Family Farming in the Salinas Valley

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | October 10, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • Soquel High School

Location(s):
Pura Ranch, 28531 Corda Rd. Gonzales, Ca 93926
Pisoni Family’s Estate Vineyard 34361 Paraiso Spring Rd. Soledad, Ca 93960

Field Day Host(s) and Mentor(s): Pisoni Family Vineyards

  • Mark Pisoni – Owner, Farmer and Vineyard Manager
  • Jazmin Lopez – Compliance Manager of Special Projects
  • Elias Gandara – Vineyard Manager
  • Jesus Camacho – Ranch Manager

Summary of the Day:
It is the start of a new FARMS Leadership program and for our first field day, we will be with Pisoni Family Vineyards. FARMS Leadership is the first-year program for students and our focus is on career exploration in ag and resource management. Once the students arrived at Pura Ranch, ate a quick breakfast we immediately did some introductions. This is the first time students are all in the same space together. An icebreaker name game gets us out of our seats and warmed up. Students were ready for the day.

Jazmin Lopez would be our guide throughout our day and introduce students to a multitude of careers, beginning with her own. Students learned about Jazmin’s personal pathway and how and why she started at a liberal arts college, worked for the CA Strawberry Commission, became a Master Gardener and now works for Pisoni Vineyards as the Compliance Manager of Special Projects. We would see some of those special projects later in the day.

The Pisoni Family has a beautiful vegetable farm of 500 acres in Gonzales, California. Students had some hands-on experience taking soil samples and harvesting cauliflower from the fields. That cauliflower would later be our lunch.

With about a dozen heads of cauliflower, we got into our vehicles and made our way further South to Pisoni Family Vineyards the Family’s Estate Vineyard in Soledad, California. The views from the vineyard overlooked the Salinas Valley and they were spectacular. This is where we met Mark Pisoni, the owner, farmer, and vineyard manager. Mark spoke about his personal pathway into his career and gave students some very good advice throughout the day. Mark gave us a tour of the vineyard and shared his knowledge about the land and the business of growing grapes. Students were very engaged while they tasted chardonnay grapes and listened to Mark talk about how the grapevines grow and are maintained. The tour ended with a walk through the insectary (one of Jazmin’s special projects) and of course some lunch.

It was over lunch when Mark introduced Elias Gandara as one of his best employees and trusted friend. Mark stressed the importance of learning Spanish and really being serious about it and immerse yourself in the culture if you can. Communication is such an important part of being a great leader. The final piece of advice Mark Pisoni left students with was a lesson on networking. Everyone received a card from Mark after lunch with his contact information and he encouraged them all to send him an email introducing themselves and following up on the professional connection. Mark shared a trade secret with students that can be just as valuable as going to college and that is, sometimes it’s who you know in agriculture and the relationships you maintain.

Following lunch, students had a chance to learn about bees and apiary management, just another special project by Jazmin Lopez. This was a first time experience for the students and for the coordinator. The sound of the bees flying around your head is loud and filled with energy as wings buzz to and fro. The best part was learning about Jazmin’s experience keeping bees and of course we enjoyed tasting honey fresh from the hive!

Thank you Pisoni Vineyards for such a wonderful FARMS Leadership Field Day!

It Was Coming Up Roses in Wasco, CA


FARMS Advanced Program | Kern County |April 9, 2019

Participating Schools
Frontier High School
Bakersfield Christian High School
Independence High School

40% of the nation’s roses come from Wasco, California! Wasco sits just northwest of Bakersfield and is known for its Roses. People travel to come to the Annual Festival of Roses every Labor Day to see the beauty that is blossoming in Wasco, CA.

We arrived at Weeks Roses in Wasco and were greeted by Manager, Stu Chamberlain. He helped us get an up close and personal look at the growing, shipping, packing, and practices in place to protect the product through Integrated Pest Management. Stu shared that they are one of the largest rose growers in the world. A couple of key customers are Amazon and Home Depot! We toured the cold storage where we learned how the roses are forced into dormancy. Pesty fungus and mold are a concern in the cold storage and they use a general fungicide to treat those issues. As we walked into the cold storage we sat 257 varieties of roses!

Touring the Cold Storage

“I don’t think I even knew that there were that many types of roses!” Said Casey Sprayberry, FARMS Advanced student from Independence High School.

There were other containers that were being prepared for shipping. Containers of grapes, figs, iris, and cherries. Weeks also partners with the university extension office and Cal Poly Pomona to learn about stone fruit and other various crops. It was now time to walk through the greenhouse and learn about Greenhouse Management.

Assisting with pest management, ID Services LLC’s Alan Butterfield, walked us through the nursery teaching us about the different pests they battle. Mr. Butterfield taught the students the symptoms to look for. We shadowed him as he talked us through his daily practice, then it was time for the students to give it a try. Students scanned the crop to put a numerical grade on the percent damaged by the pest. We then discussed what to do when we found damage. We discussed Label Identification, Recommendation, and classes of insecticides. Students were able to remove who plants when the pest had taken over too much and it was a complete loss.

From the Greenhouse Tour, we took a driving tour of the planted fields. Iris was in bloom and beautiful! There was cover crop planted to restore the soil in some lots. We talked about the grains of that field being sent to cereal companies. After our tour, each student received a catalog of roses and they were able to choose one to take home. What a gift!!

Thank you Stu Chamberlain, Alan Butterfield and staff! It was a great day out at Weeks Roses. We can’t wait to come back!

Wonderful Time At Halos


FARMS Program | Kern County |April 2, 2019

Participating Schools
Frontier High School
Bakersfield Christian High School
Independence High School

Students had a great opportunity to see the Halo process from field to packing box. We started at the McFarland Halo Ranch learning about Safety, Ranch Management, and Pest Control. Then, we traveled to Delano to the packing facility and the iconic picture in front of the “Blue Box”.

We divided into two groups where students could have more interactions with the Wonderful Staff. Students were trained on the warning symbols used on signage and labels to communicate risk.

Signage for Risk – Give an example!

Then we were able to see and understand the process of the spray rig management in regards to safety and staff logistics with night spraying with Johnny Magana, Spray Manager, and Larry Minor, Shop Supervisor.

Next, we walked to their shop where learning to put things back where they belong isn’t just a chore at home, but a life skill. It is critical to keeping the workplace safe and it also helps the bottom line as inventory is always up to date. Manager of Technical Operations, James Lundgren, shared his career journey with the students. He is a wealth of knowledge and loves what he does!

Students were very interested in the number of careers and opportunities Wonderful provides for their employees. Truly is a Wonderful place to work! The employees there love their jobs and have great pride in the company. This is evident as they talk and students could see their passion for coming to work each day.

We then switched places with the other group. We had Jesse Castanon – Farming Manager and James Lundergan – Pest Control Advisor on board. They shared their heart for the company which was equally magnetic. We stopped the bus and unloaded to the beautiful aroma of citrus blossoms. In the citrus orchard, students learned about the purpose of netting the trees to affect seedless citrus. They also were led to look at clues, clues that would tell you what type of pest us attempting to take up residence.

We all loaded back into the bus to gather as a group for lunch on our way to the “Big Blue Box”, the packing facility. This highly visible box can be seen from Hwy 99 and it is a coveted photo for most Ag students.

The Big Blue Box

Once we unloaded from the bus in Delano, we walked through their main offices to get to the packing plant. Even their offices smell like oranges! We were led on a fantastic tour of their 11 football field sized plant. It was huge! Photos are not allowed inside the plant however the sizing belts were breathtakingly large! This photo is from their website:

How do we get all the same size Halos?

The staff was welcoming and generous! The citrus was tasty and so interesting to learn about. The smell was amazing! It was a great day! Thank you, Wonderful Company, for a great day!

WindWolves and Conservancy

FARMS Program | Kern County | March 5, 2019

Participating Schools
Independence High School
Bakersfield Christian High School
West High School
Frontier High School

We arrived at WindWolves Preserve where we were greeted and introduced to a large amount of staff from the NRCS as well as the WindWolves Preserve Rangers. They shared their educational and career journeys with the students. Then, we split into 3 groups to rotate through the activities including Restoration Activity, Range Health/Plant ID Walk, and Riparian Ecology/Insect ID. Students loved all three stations!

As part of the Restoration Activity, students were planting trees. The staff gave an example of the depth of the whole needed as well as the most efficient way to get it done. The students watched intently and went straight to work! They worked so hard. Gabriel, a student from West High School, has a broken hand and was due to get his cast off that afternoon. He was so taken with the work that needed to be completed, he dug the hole with his casted hand! He did an amazing job with the Post Hole Digger considering he had a broken hand!

Gabriel Getting the Job Done

After our Restoration Activity, it was time to move stations, we took a walk with NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist, Alex Hepler. He walked us through the different types of grasses and vegetation found at WindWolves. He also shared how you can gauge the health of the rangeland by what is growing and flowering at any given time. We were given an identification guide and were tasked with labeling the different species of grasses seen. We found Bermuda Grass, Saltbush, and Filaree to name a few.

As we progressed to the next station it was time to move from identifying grasses to identifying stream invertebrates., students loved looking for these hidden treasures. Students had the opportunity to dig in the water and search for the different species. These different species are pollution sensitive gauging the health of the watershed.

Students were also given an opportunity to learn about the different species of bees. They were able to take nets and catch different insects out in the grasslands. Students loved each and every activity at this field day, but most of all connecting with the staff at WindWolves and the NRCS.

A day of habitat creation in San Diego’s Tijuana River Valley

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | February 23, 2019 | Field day 2

Participating School
Mar Vista High School

Location
Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Mentors

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Land Manager
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Summary of the Day

Mar Vista students and their teacher arrived for our second SLEWS field day on a sunny morning following a rainy period. The site was pretty muddy, but no one seemed to mind too much! Students mingled and snacked while the team geared up for the day’s activities.

We kicked things off with an invigorating game of Where the Wind Blows, which got everyone moving and laughing. We then headed off to the hedgerow for our morning of restoration work. Last field day, the hedgerow was divided into four sections – one for each mentor group. Groups returned to their sections to observe the plant life already in the hedgerow. They then spent some time weeding around existing plants and where new plants would be planted (thanks to the rain, weeds were plentiful – especially in section 4!). The groups then planted the plants allocated to their section – 45 native potted plants and ten mulefat cuttings taken from the surrounding area were planted. After planting, students created a watering basin and mulched around each new plant.

The Community Garden is located in a historically agricultural area. Although few farms remain, there are several stables in the area, including one adjacent to the garden owned by the family of a teacher at Mar Vista! The teacher, Mr Jara, rode by the garden during Field Day 1 and saw the students, and invited us over for a tour on our next field day. After our planting project, we headed over to the horse ranch to meet some of the horses and hear about what goes on at the ranch. Students (and mentors) even got to take turns riding a horse!

After our tour, we returned to the garden for lunch – we had burritos in response to a request from the students. Following lunch, we built native bee nesting blocks and installed a barn owl box. At the first field day, groups decided which project they would work on this time. Three selected bee boxes, and one selected the owl box. Students had lots of fun using power tools to drill holes in the nesting blocks and attaching a roof. They even decorated their nesting blocks before installing them within the hedgerow. The group that installed the owl box had an interesting time examining the box, which had been used before and still had remnants from the previous inhabitants! They attached a metal pole to the box, dug a hole for the pole, and erected the box. Hopefully by the next field day we’ll be able to observe wildlife utilizing their new habitat.

By the time the owl box had been erected and the nesting boxes installed in the hedgerow, we could see the bus pulling up. How was it 2pm already? After a quick group poem to reflect on our day (each participant said one word that summed up their experience of the day), the students headed back onto the bus.

We all had a great time and are excited for Field Day 3!

Accomplishments:

  • 55 native plants planted in the hedgerow
  • Weeding and mulching of the hedgerow
  • 3 native bee nesting blocks and 1 barn owl box installed on site

Flowers, Shrubs & Veggies, Oh My!

Program: FARMS Leadership Program

Central Valley North

Tuesday, February 27, 2019

Belmont Nursery, Fresno CA

Jon Reelhorn & Danielle Handler

The students started the day in the retail location with Leadership introduction activities.  Following the Leadership activities, we toured the propagation sight where we took a small tour, learn about heating beds and the way they manipulate the plants to grow.  Students tried their hand at running the planting machine by planting and labeling some said: “it’s not as easy as it looks”. Next, at the Henderson location students were able to work at a different planting machine and learned to graft on a piece of scion wood.  After lunch at the first retail location, students walked around to see what was available for retail purchase. Students asked a lot of great questions. Then the students worked on inventorying the retail location. Students had to count and recount all of the plants that they had for sale.  Danielle explained that staff members keep count every week on what has been sold and what needs to be reordered. Students said it was a tedious job but appreciated so many different types of plants.

What’s the Buzz About?

FARMS Advanced | Kern County | February 27, 2019

Participating Schools
Frontier High School
Bakersfield Christian High School
Independence High School

We had been waiting all year for this! It was Apiology day! The almond trees were in bloom and it was time to hear and experience the honeybee industry. Jimmy Gardner of United Honeybees allowed us to come and experience the world of bees with him.

We started with conversations about the lifecycle of the bee and the honey bee business. Bees have a community and they are like any other animal. They need to be fed, watered and cared for. We studied the facts of the honeybee.

Here are some facts that shocked students:

  • Bees are the only insect in the world that makes food that humans eat.
  • Honeybees pollinate $15 billion of crops every year
  • Honey has natural preservatives so bacteria can’t grow in it
  • 85% of plants exist because of bees
  • 1/3 of all the food we eat depends on pollinators
  • More than 100 types of crops are pollinated by bees in the US – including clover and alfalfa that feed our cows
  • Beekeeping has a migration route throughout the US. Their timing is critical and weather dependent.

After we discussed the facts of bees and the benefits of honey, we went out to experience them first hand!

We walked and did exactly what Jimmy Gardner does on the daily. The feeling of the wind produced from the bees wings as they land on your hood is a feeling that you can’t explain. Your first reaction is to swat them, but then you remember that you are safe in the suit. You see and hear them working hard to care for their queen. We were able to label the drone bees versus the worker bees. Then we found her! We found the Queen!

It was a great day! Thank you for hosting us, Redhouse Beef. Thank you for teaching us, United Honeybees!

Agri-Tourism and Science

FARMS Program | Kern County | February 5, 2019

Participating Schools
Independence High School
Bakersfield Christian High School
West High School
Frontier High School
Ridgeview High School

Summary of the Day
There is no better place to study Agri-Tourism than at Murray Family Farms. Students have traveled here throughout their childhood to go to the maze, pick pumpkins in the fall or berries in the summer. This trip, they learned the other side of Murray Family Farms.

Steve Murray greeted us on this cold February day with a coffee in hand showing us around his pride and joy – Murray Family Farms. It was easily the most beautiful day we have had in Kern County. Steve shared his extensive journey and through perseverance and incredible opportunities he was able to land his dream.

Learning the History

We then walked through the many commodities grown on site. We learned about apples and stone fruit first. We talked about water and the effects on farming. We talked about grafting and the science behind the different types of grafting which allowed them to create unique fruit for consumers.

We then went up to the small hill for the students to jump. When you are at Murray Family Farms, you must take a jump on their massive bouncing bubble! While some may ask, “What does this have to do with Ag?” It has a lot to do with Agri-Tourism. Families come to make a memory through picking their own fruit and every now and then you have to get your wiggles out.

Now back to learning! We have a first-hand look at grafting from Steve’s son, Steven. Steven shared his journey and his many accomplishments including speaking 7 different languages! He shared how this diversity helped him. He showed us the different ways to graft and discussed the pros and cons of each as well.

Heading out to our picnic lunch we had to taste the fruits which is a favorite past time. The Pomelo’s tested like fresh lime-aid! We loaded up for our trek to Steve’s favorite spot on the farm.

We had a great lunch while learning about the history of the American Indian tribes who lived right where we sat. The unique history and the learning that took place all while taking in the breathtaking views from this spot. It was a beautiful way to experience Ag.

Hartnell College – Alisal Campus

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | January 24, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • North Salinas High School
  • Soledad High School
  • Watsonville High School

Location:

Hartnell College Alisal Campus

1752 E. Alisal Street, Salinas, CA 93905

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Anely Meneses – Field Day Planning Support
  • Melissa Casillas, Director of Career Training
  • Belen Gonzales – Coordinator of job and internship placement
  • Dr. Emily Rustad – Plant Science Instructor
  • Michael Davis – Welding Instructor
  • Fabiola & Sam – MakerSpace

Summary of the Day:

We arrived at the beautiful Alisal Campus promptly at 9 am. Students began the day by talking about their plans after high school and where they see themselves in 1 year and in 5 years.

“[I would like to] go to a 2-year college then transfer. [I want to] play basketball and  have a good job. Or I will go straight into a 4-year college”- Janet Arias, WHS

“ In one year I hope to be redeeming a scholarship to a four year college.” – Randy Huynh, NSH

“ I will attend Hartnelll College. I see myself with my degree and working my career.” – Vicky Aceves, GHS

Continue reading Hartnell College – Alisal Campus

A change of scenery for Davis High

Davis High School at Dry Arroyo Creek
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 11, 2019

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis graduate student
Arthur Barros, UC Davis graduate student
Bob Ream, retired
Claire Kouba, UC Davis graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second Field Day with Davis High School brought us to a new location – Dry Arroyo Creek between Dixon and Winters. There have been several SLEWS projects in this area over the years, and Solano Resource Conservation District invited Davis High students to put some of the final touches on a restoration project many years in the making.

After breakfast, we learned more about one another through a game called “Wind in the Willows”. This game allows us to identify commonalities within the group, and strengthen our bond as a SLEWS team. Then, Solano Resource Conservation District staff led us in a demonstration of our restoration task for the day – plug planting native grasses! Students learned to use a “dibble” to poke holes in the ground, insert a grass “plug” (a small clump of native grasses) and pinch the soil over the top to prevent moisture loss. The hope is that these native grasses will outcompete invasive grass species, to improve soil stability and water retention and increase biodiversity.

Once students got a hang of the process, mentor groups spread out along the bank of dry arroyo creek and began planting grass plugs every 2 feet in a grid-like pattern. These grasses will eventually grow to fill in the entire area. I had one student ask me to further explain the impact these grasses will have in the area, and I appreciated her wanting to put the project into context! There were some very impressive feats of teamwork with some students measuring, some students “dibbling”, and students following to plant the grass plugs. By lunchtime, students had planted around 2000 native grass plugs!

Students had been eager to explore Dry Arroyo Creek all morning. Lucky for them, after lunch, Sarah McKibbin of Solano Resource Conservation District led the students across the creek on a native plant walk to see some of the plants that have become established through the restoration effort. Then students were given time to explore the creek and adjacent areas in mentor groups, identifying native plants and birds. One group even found a frog in the creek! As groups were exploring, Davis High teacher Sherri Sandberg rotated mentor groups through a water monitoring activity to assess the water quality of Dry Arroyo Creek.