‘Pomona A to Z’: C is for Citrus

And so “A to Z” careens to the letter C, with a topic bursting with Vitamin C. Pomona being the goddess of fruit, recognizing the city’s citrus heritage was a must.

The Cal Poly Farm Store, mentioned herein, remains one of Pomona’s best-kept secrets despite the publicity here and elsewhere. So does the Pomona Concert Band. The wonderful Stan Selby, its founding conductor, died on Nov. 23, 2004, I’m sad to say, but the band soldiers on.

This column was originally published Aug. 1, 2004.

C is for Citrus: ‘Pomona A to Z’ finds groves aren’t pulp fiction

Part 3 of “Pomona A to Z” brings us to the letter C, as we continue our countdown of the city’s charms.

Making it to C, by the way, puts Pomona ahead of Katharine Hepburn, who was once famously panned by Dorothy Parker for a performance said to run “the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Trust me, Pomona’s got more range than that.

Central among the city’s C candidates:

* The Concert Band, which performs each Thursday night in Ganesha Park in the summertime under the direction of G. Stanton Selby, who’s led the band since its first season — in (wow!) 1947.

* The Clock Tower, a landmark at the County Fair.

* The Carousel Chorus barbershop group.

* City of Churches, Pomona’s old motto, reflecting the large number of congregations.

* Cinnamon doughnuts at Carl’s, a West Holt Avenue fixture since 1956.

Culling this collection was certainly complex! But my C is of the vitamin variety, because C is for Citrus.

Pomona and the rest of the valley, as you surely know, once grew some of the best oranges, lemons and grapes in the world. The sight and sweet smell of those long-vanished groves remain fond memories for longtime residents.

But here in 2004, is there any citrus left? Backyard trees and a few small lots are all you’ll find.

Except at Cal Poly Pomona!

True to its roots as an agricultural school, the college still has an expanse of orange and grapefruit trees in production as a learning tool.

“We’ve got about 20 acres of citrus,” Enrique Hernandez, Cal Poly’s farm supervisor, told me Friday.

That’s about 2,000 trees, producing some 180 tons of oranges and grapefruit a year in 23 varieties.

Hernandez oversees this bounty — the largest citrus grove left in the valley.

“It’s not as big as the ones that used to be here,” Hernandez allowed. “But for being the last one, it’s not bad.”

A Cal Poly graduate who’s now a full-time employee, Hernandez proudly showed me around the orange groves. Navels were recently harvested, but Valencias were still on the trees.

Walking amid the neat rows of bushy trees, dirt underfoot, I got a sense of what the valley must have been like a half-century ago.

Only the distant hum of Interstate 10 traffic, and the homes visible along the top of the hills, were reminders that this grove is more a part of the valley’s past than its future.

A country boy from San Diego County, Hernandez, 33, grew up surrounded by citrus. He prefers open spaces, not tract homes on tiny lots.

I asked about the blight reputed to have killed or weakened most of Pomona’s citrus trees. Pests are more of an issue today. That and urbanization — “creeping 2-by-4 disease,” Hernandez jokingly called it.

“Pretty soon the only agriculture you’ll see in Southern California is gonna be greenhouses,” Hernandez said.

After I dried my tears, we visited the Farm Store at Kellogg Ranch, a campus market that has sold Cal Poly-grown produce and other select items to the public since 2001.

Fresh orange juice too, in your choice of Valencia or Mandarin.

A sign on the refrigerator case reads: “Cal Poly Pomona orange juice separates because it is pure without additives.”

Right there in the store, I downed a Mandarin OJ, squeezed just hours earlier. It was so astoundingly good, it knocked my socks off.

(I found my socks later, near the summer squash.)

The upscale, air-conditioned grocery resembles a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s except with more produce.

“We would like more people to know about it,” student manager Melynda Holm said.

Let me help: Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, the address is 4102 S. University Drive at Temple and the phone is (909) 869-4906.

So C is for Citrus at Cal Poly. It’s great to know that despite creeping 2-by-4 disease, a sliver of the valley’s citrus heritage is alive and well.

Orange you glad?

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, three lemons a week.)

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