Skip to main content
Agriculture and Food

Mustang Made: Students Craft Products for the Holiday Season

A young woman inspects poinsettia flowers in a large greenhouse
Written By Larry Peña | Photos by Dylan Head and Joe Johnston

Every year, students from across Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and beyond work to create a variety of products that off-campus customers can enjoy. From delicious food items to seasonal flowers, these enterprise projects give students a chance to get hands-on experience in every part of the food and horticulture industries, from growing and harvesting to production and marketing.


“Yes, I am putting in the effort to make this, but I know someone else is going to enjoy it at the end,” says Ellie Conlin-Day, a third-year food science student who has been helping to make Cal Poly Jam for the last few years. “It’s not just for me — it’s for the enjoyment of, hopefully, many other people.”


For many students, enrolling in one of the dozens of enterprise courses is a perfect stepping stone to a career in the industry. 


“We have alumni working all over the food industry, from Kraft to Frito-Lay to Amy’s,” said Molly Lear, operations manager at the Food Science and Nutrition pilot plant, where she oversees students making jam, chocolate and condiments. “We do not struggle with companies looking for our students, because they know they’re getting that hands-on experience.” 


That preparation is exactly what many students are looking for.


“I grew up hunting and fishing a lot, and I always had a passion for processing my own game, and growing up doing that really sparked my interest in the meat industry,” said Donnovan McAbee, a third-year agricultural science major from Hollister, California who works at Cal Poly Meats. “That's why I'm working on this operation, and I definitely want to go back home and open up a meat shop back in Hollister.”


But whether or not students end up in the food industry, experience producing food at Cal Poly in a professional setting yields a wealth of important skills for any career.


“The students who are working here get a lot of great hands-on managerial skills — how to delegate, how to be responsible, time management, how to react when something goes wrong, how to make the ethical and proper choice,” said Lear.

A gift box full of Cal Poly student-made food products, including cheese, jam, barbecue sauce and chocolate bars


With the holiday season approaching, student-made products at Cal Poly make a great addition to your celebrations. Many of the enterprises offer special themed gift packages designed with the holidays in mind, including poinsettias, smoked holiday hams, and collaborative gift boxes that pair cheddar and sausage; jam and brie; and wine, cheese and chocolate.


“You’re getting a gift, but you also know that it’s supporting a good cause,” says second-year agricultural education major Teddy Lopez, a student manager at the Cal Poly Creamery who helps oversee cheese and ice cream production. “You know that students worked on it and that it wasn’t just in some random factory — it’s here at Cal Poly. It has a name to it, it has a story, and it comes with a good feeling.”


Check out some of the products made by Cal Poly students available for sale this season.



The Cal Poly Creamery makes a wide variety of popular and delicious cheeses, including smoked gouda, chipotle cheddar, aged fromage blanc, highland cheddar and the distinctive Triple-Peak Brie. Special holiday gift boxes offer a sample selection or pair cheese with Cal Poly sausages and chocolates.



Students learn the delicious science and art of chocolate while producing bars from fair trade organic chocolate. Flavors range from popular classics like milk, dark and s’more to more unusual offerings like matcha green tea, birthday cake and hot habanero.



Students have been making jam on campus for more than 40 years, including raspberry jam, blackberry jam, strawberry jam made with fruit grown on campus, and the most popular flavor, olallieberry.



The students at Cal Poly Meats produce fresh cuts and specialty meat products from locally-sourced beef, pork and chicken, including steaks, bacon, brisket and distinctive sausage varieties. For the holiday season, check out their smoked hams.



No flower says “Christmas” like poinsettias, and students spend months growing these festive flowers on campus for holiday sales. Visit the Poly Plant Shop for upcoming holiday poinsettia sales dates.



From ribs to nuggets, Cal Poly barbecue sauce brings food to the next level. Both the Sweet Hickory and Fiery flavors are made by students, without high fructose corn syrup or xanthan gum.



Check out six varietals from Cal Poly — Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Rosé and a red blend — several, including the 2020 Chardonnay and 2019 Pinot Noir, made with grapes from the campus vineyard. Choose a single bottle, a sampler flight, or a gift package pairing wines with Cal Poly cheese, jam and chocolate. 

Want to bring a little Learn by Doing home for the holidays? Shop student-made products and learn more at