Family Farming in the Salinas Valley

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | October 10, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • Soquel High School

Location(s):
Pura Ranch, 28531 Corda Rd. Gonzales, Ca 93926
Pisoni Family’s Estate Vineyard 34361 Paraiso Spring Rd. Soledad, Ca 93960

Field Day Host(s) and Mentor(s): Pisoni Family Vineyards

  • Mark Pisoni – Owner, Farmer and Vineyard Manager
  • Jazmin Lopez – Compliance Manager of Special Projects
  • Elias Gandara – Vineyard Manager
  • Jesus Camacho – Ranch Manager

Summary of the Day:
It is the start of a new FARMS Leadership program and for our first field day, we will be with Pisoni Family Vineyards. FARMS Leadership is the first-year program for students and our focus is on career exploration in ag and resource management. Once the students arrived at Pura Ranch, ate a quick breakfast we immediately did some introductions. This is the first time students are all in the same space together. An icebreaker name game gets us out of our seats and warmed up. Students were ready for the day.

Jazmin Lopez would be our guide throughout our day and introduce students to a multitude of careers, beginning with her own. Students learned about Jazmin’s personal pathway and how and why she started at a liberal arts college, worked for the CA Strawberry Commission, became a Master Gardener and now works for Pisoni Vineyards as the Compliance Manager of Special Projects. We would see some of those special projects later in the day.

The Pisoni Family has a beautiful vegetable farm of 500 acres in Gonzales, California. Students had some hands-on experience taking soil samples and harvesting cauliflower from the fields. That cauliflower would later be our lunch.

With about a dozen heads of cauliflower, we got into our vehicles and made our way further South to Pisoni Family Vineyards the Family’s Estate Vineyard in Soledad, California. The views from the vineyard overlooked the Salinas Valley and they were spectacular. This is where we met Mark Pisoni, the owner, farmer, and vineyard manager. Mark spoke about his personal pathway into his career and gave students some very good advice throughout the day. Mark gave us a tour of the vineyard and shared his knowledge about the land and the business of growing grapes. Students were very engaged while they tasted chardonnay grapes and listened to Mark talk about how the grapevines grow and are maintained. The tour ended with a walk through the insectary (one of Jazmin’s special projects) and of course some lunch.

It was over lunch when Mark introduced Elias Gandara as one of his best employees and trusted friend. Mark stressed the importance of learning Spanish and really being serious about it and immerse yourself in the culture if you can. Communication is such an important part of being a great leader. The final piece of advice Mark Pisoni left students with was a lesson on networking. Everyone received a card from Mark after lunch with his contact information and he encouraged them all to send him an email introducing themselves and following up on the professional connection. Mark shared a trade secret with students that can be just as valuable as going to college and that is, sometimes it’s who you know in agriculture and the relationships you maintain.

Following lunch, students had a chance to learn about bees and apiary management, just another special project by Jazmin Lopez. This was a first time experience for the students and for the coordinator. The sound of the bees flying around your head is loud and filled with energy as wings buzz to and fro. The best part was learning about Jazmin’s experience keeping bees and of course we enjoyed tasting honey fresh from the hive!

Thank you Pisoni Vineyards for such a wonderful FARMS Leadership Field Day!

Wetlands, Waterways & Watersheds

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | April 11, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • North Salinas High School
  • Soledad High School
  • Watsonville High School

Location(s):
Elkhorn Slough Reserve, 1700 Elkhorn Rd, Castroville, Ca 95012

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Dave Feliz – California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Virginia Guhin – California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Ariel Hunter – California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Summary of the Day:
Elkhorn Slough National Estuarian Research Reserve or Elkhorn Slough Reserve for short is located halfway between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey. The middle ground between 2 counties and our FARMS Leadership Program which spans both Santa Cruz County and Monterey County. The Reserve itself is owned and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The day started with a quick breakfast, housekeeping, and an ice breaker. Virginia Guhin, the education programs coordinator started the discussion off by asking students about their career interests to warm them up and start the conversation. From there she shared more about the Elkhorn Slough Estuary Reserve and her role as the education coordinator. She then introduced Dave Feliz who delivered a speech connecting everything Virginia shared about the Reserve to the land and ultimately agriculture. He spoke about different ways of using agriculture fields for both profit and conservation like how rice farmers can support water foul populations. In the end, we all need to work together to preserve land, water, species, and food systems.

The inspiring talk was a perfect lead in to the two activities. Students were split into two groups. One took a hike to the boardwalk to see the slough and the other group did a fun hands-on activity with Ariel Hunter called Watershed Masters. The word watershed is not a word that is taught in schools so it was not a surprise when students had no idea what a watershed was. I must admit that I personally hadn’t heard that word until my 20’s so I was happy that students would have the opportunity to learn about watersheds way before I did. The groups did a quick switch and once everyone had a chance to hike and participate in a hands-on activity we ate lunch and departed for Moon Glow Dairy.

Moon Glow Dairy was once a dairy and is now known as the Hester Marsh Restoration Site. This site is a new experimental idea to restore the marshlands and plant native plants that create habitats for different wildlife and organisms. It is an exciting and innovative restoration project to witness in the beginning stages. Elkhorn Slough has restored the site by strategically placing dirt in the area that was engineered to mimic a natural occurring marshland that once was there before the dairy. Students helped with the conservation efforts by weeding out some of the invasive species that are not welcome. Students asked questions about the different plants they saw and before you know it was time to clean up and head back to the vehicles.

Monkeyflower Ranch

FARMS Advanced | Monterey and Santa Cruz | April 4, 2019

Participating Schools:

Soledad High School

Location(s): Monkey Flower Farms, 1481 San Miguel Canyon Rd. Royal Oaks, CA 95076

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

Rebecca King – Owner and operator of Monkey Flower Ranch

Summary of the Day:

We started the day with a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and sheep yogurt straight off the Farm. Over brealfast, we learned about Rebecca King and what motivated her to become a farmer. The tour of the farm began promptly after and students were able to see Lambs and the machine that milks them apart from their mothers. They saw sheep, pigs, chickens, and ducks. Students were given an opportunity to milk a sheep for the first time. Rebecca King sells sheep and pigs for meat. The sheep are harvested for milk and chickens produce eggs. All the food she feeds her animals is a waste product from another industry. Pigs are feed old veggies and fruits from a partnering farm as well as spent hops and grains from an organic brewery in the area.

Monkey Flower Ranch operates as sustainably as possible by providing habitat for pollinators and wildlife with hedgerow, and also by rotating the animals between several different pastures to ensure that the land isn’t overgrazed and has time to regrow.

The largest part of the ranch operation is the cheese making and Rebecca has cleverly labeled her cheese Garden Variety Cheese. Students learn about how cheese is made and how technical the process is to ensure food safety. A quick walk through the cheese caves awaked students senses and got them ready for lunch. Students helped make lunch which was a farm fresh cobb salad complete with Garden Variety Cheese samples. After lunch, we did some planning and social media marketing activities where students had a chance to make some promotional items for the Ranch to market an upcoming Open House.

Food Waste and Urban Gardens

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | March 28, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • North Salinas High School
  • Soledad High School
  • Watsonville High School

Location(s):

  • Johnson Canyon Landfill, 31400 Johnson Canyon Rd, Gonzales, CA
  • Sun Street Transfer Station, 139 Sun St, Salinas, CA
  • Rescate Verde, 669 East Market St. Salinas, Ca

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Patrick Mathews – Salinas Valley Recycles
  • Estela Gutierrez – Salinas Valley Recycles
  • Nicolas Chavez – Rescate Verde Community Garden

Summary of the Day:

Food Waste is not something that is talked about regularly in Agriculture, but the different types of wastes produced by the Ag industry will have to go someplace. Salinas Valley Recycles (SVR) knows just where to put it. At first thought, you may think everything goes to the landfill to be buried forever but many students in FARMS Leadership were surprised to learn that it doesn’t all go in the ground. SVR gave us a tour of the Johnson Canyon Landfill as we talked with Patrick Mathews about the different kinds of waste he sees from the Agricultural industry. Anything from plastics to food waste to food trapped in plastic; Patrick and his team try to find different ways to minimize what they put into the ground. Students saw an innovative machine called a De-Packer that takes foods that are still in their packaging, like canned foods or bagged salad greens, and separates the food waste from the container. The food waste is then composted and turned into nutrient-rich fertilizer.

After the landfill, we all headed to Salinas to learn more about composting and some of the ways consumers can turn their kitchen scraps into plant food. A quick tour of Sun Street Transfer Station ended in a garden where students learned about small scale backyard composting with worms, also known as vermicomposting. Estella took some time to encourage students to begin to think about the waste they create and how they can reuse items, reduce their consumption and teach others. Estela regularly teaches others to compost in El Jardin El Sol learning garden located at the SVR Offices and at many other gardens throughout the county.

Another way to reduce waste is to grow your own food and community gardens can provide support to those interested in doing so. Nicolas Chavez spoke to students about his community garden and how it got started and why. Students were able to cut fresh greens and herbs to take home and they tasted the many flavors in the garden all without any packaging or single-use plastic.

Ag Tech Summit

FARMS Advanced | Monterey and Santa Cruz | March 27, 2019

Participating Schools:

Soledad High School

Location(s): Hartnell College, 411 Central Ave, 93901

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

Hartnell College

Ag Commissioner’s Office

UC Cooperative Extension

Summary of the Day:

Students had the opportunity to attend the Ag Tech Summit at Hartnell College. This year students spent the morning listening to a series of talks about entomology and pest management happening locally.  

Asian Citrus Psyllid Regulation Update – Tim Lewis, Monterey County Agriculture Commissioner’s Office

Weed Management in Vegetable Crops Using an IPM Approach – Dr. Steven Fennimore, UC Cooperative Extension

Managing Vector Spread of Leaf Roll Virus – Larry Bettiga, UC Cooperative Extension

Over lunch, students had the opportunity to sit down with an industry professional and practice networking as a group. From there we split up into groups to practice networking at the different tabling exhibits. Students met folks from many different industries and ask questions as well as answered questions about themselves and their goals after high school.

After 45 minutes of networking we all came together to discuss the challenges they faced when networking like:

  • Not knowing what to ask as a follow-up question
  • Or asking an awkward follow-up question
  • Overcoming nerves
  • Stumbling on your words

We also covered some of the information they discovered like:

  • Internship opportunities
  • New tech startups
  • Youth programs they can sign up for
  • College programs they can do in the future

Study Close to Home

FARMS Advanced | Monterey and Santa Cruz | March 14, 2019

Participating Schools:

Soledad High School

Location(s): CSU Monterey Bay 100 Campus Center Seaside, Ca

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Thomas Harvath – Associate Dean of the College of Science
  • Kali Prescott – Lab Technician at the Haffa Research Lab
  • Alejandro Del Pozo – Cooperative Extension Monterey County – Entomology
  • Scott Fausti – Associate Director of College of Business

Summary of the Day:

It’s college day and students arrived on the CSUMB campus with a smile. During breakfast, we were welcomed to the college by Thomas Harvath who shared his pathway to CSUMB and some of the interests that lead him to a career in education and science. Dr. Harvath spoke about CSUMB and their new Ag Science Major that will no doubt attract many students from our region that want to go to college but have to stay close to home. Next, we met up with Kali Prescott a brilliant young CSUMB graduate who does research at Haffa Labs. She gave us a tour of the Haffa Lab and talked about her current work in Biogeochemistry and Bioremediation. She showed us the equipment that she used to quantify Nitrous Oxide Emissions with samples pulled from farms in the area. The take samples and test for chemicals that may be left behind from fumigation or pesticide applications. Students had some great questions about her research. Seeing a research lab up close and personal was a first for many students and gave students an opportunity to think about whether working in a lab like this might be something they would like to do in the future.

Next on the agenda was a campus tour were students saw dorm rooms and learned about life on campus. We happened to be on campus during finals and the library and classrooms were extremely busy places. Campus life wouldn’t be complete without checking out the dining hall and campus transportation via the lime Scooters. After some playtime we got serious.

Dr. Alejandro Del Pozo stopped by to talk about Entomology and his career as the areas IPM Advisor. He spoke about how humans categorize bugs as good and bad but that there really is no such thing as a good bug and a bad bug. As an advisor for the Agricultural Extension office, Dr. Del Pozo works with the public to bridge the gap between research being done at the college level and translate it into best practices for farmers, home-owners, and anyone interested in managing populations of insects. The day ended with a tour of the College of Business facility with Dr. Scott Fausti the Associate Director of the College of Business. The college of business is huge at CSUMB and many of FARMS students are interested in Ag Business as a major. The day ended with a gift of CSUMB swag and students where on the road back to school.

Organic Pest Management

FARMS Advanced | Monterey and Santa Cruz | February 21, 2019

Participating Schools:

Soledad High School

Location(s):

1700 Old Stage Road, Salinas

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Nathan Harkleroad – ALBA 
  • Octavio Garcia – ALBA 

Summary of the Day:

Students arrived at ALBA with coffee in hand. They found a seat at the front and I began with a greeting and check-in. ALBA stands for Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association and they provide educational courses on organic farming. Today students would learn more about IPM in an organic setting.

The Definition of IPM – The use of various methods to reduce pest population below economically damaging levels without adverse secondary effects

Students were presented information on IPM by Nathan Harkleroad. He showed the different levels of pest control management which are:

  1. Cultural Control
  2. Physical Mechanical Control
  3. Biological Control
  4. Chemical Control

Following Nathan’s IPM introduction was Octavio Garcia, a hardworking young man with an inspiring story about his journey to becoming a PCA and Farmer. He then explained what his typical day looks like and what his responsibilities are as a PCA. Students asked great questions about the workload and the difference between conventional IPM and organic IPM. Octavio shared that the IPM model was the same for both Organic and Conventional with exception of the types of controls used in Chemical Control level.

Nathan had a small hand lens for students to use out in the field. We headed outside to the strawberry beds to test out the lenses and drop predatory mites by hand. The beds were still wet from the rain and we all had soggy boots and feet when we were done. We then watched some informative videos by USDA researcher Eric Brannan and his findings on using asylum flowers as an insectary plant and hedgerows to manage pests by providing habitat for pollinators and birds that can help manage rodents and insects. The last activity on the agenda was a skills assessment activity to talk with students about soft and hard skills. It was a fun activity to do with students and I could vouch for their soft skills because I have seen these skills demonstrated.

  • Estrella is enthusiastic, social and reliable.
  • Andrea is organized, a team player and responsible.
  • Diana is patient, positive and a great listener.
  • Precious is honest, hardworking, and patient.
  • Aaron is loyal, task-oriented with an outlandish personality.

All of them are excellent public speakers, intuitive, mature, caring, fast learners and a pleasure to work with.

Strawberries, Drones, Fumigation & the Ag Commissioner

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | February 7, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • North Salinas High School
  • Soledad High School

Location:

Ag Commissioner’s Office, 1428 Abbott St. Salinas, ca

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Barbara LaVake – TiCal Field Day planner and support.
  • Dennis Lane – TriCal
  • Abbie Asche – TriCal
  • Carolyn O’Donnell –  California Strawberry Commission
  • Henry Gonzales – Monterey County Ag Commissioner
  • Kevin Hill – ParaBug
  • Chandler Bennett – ParaBug

Summary of the Day:

Pests and disease are agricultures biggest adversary. Producers of all kind are always battling or protecting crops from bugs and killer diseases. FARMS Leadership Students met with Carolyn O’Donnell to learn how the Strawberry commission plays a key role in promoting strawberry consumption and sharing the amazing benefits of eating strawberries as a part of a healthy diet.

“Today I learned that 88% of straberries are grown in California.” – Annabel Uribe

First up, TriCal Inc. a family owned business that provides soil fumigation services to sterilize the soil before strawberry plants are placed in their beds. Students learned about TriCal and their commitment to their employee’s safety and well being by paying applicators a living wage with benefits and full-time year-round work. Students spoke with employees and learned about the different jobs TriCal offers. We were able to see the applicator machines and personal safety gear. Abbie Asche talked about her job as a Pest Control Advisor (PCA) with TriCal. Abbie explained the leading diseases that need soil fumigation, like nematodes, bacteria, fungi, and insects. TriCal’s motto is Healthy Fields, Healthy Yields. TriCal is a leader in regulatory requirements that help ensure the health of the consumers and growers.

“Today I learned about TriCal and what it takes to be a PCA or a CAA.” – Brenda Vasquez

Who regulates and permits TriCal to do what they do? The Ag Commissioner. Henry Gonzales is the Ag Commissioner for Monterey County and presented to students about what he does and the career pathway that brought him to the position of Ag Commissioner. Students were extremely engaged and interested in hearing about how Henry Gonzales grew up in Salinas at a local high school.

Continue reading Strawberries, Drones, Fumigation & the Ag Commissioner

Hartnell College – Alisal Campus

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | January 24, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • North Salinas High School
  • Soledad High School
  • Watsonville High School

Location:

Hartnell College Alisal Campus

1752 E. Alisal Street, Salinas, CA 93905

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Anely Meneses – Field Day Planning Support
  • Melissa Casillas, Director of Career Training
  • Belen Gonzales – Coordinator of job and internship placement
  • Dr. Emily Rustad – Plant Science Instructor
  • Michael Davis – Welding Instructor
  • Fabiola & Sam – MakerSpace

Summary of the Day:

We arrived at the beautiful Alisal Campus promptly at 9 am. Students began the day by talking about their plans after high school and where they see themselves in 1 year and in 5 years.

“[I would like to] go to a 2-year college then transfer. [I want to] play basketball and  have a good job. Or I will go straight into a 4-year college”- Janet Arias, WHS

“ In one year I hope to be redeeming a scholarship to a four year college.” – Randy Huynh, NSH

“ I will attend Hartnelll College. I see myself with my degree and working my career.” – Vicky Aceves, GHS

Continue reading Hartnell College – Alisal Campus

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.