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!

Organic Since ’88

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley | Thursday, April 29, 2021

Location(s) of Field Day:
Durst Organic Growers — Hungry Hollow, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentor(s):
Jim Durst — CEO, Farm Director

Summary of the Day:
This Sacramento Valley FARMS Field Day and Leadership Lesson features a presentation from fourth-generation Yolo County farmer Jim Durst. Though the Durst family’s legacy is the production of large-scale commodity crops, since 1988, Jim is the first in his family to focus the farm on cultivating organic produce. Operating out of Hungry Hollow, just north of California’s Capital, Durst Organic Growers champions the importance of sustainability and eco-conscious practices in every aspect of their operations. The Leadership Lesson included FARMS students’ presentations regarding their 16personalities and CareerOneStop survey’s results. The Hands-On Learning Kit for this Field Day included Durst Organic Growers’ asparagus and a few additional supplies for a home-cooking and picture contest.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus and Fettuccine Alfredo by Deveion Hopkins
Cheesy Bacon Asparagus and sides by DeAngelo Green

Take the Weiß Pill

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley | February 20, 2020

Location of Field Day: Bayer, 37437 CA-16 Woodland, CA 95695

Hosts: Lisa McDaniel, Head of Global Outreach & Engagement

The Sacramento Valley Field Day at Bayer Woodland began in the front lobby of the sprawling, iron-gated compound. We were promptly met by Lisa McDaniel, Head of Global Outreach & Engagement.

Once our entire class arrived, Lisa escorted us to a boardroom on the second floor of an even larger building on the opposite side of the Bayer Woodland campus. Upon arrival at our second meeting place, we conducted an “open circle”, students introduced themselves, we reviewed the day’s itinerary, and we were provided id badges to wear for the duration of our tour. Following a ‘hotel breakfast’ of multigrain bars, muffins, yogurt, juice, and coffee, we headed out for a tour the various research and development facilities.

Our first stops were a series of greenhouses where we learned about the safety measures taken to protect crop yields. We learned about specialty breeding and the genome-tracking processes that ensure the strongest, most drought-resistant produce. We then toured their maintenance facility where we learned that the use of GPS systems can help better track crop development.

After our tour of the grounds, we regrouped in the boardroom and were treated to pizza for lunch! During our lunch, we were joined by a diverse panel of Bayer professionals who introduced themselves told us all a little bit about their background and their work at Bayer. After lunch and thanking the panel for their time, we headed downstairs to participate in a hands-on activity that mimicked the science of tracking disease by inspecting samples and referring to a checklist for tell-tale signs of illness in plants. We then headed back upstairs to take part in a market research survey to compare and contrast the tastes of tomatoes. And we learned that taste-preferences can vary widely in the global market.

We concluded this trip with a “closing circle” that asked students to recall something they learned during their tour at Bayer. We thanked our hosts and departed.

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