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!

Ecological Agriculture

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley | November 30, 2021

Location of Field Day:
Center for Land-Based Learning – Woodland, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors:
Center for Land-Based Learning – Alex Lintner & Ric Murphy
Yolo Resource Conservation District – Amy Williams
Picnic Table Farms – Paul Boulware

Theme:
Ecological Agriculture

River City High School joined us for our November FARMS Leadership field day all about Ecological Agriculture: the essential practice of aligning agriculture with ecological principles that support the health of the surrounding wildlife, land and humans. Students spent the day at our Center for Land-Based Learning Headquarters learning about Ecological Ag from two central perspectives: 1) folks at the Yolo Resource Conservation District who work to improve and sustain Yolo County’s natural resources and land and 2) the founder of Picnic Table Farms who works to grow produce galore on Yolo County’s land.

We began our day focusing on connecting with one another and understanding the importance of leadership. After checking in and learning a bit more about each other during our Opening Circle, we introduced River City to field day Student Leadership Roles: roles that give students the opportunity to guide and teach their peers about issues related to the central FARMS Leadership Pillars, while practicing their research, public speaking, self-reflection, and communication skills. 

After a quick tour of CLBL’s farm facilities, we ventured out to meet Amy Williams and her RCD crew who came armed with 70 native trees, shrubs and plants ready to go in the ground. In recent months, CLBL has partnered with Yolo RCD to install three massive hedgerows around CLBL farm land, in an effort to provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, improve the land’s soil health, and sequester carbon. Amy, the Project Manager, and CLBL’s GrizzlyCorps Member and soil expert Alex Litner, helped to educate our students not only on all the benefits hedgerows provide for land and wildlife, but also for our farmers: providing increased pollinators crop production, fixing nitrogen into the farm’s soil, providing wind buffers to prevent soil erosion, and reducing pest populations. Talk about a symbiotic relationship!

After Amy’s planting demonstration, students got their hands dirty planting Yarrow, Showy Milkweed, Valley Oak, and Pacific Aster among 16 other types of native California plants. Within just over an hour, students had planted 50 plants!

After a break for lunch during which our student Nutrition Educators researched and presented the nutrition benefits of the strawberries and kale we were munching on, we went to meet some farmers. Ric Murphy, CLBL’s Incubator Farm Program Manager, gave students the low-down on the program’s mission to provide beginner farmers with land, infrastructure and ongoing training. After encouraging students to consider the perks of a career in farming, Ric introduced us to Paul Boulware, a participant in the Incubator Farmer Program and the founder of Picnic Table Farms. 

We spent the remainder of our afternoon with Farmer Paul. He toured us through his colorful half acre plot stacked with massive carrots, pink celery, deep green and purple salad mixes, and salad turnips. As students taste-tested his veggies, Paul shared his sustainable growing practices with us along the way: everything hand grown with no machine use, no-till farming, natural pest management, and keeping roots in the soil as long as possible for turning a bed to plant the next crop. Students were amazed by the amount and the beauty that all Paul has been able to produce while maintaining balance with his ecological surroundings. 

After Paul sent students off with a butternut squash each and a container of salad turnip seeds for their school’s garden, we ended the day with our Closing Circle. While students around the circle shared lots of learning highlights from the day, the common theme seemed to be the land. Everyone shared an appreciation for the new ways they learned to care for the land and its vast resources that support us, whether it be from the farmer’s or the conservationist’s perspective.