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.