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!

What can the Soil Tell us About the Land?

FARMS Leadership | Monterey & Santa Cruz | November 7th, 2019

Location(s) of Field Day:
D’Arrigo Ranch – 18742 Gould Rd. Salinas, Ca
Hartnell College Alisal Campus – 1752 E Alisal St. Salinas, Ca

Participating Schools:
Gonzales High School
Soquel High School

Field Day Hosts and Mentors:
Resource Conservation District for Monterey County(RCDMC)
Paul Robins – Executive Director 
Megan Baker – Project Administrator 
Laura Murphy – Soil Scientist
Chelsea Rutt – Student Trainee (Soil Conservation)
Shaun Richards – Ag Water Management Specialist

National Resource Conservation District(NRCS)
Drew Mather – Conservation Planner 
Allison Tokunaga – Rangeland Conservationist

D’Arrigo Brothers
Ed Mora – PCA
Saul Lopez Jr. – D’Arrigo Superintendent / PCA 

Summary of the Day:

When it comes to soil conservation the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County (RCDMC) are the experts. Students had the opportunity to spend the day with these local experts and learn more about soil science, land judging and possible careers in Ag and Conservation.

Students arrived at the D’Arrigo Ranch promptly to a warm breakfast. After breakfast, we headed out to a freshly harvested field to meet our field day mentors. Paul Robins started with an overview and history of the NRCS and the RCD, and how they support local farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners wanting to make conservation improvements to their land. One of the local ag companies that work with the RCDMC is D’Arrigo Brothers and we were lucky enough to have Saul Lopez Jr. and Ed Mora from D’Arrigo on-site to greet students.

It was time to learn how to judge the land for the land judging competition. There was a lot to cover and Laura Murphy, Shaun Richards, and Drew Mather gave students a crash course on soil properties and proper ways of observing and analyzing soil and topography. With that, students were ready to try it on their own.

“It’s kinda cool, right? From where we started with color and texture we’re sort of predicting out. Just from texture you can tell so much about what you can do with your soil, from available water to instability for building or for growing plant life.” – Drew Mather, NRCS

In order to make the land judging contest more competitive, the RCD has agreed to provide the first place winner with a scholarship to California Range and Natural Resources Camp at Elkus Ranch in Half-Moon Bay. Students will spend 10 minutes in the pit and 10 minutes outside the pit at 2 different locations. Each student and team will get an opportunity to make observations and record their findings on a scorecard that would later be graded. Judges will combine the two scores to determine the winner. Students do their best and turn in their scorecards.

We head to Hartnell College for lunch and some team building activities while the scorecards are graded. Before the winners are announced students split up into groups of two to meet the experts and practice their networking skills. Professionals share information about their careers and what they do and why they like it while asking students to share more about their own interests and future plans for themselves.

Finally, it is announced that the top two scorers for the land judging competition go to Kayli Plazola and Sophia Lopez from Gonzales High School.

A big thank you to Megan Barker from the RCDMC for working with FARMS to plan this field 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.