Cuesta is celebrating its growing ag program with first ever plant sale

Cuesta College's expanding agriculture department — now in its third year of existence — is quickly starting to fill a perhaps previously under-served portion of the San Luis Obispo County community.

More than 500 students are currently declared as ag majors. And with the addition of a new Plant Science Facility on the North County campus in Paso Robles, the upward trend is expected to continue as more local high school students become familiar with the program, according to ag business professor Amy Stapp, who oversees the department.

"It's super pertinent to the North County because agriculture has a possibility of supplying sustainable jobs economically to people working in those industries," first-year Cuesta professor Dean Harrell said. "That's one thing that's kind of difficult in San Luis Obispo, is finding a job that pays you enough money where you can actually stay here."

Community members will have a chance to visit the new facility and interact with faculty and students during the school's first annual plant sale on Saturday. More than 5,000 plants — including vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers — will be for sale from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the North County campus.

Harrell, who brings more than 40 years of agriculture experience to the Plant Propagation & Production Lab, said the program is still in its infancy, but there is positive momentum building among students.

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Cuesta College students Emma Torrence, left, and Natasha Garcia transplant succulents during Cuesta College's Plant Propagation & Production Lab at the North County campus in Paso Robles. David Middlecamp

Working together with local high schools, industry partners and members of the local agriculture community has been key in helping the program develop its long-term outlook, Stapp said.

Cuesta currently offers 13 ag classes, with plans to roll out five new courses over the coming year: Farm Management, Introduction to Viticulture, Work Experience in both Ag Plant Science and Ag Mechanics and Small Gas Engines.

Each program also has its own advisory committee, Stapp said, which helps the school "keep (its) finger on the pulse of the local labor market."

"The partnerships that have developed through these conversations have sparked donations, guest speakers and incredible internship opportunities for our students," Stapp said.

Lorrie Minkel, a nontraditional student taking Plant Propagation & Production Lab this semester, said she heard about Cuesta College's ag program when Harrell was speaking at an off-campus event.

A lifelong gardener, Minkel is one of several students who helped raise the plants from seeds ahead of the sale.

"My husband and I actually have a very small business we're just getting started on, so this is very pertinent to that," Minkel said. "It's called Grow Up, it's vertical plant gardening, and this is just perfect to be able to understand plants and how to propagate them and that sort of thing."

The sale will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday on Cuesta College's North County campus, at 2800 Buena Vista Drive in Paso Robles. Those interested can park in lots 10 or 11 and walk back to the plant science facility.

Students will be available to help carry plants out to cars as needed.

"It's a chance really for all of our ag students to be part of entrepreneurial efforts here at Cuesta," Stapp said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Lorrie Minkel's last name.

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