UC Davis Exploration: What’s the next step for our FARMS students?

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley & San Joaquin | February  22, 2022

Location of Field Day: UC Davis – Davis, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors:
Aggie Ambassadors – Co Hawes, Student Leadership Program Coordinator, with Student Leads
UCD Goat Facility – Benjamin Rupchis, Goat Facility Manager
UCD Student Eco Farm – Student Leads

Theme: Sustainable Ag & Environmental Sciences College Pathways

Sac Valley and San Joaquin FARMS students teamed up on a sunny February day to explore the sustainable ag and environmental science world that UC Davis has to offer. After a breakfast of muffins, blood oranges, and kiwis and a lively introductory game of Dance Your Name Out, we dove into a leadership workshop. Co Hawes, the Student Leadership Program Coordinator for Aggie Ambassadors, and Aggie Ambassador students Sara and Somora led us through the Pipeline activity. Two groups of students practiced teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills to transport a marble across the room without actually touching it. After plenty of strategizing, dropped marbles and re-strategizing, students emerged victorious.

Next, FARMS students had some time to connect directly with Aggie Ambassadors, asking them any and all questions they had about college life. Aggie Ambassadors shared their experiences as women in STEM, with balancing school responsibilities, personal lives and mental health, with the many helpful resources UC Davis has to offer, and the joys and challenges of campus life.

We then ventured to the Goat Facility where Benjamin Rupchis toured us around, introducing us to many goat friends along the way. Benjamin shared that the facility is mainly run by students and houses three separate goat herds: a dairy herd, a meat herd and a transgenic research herd, with around 150 goats total. We also learned how the Goat Facility works with the school’s Brewery Certificate Program and Student Farm to make the best possible use of leftover brewery grains and farm produce to feed the goats!

After loving on some goats, we rolled over to the student-run Eco Farm. Student leads Thea and Jon introduced us to the farm’s gorgeous chickens, showed us the inner workings of the farm’s aerobic and anaerobic compost systems, toured us around the produce gardens, and taught us how to harvest from the farm’s U-Pick flower garden.

After a peaceful lunch in the sunshine amongst the farm’s bees, butterflies, and thriving greenery, we strolled across the street to the Student Market. FARMS students were eager to purchase locally student grown produce and marveled over the colorful turnips, radishes, greens, rutabagas and daikons across the market table.

During our closing circle, students shouted out their highlights: loving on goats (of course), the lively pipeline activity, meeting students from another school, and learning about the sustainable efforts of the Eco Farm. Thanks UC Davis partners for a great day!

Tons (Literally) of Recycling!

FARMS Leadership | San Joaquin | January 21, 2022

Location of Field Day: Cal-Waste Recovery Systems – Galt, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors: Cal-Waste Recovery Systems – Leesa Klotz

Theme: Recovery Recycling, Climate Change & Healthier Communities

Our friends at Cal-Waste Recovery Systems were the ideal hosts for our first FARMS field day of the new year. We spent the day observing exactly what happens to our recycling once the truck whisks it away– and everything we saw generated lots of conversation around landfills, climate change, reducing all kinds of waste, and spreading community awareness.

As usual, we kicked off our field day with our opening circle check-in and a student leadership activity. Our leadership activity was a lively one: students lined up along a rope, each holding it with one hand. After taking note of the order of their peers, they were instructed to close their eyes (and keep them closed!) and communicate verbally to form various shapes and letters. We started out simple: a square. After our first shape, students took some time to brainstorm what worked, what didn’t, and their strategy for the next shape. Through use of their communication, listening, and creative thinking skills as well as their abilities to establish trust and remain open to all ideas, the group successfully shaped a square, a triangle, and the letter T.

Next we were joined by Cal-Waste’s Education Coordinator Leesa Klotz. After Leesa gave us an interesting and stinky history of garbage, we all suited up in our PPE and headed out to the MRF: the Material Recovery Floor. This is where all the recyclable materials picked up from Cal-Waste’s trucks are dumped, processed, sorted, and bailed. This is also where any pesky residual trash that makes its way into the recycling bin is separated to be sent to a landfill. Cal-Waste is committed to recovering every valuable resource from the waste stream to prevent as many items from being forever landfilled as possible.

The MRF was epic to say the least. A marvel of technology intricately designed and pieced together–conveyor belts, drum feeders, augers, magnets, crushers, air expansion chambers, optical sorting machines, infrared technology, and plenty of quality control personnel along the way to ensure accuracy and safety. Students were particularly enthralled with the bailer: a machine that crushes hundreds of tons of sorted recycling into massive cubes of cans, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, etc. These cubes are then sold to facilities that will transform the recycled material into new products.

After lunch, we returned to Cal-Waste’s state of the art education center for some conversations on reducing waste and food waste recycling. Students learned California has passed a new food waste law, requiring all Californians to separate their organics from the rest of their trash. Leesa informed us of some shocking food waste stats:

  1. A third of all the food produced in the US goes to waste.
  2. Food takes up more space in landfills than anything else.
  3. The US wastes more food than any other country in the world.
  4. Before the pandemic, 35 million Americans experienced food insecurity. After/during the pandemic throughout 2022, that number is expected to rise to 50 million Americans.

All this sparked some conversation: what can the students do to make a difference in their own school? Students brainstormed ideas about hosting focus groups between students and administrators, making informational posters, providing student waste ambassadors who can guide students on disposing of waste correctly, and re-working cafeteria food distribution requirements so less food goes to waste.

We finished the day out with a waste sorting activity: Leesa dumped two bags of trash/recycling on the table and asked two teams of students to sort them from the waste that would take the least amount of time to the most amount of time to decompose in a landfill. Students were shocked to learn that a paper towel can take a month to decompose all the way down to a glass bottle that can take 1,000 years (or might never decompose!).

During our closing circle, students shouted out their highlights: feeling inspired to reduce their food waste, exploring the MRF, learning about all the unexpected jobs within a recycling facility, and the morning’s leadership activity. Thanks to our partners, supporting teachers, and of course the students for making it a memorable day as always!

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.

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