When you have a university located in a leading crop-producing county, having an educational agriculture center would seem like a natural fit.

On Jan. 28, it became a reality for Cal State Bakersfield. The California State University Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Grimm Family Center for Agricultural Business, made possible by an endowment created by Barbara Grimm-Marshall and Kari Grimm Anderson.

The $5 million, three-year pledge, is the single largest gift in the university's history and coincides with the 50th anniversary of family-owned Grimmway Farms and honors the legacy of the company’s founders, Rod and Bob Grimm.

“Kern County is such a significant contributor to the fruits and vegetables that are consumed throughout our country. To create a focus on agriculture at CSUB that has been such a strong educational dynamic within our community just seemed like a great opportunity,” Grimm-Marshall said.

The idea to create a partnership with the university and give such a gift came through a family discussion, Grimm-Marshall explained. With Grimmway Farms celebrating 50 years in Kern County, family members wanted to give back to the community that has "given so much to us" over the years. They all agreed upon creating a center that highlights agriculture and business and opens students up to various opportunities within the agriculture field.

"We’re very grateful for the opportunity and are excited about the impact of what this will have in the future," Grimm-Marshall said.

Though details are scarce at this point in terms of when the center is expected to be up and running, Jennifer Self, CSUB director of public affairs and communications, said it will be a game changer for the university and Kern County.

The Grimm Family Center for Agricultural Business will offer various educational opportunities to CSUB’s agribusiness students, who will learn by doing, gaining experience directly out in the field and working with experts immersed in the day-to-day enterprise of running successful agribusinesses, according to a news release. Local agricultural leaders will work with students, as well as collaborate with the university's School of Business and Public Administration.

"Any time you can have a philanthropist support an organization like this, and at this level, it will take you from great to a center of excellence," said Victor Martin, vice president for University Advancement. "The Grimm name has long been associated with excellence, and it’s what we’ll drive with this center."

There are no plans to construct a building. Instead, it will be housed in an existing space.

By Aug. 31, the university hopes to appoint key personnel to provide programmatic leadership, develop the fiscal plan for the center, begin recruitment of the founding executive director, recruit advisory council members, develop relationships with the community and form regional partnerships, Self explained. A lecture series, forums and workshops, professional development, research, internships and scholarships for students are also expected to be available.

CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny said agribusiness is one of the primary needs in academics at CSUB, so she is looking forward to how this collaboration and partnership with the Grimm family will allow the university to support workforce development in Kern County.

"We want to serve our community, and ag business is one of the key drivers of economic development," she said. "We need to leverage and collaborate with our partners to increase the number of students we’re accruing to be ag business leaders and bring up the economics of our community which feeds the world. It’s the right place and right time for this gift."

It will take some time before the center is in motion, but Grimm-Marshall believes it can be a place for innovation that evolves as the field continues to change.

"Hopefully we’ll be nurturing and cultivating students with their education and learning opportunities where they see a future for themselves right here in Kern County, and I think that would be a really positive thing," she said.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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