that happens,” Thulin said. “We’re just thrilled that our students will get a chance to learn how a well-maintained ranch, with an urban-agricultural border, is run. And he’s willing to open his books to show our students how he operates, which is invaluable to their learning.”
Besides the trees, the property features four homes, including one that is modular, and two barns.
The donation will vastly augment the 11 acres of lemons and 15 acres of avocados already grown on campus — and provide opportunities for “income-producing industry partnerships for the college,” Thulin said.
Thulin said that while some agriculture land on campus has been considered for potential development in the university’s Master Plan update, the plan is going through a public comment phase and final determinations haven’t been made on which areas of campus will be developed.
It’s possible that the land where the lemons and avocados are grown could be developed, a university official said.
However, Thulin said a large portion of the land with crops, which also includes an additional 120 acres of a variety of plantings, will remain agriculture land.
Bartleson, who lives in Santa Maria with his wife, Jan, has been a contributor to local service organizations and nonprofits since the 1960s, including the Allan Hancock College Foundation Board of Directors.
After enlisting in the Navy Seabees in 1942, he served in the South Pacific until the end of World War II. In 1958, Bartleson and partner Slim Minor came to the Santa Maria Valley and developed housing projects for construction workers and personnel stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base as the area grew.
Jan Bartleson became the head of the Carpinteria Chamber of Commerce in 1965 and moved to Santa Maria in 1978, becoming a real estate broker and a partner in the Point Sal Dunes Project in Guadalupe.
The ranch will assume the new name Bartleson Ranch and Conservatory.
“We’re extremely grateful for this donation and its far-reaching potential,” Armstrong said. “We’ll be talking about the Bartleson Ranch and Conservatory for many years to come.”