SLEWS returns to Yanci Ranch!

Grant Union High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 12, 2019

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Kathy Rightmire, Director of Development, Center for Land-Based Learning
Dani Gelardi, UCD Graduate Student
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
MJ Farruggia

Summary of the Day
Yanci Ranch, a cattle ranch about 7 miles north of Winters, has hosted three SLEWS projects in the past – and this year, the project is large enough that we will have two schools adopting the site! Grant Union High kicked us off with the first field day, two years after their classmates completed a project on the same property.

A foggy morning obscured the beauty of the site, which includes a picturesque pond and views of the hills (though that made for a fun surprise when the fog cleared later that morning!). We began our day as we always do, in an opening circle. Landowner Bruce Rominger introduced the site to the students and Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District shared the project details before we broke the ice with a game of group juggle.

After gathering our supplies and putting on mud boots, we walked down to the project site. Bruce had used a slip plow to pre-bury a line of irrigation, so our first steps would be to measure along the line and place flags every 10 feet. One mentor group tackled this, while the others followed and installed emitters and spaghetti line at each flag. This was harder than it sounds as the line was buried – to access the line, students had to first dig down to it! Grant Union student’s keen eyes noticed many signs of wildlife throughout the morning, from deer on the way in to millipedes, centipedes, and frogs along the planting area. We even found some cow bones – this is a cattle ranch, after all! After installing emitters (!), Bruce was kind enough to give students a demonstration of how the slip plow works. He showed students how the spool of irrigation tubing fits on the back, and as he drives the tractor, the line is buried under the soil.

One irrigation was complete, students plug planted sedges and rushes in an area susceptible to erosion. These plants will help alleviate this problem while also contributing to the quality of habitat.

After a well-deserved burrito lunch, students got a chance to talk with each mentor about their education and career paths. Since they will see these mentors at each field day, it was also a great opportunity to get more comfortable with our Yanci Ranch team!

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

Cal Waste Recovery Systems and the California Department of Food and Agriculture

FARMS Leadership Program: San Joaquin: November 19, 2019

Location of Field Day: Galt, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:
Dave Vaccarezza – Owner of Cal Waste
MaryBeth Ospital – Community Outreach Coordinator at Cal Waste
Chris Vicense – Equipment Manager at Cal Waste
Dr. Kevin Williams – Senior Insect Biosystematist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture
Dr. Peter Kerr – Senior Insect Biosystematist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture

Theme: Environmental Science

Summary of the Day:

We began our field day with an introduction to Cal Waste from MaryBeth Ospital. She told the group about the history of the company. Cal Waste is a family owned business who just welcomed the 5th generation into the world a couple weeks ago. Cal Waste is also the largest, locally-owned waste collection and material recovery operation in the region, providing residential, commercial and industrial services to areas throughout Sacramento, Calaveras, Alpine and San Joaquin Counties.

We began our day in the Outreach and Education room at Cal Waste and on the far side of the room was a large window that over looked the MRF, which is the Materials Recovery Facility. This is where all of the recycling and garbage is brought in, processed, and sorted by material type. After our introduction we took a tour of the facilities. The San Joaquin FARMS Leadership students were able to get up close in personal with the trucks, the shop and even get a closer peak into the MRF which is currently be renovated and upgraded to a more technology based system. This new system will allow for the waste being processed to be more thoroughly sorted and cleaned of any contaminated materials.

After our tour we met back in the Outreach and Education room. The group was then met by Dr. Kevin Williams and Dr. Peter Kerr from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Both Kevin and Peter work in the Plant Pest Diagnostic Center at the CDFA in Sacramento, CA. They presented on Plant Health and Pest Prevention. They also shared with the students some insect displays as well as some pest traps that they use for insect collections.

“They say a picture is like a thousand words. Well looking at a specimen is like looking at 1,000 pictures” – Dr. Kevin Williams, CDFA

After the conclusion of our CDFA presentation we took a lunch break before introducing our next guest speaker, Chris Vicense. Chris is the Equipment Manager at Cal Waste and started with the company when he was 16 years old. He has been with the company for over 25 years and was an inspiring testament to what it is like working or a family owned business. He also spoke to the students about the importance of trade schools and apprenticeships and the different opportunities in which they can get involved at Cal Waste.

Our final speaker for the day was Dave Vaccarezza the Owner of Cal Waste. He shared with the students more insight on the family history of the business and told the students how true the saying is “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. With the MRF currently down for 6 weeks while it is being upgraded, there are 54 employees who are out of jobs. Rather then letting them go and trying to refill positions in 6 weeks Dave found positions as well as made new positions for all of his employees! Thank you Cal Waste for the hospitality and hosting the San Joaquin FARMS Leadership Program for a field day!

What kind of belly is the best belly? – A Full Belly!

Full Belly Farm Field Day

FARMS Leadership Program: Sacramento Valley: November 14th, 2019

Location of Field Day: Guinda, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Haley Friel – Director of Outreach and Education at Full Belly Farm
  • Sierra Reading – Director of Outreach and Education at Full Belly Farm

Theme: Organic Farming Practices

Summary of the Day:

Today’s field day was at Fully Belly Farm’s in Guinda, CA. The Sacramento Valley FARMS Leadership Program was welcomed by Haley Friel and Sierra Reading, the directors of Outreach and Education at Fully Belly Farm. We took a tour of the 400-acre farm and learned about the different crops grown and the practices in which they use to keep the farm organic and sustainable. Full Belly Farm is planting, growing and harvesting over 80 crops year around keeping them very busy. Full Belly sells there produce to 4 main markets; wholesalers who buy pallets of produce at a time, to CSA (community Supported Ag) members, at local farmer’s markets, and to bay area restaurants. Full Belly Farm picks their produce to order so it is always fresh and they currently have 1,200 CSA members.

On our tour we were able to see their mobile chicken coops where the farm is raising organic chicken eggs that sell for $9.00 a dozen.  The students were also able to see the pigs, sheep and cattle raised at at Full Belly Farm and see where the produce is washed and prepped for sale. We also visited the flower shop where not only are fresh flower’s made into bouquets, but flowers are also dried and made into wreaths.

After lunch we went out into a field where peppers were currently being grown. We harvested and cleaned bouquets of peppers that will be dried and sold. The students also learned about soil and compost. At Full Belly Farm they us 10,000 pounds per acre of compost every year.

A day of irrigation along two creeks

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 1, 2019

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second Sac Valley SLEWS day of the year brought us to the confluence of Putah Creek and Dry Creek in Winters, CA. Landowners Michael Barbour and Valerie Whitworth have been working with Yolo County Resource Conservation District to plan a habitat restoration project in an area that was damaged by fire in October 2018. This will increase biodiversity in the area as well as provide habitat for pollinators and the wildlife of the creek. We were happy to involve Winters High School students with this project, walking distance from their school!

After students arrived on foot and enjoyed breakfast, we gathered in our opening circle to introduce ourselves and the project goals, and learn names with a round of group juggle. From there Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led us towards the creek to teach us about a very important plant – blue elderberry. There are special rules and protective measures surrounding this plant. Why? It is the only host plant for the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, a federally protected species of insect. Its habitat has been greatly reduced due to agriculture and urban development. To protect the beetle, the blue elderberry plant is protected from disturbance, trimming, and removal. Our project site has a sizeable elderberry shrub in the middle of it, so we took extra precautions to make sure it was not damaged during our work.

To start our project, we had to move a bunch of brush that was in the way of our project site. Though there was a sizeable amount of cut branches, students and mentors made extremely short work of it. Next the entire class gathered together to lay out the longest irrigation line. This is a group effort – students space themselves about 20 feet apart and carry the line all the way to the end as the spool of irrigation tubing unspools. One this line was “stapled” down, students got in their mentor groups to divide and conquer.

One group worked on installing emitters on existing oak trees, another created a “grid” of irrigation for the pollinator meadow, and the other two groups laid out 3 more lines of irrigation in the main planting area, taking care around the elderberry of course. By lunch time, students had installed 2500 feet total of irrigation and installed 280 emitters!

Once we were done eating, we ventured down to Putah Creek where Amy and mentor (and biologist!) Corey Shake talked about the significance of the creek and the wildlife that calls it home – especially spawning salmon! We even saw some wildlife of our own on the field day including western fence lizards, a fuzzy caterpillar, beetles, and birds. After exploring the creek, students found a quiet spot to sit and reflect on their first field day in a field journal. This low energy activity was probably a welcome end to the day – a mentor’s fitbit tracked that we walked 4 miles while working throughout the field day, not even counting the students’ walk to and from school!

Wind and rice and everything nice

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | October 29, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA
Ryan Bixenmann

Summary of the Day
On Tuesday, October 29th, the Sacramento Valley SLEWS season began! Florin High students made the journey to River Garden Farms in Knights Landing for the third year in a row. This time, rather than planting hedgerows alongside a levee road, students gathered in the middle of a walnut orchard. Powerlines above the orchard make a strip of land unsuitable for trees. River Garden Farms saw this as an opportunity to create a corridor of native vegetation to increase biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Yolo County Resource Conservation District helped plan the project – 5 parallel rows of plants, with the outer two being mostly deergrass and the inner 3 being native shrubs and vegetation. The irrigation line was already in place, and students would be tackling the rest of the project.

After warming up with hot cocoa and breakfast, we got familiar with each other’s names with a game of group juggle. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District introduced the group to the project and the task of the day – removing flags where there would not be plants, and installing emitters and spaghetti tubing onto the irrigation line. Students divided into their mentor groups and tackled the project at hand, despite very windy conditions. Much to everyone’s amusement, the hot pink irrigation poker tools that Alex initially made fun of turned out to be the best tool for the job and were highly sought after!


Though it was windy and sometimes challenging to access the irrigation lines through the weedy overgrowth, students had incredibly positive attitudes throughout the morning and it was truly a joy spending time with them. Some mentor groups even came up with team names to stay motivated – I believe I heard one group call themselves “the Scarlet Dragons”.

After lunch, students boarded the bus to make their way to River Garden Farms’ Tyndall Mound Warehouse. Warehouse Manager Joe took showed students how they weigh and sample shipments as they head out on the trucks before leading us on a tour of the rest of the facility. The highlight was DEFINITELY the warehouse – students were able to climb and play in an enormous warehouse full of loose, unhulled, dry rice! The rice drying machine was also fascinating – rice slowly travels downward over many, many stories as airflow helps it to dry out. 

We had to end the day in a hurry to get students back to school on time so we went around our closing circle to share just one word to describe the day. What was by far the most popular word? FUN!

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