Ice cream in the Capay Valley

Woodland High School at Pharm Schaer
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 14, 2019

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Candice Schaer

Mentors
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Gina Radieve, Environmental Scientist, California Department of Water Resources
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department

Summary of the Day
For our last field day out in the beautiful Capay Valley (Guinda, to be exact) Woodland High students arrived as they always do – ready to WORK! Our task for the day was mulching around the 170 native plants on the perimeter of Candy Schaer’s property. Mulching will give these plants a better chance of survival as it will reduce weed growth and moisture loss around these young plants.

Before we could get started, we gathered for opening circle and a few rounds of PVC golf. Then Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District showed students how to properly mulch, putting cardboard around the base and then spreading nearly a wheelbarrow full of mulch around each individual plant. This was quite the task, as the irrigation line was 1400 feet long – meaning full wheelbarrows needed to be carted all that way, over and over again!

Luckily Woodland students were eager to tackle this ambitious project and quickly settled into an efficient routine. Some students took on the task of laying down cardboard and spreading mulch, while others loaded up wheelbarrows, while others volunteered to be the “muscle”, pushing heavy, full wheelbarrows all the way to the end of the line. Students switched tasks when they got tired, but many students enjoyed the hard work and wanted to be wheelbarrow-pushers for the entire morning. One student kept everyone entertained by speaking in a southern accent and giving herself a funny nickname!

After a well-deserved lunch, Candy had a fun surprise for the students – ice cream she had made, leftover from the Capay Valley Almond Festival! This was a wonderful treat for our last field day, and was especially delicious after such a busy morning.

After lunch students had a chance to interview mentors to learn more about their education and career paths. Since many of these students are about to graduate and start their own journeys, interviewing mentors is a fantastic opportunity to learn about careers in the environmental sciences, and get advice from professionals in the field. To close the day, we gathered to reminisce on our favorite memories from the past three Field Days. Thank you to the small but mighty crew of students from Woodland High!

Restoring wildlife habitat with Florin High School

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 12, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon California
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resources
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Jacob Byers, Partner Biologist, Sacramento NWRC

Summary of the Day
After donning the now-ubiquitous yellow rainsuits, Florin High students gathered with mentors and River Garden Farms staff to begin their final Field Day at River Garden Farms. After a fun round of PVC golf, we tromped through the mud to the site of our first Field Day. Students worked hard last December to install a complete drip irrigation system, and today it was time to plant the native shrubs and milkweed that will make use of this water.

Students worked in mentor group to plant native shrubs, with milkweed plugs planted as “associates” next to these larger plants. “Two years from now there will be something here” one student remarked, “we should come back here for graduation!”. And he’s correct – though the hedgerow doesn’t look very impressive yet, these plants will continue to grow and eventually provide habitat for pollinators and other native species.

Once sections of plantings were complete, students began installing Wood Duck nest boxes along the hedgerow. Since there are relatively few trees in this agriculture-heavy area, it can be difficult for Wood Ducks to find suitable nesting habitat. Students worked together to pound 10 posts into the ground along the planting area and affix wood duck nest boxes to each. Perhaps next season, some of these boxes will be occupied!

With such a long irrigation line, we realized by the end of the morning some students had walked over 3 miles, planting all the way! Florin students planted an impressive 125 native shrubs and 150 milkweed associates, and installed 10 wood duck nest boxes by lunchtime. Students found worms, frogs, hawks, turkey vultures and even a dead skunk!

After lunch students interviewed mentors about their education and career paths, before we gathered for closing circle. More students than ever before said their favorite part of SLEWS was making new friends and working as a team with their mentor groups. What a fantastic project with fantastic students!

A day of mulching at Sequoia Farms

Davis High School at Sequoia Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 8, 2019

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
NCAT
Solano Resource Conservation District
Sequoia Farms

Mentors
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis graduate student
Claire Kouba, UC Davis graduate student
Dani Gelardi, UC Davis graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
For our final Field Day with Davis High school, we were back where our project started – at Sequoia Farms in Dixon. On our first Field Day, we planted 600 plants along the perimeter of this organic walnut orchard. Today, it was time to remove weeds around the plants and apply a thick layer of walnut shell mulch. This will help reduce future weed growth and retain water around the plant, giving these native plant species a better chance at survival.

For our final Field Day with Davis High school, we were back where our project started – at Sequoia Farms in Dixon. On our first Field Day, we planted 600 plants along the perimeter of this organic walnut orchard. Today, it was time to remove weeds around the plants and apply a thick layer of walnut shell mulch. This will help reduce future weed growth and retain water around the plant, giving these native plant species a better chance at survival.

After our opening circle and a game of PVC golf (in which students work together to transport a golf ball through pieces of PVC pipe to a designated target), we set off to the property perimeter and began our task of the day. Students observed the vast differences between the organic Sequoia Farms orchard and the conventional walnut orchard nearby – most due to the cover crop Sequoia Farms had planted. Cover crops are plants used to improve soil health, increase biodiversity, improve water availability, control weeds, and more, and are especially important in organic agriculture. Students immediately the increased number of insects and birds on the Sequoia Farms side, and wondered aloud why the other orchard looked so barren.

As students pulled weeds and surrounded plants with buckets of mulch, Rex Dufour of the National Center for Appropriate Technology led mentor groups in a nitrogen sampling activity. Each group of students cut and weigh sections of cover crop, and did calculations to estimate how much nitrogen was in their sample, and the orchard as a whole. This will give Sequoia Farms a better idea of how much nitrogen the cover crop is contributing to the orchard which well help them better manage their farm.

After mulching about 300 plants, we headed back to the workshop area to build barn owl boxes. Barn owls are cavity nesters, and with so much agriculture in the Central Valley, naturally occuring tree cavities can be difficult for nesting owls to find. These nest boxes provide suitable habitat for nesting owls, which in turn help with pest control for Sequoia Farms. An all-female group of students finished constructing their box first, announcing that they did it for “women everywhere” – after all, it was International Women’s Day!

After lunch, David Lester of Sequoia Farms gave a talk on organic farming practices, and how they manage their orchards. He helped provide the students with context of how their work will positively impact not just the environment, but also their farming operation.

To end the day, students interviewed mentors to learn more about their education and career paths, and wrote a thank you note to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. I was proud to see students asking mentors about internship opportunities in their respective fields.

Thank you to all who made these Field Days possible!

FARMS Advanced visits Chico State

FARMS Advanced| Tehama County | March 5, 2019

Location of Field Day
Chico, CA

Field Day Host
Sarah DeForest, College of Agriculture Director of External Relations

Participating Schools
Red Bluff High School
Orland High School
Mercy High School
Los Molinos High School

Theme
College Exploration, Integrated Pest Management

Summary of the Day:

The morning began with meeting Sarah DeForest, the director of external relations, at the Chico State Farm. There we began our networking and practiced our professional introductions. Sarah invited us on a tour where we visited each of their 4 animal units; dairy, beef, swine, sheep as well as saw how diverse they are with having 800 acres of orchards, row crops and garden plots with green houses.

At the dairy unit, we learned about there operation and how and why they transitioned from a conventional herd to the current organic herd they have which allows them to market “organic milk”. With the current milk market, and the college operating a small herd of 80 cows they are able to sell their milk for a higher price as organic as well as give their students a leg up in the industry by learning the practices that come with organic farming. We toured the milking parlor which can hold 6 cows at a time and is equipped with automatic grain feeders as well as RFID readers that record the data from each cow as they enter and are milked. Then we went out and saw all the calves that are bottle raised and will be used as replacement cows as they get older and are ready to join the milk string. Of course everyone loved them! We went on to see the swine unit which houses 30 sows with their largest market for the babies being project hogs for local 4-H and FFA kids. Next we saw the sheep unit where they raise Southdowns, Suffolk, and Hampshires all again which are bred and raised for market or breeding animal youth projects. Lastly we explored the beef unit where we learned about their past partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewery which demonstrated the importance of networking as well as saw their current production feed experiment and the technology associated with it.

After our fun with the livestock units, we joined a Plant Science 101 lab and were able to see hands on how a college laboratory goes. The students jumped right in and joined the lab groups which were testing the nitrogen levels in soil between two different test groups, one with an additive and one that was a control.

Lastly, we headed over to the main campus for a quick lunch in the dining hall, followed by a brief tour of campus. I can not thank Chico State enough for this opportunity to showcase the school to our FARMS Advanced students!

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.

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.

Sierra Cascade Logging Expo

FARMS Advanced | Tehama County | February 7, 2019

Location of Field Day
Anderson, CA

Participating High Schools
Red Bluff High School
Los Molinos High School
Orland High School
Mercy High School

Field Day Host
Sierra Cascade Logging Conference, Sierra Pacific Industries

Summary of the Day:

Tehama County FARMS Advanced was invited by Sierra Pacific Industries to visit the Sierra Cascade Logging Expo in Anderson, Ca and learn all about the diversity in the logging industry. Living in Tehama County, we daily see logging trucks traveling down the road and these FARMS Advanced students also visited Sierra Pacific Industries during their year in FARMS Leadership which is one of the largest logging companies in Northern California. However, students don’t always think of logging as part of agriculture, so this opportunity was very fitting and gave the students an up close look at the equipment, and companies that are involved in the daily operations of this very demanding and regulated industry.

Walking into the largest forest products and construction equipment exposition in the west was very impressive and the students were greeted by Tommy 2×4 the mascot as well as some HUGE equipment. Throughout the day we explored all the different types of equipment that are used in the logging industry such as skidders, log loaders, and feller bunchers and were able to network with different operators as well as reps for the companies that manufacture the equipment.

“I was impressed at how expensive the equipment is and the amount of advanced technology they use for every job.” -Mary Pat Peterson, Mercy High School

Of course, at expo’s it’s not all business…the students also went through stations that included other aspects of the industry including a wildlife presentation, learning about sustainability of forests, how Cal Fire is involved and wildfire prevention, college students who were competing in different ax throwing contests, as well as watching a wood carver.

“It was very interesting being able to look inside the cockpit of the CalFire helicopter as well as being able to climb in where the firefighters would sit!” -Stephanie Mills, Red Bluff High School

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

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!