Business & Real Estate

Campus-grown produce is the pride of UC Davis

UC Davis students and alumni who want to show their school pride can do more than wear a school T-shirt. They can eat UC Davis tomatoes, munch UC Davis bacon and dip their bread in UC Davis olive oil. For a while, they could even drink Aggie Lager.

Starting with olive oil in 2008, UC Davis has added to its line of retail products, sold under the marketing moniker “campus grown.” The items are mostly food-based, in keeping with the university’s focus on agricultural science. The goal is to boost recognition for the school’s programs and bring in a little money at the same time.

UC Davis is not the only campus that sells items it grows. California State University campuses in Fresno and Chico also sell produce, as do the two Cal Poly campuses.

Many of the UC Davis items are sold at the campus bookstore as well as the university’s retail store in downtown Davis. Besides olive oil, offerings include body-care products, cutting boards made from UC Davis trees, honey and sun-dried tomatoes.

While some products, such as meat from the school’s meat lab, have been sold for decades, olive oil was the first UC Davis-branded item to hit retail store shelves. The idea came from Sal Genito, who in the mid-2000s was UC Davis director of campus buildings and grounds. Genito wanted to do something about all of the fallen olives on streets and paths on campus, which created a slippery hazard for pedestrians and bicyclists. So he talked to a local bottler and processor, and then worked out a deal with UC Davis stores for sales of the oil.

“This was really a sustainability thing where you had all of these olives on the ground getting wasted,” said Tom Hinds, head of marketing for the university. “So rather than send them off to a landfill, they were collected and turned into olive oil.”

The success with olive oil raised enthusiasm among campus administrators to branch out into other offerings, Hinds said.

Today there are four varieties of olive oil sold under the UC Davis label. Its “Estate” label olive oil sells for $15 per 8-ounce bottle. A majority of the oil is made from the first organic orchards on campus, planted in 2008.

The other varieties come from a mix of olives grown on campus and those donated by olive growers in the Central Valley, as the center does not yet grow enough olives on its grounds to keep store shelves stocked, said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center, which conducts research and education to serve California’s olive industry.

Eventually that situation will change when 6 acres of olive groves – two on campus and the rest in Winters – start producing in a few years. The center will then be able to sell oil that is 100 percent from olives grown at UC Davis. The olive oil is processed off campus, Flynn said. The school also contracts with an alum to produce a line of olive-oil body-care products, including lotion and lip balm.

Sales of UC Davis olive oil have grown 20 percent since 2005, and last year olive oil products brought in $127,766, Flynn said. The money is used to fund research and outreach activities at the campus Olive Center.

Olive-related sales “fund about 40 percent of our operations,” Flynn said.

In addition to olive oil, UC Davis produces its own brand of sun-dried tomatoes, which are grown at the university’s 300-acre Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility three miles west of campus. The dried tomato effort began three years ago, said Aubrey White, communications coordinator for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute.

The tomatoes are sent to Woodland-based Culinary Farms for processing. Once dried, they come back to Davis. Some go to dining facilities in bulk and end up being served to student in sauces. The remainder get packaged and sold at the bookstore and retail store. For the 2013-14 school year, sun-dried tomato sales totaled $11,368.

Russell Ranch also includes a 6.5-acre farm. The produce is sold at a campus farmers market and to Sodexo, the company that runs the campus Dining Commons. About 70 faculty, staff and student subscribers receive boxes of fresh produce each week.

The student farm sells $110,000 worth of produce a year, up from $45,000 in 2008, said director Mark Van Horn. “There has been tremendous amount of growth,” he said.

UC Davis has also lent its name to beer. In 2011, local brewery Sudwerk, whose brewmaster is a UC Davis alum, produced a beer called Aggie Lager under a one-year licensing agreement with the UC Davis Extension Master Brewers Program. The beer was sold on tap in 18 Davis establishments, with proceeds going to fund an athletic scholarship, said Scott Brayton, assistant director of athletic activities for UC Davis. Brayton said he expects the partnership to continue this summer with the creation of a new beer.

The oldest example on campus of how university teaching aims yield a product is the 46-year-old UC Davis Meat Lab. As part of the animal sciences major, the lab trains students to slaughter and process meat. In a year, it processes 300 pigs and 100 each of lamb and cattle at the facility. While some of the meat is used for teaching purposes, most of it is sold in the cramped retail store attached to the lab. On a busy weekend, it is not unusual for the lab to sell $8,000 worth of meat in an eight-hour period, said Caleb Sehnert, manager of the meat lab.

All of the animals processed at the lab are owned by the university and conceived and raised on different feedlots at the UC Davis campus.

The meat lab produces one of UC Davis’ most consumed products: the hot link. The spiced sausages are sold to Sodexo, which in turn serves them at Aggie Stadium during football games.