Follow-Up File: Cal Poly tells the story of sustainability

Name: Hunter Francis

Job: Director

Organization: Center for Sustainability, College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences

What he said then: In December 2007, The Tribune reported on a local pest management event hosted by Cal Poly’s Sustainable Agriculture Resource Consortium.

Founded in 2000, the consortium’s goal was to support educational programs promoting healthier agricultural practices for both the environment and communities.

It also organized the university’s Organic Farm and sold the produce through the Community Supported Agriculture Program.

The annual Sustainable Agriculture Pest Management Conference is aimed at local professionals interested in organic options.

“They’re looking to expand their toolbox and assess if that’s a direction they want to move in,” said Hunter Francis, then program associate. “There’s more awareness of the importance of keeping agroenvironments healthy.”

What he says now: Now part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, the organization has a new identity as the Center for Sustainability.

Francis, now director, said the change gives the center a more formal role in promoting education and research related to sustainable agriculture.

“It really legitimizes the effort,” he said. “The center itself will hopefully become a resource that provides more services.”

The center will continue all the existing programs and events that the consortium oversaw.

But it will also be able to seek grants and connect different departments in the university to support interdisciplinary research and education in areas such as farming, ranching, forestry, ecological services, soil and resource management.

It is also involved in a project to examine the feasibility of creating a 20-acre city farm in San Luis Obispo with production and light processing capabilities.

“Part of the idea of the program is to prepare students for a changing marketplace,” Francis said. “Many companies or enterprises are looking to become more sustainable or position themselves in the marketplace as that.”

To guide its priorities, the center has named a faculty steering committee and a 20-member advisory board from outside Cal Poly. They will begin meeting in the fall.

“We want to be relevant,” Francis said. “These are people who are actively involved in the business, nonprofit and government world. They understand what some of the challenges and opportunities are.”

Advisory board members include representatives from businesses such as Betteravia Farms, California Organic Fertilizers, Del Monte Foods, Driscoll’s Strawberry Associates, Earthbound Farm, Hearst Ranch, Live Culture Co., Lundberg Family Farms, Parducci Wine Cellars, Whole Foods Produce and Wolff Vineyards.

“People are becoming more interested in where their food comes from,” said Francis, adding that even Wal-Mart is developing sustainability guidelines that consider factors such as how far food travels to a given store. “There’s a desire to tell a story to the customer and show how their company is responding.”

— Raven J. Railey