Wind and rice and everything nice

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | October 29, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA
Ryan Bixenmann

Summary of the Day
On Tuesday, October 29th, the Sacramento Valley SLEWS season began! Florin High students made the journey to River Garden Farms in Knights Landing for the third year in a row. This time, rather than planting hedgerows alongside a levee road, students gathered in the middle of a walnut orchard. Powerlines above the orchard make a strip of land unsuitable for trees. River Garden Farms saw this as an opportunity to create a corridor of native vegetation to increase biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Yolo County Resource Conservation District helped plan the project – 5 parallel rows of plants, with the outer two being mostly deergrass and the inner 3 being native shrubs and vegetation. The irrigation line was already in place, and students would be tackling the rest of the project.

After warming up with hot cocoa and breakfast, we got familiar with each other’s names with a game of group juggle. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District introduced the group to the project and the task of the day – removing flags where there would not be plants, and installing emitters and spaghetti tubing onto the irrigation line. Students divided into their mentor groups and tackled the project at hand, despite very windy conditions. Much to everyone’s amusement, the hot pink irrigation poker tools that Alex initially made fun of turned out to be the best tool for the job and were highly sought after!


Though it was windy and sometimes challenging to access the irrigation lines through the weedy overgrowth, students had incredibly positive attitudes throughout the morning and it was truly a joy spending time with them. Some mentor groups even came up with team names to stay motivated – I believe I heard one group call themselves “the Scarlet Dragons”.

After lunch, students boarded the bus to make their way to River Garden Farms’ Tyndall Mound Warehouse. Warehouse Manager Joe took showed students how they weigh and sample shipments as they head out on the trucks before leading us on a tour of the rest of the facility. The highlight was DEFINITELY the warehouse – students were able to climb and play in an enormous warehouse full of loose, unhulled, dry rice! The rice drying machine was also fascinating – rice slowly travels downward over many, many stories as airflow helps it to dry out. 

We had to end the day in a hurry to get students back to school on time so we went around our closing circle to share just one word to describe the day. What was by far the most popular word? FUN!

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!

It Was Coming Up Roses in Wasco, CA


FARMS Advanced Program | Kern County |April 9, 2019

Participating Schools
Frontier High School
Bakersfield Christian High School
Independence High School

40% of the nation’s roses come from Wasco, California! Wasco sits just northwest of Bakersfield and is known for its Roses. People travel to come to the Annual Festival of Roses every Labor Day to see the beauty that is blossoming in Wasco, CA.

We arrived at Weeks Roses in Wasco and were greeted by Manager, Stu Chamberlain. He helped us get an up close and personal look at the growing, shipping, packing, and practices in place to protect the product through Integrated Pest Management. Stu shared that they are one of the largest rose growers in the world. A couple of key customers are Amazon and Home Depot! We toured the cold storage where we learned how the roses are forced into dormancy. Pesty fungus and mold are a concern in the cold storage and they use a general fungicide to treat those issues. As we walked into the cold storage we sat 257 varieties of roses!

Touring the Cold Storage

“I don’t think I even knew that there were that many types of roses!” Said Casey Sprayberry, FARMS Advanced student from Independence High School.

There were other containers that were being prepared for shipping. Containers of grapes, figs, iris, and cherries. Weeks also partners with the university extension office and Cal Poly Pomona to learn about stone fruit and other various crops. It was now time to walk through the greenhouse and learn about Greenhouse Management.

Assisting with pest management, ID Services LLC’s Alan Butterfield, walked us through the nursery teaching us about the different pests they battle. Mr. Butterfield taught the students the symptoms to look for. We shadowed him as he talked us through his daily practice, then it was time for the students to give it a try. Students scanned the crop to put a numerical grade on the percent damaged by the pest. We then discussed what to do when we found damage. We discussed Label Identification, Recommendation, and classes of insecticides. Students were able to remove who plants when the pest had taken over too much and it was a complete loss.

From the Greenhouse Tour, we took a driving tour of the planted fields. Iris was in bloom and beautiful! There was cover crop planted to restore the soil in some lots. We talked about the grains of that field being sent to cereal companies. After our tour, each student received a catalog of roses and they were able to choose one to take home. What a gift!!

Thank you Stu Chamberlain, Alan Butterfield and staff! It was a great day out at Weeks Roses. We can’t wait to come back!