A day of habitat creation in San Diego’s Tijuana River Valley

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | February 23, 2019 | Field day 2

Participating School
Mar Vista High School

Location
Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Mentors

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Land Manager
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Summary of the Day

Mar Vista students and their teacher arrived for our second SLEWS field day on a sunny morning following a rainy period. The site was pretty muddy, but no one seemed to mind too much! Students mingled and snacked while the team geared up for the day’s activities.

We kicked things off with an invigorating game of Where the Wind Blows, which got everyone moving and laughing. We then headed off to the hedgerow for our morning of restoration work. Last field day, the hedgerow was divided into four sections – one for each mentor group. Groups returned to their sections to observe the plant life already in the hedgerow. They then spent some time weeding around existing plants and where new plants would be planted (thanks to the rain, weeds were plentiful – especially in section 4!). The groups then planted the plants allocated to their section – 45 native potted plants and ten mulefat cuttings taken from the surrounding area were planted. After planting, students created a watering basin and mulched around each new plant.

The Community Garden is located in a historically agricultural area. Although few farms remain, there are several stables in the area, including one adjacent to the garden owned by the family of a teacher at Mar Vista! The teacher, Mr Jara, rode by the garden during Field Day 1 and saw the students, and invited us over for a tour on our next field day. After our planting project, we headed over to the horse ranch to meet some of the horses and hear about what goes on at the ranch. Students (and mentors) even got to take turns riding a horse!

After our tour, we returned to the garden for lunch – we had burritos in response to a request from the students. Following lunch, we built native bee nesting blocks and installed a barn owl box. At the first field day, groups decided which project they would work on this time. Three selected bee boxes, and one selected the owl box. Students had lots of fun using power tools to drill holes in the nesting blocks and attaching a roof. They even decorated their nesting blocks before installing them within the hedgerow. The group that installed the owl box had an interesting time examining the box, which had been used before and still had remnants from the previous inhabitants! They attached a metal pole to the box, dug a hole for the pole, and erected the box. Hopefully by the next field day we’ll be able to observe wildlife utilizing their new habitat.

By the time the owl box had been erected and the nesting boxes installed in the hedgerow, we could see the bus pulling up. How was it 2pm already? After a quick group poem to reflect on our day (each participant said one word that summed up their experience of the day), the students headed back onto the bus.

We all had a great time and are excited for Field Day 3!

Accomplishments:

  • 55 native plants planted in the hedgerow
  • Weeding and mulching of the hedgerow
  • 3 native bee nesting blocks and 1 barn owl box installed on site

Happy Cows Come From California, Smart Cows Come From UC Davis!

FARMS Leadership Program: Sacramento Valley: February 21st, 2019

Location of Field Day: Davis, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Dan Sehnert – Department of Animal Science Facilities Coordinator
  • Ed DePeters – UC Davis Professor and Master Advisor for Animal Science major’s
  • Katharina Ullman – Director of UC Davis Student Farm

Theme: College and Career Exploration

Summary of the Day:

Dan Sehnert, the UC Davis Department of Animal Science Facilities Coordinator, welcomed the Sacramento Valley FARMS Leadership students to UC Davis. The students were then split up into 4 groups and toured the Dairy Cattle Facility, Horse Facility, Avian Hatchery, and the Meats Lab. At the dairy the students were able to assist in treating a sick cow, see new born calves, and help UC Davis student employees vaccinate. At the horse facility the students were given a tour and learned about the different ways in which horses are studied at UC Davis. Afterwards the students were given the opportunity to groom the horse’s as well as see a week old foal that was bred and born at the facility. At the hatchery student’s learned how to candle eggs and were able to see different varieties of birds at different stages of incubation. The final facility the students visited was the Meats Lab. Students were given a tour, the different processing practices used to process cattle, hogs and lambs were discussed and the students were able to sample some beef jerky and snack sticks that the Meats Lab produced.

After the facility tours we all met back at the UC Davis Cole Facility where Dr. Ed DePeter’s joined us. He discussed with the FARMS Leadership students the college experience. Dr. DePeter’s is a professor at UC Davis and went over the different classes and opportunities that both UC Davis and the Animal Science Department offer. After our visit with Dr. DePeter’s we headed to campus where the students had the opportunity to dine like a college student at Tecero Student Dining Hall.

We concluded our day at the Student Farm and Market Garden. Katharina Ullman, the Director of the Student Farm, welcomed us and gave the students a tour. The students were able to learn about the different crops and herbs grown at the Student Farm as well as see the Market Garden and learn about the CSA program that UC Davis students implement.  

FARMS Leadership Student Quotes:

“I had a lot of fun learning about the background and specifics that go into horse breeding!” – Melina C.

“I really enjoyed working with the calves and getting to help vaccinate them!” – Tyler R.

RCDMC – Resource Conservation District of Monterey County

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | November 15, 2018

Location(s) of Field Day
DiCarli Ranch 25420 Old Stage Rd. Chualar, Ca
Buena Vista Grange

Schools Participating
Gonzales High School
North Salinas High School
Soledad High School
Watsonville High School

Field Day Hosts and Mentors
Paul Robins, Executive Director with RCDMC
Megan Baker, Project Administrator with RCDMC
Laura Murphy, Soil Scientist with RCDMC
Ken Oster, Soil Scientist with NRCS
Wayne Gularte, Grower

Summary of the Day

DiCarli Ranch is chilly in the morning as students grab a breakfast burrito and some warm champorado. Students slowly begin warming up as we listen to Wayne Gularte, a farmer who has been working with the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County for many years and has allowed us to use his fields to have our field day. Wayne kicks off the field day by sharing his profession and what lead him to farm, and he recalls working on the field during the summer as a young boy. Wayne encourages students to spend time working in the fields at least once in their life as a way to build a strong work ethic.

Students receive a demonstration on land judging from Ken Oster a long time National Resource Conservation Service employee. There are a lot of different land characteristics that students will have to look for – characteristics like soil texture, soil thickness and they must determine the slope of the land. Then students use the data and information to identify some potential land uses, management needs and land limitation.

It’s a quick lesson before we split the students into groups by school and they alternate between 2 pit locations. Students record their findings and observations on a scorecard.

After our time in the pits, we drove to the Grange Hall for lunch. Student scorecards were graded while we heard from a Monterey FARMS Alumni, Kyla Monroe. Kyla had won the land judging contest years back and received a scholarship to range camp. She shared her experience at range camp.

Winners of The 2019 Land Judging Contest
and Recipients of The Range Camp Scholarships

  1. Jessica Rodriguez – Watsonville High School
  2. Luis Gomez – Watsonville High School
  3. Hailey Higgins – Soledad High School

We ended the Field Day with group interviews. where students had an opportunity to ask the industry professionals questions about their jobs and professions were able to ask students about their plans after high school.

Access to the Best Walnuts in the World!

FARMS Leadership Program: San Joaquin: February 14th, 2019

Location of Field Day: Linden, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Jennifer Williams – Marketing Director for California Walnuts
  • Joseph Stacher – Production Manager for Prima Frutta
  • Katie Arce – Walnut Quality Control for Prima Noce

Theme: Walnuts and Ag Technology

Summary of the Day:

For our fifth field day of the 2018-2019 year we headed to Prima Noce in Linden California to learn about Walnut production and processing and the technology used in this booming industry. With the anticipation of upcoming rain showers we began our field day inside the break room of the apple processing building at Prima Frutta (the fruit processing division of the Prima company).  Once we finished our ice breakers and the students all finished their breakfast Jennifer Williams, the Marketing Director for California Walnuts introduced her self and joined us for the day at Prima Noce. Since there was a break in the rain in the morning we then headed outside for a tour of the orchards and processing facilities lead by Joseph Stacher the Production Manager for Prima Frutta.

While out in the orchards the students were able to see different varieties of walnut trees. We were also able to learn about the different stages of production between the various orchards and also the different styles of growing walnut trees including the grafting process. Joseph gave us a great over view of how things are managed at Prima Noce and the history of the company and then Jennifer gave her insight on how they compared to the walnut industry as a whole.

After leaving the orchard we toured the walnut processing facilities. The students put on hair nets and washed up at the high tech washing stations and then we were able to see all stages of Prima Noce’s production line. We saw everything from in shell walnuts, chopped walnuts, sliced walnuts to the packaging of walnuts. After finishing the tour of the walnut processing facilities we then tour the cherry processing facility which is gearing up to begin again in April and the apple processing facilities which is just wrapping up their season. We finished our tours just as the rain began to pick up and we headed back into the break room where we began our day.

The students took a break for lunch and then Joseph introduced Katie Arce, the woman in charge of Walnut Quality Control for Prima Noce. They taught the students how quality control works in the walnut industry and then the students were split into groups and able to work on sorting 100 walnuts in trays based on quality.

Grass and forb planting at Petersen Ranch

Rio Vista High School at Petersen Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 6, 2019

Participating School
Rio Vista High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Emily Snider, UCD graduate student
Karleen Vollherbst, Partner’s for Fish & Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Matthew Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS
Luke Petersen, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS

Summary of the Day
The morning of this Field Day was the coldest so far – it was 28 degrees when I arrived to load up the truck with gear in the morning! After finding another water source (the faucets were frozen shut!) we loaded up the truck with hot water for cocoa and were on our way, passing frost-covered cows on the drive.

The restoration site was at the end of a dirt road that had become quite muddy in recent rains – just getting there was a 4wd adventure! Rio Vista High soon arrived with a small but mighty crew of students. After changing into rain boots, we were at our field site in no time.

We started our first Field Day with opening circle, where Chris Carlson of Solano RCD introduced the multi-year project at Petersen Ranch. Just last year, students from Rio Vista High installed irrigation, planted grasses, trees, and shrubs and installed bird boxes. This year’s students will help put the finishing touches on this restoration project. After a game of “Where the Wind Blows” where we learned Rio Vista students enjoy fishing, welding, and spending time outdoors we divided into mentor groups and gathered supplies for the day.

Chris led an informative and entertaining demonstration of our activity for the day – planting “plugs” of native grasses, forbs, and sedges. Mentor groups tackled different areas near the irrigation ditch, planting plugs of mugwort, purple aster, western goldentop, creeping wildrye, and saltgrass. Groups working further from the water source also installed drip emitters on the irrigation line and placed a protective covering around the plug. Rio Vista students worked incredibly fast – 800 plugs were in the ground in under an hour! Luckily Chris had some acorns ready for planting, and explained how oaks planted from acorns tend to live longer than those planted from saplings, as the tap root is undamaged. Students made short work of these acorns as well, planting 15 acorns in the riparian area. It’s amazing to imagine how different the area will be when those trees start to mature!

We still had some time before lunch, so mentor groups grabbed binoculars and bird ID cards and ventured up onto the levee. Some of the bird species we spotted included white-tailed kite, marsh wren, turkey vulture, red tailed hawk, white crowned sparrow, caspian tern, and lots of raptors. After lunch, we returned onto the levee to spend some time reflecting on the day in field journals. Students were great about spreading out to experience the site solo – some students were perched on the levee, while others found quiet spaces near the water.

At closing circle, many students remarked that they most enjoyed learning how to plant and spending time outdoors. Mentors and partners enjoyed this as well, but the adults in our group were most pleasantly surprised by this awesome group of respectful, hardworking, and fun-to-be-around students. Can’t wait for our next day in the field!

Full Belly Farm, Certified Organic since 1985!

FARMS Leadership Program: North State: February 5th, 2019

Location of Field Day: Guinda, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Haley Friel – Director of Outreach and Education at Full Belly Farm

Theme: Sustainability and Organic Farming Practices

Summary of the Day:

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to be spent at Fully Belly Farm’s in Guinda, CA. The North State FARMS Leadership Program was welcomed by Haley Friel, the director of Outreach and Education at Fully Belly Farm. We then took a tour of the 400-acre farm and learned about the different crops grown and the practices in which they use to keep the farm organic and sustainable. Full Belly Farm is planting, growing and harvesting over 80 crops year around keeping them very busy. The students were able to see the pigs raised at at Full Belly Farm and see where the produce is washed and prepped for sale. They even were able to sample so freshly picked produce including oranges, carrots and several other crops some of which we brought back to add to our salads at lunch.

After lunch we went over to the barn where the sheep are currently being housed during lambing season. The North State FARMS students were excited to see lambs that were a few days old as well as some that were just hours old. One ewe even started to go into labor while we were there visiting. Once we left the sheep barn we gathered some baskets and headed over to the mobile chicken coops. We concluded our day collecting baskets full of organic chicken eggs which are currently being sold for $9.00 a dozen.

A wintry finish in Winters

Winters High School at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 5, 2019

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Putah Creek Council
City of Winters

Mentors
Alex Tremblay, Project Manager, Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Karin Young, Education Program Manager, Putah Creek Council
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Our last Field Day at the Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension brought us many more students – some who were participating in a Field Day for the first time! We were introduced to these students in our opening circle, the start of a very cold morning on a very cold day. We attempted to warm up with a game of PVC golf, a game in which each student is given a half piece of PVC pipe. A golf ball must pass through each student’s piece – without letting the ball drop or stop – before making it into the goal at the other side. This is trickier than it sounds – many groups found themselves just one step away from the goal when the ball repeatedly dropped, sending them back to the starting line!

After our morning icebreaker, Tanya Meyer of Yolo County Resource Conservation District instructed us on our tasks for the day – plug planting, straw mulching, and building and installing bluebird boxes.

Plug planting came first, which proved to be much more difficult than usual! Sticky, muddy conditions made the dibbles (the tools which pokes holes for the tiny plants) difficult to remove from the earth but students persevered and planted 1500 grass plugs by the end of the morning. Our next task was straw mulching, which will help prevent moisture loss and discourage weed growth around plants we planted on our second Field Day. At least 1 flake of straw hay needed to go around each of the 200 plants, yet it felt like this task was accomplished in just a few minutes! Winters students were great at working hard, and working together.

Guest speaker Hanika of the UCD Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology joined us to speak about cavity nesting birds. Naturally occuring tree cavities can be difficult to come by for native bird species, especially with competition from invasive cavity nesters. Installing bird boxes tailored to specific bird species is one way to increase nesting opportunities for native species. To put the finishing touch on our restoration project, each mentor group would be installing a bluebird box on the south side of the site, near Putah Creek. Installation was a bit tricky, but mentor groups worked together to put up 4 bluebird boxes. Come spring, we’ll be able to see if any birds have taken up residence.

After lunch, students were given the opportunity to interview mentors about their education and career paths. Small groups of students rotated between each mentor, asking great questions about the steps they had taken to get to where they are in their careers. SLEWS is a great way for students to gain hands-on restoration experience, but it also provides exposure to professionals in the fields of agriculture, restoration, and environmental science.

To wrap up our SLEWS project at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension, students wrote a Thank You card to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible – perhaps a mentor, funder, restoration partner, or their teacher, Ms. Roberts. At closing circle, we reflected on our favorite moments of our three days together – for many of us, it was exploring Putah Creek and seeing the spawning salmon!

I am thrilled to have completed three field days with the stellar, hardworking students of Winters High and our project partners, Yolo County Resource Conservation District and Putah Creek Council. Because these students are Winters locals, they will be able to return to this site many times in years to come – one student remarked that “it’ll be so cool to see how this place changes once the trees grow!” and I must say, I completely agree!

SJCOE Durham Ferry SLEWS Kick Off

Mr. Barrett’s class from Stagg High School is working with the San Joaquin County Office of Education Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center for their SLEWS project.

On January 31st, 2019 Mr. Barrett’s Agricultural Biology class arrived at the SJCOE Durham Ferry Outdoor Education Center to begin their SLEWS project. This year, students will be transforming a plot of land to make it safe for the younger students access it. Currently, the plot of land has non-native plants like star thistle and other thorny less desirable weeds. The students will be sheet mulching the land to remove the unwanted non-native weeds and then planting native drought tolerant species that are more desirable.

Kristine Stepping, Program Manager at Durham Ferry, introduces the students to nature journaling. This approach was taken to provide a skill for students to learn about the plants at Durham Ferry and to begin to look for patterns in where these plants are found geographically.

Steve LaGraffe, a volunteer with over 30 years of irrigation and gardening experience, helps provide valuable advice regarding sheet mulching of the area.

Stagg High School students begin planning and surveying the land in order to begin their SLEWS project. They will produce a list of tools and supplies necessary for the future work on this project.

Students will be back in February to sheet-mulch this plot of land and learn more about the native and non-native species that exist at Durham Ferry. This information will aid them as they make choices for what will be a sustainable plant to replace the weeds that occupy this space in the summer and fall season.