Alumni plow millions into organic farm

Steve Brown/Capital Press Louanna Eggert, co-founder of Pacific Natural Foods, talks with people gathered for the announcement of a $5 million gift to the WSU organics program.

Donation will be used to create largest organic teaching farm at U.S. college

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

SEATTLE -- A $5 million gift to Washington State University's organic farm is more than just an investment in the university, one of the donors says.

"Organics is one of the many tools we'll need to feed the world," Chuck Eggert said.

The donation will go toward relocating and expanding the campus farm from 4 to 30 acres, giving WSU the largest organic teaching farm on any U.S. university campus.

Eggert and his wife, Louanna, are the founders of Pacific Natural Foods, whose products are sold throughout the U.S. and Canada. Both are WSU graduates and have been in organics for 27 years, with most of their 1,800 acres in dairy.

Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, said it will take three years to certify the farm organic and to build the dorm and other structures.

"I expect it will attract more and better students to WSU and to the major," Bernardo said. "And it will never be 'done.' It's more than just what goes on in the ground."

John Reganold, WSU Regents professor of soil science and agroecology, has been at the center of the university's organic program, which offers the only major in organic agriculture in the U.S.

Other colleges have organic ag minors, he said, and the University of California-Davis offers a sustainable agriculture degree.

Other colleges are looking at what's happening at WSU, he said. "It's the young generations who will likely make the change (to organic). The demand is there -- it's just delivering."

"We have to show people it will work," Eggert said. "We have to let neighbors see we can grow poultry cheaper than conventional."

Eggert said he feels fortunate to have met such success with Pacific Natural Foods, and he declared that his wife is the smarter one. "God looks after children and 'C' students," he said.

He has been impressed by the ag students he has met.

"Organic farmers are innovators and hard workers," he said. "You can make a living on 5 acres."

He also recognizes that organic is not the only innovation in agriculture. "If you want to feed the world, you have to marry all these good ideas," he said.

The Eggerts' gift is part of "The Campaign for WSU -- Because the World Needs Big Ideas," which has set a $1 billion goal to leverage the university's impact across the state, nation and world. About $680 million has been raised so far. The campaign is scheduled to conclude in 2015 in conjunction with WSU's 125th anniversary.

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