Written by The Business Journal Staff
On the opening weekend of this year’s summer sweet corn season, the market sold more than 75,000 ears of corn, with customers waiting in long lines to buy the white, yellow and organic, bi-color varieties.
Last year, Gibson Farm Market sold over 600,000 ears of its fabled corn and Jeremy Lewis, the market’s new manager, thinks this year could be a record-breaker.
“Farm-to-table is a big deal these days,” Lewis said. “I hear from our customers almost every day how much they enjoy coming on campus and buying their food directly from the students who produce it.”
The market, located on the west end of the campus at 5368 N. Chestnut Ave. near the Save Mart Center and the new Campus Point development, is named in honor of Rue and Gwen Gibson, two early benefactors of the university’s agriculture programs.
The sweet corn, like all of the fresh produce sold at the market, is grown nearby on the university’s 1,000-acre farm. Sweet corn sales are among 22 ag-related enterprises sponsored by the Jordan College of Agricultural Science and Technology at Fresno State.
Other products produced by Jordan College student farmers and sold at the market include wine, meat, ice cream, nuts, salsa and syrups. Most of the store’s items are created and made by students in Fresno State’s Food Science and Nutrition Department.
All of the products for sale in the store have been grown, packaged or processed at Fresno State and many sport the university’s bulldog mascot on their label.
Lewis, 33, is a Fresno native who grew up just a few blocks from Fresno State’s campus and worked for Whole Foods for 13 years before taking over management of the Gibson Farm Market a few months ago. While he is an employee of the university, all of the others who work at the market are Fresno State ag students.
“Working here is a great way for these kids to get some hands-on job experience and see how products essentially go from farm to table,” Lewis said.
The market, which was recently expanded, showcases the diverse range of products produced by different enterprise units of the Fresno State University Farm Laboratory. Those units include Crop, Dairy, Enology, Floral, Food Processing, Horticulture, Meat, Orchard and Viticulture Departments.
Most goods sold at the market are produced with the help of 130 student employees and 80 classes that use the campus farm for hands-on experience in everything ag — from growing vegetable crops and running livestock to operating a dairy, processing meat and managing a vineyard.
Lewis said sweet corn and ice cream continue to be the market’s two most-popular items. “But we also have a large selection of jar products that are popular, like jams and jellies, marinara sauce, local honey and salsa as well as a full line of processed meat products too,” he said.
The store also continues to sell a lot of Fresno State’s student-produced, award-winning wines.
On an annual basis, the Gibson Farm Market generates about $1 million in sales, with the proceeds supporting Jordan College students and programs.
“Love this awesome market. Always stop here when visiting from LA,” Joanne Kordan-Zabinski posted recently on the market’s Facebook page. “Love their chocolate milk. And their ice cream brownie sandwiches are to die for, when they have them. Nuts and trail mixes are also wonderful. Jams are fabulous too.”
“When my friends know I’m making a trip, they give me their orders,” Kordan-Zabinski said. “The only complaint that I have is that they are 4 hours away from me!”
The market is operated under the umbrella of the university’s Agricultural Foundation, which is governed by an appointed board of directors that include university President Dr. Joseph Castro and a who’s who of successful Valley agribusiness leaders including Pat Ricchiuti, Larry Layne, Joe Del Bosque and Richard Matoian.
Meeting several times throughout the year, the foundation’s board, according to its website, looks for ways to improve the university’s enterprise operations by “upgrading its livestock program, planting the most promising new varieties of fruit, vines and field crops, and employing the latest techniques in equipment operation, management and safety.”
“Shopping at the market is a great way for people to invest in Fresno State and the future of Jordan College,” Lewis said. “The revenue we generate goes directly to improving the educational experience of our students.”
“This area is the heart of ag,” Lewis added. “So having a market like this at Fresno State makes total sense.”
The Gibson Farm Market’s summer hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.