Urban greening in Vallejo

Rodriguez High School at Lake Dalwigk
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 12, 2020

Participating School
Rodriguez High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Mary Badger, Technician, UC Davis Genomic Variation Laboratory
Natalie Kopec, UC Davis Undergraduate
Sarah Gaffney, UC Davis Graduate Student
Teska Hapig-Ward, UC Davis Undergraduate

Summary of the Day
By this time of year, most of our SLEWS projects are coming to an end – I’ve gotten accustomed to coordinating final field days with cupcakes and thank you notes and a shared sense of accomplishment. After finishing 5 of 7 SLEWS projects, it was quite an adjustment to get back in first field day mode, with introductions and name games! But that was just the case with our project with Rodriguez High School.

Our field day was at Lake Dalwigk in Vallejo, a public park in which Solano Resource Conservation District is implementing an urban greening project. The project involves planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers in the park, and our contribution would be helping with the tree planting.

During opening circle, Sarah McKibbin gave students an overview of the planning process for this project, and what had been done so far. Some of the trees had already been planted, but there were over 100 left to plant, which we all agreed would be impossible to complete in the time we had. We’d plant as many as we could and call it a day!

We played group juggle to learn each other’s names before dividing into mentor groups to learn to identify 5 of the trees we’d be planting: coastal live oak, valley oak, California buckeye, western sycamore, and black walnut. Once students could do this confidently, it was time to pit mentor group against mentor group for a game of “Steal the Native Plant” with students racing to correctly identify the trees.

After gathering shovels and gloves, Sarah led a planting demonstration, showing students how to dig a hole at the right depth, make a “pedestal” for the plant to rest on, cover the potting soil with native soil, install a tree tube, and secure it with a stake inside the tube.

Mentor groups set off tackling different sections of the irrigation line. Students really seemed to get in the flow of planting – one student who at first claimed he “didn’t dig” was later seen crushing it and planting 5 trees all by himself! This group was incredibly efficient and productive, FAR exceeding the RCD’s expectations – in fact, RCD staff were scrambling to set plants out in time for students to put them in the ground! By the end of the morning, our team had planted over 100 native trees, an incredible achievement!

After a well-deserved lunch, we learned how to use binoculars so we could look at some of the birds in and around Lake Dalwigk, including MANY Canada Geese, several species of ducks, gulls, coots, and sparrows. Students received and personalized field journals, then transitioned into mentor interviews. This gave them an opportunity to get to know the mentors they’d been working with all day, especially learning about their education and career paths.

To close the day, students summed up the day in just one word. Popular ones included: FUN, green, extravagant, interesting, productive, trees, collaborative, and rewarding. I couldn’t agree more!

With schools canceled for at least several weeks (if not the rest of the school year) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains unclear whether we will be able to complete the rest of our field days. It’s possible this was the final Field Day of the 2019-20 SLEWS season. If this is the case, I could not have picked a better field day to end on.

BEEF. IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER.

FARMS Advanced Program | Kern County | Thursday, February 27, 2020

Location of Field Day:
Red House Beef
649 Enos Ln Bakersfield, CA 93314

Field Day Host
Maddie Herndon- Ranch Manager
Debbie Wise- Owner

Summary of the Day: On Thursday, February 27, 2020, the Kern County FARMS Advanced Program from McFarland High School visited Redhouse Beef. We started off the day meeting with their herd manager Maddie Herndon. Maddie started off the tour by telling us the history of the company and when it began. Next, she explained all the different breeds of cattle and described each of their breed characteristics. The majority of their herd is Angus and Red Angus cattle. These two breeds are known for being the best for meat production. We learned a lot about the marbling of meat which is the fat and gives meat a lot of its flavor. We then met with the owner Debbie Wise who explained more about the beef side of the company. Debbie has a lot of knowledge about the agriculture industry and it was very interesting listening to all she had to say.

We then moved onto the grass-fed chickens they raise at Redhouse. The hens are rotated throughout the pasture along with the chicken coop on wheels. It is very impressive. These Red House hens were so pampered living a fat and happy life. There where different varieties of chickens which means they lay different colored eggs. The girls graze on bugs, clover, and grass that make their yolks a bright orange color. Everyone loved them so much that we had to take a picture with them!

Finally, we walked the orchards to look at the almond trees. They were blooming so it was great to see them in this stage. About 20% of the flowers you see on the almond trees will then turn into almonds. The weather plays a huge role in the production of the almond’s trees. Too much chill can knock off the blooms and set them back. A crucial step is the pollination of the trees. Honey bees play a major role with around 80% of the United States crop depending on them for pollination. All bees in the colony have their own jobs. We talked a little about the jobs and how crucial each bee is to the colony. The bee colonies consist of a single queen bee, hundreds of male’s drones and 20,000 plus female worker bees. It was amazing to hear how a small creature has such an important job and how their hive works.

This was an informative experience and we are grateful for our amazing hosts at Redhouse Beef. Thank you! We look forward to our next visit!

Perfection Pet Foods

FARMS Leadership Program | Kern County | Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Location of Field Day:
Perfection Pet Foods- 1111 N Miller Park Ct, Visalia, CA 93291

Field Day Host
Kendre Wise
Marco Mendza
Deshon Young
Janelle Martinez

Summary of the Day: On Tuesday, February 25, 2020 the Kern County FARMS Leadership Program from McFarland High school went on a field trip to Perfection Pet Foods in Visalia, CA. We were so thrilled to find out how our pet’s food is properly made and all the steps to making the perfect pet food. Perfection Pet Foods has been around for eight years. Western Milling is the parent company to Perfection Pet Foods. Perfection Pet foods makes sure that each bag of food or box of treats has the ingredients to meet the requirements our pets need.

We first started off the tour meeting with the staff of Perfection Pet Foods. They gave us a presentation on what we would be seeing throughout our tour of the facility. There are many regulations and rules they must follow in making the perfect pet food. They must make sure that all their pet food is safe to eat and unharmful to pets and humans. 

We started the tour by suiting up in gear required to wear while touring the facility. We were ready to work! We began the tour working backwards with the finish product first and ending with the raw material. It was amazing to see rows and rows of so many pallets stacked high waiting to go out to deliver. They have thousands and thousands of pounds of food in their warehouse. The process is so fast in which they package the dog food. Making sure each seal is complete is crucial on making sure the food stays as fresh as possible. The food also goes through a metal detector to make sure no foreign objects have entered the bags so our pets are guaranteed safe products. 

Ready to go to work!

We watched the raw material being pushed through the extruder. Imagine Play-Doh as a kid. The extruder is the cookie cutter for the pet food. They come in all shapes and sizes such as bones, stars, circles and triangles. The food then falls out into the shape desired and then gets cooked to perfection. It then is cooled and sent onto the packaging process.

We were also able to see the biscuit factory. It smelt amazing! It was so tempting to sample one. They smelt like cookies and cooked to perfection. The biscuits came in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Fun Fact: They mentioned most variety pack of biscuits that differ in color are most likely all the same flavor. So therefore, if your pet prefers the savory red beef one he could just like the red color more so than the other colors offered. They to also have different varieties of cut outs based on customers preferences.

 This was such an amazing tour. It was a real eye opener to the process that takes place when creating our pet’s food. Perfection Pet Food puts in hard work and effort for every one of their products produced. Thank you so much for letting us be a part of this amazing day!

A day of birds, boxes, and bugs

Woodland High School at Capay Open Space Park
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 4, 2020

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Cache Creek Conservancy

Mentors
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Matt Clement, Facilities Steward, Center for Land-Based Learning
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab

Summary of the Day
For our fourth and final day with Woodland High School, we were back at Capay Open Space Park. By breakfast it was already shaping up to be a warm day, and students arrived eager to get to work. We started the day with a game of “all aboard”, a game in which students attempt to stand on one foot on a tarp that keeps decreasing in size by half. When the game became impossible, we met up with Corey Shake, a biologist who gave us an introduction to bird boxes.

Nest boxes provide valuable breeding habitat for cavity nesting birds like Western Bluebirds when natural cavities are difficult to find. Michael Perrone and Joe Zinkl of Yolo Audubon were on deck to demonstrate how these boxes are built, and then mentor groups set to work assembling the boxes and attaching them to a long pole for installation.

Once the nest boxes were ready to go, Corey gave an instructional demonstration on how to use binoculars. We went on a walk to the installation sites and stopped along the way to do some birding. Mentor groups competed against each other to see which group could identify the most birds – the winning group identified 13 species! Some of the birds we saw included: Peregrine Falcon, Northern Mockingbird, Western Scrub Jay, White-crowned Sparrow, Anna’s Hummingbird, Common Raven, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Tree Swallow, Black Phoebe, Western Meadowlark, Mourning Dove, California Quail, House Finch, Great Blue Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and American White Pelican.

Amongst blooming redbuds, we installed 4 bluebird boxes along Cache Creek before heading down to the creekbed for our next activity: macroinvertebrate sampling. Elise Stinnett of Cache Creek Conservancy gave an introduction that showed students the types of macroinvertebrates we might see, and what they can tell us about the health of the creek. Four students donned mud boots to enter the creek and collect samples, and students were able to identify macroinvertebrates like dragonfly nymphs, mosquito larvae, and mayfly larvae. Looking at the species overall, students determined that this was a moderately healthy creek, as it included species that you’d expect to see in a healthy creek AND an unhealthy creek. Students were also excited to see many frogs jumping around by the creek’s edge.

After lunch and a celebratory cake, we sat down to write thank you notes to someone who made this SLEWS project possible. As students worked on their thank you notes, I asked for autographs on a “SLEWS was here!” sign that will be installed at our other project site (and new CLBL headquarters), the Maples.

To conclude the day, students shared their favorite experiences from all 4 of our Field Days together. Responses included hanging out by the creek, riding the argo across the creek, building bird boxes, spending time with friends, and planting.

Pioneer plants plenty of plugs

Pioneer High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 28, 2020

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers

Mentors
Dominic Carrillo, Development Associate, Center for Land-Based Learning
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning
Gina Radieve, Environmental Scientist, California Department of Water Resources
Jen Metes, Conservation Programs Administrator, The Freshwater Trust

Summary of the Day
This SLEWS season, as you may recall, we had two schools working at the Yanci Ranch project site – Grant Union High School in Sacramento and Pioneer High School in Woodland. Because the ground was too dry to plug plant on Grant Union’s last day, they instead finished planting container plants and shored up the irrigation system so it would be able to moisten the soil for Pioneer students to complete the plug planting portion. Pioneer students arrived to softer soil, and ready to plant these plugs!

After a game of PVC golf, Amy Williams showed students what our restoration work would look like today. The goal will be planting some more native species including sunflower, yarrow, gumplant, goldenrod and milkweed – except this time, instead of planting plants in plastic container pots, these “plug” plants come in a tray, and are so small that planting them just requires poking a hole with a “dibble” and pinching the native soil over the top. At each marked spot, students would plant 4 plug plants, and install a protective tube secured by a stake around each to. To finish, students would apply a thick layer of straw mulch around the tubes to prevent weeds from outcompeting the native species.
Mentor groups divided along the line to conquer this project, working in pairs to plug plant, install tubes, and mulch. As they worked, students noticed several ant nests in the area and even found a tree frog!

After lunch and enjoying SLEWS-themed cupcakes, we hiked up to the top of a nearby hill for 360 degree views of Yanci Ranch. We saw our project site, earlier phases of the project that connect to our piece to create corridors for wildlife, and a beautiful view of the hills and the valley below. After taking the view in, students had time to create a thank you card for someone who made their SLEWS experience possible – be it a teacher, mentor, restoration partner, landowner, funder, or someone else. As students were working, I found an owl pellet and deer skull, both of which I showed to students during closing circle. As we finished the day, we reminisced on past field days and discussed our favorite moments of SLEWS. Many students enjoyed planting, the feeling of teamwork, visiting the earlier phases of the project, and being on top of the hill, but one student encouraged us all to enjoy the current moment with her one word answer, “now”.

Becoming native plant caretakers

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 21, 2020

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Karleen Vollherbst, Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our final day working at the confluence of Putah Creek and Dry Creek in Winters was a hot one, but that didn’t stop us from accomplishing a TON of work.

After mentor groups faced off in a game of PVC golf, we headed down to our planting site to hear from Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District about the plans for the day. The main goal was supporting the plants we had planted on our second field day to give them the best possible chance at survival. This was a multi-step process. First, students checked to make sure the emitter was working properly. Then, they installed protective tubes around each plant and drove a bamboo stake into the ground to keep the tube upright. They then cleared weeds around the plant and applied a thick layer of mulch to prevent weed growth around the plant and minimize water loss. There were a few areas in which plants needed to be planted as well, so we planted about 15 native plants in addition to what we had done on our second field day. As we planted, students and mentors noticed many birds around the project site, including yellow-rumped warblers, western bluebirds, and tree swallows.

After a productive morning, we had burritos for lunch and celebrated the last SLEWS day with a cupcake cake. Once lunch was finished, we moved on to mentor interviews. By now, students had been working with their mentors for 3 field days, and this gave them an opportunity to get to know them even better and ask them questions about their education and career paths. As you can see by the diverse job titles above, students were able to hear about several different lines of work and asked great questions, a popular one being, “what is the most surprising thing about your job?”.

To close the day, we shared our favorite experiences of all three SLEWS Field Days. Many students cited visiting Putah Creek on Day 1 and learning about black widow behavior with mentor Lea on Day 2 as their favorite experiences, along with mulching and planting.

Thanks for 3 awesome Field Days!

The need to weed!

Woodland High School at the Maples
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 19, 2020

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab
Matt Clement
Matt Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS

Summary of the Day
As you may recall, our SLEWS project with Woodland High School is actually two projects – two days at the Maples in Woodland, and two days at Capay Open Space Park. This was our third field day after one at the Maples and one at COSP, making it our final day at the Maples.

We had a small crew on this day which made PVC golf trickier than usual (you have to run FAST to get to the front of the group before the golf ball does!) but two groups won the game incredibly quickly. After that, it was time to group up to learn about the restoration work for the day.

Since we planted all the plants on our first field day here, our next task was to make sure these plants are given the best chance at survival. Installing “tubex” tubes around each plant will help protect them from pests, herbicides, and wind and will create a mini greenhouse for the young plants. Before installing the tubes, students checked to make sure the emitter was working properly, and created a soil “berm” on the low side of the plant to prevent all the water from flowing into the basin. But one of the biggest problems for these plants will be competition from weeds! To combat this, we mulched around each plant with a THICK (two “leaves” or “flakes” worth) of straw. This will prevent weeds from growing up around the plant, so they’ll have better access to resources like water and sunlight.

Speaking of weeds – there was already tons of cheeseweed and milkthistle sprouting up in our planting area. After a quick lesson on how to identify these pesky weeds, students set to work attacking each and every one! Students were very inquisitive as they worked – asking what benefit weeding would have for the plants, and asking to be reminded of the species we planted last time and their role in the ecosystem.

After lunch, we donned binoculars and set off to explore nearby Cache Creek. We spotted many different species of birds and took some time to relax and enjoy the view from the levee.

At closing circle, students were asked what they had learned that day. Popular mentions were how to identify milkweed and cheeseweed, how to use binoculars, and the benefits of mulching. As for favorite moments of the day, the clear winner was a surprise – weeding!

A five star day

Grant Union at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley |February 13, 2020

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Kathy Rightmire, Director of Development, Center for Land-Based Learning
Dani Gelardi, UCD Graduate Student
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
MJ Farruggia, UCD Graduate Student

Summary of the Day
“How did today go?”
“FIVE STARS!”
After each Field Day, I ask this question of our mentors and project partners in order to get feedback and look for ways to improve the SLEWS Program. Never have I been met with such an enthusiastic response! Read on to see what happened on this beautiful, five star day.

We started with a game of PVC golf before heading down to the restoration site to finish our part of the project. On their Field Day two weeks prior, Pioneer High did not have time to finish planting all of the native plants on their irrigation line. Our priority was getting these plants in the ground, so Grant Union students took this on, planting 65 native plants. Another priority was installing emitters along the line so that each plant would receive a consistent water source (especially as it’s been a very dry month!). Once emitters were in, we turned the irrigation system on to make sure it was working properly. Usually when we do this check, we find multiple “geysers” along the line – spots were emitters were not installed properly and pop off due to the water pressure, spraying water everywhere. Shockingly, we found no geysers! Grant Union did a perfect job! We also were able to plant 24 plug plants, but since the ground was too hard to use a dibble, this was done with trowels.

On our very first field day, we noticed a tall hill that looked accessible, so after lunch and a last-field-day celebration of SLEWS-themed cupcakes, we began the trek. The walk was not far but it was steep, and we all had to catch our breath at the top – especially those that chose to literally run and race up the hill!

I figured there would be a decent view from the top, but was absolutely blown away by the stunning panorama that awaited us. The excitement atop the hill was palpable – after taking some time to soak in the view, we passed out supplies for students to design and write a thank you card to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. Many students wrote to their mentors, and others wrote a general thank you to all who helped plan their field trip.

We had our closing circle at the top of the hill where we shared our favorite memories from all three field days we had shared. Popular answers included hiking to the top of the hill, being out in nature, installing emitters, planting trees, seeing wildlife, teambuilding games, and enjoying the beautiful weather. Michael Felipe of Yolo County Resource Conservation District had come upon many tiny bones at the top of the hill, which we realized came from raptor casts or owl pellets – he shared his finds at closing circle.

It was amazing to close out the day with a view of not only our project, but also earlier phases of the restoration efforts at the site – we could clearly see how our piece connected to the rest of the wildlife corridor.

A Sweet Exploration of Ag Jobs

FARMS Leadership | North State | February 11, 2020

Field Day Locations:

Sunsweet, Yuba City

Yuba College Career Technical Education (CTE) facilities, Linda campus

Theme of the Day:

California Plums, Food Manufacturing, Jobs in every field in Ag, Community college CTE opportunities

Summary:

What an exciting day at Sunsweet and Yuba College! We started with some fun teambuiling- a game of what we like to call “duct tape octopus pictionary.” The day continued with an intro video and presentation about Sunsweet from Jamie Dickerson, Director of Human Resources. She explained the history of the company, some of the ways they continuously remain the leader in the prune market, and the variety of jobs available at the Yuba City facility for all educational backgrounds. We then got to put on lab coats and hair nets to tour the facility! The students were pretty awe struck at all the machines and at how many different stores and countries prunes were being packed for and waiting for shipment! We stood in a storage room with ¼ of the worlds demand for prunes in crates around us waiting to get packed and shipped!

After a final Q and A session with Sunsweet employees about how to get a job there, and general advice about working in agriculture and in the Yuba City region, we headed to Yuba College. Here, we got a tour from CTE instructor Dan Turner and learned about the welding and advanced manufacturing programs. The students learned that you don’t need to have taken welding courses in High School in order to enroll in the program at college. They also learned about what jobs the various CTE degrees and certificates offered by Yuba College could prepare them for. It was a fun and informative field day and we are grateful to our hosts from Sunsweet and Yuba College for sharing their time, facilities and wisdom with us!

Wildlife, livestock and nature—just a day in the life of college student!

FARMS Leadership| San Joaquin| February 6, 2020

Location of Field Day:

UC Davis, including California Raptor Center, Goat Barn, Dairy Goat Parlor & Creamery, Dining Commons, and Arboretum

Field Day Hosts:

CA Raptor Center and UC Davis

UC Davis Animal Science Department

UC Davis Arboretum & Public Garden

Theme of the Day:

Exploring unique classrooms at UC Davis while learning about animal science.

Summary:

We started our day at the CA Raptor Center at UC Davis. Here, students learned some cool facts about raptors and about the connections between raptors and agriculture. They got to tour the center and meet the resident birds. Next we walked next door to the Goat Barn and the new Dairy Goat Parlor and Creamery. Here, students got to meet dairy and meat goats, and got to tour the brand new milking parlor and creamery. Our Animal Science student and staff hosts helped everyone understand how the milking process works, how goat cheese is made, and highlighted opportunities for internships and coursework in Animal Sciences at UC Davis.

Our next stop was lunch. When on a college campus, we like to take students to eat at the dining commons so they can experience this important aspect of student life and envision themselves as a college student. We ate at Tercero Dining Commons, where students and teachers alike enjoyed the many choices, including UC Davis Student Farm grown veggies!

Our final stop of the day was a visit to the UC Davis Arboretum. Here, we enjoyed some more of the beautiful scenery that UC Davis offers, learned that ducks should NOT eat bread, and learned about the many opportunities for UCD students to participate in internships with the Arboretum and Public Gardens. These internships exist in many topics that intersect with campus life and the outdoors, including health science, landscape design, habitat restoration, food access and wildlife conservation.