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!

Exploring the Plant Materials Center

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley | November 9, 2021

Location of Field Day:
NRCS Plant Materials Center – Lockeford, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors:
National Resource Conservation Service
Plant Materials Center – Matthew Bronson, Margaret Smither-Kopperl, Shawn Vue

Theme:
Interaction of Conservation and Agriculture

Our San Joaquin FARMS Leadership crew spent their second field day at the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, where staff work to test plant species related to California conservation concerns. Students explored how the PMC conducts research on cover crops and pollinator species and then works directly with agricultural workers to help implement practices that maximize soil health and native wildlife on farm land.

During a breakfast of yogurt, granola, Asian pears and bananas, students were formally introduced to FARMS Student Leadership Roles. These are 4 different roles (Question Master, Nutrition Educators, Waste Management Warriors, and Partner Experts–see attached photo for a full description of each leadership role!) that are assigned to a new set of students each field day in order to help them practice the hard but oh so necessary leadership skills of decision-making, public speaking, direct communication, self-reflection, and research. Afterwards, our very first Question Master of the year kicked off our opening circle by choosing and posing the reflection question to the group “What is your top priority over the next 6 months?” Students had some incredible answers, like learning more about nutritious foods and how they impact bodies and becoming fluent in Russian!

Next we were joined by Margaret the PMC’s Manager, Matthew the Farm Manager, and Shawn the coordinator of all things PMC. Each shared about the mission of the PMC, their individual backgrounds and career journeys, and their individual roles at the PMC. Matthew then led us on a tour of the PMC facilities starting with the PMC’s shop, seed cleaning and storing facilities, laboratory, machinery storage shed, and lath house. Then we all hopped into a vehicle for a driving tour of the PMC’s farm land. Margaret led us across one field containing an experimental plot of cover crops, in which students feasted on sunflower seeds plucked directly from sunflower heads. Many of them twisted off the heads packed with seeds to plant their own sunflower patches at home.

During lunch, our Nutrition Educators went above and beyond to gather some background research on three fresh foods we were chowing on in our lunch dishes: squash, spinach and basil. After they gathered their information and eloquently presented the nutritional benefits of each food item to their peers, we prepared for our afternoon venture: planting an educational native pollinator garden for future generations of students to enjoy. Matthew briefed students on the process beginning to end including measuring and staking out the plots, cutting and securing down weed paper, and planting seedlings into the holes within the paper.

The sun escaped cloud cover just in time for us to head down to our plot and students set right to work. After some problem-solving and utilization of geometry class skills to ensure plot angles were correct, students measured and laid weed paper and planted away. Along the way, students discovered plenty of new worm, beetle and spider friends and by the end of the afternoon, they had established a garden with over 150 new plants!

Closing the day with our reflection circle, students had plenty to appreciate about the day. Many loved getting their hands dirty while planting fresh green life, others remembered climbing up into tractors and seed-distributing machines, and others most enjoyed traipsing through the PMC fields and learning about their cover crops. One student who has long wanted to go into the medical field shared that the last two field days have her re-thinking her career plan; now she’d like to find a professional path that combines medicine with agriculture and conservation efforts. Music to any FARMS Leadership Coordinator’s ears!