Exploring the Plant Materials Center

FARMS Leadership | Sacramento Valley | November 9, 2021

Location of Field Day:
NRCS Plant Materials Center – Lockeford, CA

Field Day Host and Mentors:
National Resource Conservation Service
Plant Materials Center – Matthew Bronson, Margaret Smither-Kopperl, Shawn Vue

Interaction of Conservation and Agriculture

Our San Joaquin FARMS Leadership crew spent their second field day at the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, where staff work to test plant species related to California conservation concerns. Students explored how the PMC conducts research on cover crops and pollinator species and then works directly with agricultural workers to help implement practices that maximize soil health and native wildlife on farm land.

During a breakfast of yogurt, granola, Asian pears and bananas, students were formally introduced to FARMS Student Leadership Roles. These are 4 different roles (Question Master, Nutrition Educators, Waste Management Warriors, and Partner Experts–see attached photo for a full description of each leadership role!) that are assigned to a new set of students each field day in order to help them practice the hard but oh so necessary leadership skills of decision-making, public speaking, direct communication, self-reflection, and research. Afterwards, our very first Question Master of the year kicked off our opening circle by choosing and posing the reflection question to the group “What is your top priority over the next 6 months?” Students had some incredible answers, like learning more about nutritious foods and how they impact bodies and becoming fluent in Russian!

Next we were joined by Margaret the PMC’s Manager, Matthew the Farm Manager, and Shawn the coordinator of all things PMC. Each shared about the mission of the PMC, their individual backgrounds and career journeys, and their individual roles at the PMC. Matthew then led us on a tour of the PMC facilities starting with the PMC’s shop, seed cleaning and storing facilities, laboratory, machinery storage shed, and lath house. Then we all hopped into a vehicle for a driving tour of the PMC’s farm land. Margaret led us across one field containing an experimental plot of cover crops, in which students feasted on sunflower seeds plucked directly from sunflower heads. Many of them twisted off the heads packed with seeds to plant their own sunflower patches at home.

During lunch, our Nutrition Educators went above and beyond to gather some background research on three fresh foods we were chowing on in our lunch dishes: squash, spinach and basil. After they gathered their information and eloquently presented the nutritional benefits of each food item to their peers, we prepared for our afternoon venture: planting an educational native pollinator garden for future generations of students to enjoy. Matthew briefed students on the process beginning to end including measuring and staking out the plots, cutting and securing down weed paper, and planting seedlings into the holes within the paper.

The sun escaped cloud cover just in time for us to head down to our plot and students set right to work. After some problem-solving and utilization of geometry class skills to ensure plot angles were correct, students measured and laid weed paper and planted away. Along the way, students discovered plenty of new worm, beetle and spider friends and by the end of the afternoon, they had established a garden with over 150 new plants!

Closing the day with our reflection circle, students had plenty to appreciate about the day. Many loved getting their hands dirty while planting fresh green life, others remembered climbing up into tractors and seed-distributing machines, and others most enjoyed traipsing through the PMC fields and learning about their cover crops. One student who has long wanted to go into the medical field shared that the last two field days have her re-thinking her career plan; now she’d like to find a professional path that combines medicine with agriculture and conservation efforts. Music to any FARMS Leadership Coordinator’s ears!

What happens to the soil during a fire?

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | December 7, 2020

Location(s) of Field Day:
Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
744 La Guardia St., Suite A
Salinas, Ca

Participating Schools:
Soquel High School
Gonzalez High School
Alisal High School
Greenfield High School

Field Day Hosts and Mentors:
Drew Mathers – Soil Conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Services
Megan Barker – Project Administrator/ Environmental Scientist with the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
Laura Murphy – Soil Scientist with the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County

Theme: Post-Fire Soils

Summary of the Day: 

2020 has been a challenging year on so many levels and this summer we had one of the worst wildfire seasons in California history. All of our students and teachers were affected by the wildfires. In Santa Cruz County, there was the CZU Lightning Complex Fire that burned 86,509 acres, and in Monterey County, there was the River Fire that burned 48,088 acres. With the trauma of the summer fires fresh in their minds, students had a chance to learn about soil and how it is affected by wildfires. Drew Mathers from the NRCS and Laura Murphy with the RCDMC sourced 6 different types of soils for student’s to experiment with. The field day was packed with information on the challenges and the benifits of wildfires. Students learned about the different severity levels of wildfires and how to observe the landscape to determine how severe a fire was in an area of land. There were polls and experiments and we all had a lot of fun learning about soil conservation and wildfires.

Video Recording coming soon!

Use Your Voice

FARMS Advanced | Monterey and Santa Cruz | October 5, 2020

Location(s) of Field Day:
Bio + Food + Tech Forum – Virtual Forum

Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
744 La Guardia St., Suite A
Salinas, Ca

Participating Schools:
Soquel High School
Gonzalez High School

Field Day Hosts and Mentors:
Corinne Takara – Artist and STEAM Coordinator with Xinamp Bio
Megan Barker – Environmental Scientist with the RCDMC
Paul Robins – Executive Director with the RCDMC

Speak – Off Judges:
Ignacio Mendoza – California Strawberry Commission
Emily Gardner – Salinas Valley Basin Ground Water Sustainability Agency
James Booth – USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service
Hannah Wallace – Monterey County Ag Commissioners Office

Theme: Student Voices

Summary of the Day: 
It’s a new school year and I am so happy to have students returning for another year. This year students are in the FARMS Advanced cohort and we plan to take a closer look at different kinds of professional skills that can help them with their future careers in Agriculture, Environmental Sciences, or whatever career they choose. Many of these skills students already possess and it will be a matter of practicing them with industry professionals.

For October students will be tasked to use their voices. Young people have a very valuable and unique opinion that should be heard. Thanks to our partners this month we were able to create two opportunities for students to use their voice and share their own ideas and insights on a local and statewide level.

This month’s Hands-On Kit was provided by the Tech Interactive and Xinampa Bio, and it allowed students to participate in a Bio+ Food+ Tech experiment and forum. The goal of the experimental forum was to elevate cultural and community values while collecting youth voices to discover areas of interest in biotech, ag tech, and food systems. The feedback from youth would inform educational contexts that can better broaden trust and participation in science. The results of the forum can be found at the Bio + Food + Tech Forum. You can find samples of our student input in the picture gallery below.

Students had a second opportunity this month to use their voices in a Speak-Off Contest that was judged by our partners at the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County. Rocco Rouse, Kevin Zarate, and Jesus Gonzales all competed in the speak off which you can find below. The prompt for their speech was “How should Resource Conservation Districts serve and engage the entire community in conservation work?”. All students did a great job presenting their ideas but there could only be one winner. Jesus Gonzales won and went on to the statewide competition where he took 3rd place.

This month I talked a lot about community and how students are a representative of their families, peers, neighborhoods, and cities whether they like it or not. Their voices can be used to elevate their communities and share their stories, challenges, and ideas. Their perspective is valuable and valid and I appreciate their courage when using their voice this month.

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