Farm to Pantry Takes Home CPP’s One Team Award

Farm to Pantry Takes Home CPP’s One Team Award

 To kick off fall semester, Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) President Soraya M. Coley announced via the Fall Conference 2023 video that Farm to Pantry was awarded the One Team Award. This award is given to a team that collaborates across divisions and aligns with our university values. “This award honors the truly best work and achievement from this community,” President Coley said in the Fall Conference video while presenting the award. 

Farm to Pantry is a collaboration between Associated Students Inc. (ASI)’s Poly Pantry, and Lyle Center, in which student volunteers spend select Saturday mornings harvesting, planting, and weeding fresh produce on campus to supply the Poly Pantry, an on-campus food pantry that provides free groceries, produce, and hygiene items to CPP students. The initial vision behind launching this program was “to provide food and nutrition security for Cal Poly Pomona students through fresh, seasonal produce, grown on-campus by Cal Poly Pomona students,” explains ASI Associate Executive Director Krista Smith, who was one of the individuals recognized with the One Team Award. 

Smith gave more insight as to how Farm to Pantry came to be. It began in 2020, when Alyssa Christiansen, the founding coordinator for the Poly Pantry, was pursuing solutions for fresh produce for students as part of the launch of Poly Pantry 2 Go (PP2G), a walk-up, drive-through weekly grocery service for CPP students, first launched with funding from donors and AB74 grants during the pandemic while the Bronco Student Center (BSC) was temporarily closed (impacting the indoor Poly Pantry operation). A generous one-time donation from the ASI Board of Directors as part of their Basic Needs Allocation Initiative helped to enhance the inventory for the PP2G weekly grocery bags. 

In late 2020, Christiansen, Dr. Pablo La Roche, Director of the Lyle Center and Professor for the College of Environmental Design, and Dr. Kenneth Lamb, Director of the Student Innovation & Idea Labs and Associate Professor in the College of Engineering, identified opportunities to help broaden the resources and support for students struggling with food insecurity. One of those solutions was to invest in ground improvements and student assistants to bring back fresh food production at the Lyle Center. 

In March 2021, with funding from the Kellogg Legacy, the Lyle Center launched the Randall Lewis Sustainable Agriculture Fellowship to begin that summer. In May, ASI directed a portion of the Board of Director’s Basic Needs one-time funding for the Poly Pantry to the Lyle Center for “the purpose of renovating and maintaining the Village Green Organic Farming on the Lyle Center grounds to produce food for the Poly Pantry.” Under the expertise and leadership of Jillian Gomez, Site Technician for the Lyle Center, fellows would seasonally harvest fresh produce for the Poly Pantry starting in the Fall 2021 through June 2026.

Students sorting through fresh herbs at a table

Dr. Aaron Fox, associate professor in the College of Agriculture, who has been leading the program participants at the Farm to Pantry program, “recognized the co-curricular, service-learning opportunity for CPP students to support the planting, maintenance, and harvesting of the seasonal produce,” Smith explained. 

ASI departments, including the Bronco Events and Activities Team (BEAT) and Marketing, Design, and Public Relations (MDPR), helped to develop a monthly program marketed to CPP students where they could contribute their time and effort on Saturday mornings to plant, weed, and harvest fresh produce. Farm to Pantry was piloted with ASI staff on Saturday, September 25, 2021, and has continued with a monthly program in the fall and spring terms. As of fall 2022, oversight of the program coordination shifted to the Poly Pantry Team. 

Three people in hats planting at the Lyle Center

The first Farm to Pantry program with ASI staff volunteers. Photo via Krista Smith.

Putting on this highly collaborative, award-winning program has been no easy feat. With staffing changes, departmental shifts, and scheduling conflicts across collaborators, there have been challenges the team has conquered and will continue to overcome. “The Lyle Center team and I are currently working on different strategies to continue our monthly Farm to Pantry events in the spring and moving forward. This does include finding other funding sources to help operate the program,” Sandy Solano, Poly Pantry Manager, stated. “I am confident with this award, we will have others eager to help.” 

Students harvesting crops outdoors

Even with the challenges faced, Farm to Pantry never had a lack of CPP community members showing up on Saturday mornings to volunteer. “During our Saturday events, we have seen repeat students that attend the event and have shared with us how being at the Lyle Center and participating in this program has helped their mental well-being,” Solano relayed. “To be in nature, planting, seeding, harvesting, and knowing that all that work is to help and better someone else’s life has been the most rewarding to them. I absolutely can relate to that.” 

A key component to being awarded the One Team Award is cross-departmental collaboration. Farm to Pantry is a prime example of an interdisciplinary program, as ASI, the Lyle Center, and the College of Environmental Design have all worked together to make this program a reality. Dr. La Roche concluded, “None of us can solve the issues of our time inside our disciplines,” he continues, “I am excited we could work together to help reduce food insecurity while at the same time support other students in the process of learning how to grow food.” 

Dr. Fox elaborated on the connection Farm to Pantry has created between the College of Agriculture and ASI. “It has been an absolute joy to work with Sandy [Solano] and her team at the Poly Pantry, and I was very impressed with how the ASI team was able to coordinate the recruitment, marketing, and paperwork to make the event happen,” he remarked. “I look forward to the Saturday Farm to Pantry volunteer events when I get to spend time with this team.” 

“The program’s impact on community-building is immense. It thrives on the collaboration of staff, students, fellows, and community members. Their support is essential for the program’s success in assisting those facing food insecurity challenges,” Solano explained. “Together we can make a difference!” 

A participant pushing a wheelbarrow

Farm to Pantry has indeed made a stride toward ASI’s purpose to transform the lives of CPP students. Solano recalls a specific moment when she saw just how the program could positively affect others when the Lyle Center dropped off 15 pounds of jujubes, a fruit native to China. “Initially, we were concerned that students were not going to know what a jujube was and might not choose them,” she explained. “However, we had an international student from China, that was ecstatic to see jujubes. She shared with our team that it was her favorite fruit and it reminded her of home, which she had not visited in two years. She was very thankful.” 

Solano remembers that by the end of the week, all jujube fruits were picked up by students. “Not only did we provide fresh produce, but also a touch of her home, which she missed so much,” she stated. “Jujube is not a produce that I would have thought about choosing, but it is wonderful that the Lyle Center has a diverse option of produce to provide for our students.” 

Smith explained the importance of all the people involved in making Farm to Pantry as successful as it has been, “We are so grateful to all the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community supporters who have contributed to this program through their leadership, advocacy, physical labor, subject matter expertise, and financial donations to launch this program.” She continued by explaining what Farm to Pantry needs to keep impacting the lives of CPP students, “As we begin Farm to Pantry’s third year, this program needs your support now more than ever. Food insecurity of Cal Poly Pomona students did not end with the pandemic, but financial resources are less abundant. Please consider giving in any way you can to support the Lyle Center so they can continue to provide the instrumental expertise and resources needed that make Farm to Pantry a success.” 

Smith urges interested parties to contact Jenkins Shannon, Senior Director of Development, College of Environmental Design, to explore how you can make the greatest impact to this program and the food security of Cal Poly Pomona students. 

ASI is honored to be involved with Farm to Pantry and will continue to support the basic needs of students. If you would like to make a monetary donation to the Poly Pantry, please click here. If you would like to volunteer at Farm to Pantry, register here for the remaining fall 2023 program dates. Want to stay up-to-date on Farm to Pantry, the Poly Pantry, and other basic needs initiatives from ASI? Follow us on social media @ASICPP on Instagram and Facebook!