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A Peek at Farm Life : Pierce College's agricultural program is in budget-induced disrepair, but still offers a close-up look at livestock.

August 06, 1993|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster writes regularly for Valley Life.

Pierce College, although not the flourishing agricultural campus it once was, still boasts rural landscapes dotted with livestock. The Woodland Hills campus is a great spot to take small children who have yet to behold a 500-pound sow lazing in a mudhole.

The college, opened in 1947 in nine weathered tin bungalows salvaged from World War II, added horticulture, poultry, swine and dairy programs in the late 1940s and early '50s.

Since then, budget cuts and a lengthy drought have crippled most operations--the dairy now lies in ruins and the arboretum is choked with weeds. But knowing where to look can turn up some vestiges of the past. The Pierce College farm is open for visits from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, excluding holidays.

This tour includes a picnic lunch to be eaten at Pierce's Cleveland Park, home to a peculiar grouping of folk art statues. What better way to stock your lunch than browsing Pierce's fields overflowing with vegetables and fruits packaged by Cicero Farms.

10 a.m.: Cicero Farms, begun in 1955 in Chino, moved some of its operations in 1986 to Pierce College, where it now leases 25 acres. At the southeast corner of De Soto Avenue and Victory Boulevard, the farm is fronted by a large covered stand brimming with tomatoes (the kind that have flavor), corn, bell peppers, watermelon, peaches, cherries and strawberries, among other items. Honey from Piru Canyon is also sold here, including avocado blossom, button sage and wild buckwheat varieties.

We pointed out the fields beyond to our small friend, Alex, who thought that tomatoes came from Vons' produce section, not the ground.

Cicero Farms is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. (818) 346-6338.

To enter the campus, drive east on Victory to Winnetka Avenue, turn right and right again on Calvert Street into the college. Take the first right and stop at an information booth, where you can request a free parking pass. You won't need one if classes are not in session. Drive back to Calvert (called Brahma Drive within the grounds) and continue through the campus, veering left onto Stadium Way, which curves through rolling hills. Turn left on El Rancho Drive.

10:30 a.m.: Sections of El Rancho Drive, before it intersects with De Soto, are a good introduction to Pierce's livestock, used in the college's animal husbandry courses.

Look for small herds of black Angus steers, which often lounge by the split-rail fences along the road. Some Mexican long-horn calves, roped by students in Pierce's rodeo courses, also graze in the area. Horses used in the equitation program are found farther down the road's north side, closer to De Soto. Horses are only present while classes are in session, Sept. 23 through the end of May.

There's no need to leave your car during this ride, but since we brought a bunch of carrots along, we let Alex get out and push a few through the fence to make some new horse friends.

11 a.m.: It's hog time. Drive east on El Rancho and turn right on Pepper Tree Lane (ignore the outdated signs that read "tour guides only"). Continue past a hay barn and up through the fields. At the top of the hill lies a red farrowing barn where pigs are born. To the left of the barn are pigs that can be viewed from the fence.

Ask around for swine herdsman Bill Lander, who can chat about swine diseases, why hogs like mud and why flies like hogs. Cut him off, however, when he explains that many of the hogs and sheep were recently taken to market. Alex was horrified. We cheered him by letting rip with a few "Suuuu-eeee's!"

The hills around the farrowing barn are perfect for sighting flocks of majestic Canada geese, which settle on Pierce's fields to eat about $10,000 worth of feed and grain each year. The geese arrive in November and stay through January.

11:30 a.m.: Walk or drive up a dirt road that lies past the barn. Go through a gate (again, ignore the outdated "authorized personnel only" sign) to the sheep barn, where a score or more of Suffolk and Hampshire sheep graze. The animals can be viewed from the fence. Lambs (and piglets at the farrowing barn) are born in the early spring.

Call Pierce's agricultural department, (818) 719-6463, Monday through Thursday mornings for best times to see the new arrivals.

Noon to 1 p.m.: Time to taste those tomatoes. Drive back down Pepper Tree Lane to El Rancho Drive and turn left. Drive by the empty poultry unit and the agricultural science building on your right. Turn right after agricultural science, look for Cleveland Park on your left and park.

The park's picnic tables are in full sun, so you may want to spread a blanket in a shady spot beneath trees.

Cleveland Park, a tiny patch of grass, is home to curious folk art statues created by John Henry Ehn, an animal trapper born in Michigan.

The score of larger-than-life cement statues that depict rugged pioneers and dance hall girls were donated to Pierce College in 1985. Formerly located at Old Trapper's Lodge in Sun Valley, where Ehn lived until he died in 1981, the statues are designated as California Historical Landmark No. 939.

Ehn created the assortment to commemorate the spirit of the Old West.

Lonesome George, Lovely Laurie and 2-Gun Rosie, the Kickin' Queen (check out her three-inch heels) are found lounging on benches. A mock Boot Hill cemetery features quirky sayings on tombstones about the likes of Dead Beat Dan, Iron Foot Eva and Stella Steele.

Alex wanted us to cart home Pegleg Smith, a gnarly fella with a gap-toothed smile who bore a curious resemblance to David Letterman. A folk art aficionado is born.

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