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!

Monkeyflower Ranch

FARMS Advanced | Monterey and Santa Cruz | April 4, 2019

Participating Schools:

Soledad High School

Location(s): Monkey Flower Farms, 1481 San Miguel Canyon Rd. Royal Oaks, CA 95076

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

Rebecca King – Owner and operator of Monkey Flower Ranch

Summary of the Day:

We started the day with a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and sheep yogurt straight off the Farm. Over brealfast, we learned about Rebecca King and what motivated her to become a farmer. The tour of the farm began promptly after and students were able to see Lambs and the machine that milks them apart from their mothers. They saw sheep, pigs, chickens, and ducks. Students were given an opportunity to milk a sheep for the first time. Rebecca King sells sheep and pigs for meat. The sheep are harvested for milk and chickens produce eggs. All the food she feeds her animals is a waste product from another industry. Pigs are feed old veggies and fruits from a partnering farm as well as spent hops and grains from an organic brewery in the area.

Monkey Flower Ranch operates as sustainably as possible by providing habitat for pollinators and wildlife with hedgerow, and also by rotating the animals between several different pastures to ensure that the land isn’t overgrazed and has time to regrow.

The largest part of the ranch operation is the cheese making and Rebecca has cleverly labeled her cheese Garden Variety Cheese. Students learn about how cheese is made and how technical the process is to ensure food safety. A quick walk through the cheese caves awaked students senses and got them ready for lunch. Students helped make lunch which was a farm fresh cobb salad complete with Garden Variety Cheese samples. After lunch, we did some planning and social media marketing activities where students had a chance to make some promotional items for the Ranch to market an upcoming Open House.

A little bit of this and that….

Program: FARMS Leadership Program

Region: Central Valley Central

Field Date: Thursday, February 21, 2019

Location of Field Day: Peterson Packing House, Kingsburg CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors: Vernon Peterson

Theme: Packing House, Chickens and a Trout Release

Summary of the Day:

Our day started off with a tour of the Petersons Citrus Packing House, where students rotated between Quality Control, Administration, Security, and Loading.  The students rotated between the 4 jobs for about 30 minutes each. In quality control, students learned how to test the citrus to the specifications for sale in each category.  In the admin office, students learned how to bill, shipping/receiving and distribution works. At some points, the packing shed will run 24 hours a day. In the security office, students learned how to keep the machines running and that the employees were carefully completing the tasks at hand.  Finally, students help load and keep track and pack the pallets that went onto the trucks and out to the stores.

After lunch, Mr. Peterson took us to his family’s chicken ranch.  He showed the students how quickly the chickens grew and how his employees cared for the chickens and the houses they lived in.  He showed us how technology-based is houses were as they continuously kept a temperature of about 70-90 degrees depending on how old the chickens were.  

Finally, students from the FARMS (Center for Land-Based Learning) program at Patiño School of Entrepreneurship took a field trip in February to Peterson Organic Farms and the Kings River North Riverside access point.  The students learned about organic farming practices and assisted with the Kings River Conservation District and Kings River Conservancy (KRC) trout release to plant and repopulate the Kings River. Students had the opportunity to meet local leaders and watch the KRC video about education and the role of the river.

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