Veggiepalooza sprouts community gathering at Arboretum

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The Fullerton Arboretum had over 300 different types of plants for sale at this year's Veggiepalooza.

Tomato, pepper, corn, eggplant, onion, bean and pea plants lined the tables behind the green house in the Arboretum this weekend for the 2019 annual Veggiepalooza fundraiser.

Veggiepalooza is the Arboretum’s third biggest fundraising event, usually raking in around tens of thousands of dollars according to Greg Pongetti, the Living Collections Curator at the Arboretum.

“Veggiepalooza is our annual vegetable plant sale. We do it every year in spring.We grow 20,000 vegetable plants from seed here at the Arboretum. It’s grown by volunteers and staff, then we offer it in a big weekend plant sale,” said Pongetti.

The 20,000 plants were all organically raised in the Arboretum’s nursery with the oldest ones planted in December of last year, said Pongetti.

“Seeing all the people here is one of the best things about Veggiepalooza and I think they should come here because they should support their local gardens and get some really well grown, great produce,” said Derek Dobbs, a horticulturist at the Arboretum.

All the earnings from the event go towards maintaining the Arboretum. Pongetti said the goal for this year is to raise about $50,000. Each plant was sold at $3.50.

“It’s important to support the Arboretum because we are in a unique position in Orange County. We are the only botanical garden in the area and there is a lot of different research and educational uses of the Arboretum. We have over 150,000 annual visitors,” said Pongetti.

The Arboretum’s partnership with the city of Fullerton is set to end in 2020, which will result in a loss of $250,000 of funding that is not expected to be offset by the university.

Close to 300 different species of vegetables were sold to those who attended the fundraiser, with over 100 varieties of tomatoes and 70 varieties of peppers. Forty-seven new plants were sold this year including the Trinidad Scorpion pepper and the Golden Gem cherry tomato, according to the Arboretum website.

Veggiepalooza takes place in spring, but this year’s yield was undercut by harsh weather conditions.

“We have had the coldest February on record. It’s been a very rainy year also. Due to the cold and rain some of our plants have not grown to our desired size,” Pongetti said.

Dobbs who helped grow the vegetables said that they even lost some plants due to the cold.

“We tried to mitigate it as best we could with tarps and various covering. All of our cucumber varieties did not make a lot and a lot of the peppers as well, both of which tend to like the heat a little bit more than the other things. Tomatoes tend to be able to take it a bit better,” said Dobbs.

About 25 volunteers helped grow the plants for the event and about 100 volunteers helped with the event overall, said to Pongetti.

Asha Bhattacharya, a student volunteer and president scholar said she volunteered to help out because she loved the atmosphere of the event.

“Everything at the Veggiepalooza is locally grown at the arboretum and there (are) so many wonderful things that we have here,” Bhattacharya said. “It’s awesome they do this event every year and I think it’s a tradition that shouldn’t be lost in our changing times.”

Veggiepalooza has been happening in the Arboretum for over 13 years, said Pongetti.

For some attendees like Andy Garcia, the Orange County Fair Blue Ribbon winner for largest zucchini, Veggiepalooza is a tradition.

“We’ve been coming for four years. The reason why we keep coming back is they have a good variety of plants that are well suited for this climate. We also like supporting the local universities,” said Garcia .

Garcia said he bought what would become his award winning zucchini at the arboretum last year.

Bhattacharya said that students would be heavily affected if they lost the Arboretum, a nature oasis on campus.

“It’s such a sacred spot here on campus and I think that’s what really separates Fullerton from other CSUs and other universities as a whole, that we have a spot that’s dedicated just to nature. Again I think that’s something that’s beginning to go away right now in our era,” she said. 

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