Going Nuts Over Sustainability

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley | March 22, 2022

Location of Field Day:
Sierra Orchards – Winters, CA
Mariani Nut Company – Winters, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors:
Sierra Orchards – Craig McNamara
Mariani Nut Company – Gus Mariani 

Theme:
Sustainability in Nut Growing and Processing

River City and Esparto High Schools joined forces for March’s Sacramento Valley FARMS field day centered around walnuts and sustainability. Our partners graciously brought us through the process beginning to end: from walnut tree grafting and growing in the orchards, to harvesting and processing, all the way to packaging and distributing.

Our day began within gorgeous Sierra Orchards, a small scale walnut orchard in Winters. Craig McNamara greeted us with his wonderful warmth and zeal–while he’s long been deeply tied to FARMS Leadership field days (he and his wife Julie started the FARMS Leadership Program in 1993!), Covid has kept us from visiting Sierra Orchards for 2 long years. How wonderful to be back in person! After checking in and learning a bit more about each other during our Opening Circle, we moved onto the day’s leadership activity during which two teams of students needed to rely on strategizing, communication, teamwork, and listening skills to race to retrieve an object before the other team. We have some competitive students, to say the least.

From there, it was time to dive into the world of walnut growing. Craig led us on a tour of the orchard during which we learned all about walnut varietals, grafting walnut trees, harvesting walnuts, and the efforts that go into growing organic walnuts. Sustainable practices were everywhere we looked: beautiful blooming cover crop, long piles of compost steeped with walnut hulls, massive solar panels, integrated pest management efforts, wood cut from no longer producing walnut trees waiting to be sent to a wood sculpturist, and flocks of sheep on their way to serve as nature’s lawn mowers.

Alas, we visited the chickens! Sierra Orchards has 3 different coops of about 800 chickens that, of course, produce eggs for sale, but also help to naturally fertilize the orchard through their own waste.  Students cozied up with one coop, together collecting and washing almost 100 eggs. After we left our chicken friends, students better acquainted themselves with the surrounding trees. Through two separate outdoor education activities, students utilized their sensory awareness and communication skills to better understand the important roles that trees play as individual ecosystems for the surrounding biodiversity.

After lunch and a farewell to Craig, we ventured to Mariani nut company, a family-run and much larger scale grower and processor of walnuts and almonds. Greeted by Gus Mariani and his cousin Kyle, they led us onto the walnut processing floor. Suited up in PPE, students traversed the many complicated and fascinating levels of Mariani’s walnut processing technology: sorters, conveyor belts, drum feeders, rotating crushers, infrared technology (the list goes on!), and plenty of quality control personnel along the way to ensure nut processing accuracy and staff safety. After we observed the technology used to bag, package and label to be distributed walnuts, Kyle and Gus sent us on our way with a box of Mariani walnuts to sample ourselves. Thanks to our partners for such an engaging and interesting day!

UC Davis Exploration: What’s the next step for our FARMS students?

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley & San Joaquin | February  22, 2022

Location of Field Day: UC Davis – Davis, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors:
Aggie Ambassadors – Co Hawes, Student Leadership Program Coordinator, with Student Leads
UCD Goat Facility – Benjamin Rupchis, Goat Facility Manager
UCD Student Eco Farm – Student Leads

Theme: Sustainable Ag & Environmental Sciences College Pathways

Sac Valley and San Joaquin FARMS students teamed up on a sunny February day to explore the sustainable ag and environmental science world that UC Davis has to offer. After a breakfast of muffins, blood oranges, and kiwis and a lively introductory game of Dance Your Name Out, we dove into a leadership workshop. Co Hawes, the Student Leadership Program Coordinator for Aggie Ambassadors, and Aggie Ambassador students Sara and Somora led us through the Pipeline activity. Two groups of students practiced teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills to transport a marble across the room without actually touching it. After plenty of strategizing, dropped marbles and re-strategizing, students emerged victorious.

Next, FARMS students had some time to connect directly with Aggie Ambassadors, asking them any and all questions they had about college life. Aggie Ambassadors shared their experiences as women in STEM, with balancing school responsibilities, personal lives and mental health, with the many helpful resources UC Davis has to offer, and the joys and challenges of campus life.

We then ventured to the Goat Facility where Benjamin Rupchis toured us around, introducing us to many goat friends along the way. Benjamin shared that the facility is mainly run by students and houses three separate goat herds: a dairy herd, a meat herd and a transgenic research herd, with around 150 goats total. We also learned how the Goat Facility works with the school’s Brewery Certificate Program and Student Farm to make the best possible use of leftover brewery grains and farm produce to feed the goats!

After loving on some goats, we rolled over to the student-run Eco Farm. Student leads Thea and Jon introduced us to the farm’s gorgeous chickens, showed us the inner workings of the farm’s aerobic and anaerobic compost systems, toured us around the produce gardens, and taught us how to harvest from the farm’s U-Pick flower garden.

After a peaceful lunch in the sunshine amongst the farm’s bees, butterflies, and thriving greenery, we strolled across the street to the Student Market. FARMS students were eager to purchase locally student grown produce and marveled over the colorful turnips, radishes, greens, rutabagas and daikons across the market table.

During our closing circle, students shouted out their highlights: loving on goats (of course), the lively pipeline activity, meeting students from another school, and learning about the sustainable efforts of the Eco Farm. Thanks UC Davis partners for a great day!

Tons (Literally) of Recycling!

FARMS Leadership | San Joaquin | January 21, 2022

Location of Field Day: Cal-Waste Recovery Systems – Galt, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors: Cal-Waste Recovery Systems – Leesa Klotz

Theme: Recovery Recycling, Climate Change & Healthier Communities

Our friends at Cal-Waste Recovery Systems were the ideal hosts for our first FARMS field day of the new year. We spent the day observing exactly what happens to our recycling once the truck whisks it away– and everything we saw generated lots of conversation around landfills, climate change, reducing all kinds of waste, and spreading community awareness.

As usual, we kicked off our field day with our opening circle check-in and a student leadership activity. Our leadership activity was a lively one: students lined up along a rope, each holding it with one hand. After taking note of the order of their peers, they were instructed to close their eyes (and keep them closed!) and communicate verbally to form various shapes and letters. We started out simple: a square. After our first shape, students took some time to brainstorm what worked, what didn’t, and their strategy for the next shape. Through use of their communication, listening, and creative thinking skills as well as their abilities to establish trust and remain open to all ideas, the group successfully shaped a square, a triangle, and the letter T.

Next we were joined by Cal-Waste’s Education Coordinator Leesa Klotz. After Leesa gave us an interesting and stinky history of garbage, we all suited up in our PPE and headed out to the MRF: the Material Recovery Floor. This is where all the recyclable materials picked up from Cal-Waste’s trucks are dumped, processed, sorted, and bailed. This is also where any pesky residual trash that makes its way into the recycling bin is separated to be sent to a landfill. Cal-Waste is committed to recovering every valuable resource from the waste stream to prevent as many items from being forever landfilled as possible.

The MRF was epic to say the least. A marvel of technology intricately designed and pieced together–conveyor belts, drum feeders, augers, magnets, crushers, air expansion chambers, optical sorting machines, infrared technology, and plenty of quality control personnel along the way to ensure accuracy and safety. Students were particularly enthralled with the bailer: a machine that crushes hundreds of tons of sorted recycling into massive cubes of cans, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, etc. These cubes are then sold to facilities that will transform the recycled material into new products.

After lunch, we returned to Cal-Waste’s state of the art education center for some conversations on reducing waste and food waste recycling. Students learned California has passed a new food waste law, requiring all Californians to separate their organics from the rest of their trash. Leesa informed us of some shocking food waste stats:

  1. A third of all the food produced in the US goes to waste.
  2. Food takes up more space in landfills than anything else.
  3. The US wastes more food than any other country in the world.
  4. Before the pandemic, 35 million Americans experienced food insecurity. After/during the pandemic throughout 2022, that number is expected to rise to 50 million Americans.

All this sparked some conversation: what can the students do to make a difference in their own school? Students brainstormed ideas about hosting focus groups between students and administrators, making informational posters, providing student waste ambassadors who can guide students on disposing of waste correctly, and re-working cafeteria food distribution requirements so less food goes to waste.

We finished the day out with a waste sorting activity: Leesa dumped two bags of trash/recycling on the table and asked two teams of students to sort them from the waste that would take the least amount of time to the most amount of time to decompose in a landfill. Students were shocked to learn that a paper towel can take a month to decompose all the way down to a glass bottle that can take 1,000 years (or might never decompose!).

During our closing circle, students shouted out their highlights: feeling inspired to reduce their food waste, exploring the MRF, learning about all the unexpected jobs within a recycling facility, and the morning’s leadership activity. Thanks to our partners, supporting teachers, and of course the students for making it a memorable day as always!