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Agriculture and Food

Holiday Sales Celebrate the Season with Learn by Doing Products

Hundreds of red speckled poinsettia plants in a green house
Written By Robyn Kontra Tanner // Photos by Joe Johnston

While this year’s holiday shopping season may look different than any other, Cal Poly’s annual selection of student-made products continue to bring joy to customers looking to unwrap the Learn by Doing spirit. Students, faculty and staff have been working hard for months to prepare inventory, fill orders and host sales featuring artisan cheeses, meats, chocolates, poinsettias and more.

These products not only provide students with essential experience, they also yield critical funds that sustain operations and student salaries in Cal Poly’s hands-on programs.

“Every day, we have customers thank us for going out and finding a way to still cater to our community during this challenging time,” says Tori Pedersen, an animal science student who co-manages the Cal Poly Meats weekly drive-thru sales. “Hearing how much our community appreciates and supports us makes it even more worth it.”

Get to know the people behind these seasonal delights, and perhaps find the perfect gift for the Mustang on your list.

A gift box with six different Cal Poly cheesesCheeses

The Cal Poly Creamery is offering gift boxes featuring nine student-made cheeses this holiday season, including varieties of cheddar, gouda, triple cream brie, alpine cheese and more. Special boxes also pair cheeses with Cal Poly-made jam, chocolate and meat products.

The sale is the culmination of months of work by a team of 50 students — 30 working in the campus dairy and 20 leading the cheese production operation. The students were considered essential workers throughout the pandemic, enabling them to continue caring for Cal Poly’s 200 dairy cows. After the milk is trucked from the dairy to the Creamery, students have a hand in making the various cheeses, organizing inventory and maintaining documents to comply with state and federal regulations. In total, the Creamery produced 18,000 pounds of cheese for the holiday season — the most it has ever made — with a goal of selling 2,000 gift boxes.

Student manager Nicole Tribelhorn says she’ll leverage her work experience when she graduates with her biological sciences degree. “I have gained some pretty valuable skills that are applicable to any career, primarily because the Creamery is student run,” she says. “We practice troubleshooting, teamwork, and leadership, to name a few.”

New this year is the chance to give back to students in need with gift box purchases. Shoppers can add a “Poly Pantry Box” to their cart, which represents a direct donation of $30 to the Cal Poly Hunger Program’s Food Pantry. The Creamery also donates cheeses to the pantry for every 100 gift boxes sold.

Visit to order a gift box online before the Dec. 11 deadline. Community members can pick up orders at the Creamery on campus on Dec. 4 and 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Locals can also find cheeses in local markets, including California Fresh and Spencer’s Market.


Red, pink and yellow poinsettias in a green housePoinsettias

A dazzling array of holiday poinsettias in rich colors available in numerous sizes are on sale now through mid-December at the Cal Poly Plant Shop.

Roughly 3,000 plants representing a dozen varieties of poinsettias have been growing since April in preparation for the sale. Ten students from a variety of majors in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences have been working with Wendy Robinson, Environmental and Horticulture Science Unit manager, to prepare for the holiday rush.

New this year are a selection of 50 poinsettia trees standing 2 to 3-feet tall in traditional red and other colors. The team grew a novel hue called tapestry to complement the other colors. Customers will enjoy the new “mouse” poinsettia, which features red leaves shaped like mouse ears.

Plants range in sizes and cost anywhere from $8 to $75, with all proceeds supporting the Environmental Horticulture unit's student employees. A variety of student-made wreaths, centerpieces, houseplants and succulents will also be on sale.

Customers are strongly encouraged to make an appointment to visit the shop at before coming to campus to pick up online orders or shop in person. The shop will be open Nov. 19-28 (closed on Thanksgiving and Sundays) from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Beginning Nov. 30 through Dec. 18 (closed Sundays) the Poly Plant Shop will be open from 12-5 p.m. Locals can also find Cal Poly-grown poinsettias at True Value Home and Garden in Arroyo Grande.

A ham, prime rib and other meat products sit on a table in front of a glass-front refrigerator


For your holiday dinner’s main course, Cal Poly Meats is selling perennial favorites. Cal Poly is ready to sell close to 400 fully-cooked hams — smoked with a time-tested natural hickory recipe — and up to 50 prime rib roasts. For the first time, Cal Poly Meats sold all-natural young hen whole turkeys ahead of the holidays, but the stock of 85 turkeys quickly sold out.

A crew of 15 students have been preparing for the holiday sale all quarter. “They’re doing it all — from carving and tying roasts, to processing and packaging turkeys as well as processing and loading hams in and out of the smokehouses,” says Morgan Metheny, a lecturer in the Animal Science Department and one of two faculty supervising the operation. Students are also at the helm of Cal Poly Meats’ weekly drive-thru retail market.

Customers can order online or by phone and pick up on campus during special holiday hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through the end of the year. Visit for more information.

Three bottles of wine with Cal Poly labels appear with four blocks of Cal Poly cheese


Shoppers can raise a glass to the hard work of the Wine and Viticulture Department with holiday packs of Cal Poly Wine. Gift bundles include Cal Poly-made chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and a red blend in addition to cheeses, BBQ sauce, jam and Cal Poly meats. Customers can also join Cal Poly’s wine club or gift a wine club membership to savor the program’s products throughout the year.

Faculty member and wine sales lead Adrienne Ferrara anticipates the program will sell about 700 gift packs this holiday season with wines from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 vintages. She says the products represent years of hard work by dozens of students who gain experience in everything from winemaking to sales.

“Students are very involved in all aspects from production to social media and gift pack programming,” says Ferrara.

Visit to place your order. Must be at least 21 years old. Cal Poly is only able to ship wine to addresses within California at this time.

Cal Poly Chocolate in a purple wrapper

Chocolate, Sauces and Jam

Within many of Cal Poly’s holiday product packs are sweet treats from the Food Science and Nutrition Department’s Pilot Plant. The hybrid classroom/production space empowers students to make custom batches of jam, chocolates and sauces as part of the curriculum.

All that Learn by Doing adds up. In a typical year, the effort produces up to 60,000 bars of chocolate, 16,000 jars of jam and 3,000 jars of BBQ sauce. Plant manager Molly Lear says production was interrupted when students transitioned to virtual learning in spring, but sections of seven on-campus classes this fall helped beef up inventory. That effort, combined with hard work from plant’s 15 student employees, produced enough to support holiday sales.

Hungry customers have already bought every bar of seasonal flavors of chocolate, like peppermint crunch and s’mores, but some milk chocolate, peanut butter crunch and sea salt flavors still remain. Olallieberry and raspberry jam are still available, perfect for holiday pastries. Limited quantities of strawberry jam, made from 500 pounds of strawberries grown by the Cal Poly Strawberry Center, are selling out fast.

Purchase these products in Cal Poly’s cheese, wine and produce gift packs, or find them locally at the Crushed Grape, Von’s or at Village Market on campus. Chocolate is still available for delivery in San Luis Obispo via the student-run Harvestly delivery service. Special orders can be arranged by contacting the Pilot Plant at 805-756-7358.