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Cal Poly, Hancock program seeks to educate local leafy green growers on food safety

The Cal Poly/Hancock College program is aimed at leafy green growers.
The Cal Poly/Hancock College program is aimed at leafy green growers.

About 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from foodborne disease every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With that in mind, professors at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Allan Hancock College developed a training program in 2020 for local growers of leafy greens like lettuce, cabbage and spinach.

The two-year project is a collaboration between professors and students at both colleges, and it was funded by a $214,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The professors and students work with small growers in the Santa Maria area, educating them on food safety in the hopes that the leafy greens they grow won’t help spread disease.

“The area does have a lot of farming, it's a pretty large farming community," said Amanda Lathrop, a Cal Poly professor in the food science and nutrition department. She’s been working on this project since spring 2020.

The project is aimed at leafy green growers in the Santa Maria area.

“We delivered grower training to about 40 individuals consisting of mostly farmers and some of our Cal Poly and Allan Hancock students," Lathrop said.

Since the pandemic started around the same time as this program, it’s been difficult to reach farmers in person, Lathrop said. That forced the project to adapt.

“We have not been able to do quite as many on-farm field visits as we were hoping for. At this time we have done some, and we are currently recruiting or seeking farmers or growers who would be interested in some of our services," Lathrop said.

The project is aimed at small growers, especially those of Hispanic origin.

“They are one of our primary targets, and because they are one of our primary targets the produce safety training was translated or we had live translation at the time for those farmers or growers who needed that. And we've actually been utilizing some of our students to help with the translation, so that was a good experience for them and really helpful for us. And so when we do do these on-farm field visits, we have the ability to bring along some of our student translators to help if that's what's needed," Lathrop said.

Though the project was originally intended to last two years, Lathrop said it will continue until at least the summer, and they could ask for a year extension.

“We really want to help any farmer out there who needs help from a food safety perspective.”

Farmers and growers interested in the training program can contact Professor Lathrop at lathrop@calpoly.edu.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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