Ecological Agriculture

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley | November 30, 2021

Location of Field Day:
Center for Land-Based Learning – Woodland, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors:
Center for Land-Based Learning – Alex Lintner & Ric Murphy
Yolo Resource Conservation District – Amy Williams
Picnic Table Farms – Paul Boulware

Theme:
Ecological Agriculture

River City High School joined us for our November FARMS Leadership field day all about Ecological Agriculture: the essential practice of aligning agriculture with ecological principles that support the health of the surrounding wildlife, land and humans. Students spent the day at our Center for Land-Based Learning Headquarters learning about Ecological Ag from two central perspectives: 1) folks at the Yolo Resource Conservation District who work to improve and sustain Yolo County’s natural resources and land and 2) the founder of Picnic Table Farms who works to grow produce galore on Yolo County’s land.

We began our day focusing on connecting with one another and understanding the importance of leadership. After checking in and learning a bit more about each other during our Opening Circle, we introduced River City to field day Student Leadership Roles: roles that give students the opportunity to guide and teach their peers about issues related to the central FARMS Leadership Pillars, while practicing their research, public speaking, self-reflection, and communication skills. 

After a quick tour of CLBL’s farm facilities, we ventured out to meet Amy Williams and her RCD crew who came armed with 70 native trees, shrubs and plants ready to go in the ground. In recent months, CLBL has partnered with Yolo RCD to install three massive hedgerows around CLBL farm land, in an effort to provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, improve the land’s soil health, and sequester carbon. Amy, the Project Manager, and CLBL’s GrizzlyCorps Member and soil expert Alex Litner, helped to educate our students not only on all the benefits hedgerows provide for land and wildlife, but also for our farmers: providing increased pollinators crop production, fixing nitrogen into the farm’s soil, providing wind buffers to prevent soil erosion, and reducing pest populations. Talk about a symbiotic relationship!

After Amy’s planting demonstration, students got their hands dirty planting Yarrow, Showy Milkweed, Valley Oak, and Pacific Aster among 16 other types of native California plants. Within just over an hour, students had planted 50 plants!

After a break for lunch during which our student Nutrition Educators researched and presented the nutrition benefits of the strawberries and kale we were munching on, we went to meet some farmers. Ric Murphy, CLBL’s Incubator Farm Program Manager, gave students the low-down on the program’s mission to provide beginner farmers with land, infrastructure and ongoing training. After encouraging students to consider the perks of a career in farming, Ric introduced us to Paul Boulware, a participant in the Incubator Farmer Program and the founder of Picnic Table Farms. 

We spent the remainder of our afternoon with Farmer Paul. He toured us through his colorful half acre plot stacked with massive carrots, pink celery, deep green and purple salad mixes, and salad turnips. As students taste-tested his veggies, Paul shared his sustainable growing practices with us along the way: everything hand grown with no machine use, no-till farming, natural pest management, and keeping roots in the soil as long as possible for turning a bed to plant the next crop. Students were amazed by the amount and the beauty that all Paul has been able to produce while maintaining balance with his ecological surroundings. 

After Paul sent students off with a butternut squash each and a container of salad turnip seeds for their school’s garden, we ended the day with our Closing Circle. While students around the circle shared lots of learning highlights from the day, the common theme seemed to be the land. Everyone shared an appreciation for the new ways they learned to care for the land and its vast resources that support us, whether it be from the farmer’s or the conservationist’s perspective.

Finishing another season of restoration at River Garden Farms

River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 18, 2021

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

Volunteers
Mandi Finger
Felisia Castaneda
Peter Johnson
Joe Hardie
Bri Grosskopf
Griffin Capehart

Summary of the Day
February 18th marked our final SLEWS Field Day with Yolo County Resource Conservation District, and we were back for our third double-header at River Garden Farms. On our previous field day, we spent two shifts planting 480 plants, including installing protective cartons and an irrigation system. Today it was time to mulch these plants to discourage weed growth and improve moisture retention. Like we did at Capay Valley Lavender, we were able to repurpose byproducts of the farm (in this case, rice straw) to accomplish this important task! As we mulched, we also did quality control – checking that emitters were working properly, and anchoring stray protective cartons.

As volunteers worked to place large mats of straw around each plant, River Garden Farms employee Arturo followed along towing a trailer full of straw bales. These weren’t your ordinary straw bales, either, they were gigantic! Arturo ensured that straw was always available when we needed it, and did a great job matching our pace. We were thankful that our COVID-19 masks provided protection against all the dust and debris from the straw as we made our way down the future hedgerow!

The morning shift of volunteers was able to mulch the majority of the plants, which the afternoon crew quickly finished up. Then we got in our vehicles to regroup at a new project site. The Sacramento River flows through River Garden Farms, and they wanted to beautify a ¼ acre levee area adjacent to their headquarters while supporting conservation efforts. The solution? Plant native wildflowers on the levee.

We took to the levee, using hoes to scrape away patches on the surface of the earth, sprinkling wildflower seed mix, and patting down before moving on to create more patches. By the end of the afternoon, we had finished seeding our project area, covering about 33% of the area in native wildflower seeds. I can’t wait to see the transformation when the flowers bloom – it’ll be an explosion of lupines and phaecelia!

Thank you to our partners, funders, and volunteers for helping us to keep our SLEWS restoration projects moving forward, even when working with students is not possible. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a more typical SLEWS season next fall!

A big project on a windy day

River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 4, 2021

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

Volunteers
David Marks
Ruby Marks
Gabrielle Stadem
Sarah Gaffney
Anna Tolle
Bri Grosskopf

Summary of the Day
For our second double-header field day at River Garden Farms, we were at a new location on the road to River Garden Farms HQ. We had planned 2 SLEWS projects here for this year, hoping that 2 classes of students would each adopt a section of the hedgerow for their 3-day project. Alas, COVID-19 had other plans, but we were lucky to have a dedicated group of volunteers come out to get this project started!

We started our cold and windy morning by watching a planting demonstration by Joanne Heraty of Yolo County Resource Conservation District, and we learned with semi-recent rains we had some of the easiest digging all year ahead of us! Remember, this was meant to be a double SLEWS project, so this hedgerow was LONG! By the end of the first shift (lunchtime) we had finished maybe ¾ of the planting, so our afternoon crew arrived and finished the planting portion. Once all 480 plants were installed, we set to work on installing the irrigation system, laying out the line and following up with emitters. By the end of second shift, we were halfway done with emitter installation – I told you this project was ambitious!

Looking forward to our last double field day at River Garden Farms next week where we will mulch along this hedgerow.