A $5 million-dollar gift from alumni will push Washington State University into the forefront of national organic agriculture research, says Dan Bernardo, the dean of the agricultural college.

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A $5 million-dollar gift from alumni who started an international natural-food business more than 25 years ago will push Washington State University into the forefront of national organic-agriculture research, says Dan Bernardo, the dean of the agricultural college.

The money, donated by Chuck and Louanna Eggert, will be used to expand WSU’s 4-acre organic farm to a 30-acre living laboratory, not only for organic agriculture but for wind- and solar-power development, according to university officials.

The Eggerts’ donation was announced at a news conference in Seattle on Friday. The Eggerts are owners and founders of Pacific Natural Foods, which raises and wholesales organic foods.

Chuck Eggert grew up in Kent, when the Green River Valley was agricultural, and Louanna grew up in Vancouver, Clark County. They met at WSU and later moved to Tualatin, Ore., to start the organic farm that became an industry. As Chuck Eggert stood before a gathering of agricultural experts Friday, he said the gift was a way of showing gratitude.

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“This is a way we can pay back a university that gave us a wonderful life,” he said.

The school’s small organic farm will be expanded to include a community center, student residence hall, livestock barn and facilities for sheep and poultry.

John Reganold, professor of soil science at WSU, started the farm in 2003. Its popularity has grown, not only with students, but with community members who purchase the fruits and vegetables.

The farm reflected Reganold’s years of research into the viability of organic agriculture. Sustainable methods of growing food can be profitable and better for the environment, making the expansion of the small farm especially important, he says.

Reganold said when he heard of the Eggerts’ gift, he was speechless.

“I almost couldn’t talk. I thought, ‘Am I still on Earth?’ It means so much,” he said.

“It gives greater opportunities for students at Washington state.”

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @BartleyNews.