Getting Fresh UCR Oranges to Campus Diners Means Going the Extra Mile

After some trial and error, the "greenest" way to get UCR oranges from the field to thirsty campus customers goes through Redlands

UC Riverside's Agricultural Operations  has played a significant role in the development of the Southern California citrus industry. Now, it also provides some of the oranges used on campus for juicing. Photo by Carrie Rosema

UC Riverside's Agricultural Operations has played a significant role in the development of the Southern California citrus industry. Now, it also provides some of the oranges used on campus for juicing. Photo by Carrie Rosema

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — The history of the University of California, Riverside is inextricably intertwined with citrus. For more than 100 years, citrus groves at UCR’s Agricultural Operations facility have helped researchers develop and safeguard the citrus that we enjoy.

So when UCR’s Dining Services was seeking a supplier for oranges to fill the campus’ demand for fresh-squeezed orange juice, it seemed reasonable, and environmentally friendly, that they could team up with Agricultural Operations to pick UCR-grown fruit that could be used in the campus’s popular juicing machines in the Lothian and Aberdeen & Inverness Dining Commons and the Highlander Union Building.

But what seemed great in theory didn’t make sense on paper – specifically the accounting ledger. UCR staff spent hours cleaning and sorting fruit that could be used in the juicers – the campus’ Zumex juicers cannot take an orange larger than 2.75 inches in diameter – and the cost escalated quickly. What’s more if the campus’ Valencia or navel orange supply didn’t meet demand, then the orange juice disappeared from the menu.

“It seemed like a great idea, but financially, it just wasn’t viable,” explained Cheryl Garner, executive director of Dining Services. “The people at Agricultural Operations are not farmers – harvesting the fruit is not their primary job, and the cost of labor was very high. Then we spent hours scrubbing them and sorting them so that we could get the right size of orange for our machines. We had to find a better way.”

Cheryl Garner, executive director of Dining Services (left) and Matthew Burke of Materiels Management stand in front of the Zumex juicer at the Lothian Restaurants. Photo by Ross French

Cheryl Garner, executive director of Dining Services (left) and Matthew Burke of Materiels Management stand in front of the Zumex juicer at the Lothian Restaurants. Photo by Ross French

The Agricultural Operations and Dining Services teams, with some help from Matthew Burke in UCR Materiels Management and UCR Director of Sustainability John Cook, teamed up with the Redlands Foothill Groves Packing House to supply the services that UCR staff couldn’t do as quickly, easily or cheaply. One of the few remaining citrus packing houses in the Inland Empire, RFG is a cooperative that serves a variety of Southern California citrus groves, taking in and distributing citrus for juicing and for retail sale under the Sunkist brand.

Their crews harvest the trees and truck the fruit 20 miles to Redlands, where it is washed, sorted, inspected for bugs and disease, and then graded. The facility can store fruit up to 12 weeks in refrigeration units, but most of the fruit is quickly distributed to a number of clients throughout Southern California, including UCR Housing and Dining Services

“It truly was a win/win for our students and it allowed us to offer this product all the time,” Garner said.

What made the partnership ideal is that none of the Agricultural Operations fruit is wasted, while Dining Services gets exactly what they need to serve their customers. And since RFG harvests groves throughout Southern California, all the citrus that UCR purchases is “locally grown,” even if it didn’t necessarily come from UCR’s own groves.

“The standard for calling something ‘locally grown’ is 250 miles,” Cook said. “In this case, the packing house is 20 miles away, and they provide us with services that we cannot do ourselves in a cost-effective manner.”

The savings to the campus has been tremendous, according to Burke, procurement supervisor for food and MRO commodities at Materiels Management. Since joining the co-op, UCR has seen their cost reduced by over 50%, paying 14 cents per pound rather than 33 cents per pound from outside vendors. Burke estimated that the annual savings to the campus was $21,913.

Students line up for fresh squeezed orange juice from the UCR Citrus Variety Collection on Earth Day, April 22, 2013. Photo by Ross French

Students line up for fresh squeezed orange juice from the UCR Citrus Variety Collection on Earth Day, April 22, 2013. Photo by Ross French

“We are able to proudly say that we drink juice made from UCR oranges.  Even though we cannot provide 100% UCR oranges, we now know that we will drink UCR oranges when they are in season and at their sweetest moment,” Burke said.

Sue Lee, management services officer for Agricultural Operations, explained that the number of trees available for harvest from UCR’s groves varies from season to season, depending upon the type of research being done at that time. For example, if a grove is being used to test a new insecticide, it is excluded from the harvest and the fruit is destroyed.

“Since the Ag/Ops groves are primarily used for research purposes, the fact that some of the fruit can be harvested and consumed, rather than destroyed, is a benefit to the campus,” Lee said.

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