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HAREC in Camarillo

New beginnings for the Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Camarillo
by Annemiek Schilder

Strawberry field at the new HAREC site

 

In December 2022, the University of California (UC) acquired a 114-acre farm property on the west side of Camarillo to become the new home of the Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center (HAREC), supported by an endowment bequeathed to the University of California by Saticoy farmer Thelma Hansen. The mission of the Thelma Hansen Fund is to support and maintain University research and extension activities for the sustainability and benefit of agriculture and natural resources in Ventura County.

For the past 25 years, the Center has been located on the historic Faulkner Farm in Santa Paula. At 27 acres, HAREC was the smallest of the nine research and extension centers operated by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources throughout California. For many years, it hosted a popular school field trip program, a Master Gardener demonstration and training garden, and numerous research trials on fruit and vegetable crops and landscape plants. In 2019, it was decided that the Center should move to a larger property on or near the Oxnard Plain to expand research and extension capacity. The Faulkner Farm was eventually sold in March 2021 but a portion was leased back to the University to maintain research and educational activities until a new location was identified.

A planning committee of agricultural stakeholders, UC and County staff, and external consultants embarked on the search for a new location and developed a provisional layout of the new facility. The search was complicated by a paucity of suitable farm properties for sale during that period. One of the desired features of the new site was a location on the Oxnard Plain in order to have a representative environment for doing research on high-value crops in Ventura County, such as strawberries. Other criteria were acreage, accessibility, having representative and diverse soil types, access to sufficient irrigation water of good quality, low risk of flooding, proximity to California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI), and municipal water and sewer access.

The new farm location meets most of our search criteria and is representative of the coastal agriculture environment. Various soil types are present at the site, including clay, clay loam, loam and loamy sand, suitable for a variety of crops. Of the approximately 104 cultivable acres, 28 are certified organic, which will allow us to do research on organic as well as conventional crop production methods in the future. The farm has two agricultural wells, a 7-acre yard area with several shop buildings, and is fully tiled and set up for irrigation. The land is currently used to grow strawberries and vegetables but was a lemon orchard in the past. A bonus is its proximity to the Rodale Institute California Organic Center, which will enhance opportunities for collaboration, as well as Sterling Hills Golf Course, which has banquet facilities for large events.

So, what are our plans now that we have found a new home for HAREC? Over the next 6 months, we will orchestrate the move from the Faulkner Farm to Camarillo, which will involve the transportation of two modular office buildings, a walk-in cooler, shed, various sea containers and all of our farm equipment, vehicles and tools. Seismic and other repairs will be needed at the new site before the buildings can be usable. Since a substantial part of the parcel is leased out for farming for the next three years, we will initiate and expand research projects and plantings on the remaining acreage.

Then the long process of designing a new research and educational facility will begin with the help of stakeholders, staff, architects and engineers. The new facility, which is expected to be completed in 4 to 5 years, will have offices, conference rooms, laboratories, greenhouses, storage space, a demonstration kitchen and indoor and outdoor education areas. The facility will aim to be water efficient and energy neutral, relying on solar panels for much of its energy usage. The new site is envisioned to have Master Gardener demonstration gardens, a Student Organic Farm in collaboration with CSUCI and the Rodale Institute, a pollination garden with beehives, and a Compost Training Center. Other ideas on the table are the establishment of a Biological Control Research Center for Southern California and possibly a Fire Science Laboratory. Eventually, the UC Cooperative Extension Office in Ventura will also move to the new site for administrative and programmatic efficiency.

The ultimate goal of the new Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center is to become a vibrant research and education hub that provides science-based solutions and is responsive to the needs of agricultural, rural and urban communities and the environment in Ventura County. Staffing levels will increase in order to expand current programming and bring new educational opportunities to the County, such as the UC Master Food Preserver and Master Beekeeper programs. A capital campaign will be needed to gather sufficient funds for the establishment of the facility. We look forward to gathering input on how to best fulfill our mission and future-proof the facility.